Photo Credit: Jovan Barajevac/Shutterstock
In 2020, I got a pandemic divorce from my husband of 12 years. In our divorce agreement, when it came to divvying up holidays, I wanted Christmas, so I gave him Thanksgiving. We usually spent Thanksgiving with his family, so it made sense. I get to wake up with my kids on Christmas morning every year. It was a worthwhile trade to me.
As my first post-divorce Thanksgiving loomed, COVID thwarted any possible plans to travel and see my family. I didn’t want to accidentally bring coronavirus with me to California, so I decided to skip Thanksgiving altogether.
A couple of my friends invited me to join their meals, but I didn’t want to be that sad spinster in the corner. I didn’t want to feel obligated to bring something to justify my presence or do dishes while grandparents asked me questions. I didn’t want to potentially get sick from someone else’s family or infect anyone who was taking me in.
On the day of the holiday, I walked my pandemic puppy. I had ordered Mexican takeout the night before and chose two entrées to assure I had ample food for the next couple days without having to cook or make a trip to the store. I watched a Christmas movie and snuggled the dog.
It wasn’t until I heated up my leftovers and sat down at my kitchen table that I started to feel something was missing. My kitchen window had no blinds and I was aware that if someone was taking a post-turkey walk, they’d see me: 35 years old, in sweats, eating leftover fajitas alone in my kitchen. Potentially seeing myself through a neighbor’s eyes made me feel like I had made a mistake. I should have gone to a friend’s house. I should have gone somewhere. I cried into my guac and felt sorry for myself.
My house was messy in the wake of the kids’ return, the pine needles shedding, the dog, the dishes. The tree tied the house together, signaled the start of a new season in my new house with my new version of my family: small, never quiet, and so different from last year, but safe and warm.
After dinner, I tried to forget the day, tried to pretend again that this was a normal night in, but the damage had been done. I missed my kids. I missed the noise of the family talking over each other. I missed my mom. I missed his mom. I didn’t miss him, but I missed the family I had been a part of for the last decade and a half.
I went to bed and woke up insanely relieved to be free of the weight of the day. My kids were coming back this afternoon and we would snuggle, watch Muppet Christmas Carol, and start planning our Christmas together.
I went to the hardware store near my house that was having a tree sale to benefit the high school. Usually, we’d make a thing of getting a tree, schlep out to the country with my in-laws to a farm — the same farm my ex went to as a kid — and cut down a big one. We’d get muddy and have a cup of complimentary hot cocoa while they affixed our tree to the roof of the car. My ex was taking the kids to do that today before he brought them home. I went to the hardware store, picked a tree about my height, and had them shove it into the back of the minivan.
I carried it into my living room, shedding pine needles all over my floor, and got it into the tree stand all by myself. It was crooked and looked like a Seussian tree, but it was my tree. When the kids got home, we decorated it with all the family ornaments.
After bedtime, I snuggled the puppy on the couch and looked at the lights on my tree. My house was messy in the wake of the kids’ return, the pine needles shedding, the dog, the dishes. The tree tied the house together, signaled the start of a new season in my new house with my new version of my family: small, never quiet, and so different from last year, but safe and warm. I was thankful. Usually I’m a staunch not-before-December tree person, but this year, Christmas season had to come early.
As I gear up for Thanksgiving this year, when I’m planning to travel, sans kids, to see my family, I remember how hard it was being alone last year. I did it, though. I’m grateful that this year it’s safe to be together, and I’m proud of myself for finding my own holiday traditions.