I have both good and bad Christmas memories... intertwined. Many of them involve my older half-brother, since for most of our childhood, it was the two of us and lots of adults. My two younger siblings came later. In the Santa years, getting up far too early and then waiting impatiently for the clock to creep along until we were allowed in the front room where the Christmas tree and the stockings waited, it was him and me. So amid the memories of waking everyone up the year we just couldn't wait and snuck in and started playing his new table hockey game with the surprisingly loud ball bearings, and it was something god-awful like 5 am., there is remembering the year he got the new green five-speed Stingray bike, and I got a basket and new seat for my old bike. I remember fondly my little red Panasonic am radio with the single white earplug. That radio was how I listened stealthily to Motown and the Beatles and Karen Carpenter after lights out in bed. I remember expensive candy and unique surprises in our stockings each year that I know now were my mother's special touch. I remember really fine ribbon candy in dishes and making dipped chocolates and my mother's roast beef gravy. I remember getting Timex watches. One year, it was my first, with a leather strap that buckled, and later, a silver digital watch with a Twistoflex band.
I remember, year after year, how I loved to sit in the front room alone at night, with only the dying fire and the glow of the Christmas tree lights. I would sit in the dark room and watch the fire, and soak in the peace and quiet so rare in our house.
I have a big Spiegel box that I've kept my own Christmas tree ornaments and my collection of decorations over the years. In the past couple years, I've really enjoyed getting down the box and opening it with my daughter. I always get a real tree, and my preference is for short-needled trees like a Douglas Fir. I have little multi-colored lights and my ornaments consist of traditional glass balls (the numbers of which seem to slowly diminish over time as accidents happen) and a large variety of individual old fashioned, many handmade ornaments. I have a wolf ornament and a couple of glass unicorns, and two black labs. I have a small silver dove with a blue crystal eye that I got for my daughter's first Christmas. My tree topper is an old silver spire that I'm amazed has lasted this long. This year M added a pink princess castle ornament to the tree that she bought with her dad , and I was given a sparkly purple ball topped with purple Maribou feathers by my mentor at work.
This week we went to the Botanic Gardens Trail of Lights, and froze our butts off with my friend, as we walked along the paths with the colored lights and the little groups of people in the dark.
Today M decorated a gingerbread house . This year I bought a kit; last year I made the gingerbread from scratch. Last year I was unemployed and had lots of time and little money. This year I have a job and very little time. I had only today off from work and next Friday as well. The money situation was so different - this year I was able to make donations and even give money to help make Christmas special for a needy family I've never met.
Now, as I write, M is lying in her bed upstairs, probably asleep by now... it's not quite 9 pm, but I want to give it a little more time, to be sure. The lights downstairs are dim, the Christmas tree lights are twinkling softly. I've played the Holiday Channel on KBCO.com for days, but now the music is off, and only the hum of my computer and the sounds of the dishwasher compete with the click of the keyboard. This year, there are presents under the tree from both sets of grandparents, from me, and today a box came from Buster. Pretty soon, I will bring out of hiding the presents I as Santa got for M, and put them in her stocking and on the floor in front of the fireplace. (It's a gas fireplace. There is no chimney. M has no problem with this; she blithely explains that Santa is magic.) All day long we checked NORAD's Santa Tracker online. She has been highly motivated by the belief that Santa is monitoring her actions. This morning she cheerfully emptied the dishwasher to demonstrate to Santa her goodwill. She expects presents and has been electrified with anticipation.
My mother sent me a box that I know is See's chocolates, an iTunes gift card, and M made me something at school. That is all that lies under the tree for me. As usual, I bought myself a couple of nice things, taking advantage of the annual sales. I'm pretty excited about the new bicycle pump waiting in the garage for a warm day. I have a few new sweaters.
Tomorrow, after M wakes me up and we come down in our jammies to open the loot, I will make a pot of coffee and watch her tear into the wrapping paper. I will make cinnamon rolls for our breakfast and hot chocolate for her. I have crab legs and zucchini for dinner, and a nice bottle of French Beaujolais. I'm hoping to read and nap midday. At some point we will webcam with the grandparents and the absentee father.
If the day is mild, we may go for a walk in the greenbelt or ride the trailer bike. I am looking forward to a quiet weekend and treats. I don't have a lot to do at work next week; it is the lull before the January storm, and it will be hard to keep busy. Thank goodness my boss offered to let me work from home a couple days, and minimize the number of days M has to spend in Arvada, at my Plan B childcare, since her regular one is closed for the week. Less driving and disruption for me - and I really appreciate it.
This year closes with more peace and tranquility than ever. I am enjoying my daughter and where we are right now. Things are stable and manageable, and I'm in a good place.
The past several days have been consumed by M’s dad coming to visit. I have a lot of my own feelings about him and how it is to deal with him, but my daughter was very happy to have him here.
And I cannot ignore that she is my bottom line; her happiness is my Prime Directive.
More than one friend has told me recently that I need to “let it go.” My indignation and frustration with his antics and his stubborn refusal to cooperate and grow the fuck up drives me crazy. The problem is that I am the only person suffering from it. My daughter is too young to understand or care about the intricacies of our negotiations. She is a child, and she cares about what children care about: she wants to have her daddy around and to do things with him. The rest is dry leaves swirling past in the wind, as far as she is concerned.
My friends are correct in their concern. I recognize the pattern in my life: I hold on to my righteous anger because inside, I think that if I don’t, that it means I’m saying that the “bad behavior” of the person who has wronged me is not that bad. That it’s okay. And I can’t do that. Too many people wanted to gloss over all the horror of my childhood, told me I needed to smile more, and told me to “get over it.” My bitterness was my protest march. My anger was my front page statement that it was NOT okay. I was standing up for myself in the only way I knew how.
But I know how to take care of my daughter – and myself – now. Carrying around this cauldron of bile isn’t making anything better, and it is sapping my energy. I need that energy for the good things I have in my life that make sense for me and my child.
I lose nothing by setting it aside. No one is fooled. No one thinks Buster is doing right by us.
I got through this weekend without incident. I sat and made conversation, kept myself out of the room and out of the activity as much as I could, given the circumstances, and for the most part, kept my mouth shut. In the long run, the bottom line was satisfied. He insisted in going out to eat, and he paid. He couldn’t figure out how to spend the time with M, so I did, and they muddled through in his usual manner. It meant that I sacrificed the entire weekend to his ineptitude... but I can spare a weekend. My daughter finally got the new pair of tennies that she needed, and there were no fights.
I realize that he will tell people whatever he will tell them, and that it just doesn’t matter.
In the end, I am still the one raising my daughter, and that his sporadic visits, even if they should increase in frequency, really don’t change anything. He is who he is, and – as the song says – time is on my side.