For a while, I was only half in the Christmas spirit. I wasn’t too worried about it because I’ve been there before, the excitement on hold, as it seemed, and it came around eventually. I’m learning to just let things be whatever they are and allowing myself to feel what I feel. This is probably a good time to warn you, this is somewhat stream of consciousness and being posted un-edited, so good luck!
But then a few weeks ago, as I was leaving work I got a text from my Dad. I hadn’t had an introvert recovery day in about four straight weeks at that point, and I usually need a single day a week without people, without chat, without my phone, in order to recover, recharge, and be at my best (emotionally stable and mentally focused). I’d attributed my moodiness and stress level to this, and I don’t think I was entirely wrong. But then I got that text.
It was a few pictures of my nephew, helping with Christmassy things at home; my Dad, who doesn’t text me much and sends pictures quite rarely, had sent me these because this is the first year I won’t be going home for Christmas. I won’t be seeing that entire side of the family, including my darling nephew. I won’t be doing any of the traditions at home that I’ve done since I was little. This is my first Christmas away from my childhood home. This is my first Christmas without my Dad. And I thought if I faced this all head-on, openly acknowledged that this was my first Christmas without all these things, missing certain sights and sounds and experiences for the first time in my 29 years, if I talked with friends about how it sucked but it was only fair, since I missed Christmas with my Mom last year to spend it with my Dad that I switch it this year, and that I’d gone above and beyond travelling home every year for Christmas, had never missed a single one and traveled farther than any of my family members (and most of them have missed at least two), and besides I’m not the one who got divorced my parents did… if I could talk about and face all those things then it would be dealt with and I’d be able to go on just fine.
I teared up replying to my Dad to thank him for the pictures, then put the car in gear and headed home. And had to pull over twice because I had a small emotional meltdown and couldn’t stop crying.
It hurt. I was touched that my Dad had thought of me and sent me the pictures, but more than that I realised how much it bothers me to not be going home this year. My home is not here, where I live currently. I have a place here, I work here, I’m incredibly blessed to have my Mom here, but it’s not home. I don’t get Christmas at home this year. I know it’s my choice, but in a way it isn’t, and I didn’t realise how much that upset me either. See, my parents separated when I was 12 and later divorced, and since then Christmases have been split. Before we all graduated, my parents had an alternating schedule, but it’s all different now. Now I have to choose. And while I’ve done pretty well working around the schedules of each of my parents, two brothers, one with in-laws, step-siblings, Dad’s extended family, my Mom’s husband’s family, and various friends I travel to visit when I go home, when my Mom moved out here it got a bit tougher. Now for the past two years, they have opted out of the chaos of flying out and working around everyone else’s schedule, which meant last year I missed Christmas for the first time with my Mom, which broke my heart. And I decided I would alternate, because I love both my parents and don’t want to always miss Christmas with my Mom. All because of this stupid, horrible divorce. 15 years later, it’s still making my life miserable. I feel like I’ve let my Dad down. I’ve been the one child who always came home, always helped with baking and decorating, always was there, and now in order to be a good daughter to my Mom I feel like I have to be a bad daughter to my Dad. Like the divorce has made it so I can only be a good child to one parent at a time. And I hate it. Literally hate it.
I know it isn’t my fault, the divorce, I mean. I know I’m being fair by switching year to year. But I still feel guilty. I’m still hurting someone each year. I’m still missing someone brutally each year. I’m still missing my nephew, my siblings, my extended family. And on top of that, there is the logistical issues that I know also aren’t my fault – I simply cannot keep pace travelling to both nor do I have the funds to do so even if I could manage it, and it sucks to discover those kinds of limitations. There is some good, like getting to spend a lot of time with Mom, getting to attend church both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which I have wanted to do for years but never got to because of family plans, and I don’t miss the stress of flying.
The small meltdown passed, and I was able to work through some of what I apparently buried despite my efforts to do the opposite. I realised that due to my guilt, I felt like I didn’t really deserve to enjoy Christmas – how could I, how dare I, when I knew how much it hurt my Dad to have me not come home? I’m relatively clever and compassionate, I should be able to figure it out, but I can’t and what kind of a daughter does that make me? Which I know is placing unreasonable pressure on myself, but that’s a stronghold of the mind that’s still being broken down. And if I couldn’t solve this problem, how to be a good daughter to both parents at the same time, then I’d failed and didn’t really deserve the same Christmas. Which led to me putting off decorating and listening to Christmas music and various other things. It’s gotten better. It’s still in process, even now on Christmas Eve. I still feel homesick and very sad sometimes, but I’m trying to not dwell too much; letting myself feel it, appreciate it, and then also letting myself enjoy things here. I’m also rather afraid still; afraid that I’ve screwed up and when I go back home for Christmas, the traditions I love and treasure won’t be there anymore because I took a year off and now no one will care, or they’ll have replaced them and I’ll lose those traditions forever (I’ve worked very hard to maintain those traditions with my family, but that’s another blog).
The excitement of Christmas advent is sporadic too, in part because of that fear and the other things I’m feeling, in part because I don’t know what to expect yet and I’m afraid Christmas will let me down for the first time. I don’t remember if this is how I felt the first Christmas after my parents separated; I know that was different too, but at least I was still home and still got to be with both. But this is quite different, and I just am not sure what I’m looking forward to. Because I’m not looking forward to a trip home. I’m not getting to sleep in my old room, see the light from the Christmas decorations stream through my window, and wake up to the usual gifts under the tree in the living room I know so well. I’m not baking in that kitchen I learned to bake in. I’m not seeing a lot of family I see every year. This is different. Maybe it’s too different. Maybe Christmas is back home and I’m going to miss it entirely. Maybe our efforts here are just a facsimile. Maybe Christmas is gone because I skipped a year and I’ll never get it back.
So there it is. My deep, dark fear. But it’s not all dark. And maybe it’s good that I’m in a bit of dark again this year, because this is precisely what Christmas is all about. Being in darkness, cold and alone, and hope breaking through. Real hope, real peace, real joy. I’ve been trying to keep my eyes on God – not trying as hard as I should, to be perfectly honest, but trying. And it does help. I’ve had some lovely moments, decorating my tree, driving around to look at Christmas lights on my birthday when plans went sideways (everything seems to be differing from plans this year), visiting with a friend, getting to see the first real, fluffy snow on my birthday, getting to read by the light of the Christmas tree, reading through my Bible and coming across verses that spoke to me and taught me in ways I was not looking for but am elated I got to find, singing carols with hundreds of people, and the church services in the last month have been exactly what I’ve needed when I needed it. And I get to look back at where I was last year this time, what I was dealing with and how God pulled me out of a very unhealthy situation, and the myriad of things He’s done in me since. And before then, really. I can flip to the start of this blog and see His faithfulness, and really that’s the whole point.
I’m still struggling with letting go of the guilt (I don’t forgive myself well), but I did get after myself in a good way and made myself observe the Sabbath (the topic of our latest Bible study, which actually fit right into my self-love journey, which I need to write on soon). That’s helped, and I’m gradually learning/re-learning to just look up. To let God be the good. Which brings me to Silver Bells.
At my Mom’s request, I’ve been learning several Christmas songs on the piano, one of which is Silver Bells. I hadn’t actually paid attention to the opening lyrics before, but the intro to the first chorus is:
Christmas makes you feel emotional
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.
City sidewalk, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air there’s
A feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you’ll hear:
Silver bells, silver bells,
It’s Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring,
Soon it will be Christmas day.
There it is. Whatever happens or what may be… those silver bells still herald a coming Christmas. Christmas still comes. It comes when the Grinch tries to steal it. It comes when Charlie Brown is frustrated and disappointed and questioning everything. It comes when a horrible storm blows in and Santa can’t see through it to deliver gifts. It comes. Nothing can actually stop it. Nothing could stop the Nativity in the first place; that was God’s work, and amidst the most unlikely circumstances, He came. I’m still worried and scared and homesick and struggling. But it gets better when I remember that.
Thanks, Mr. Crosby. Loving your movies. Love your music more.