Thursday, December 21, 2017

A different kind of Christmas


I used to despise Christmas. I was uncomfortable with the consumerist hijack of a religious holiday and the societal pressure to have your Christmas look like a Hallmark card. I was sensitive to the highlighting of poverty as people stretched to achieve some shiny capitalist dream. Then I had a child and the magic of the season wormed it’s way into our lives. Sound familiar?
I made my peace by integrating meaningful traditions into our Christmas and holding the focus on appreciating and being with those we love. We make presents and decorations, give away peppermint bark and sugar cookies, pimp our tree and laugh our way through Christmas music (thank goodness for the Pogue’s Fairytale of New York). We do an act of service for our local mission, though this year that has fallen off the list. Things have changed. These last two years have been more about survival than celebration. We qualify for charity rather than giving it. And something weird has happened. This morning I found myself oddly wishing for the Hallmark card version of the Christmas dream.

The only presents under my tree are for my son. They are from me. He visits friend’s houses and sees the piles of gifts from friends, cousins, grandparents and I see the questions in his eyes. We’re not a materialistic family but in years past our tree looked like that too.  The reasons for the slim pickings under our tree are many. A few years ago we made the decision to give presents just for the kids, some of our people are really into zero waste living, some are mentally ill, or live too far away, or live in a caravan on a benefit. I imagine that some go to his dad’s house now. This is all just life. But it’s hard to explain to a child or even adjust to as the grown up.

I have single mama friends whose kids will be getting $10 gifts and pizza on the beach on Christmas Day. Those kids don’t know how to ride bikes or had swimming lessons because their mama can’t afford them. Sometimes their mama cries at night because she doesn’t know how she will fill their lunchboxes. Those kids may not have bikes but there is so much love in that family it beams out of them. I have another single mama friend who is living in a tent with her two kids. Again, love beams out of that tent like crazy. My friends are awesome. Their kids are lucky in many ways. But living hand to mouth with no financial buffer takes its toll on a person. It gives a person a certain look. I saw that look in many women’s eyes at Pak n Save today and I see it in the waiting room at WINZ.
I have a suggestion. If you want to do an act of service this Christmas buy a gift card from a supermarket or a pressie card and pop it in a single mama’s letterbox. Little things like that can make a huge difference.

I bought myself a gift and will put it under our tree on Christmas Eve. (It’s a couture linen sundress I found at the opshop and I can’t wait to open it). Next year I must remember to give my boy some money so he can do his own Christmas shopping. I am new at this. I am not sure how this two-person Christmas thing goes. There is something about Christmas that puts everything crappy under a big spotlight. That stress on top of having to work too much, the emotional fallout of betrayal, financial strain, the aftermath of moving house (again), uncertainty about the future…it all adds up to a bone deep exhaustion in me that no amount of coffee or cheesy Christmas music is alleviating.  

This year my son’s dad picks him up at 11 and for the rest of Christmas I will be alone. For many years I chose this. As a young radical living overseas it was easy to step out of the Christmas thing. This year it is not from choice. That feels vastly different. Asking around I have discovered that there are other single parents who are childless and with no family around who are alone over the holidays too. We’re thinking of convening an orphans Christmas picnic on the beach. 
I don’t want to be available for the phone calls from my son who will be with Granny and Grandpa, aunts and uncles and cousins. There is no longer a place for me there, and that saddens me. It was not my choice. But I will take the phone call and I will make it a good one. That’s what mothers do.

We’ll make the most of our Christmas Eve together. It will be the two of us and it will be fabulous.  I love being with my boy. We have a feast planned. I'm cooking. He’s in charge of dessert and rolling his eyes at my choice of music.  



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