This isn't my first Christmas as a single woman. I was single last year as well. However, the divorce wasn't final and my fabulous ex sent plant tickets to Alaska to the kids that live here and kept the ones that went with him....I had no legal recourse since there was no divorce agreement and there was nothing I could do so I spent my first Christmas alone...alone. Fortunately, I was distracted by a terrible stomach virus that relieved me of almost 8 lbs in two days so I didn't have to think too much about the fact that I was spending my first Christmas ever away from my children since they were born. So that one doesn't count. This year is my Christmas and I get to have all the kids. Well, that's not strictly true....I don't have any claim at all to Bobby Christie and Becca but we had our Holiday dinner and I will just have to let them see their Dad for Christmas this year. But I am guaranteed Kyle, Jessie and Katie and it only cost me $3000.00 to bring my daughters home for the holiday!
Again....before I go any further, some history is in order here....
I grew up in the most wonderful family and we always had the best Christmases. No matter how high my expectations were, our Christmases were always beautiful and exceeded anything that I wished for. We always had our stockings with a pile of gifts that we could have before church. Our stockings were always stuffed with candy, nuts, fruit and small gifts but our real "stocking" gifts sat there with our stockings and while sometimes, when I was little, that gift was an outfit hand made by Grandma for me to wear to church (boring...) it was usually something that we loved and were satisfied enough by to get us through church....After church, we all got to open the rest of our gifts, one at a time, watching each other the whole time. I can't remember a year that I didn't get everything I wanted, and, I remember BOTH years that we got encyclopedias as a gift......(some of you younger readers probably don't even know what encyclopedias are....they are sort of like a hard back version of everything you could ever look up on google and boring as hell....but necessary for reports etc before the Internet was invented...)
Even with all of that, our Christmases were so much more. There was the decorating and the traditions that we had every year. What I remember most was the Advent Wreath that we had on the dinner table during Advent and singing "Oh Come oh Come Emmanuel" every night and lighting the candles before dinner. Also, the Nativity scene that Mom had (still has actually) and always took so much time and care to set up with real evergreens and lights. The wise men were off to the right until Christmas Eve and JC never appeared in the manger until Christmas day. I remember what kind of tree we always had, but not the specific ornaments, except for the ones that Marty made with our names on them. I very clearly remember the tree stand....don't ask me why.
When I was a very little girl, I remember Mom working on our stockings. She made them from felt and the decorations were intricate and amazing. Our stockings were always one of my favorite things about Christmas. They were beautiful, mine has an angel on it (no laughing). I also remember the baking. Applesauce Gumdrop cake is still one of my favorites. There was always banana nut bread (or Nana butt bread, as Katie calls it) different treats and candies and cookies.
Christmas usually took place at our house, after the first few years when we lived in Tulsa and had to drag all over to Grandparents houses to visit. Sometimes we had family come but it was always a real family event for us and usually took place at our house. As we grew older, Mom started having us visit Nursing homes and homes for challenged children to help bring them some Christmas cheer. It was good for us, even if we didn't want to admit it.
As my children were born and I began to raise a family I discovered that I couldn't make Christmas for my family the way I wanted to, or the way that it had always been for me. Not only were Christmas decorations expensive, baking supplies cost a lot too and having to buy presents for six kids made any other gifts for family or friends impossible. It became a huge strain....A time of year to be dreaded for months and months ahead of time. I was only comfortable for about 5 months after Christmas was over and the rest of the time I was dreading the coming holiday and worrying about where the money would come from and how we would get through it. For several years, we bought day old baby calves and hand raised them so that we could sell them for slaughter in the fall to get money for Christmas gifts. Not the easiest way to make extra money, and often hard to explain to the kids......"Yes baby, I'm sorry but Elmer has to go bye bye" and "No honey, these aren't REALLY burgers made from Brown-Brown..."
All of that combined with the differences between my husband and I made Christmas a time to be dreaded. Although Rob was raised Catholic like me, he claimed to be an atheist, and was very adamant about not allowing the kids to have any religious influence in their lives. So church was out of the question. Despite his religious views, he did bring home the most obnoxious life sized, light up Nativity scene one year and insisted on putting it in front of the barn every year after that. The hypocritical nature of that mixed with the pure white trashiness of it just horrified me.
I did try to make our own traditions however, even though they were different than what I remembered. We had a set of sleigh bells that were always hanging around in one of the barns. One year, I took them and ran around the house with them right when I thought the kids would be falling asleep.....The girls were gone but Kyle heard the bells and looked out the window, only to see "something" out in the snow.....He was convinced that it was Santa. He went to school after the break and insisted with renewed conviction that Santa was real and Kyle had seen him!! Well, he was about 8 or 9 at the time so his insistence got him into a fight and nearly suspended from school. A couple of painful days later, I was forced to tell him the truth and admit that his mom was a terrible liar and had caused all of his problems.....I had to tell him the truth about the bells. Needless to say, I never did that again and after that year, Kyle's favorite part of Christmas was getting to stay up late, eat the cookies left out for Santa and help me fill the girls stockings....I think Katie still believes in Santa, and she's 16 now....(sorry, baby, if you're reading this)
My husband and I both worked in retail so Christmas for us was always more like a day than a season. Often, Christmas day was my only day off. Fortunately, his job was with Lowe's, not a traditional Christmas store so he could take some time off during Christmas, even take a vacation if he wanted. What I remember the most from the last 20 Christmases, is being exhausted, overworked, stressed and worried. I really hated it. I hated everything about it, even the music. Even after we started to make money, Christmas was just too busy of a time to allow me any freedom to do it the way I wanted.
I was all set to go through the same stuff this year as well. Even though I'm so very happy to get to have my girls home for the first time in almost 6 months, I knew that there wouldn't be a lot of gifts for them after what I had to pay for their plane tickets. After I found out what their father had given them for Christmas, I was just a little hopeless about the whole thing. The last several years have been very good ones for my kids in terms of gifts....We were doing very well financially before the divorce and after so many years of being destitute, it was hard not to go overboard with presents for them. They got everything they wanted and had sort of become spoiled.
Since this has been such a year of change for me, I guess I just wasn't happy with having to deal with all those crappy old emotions left over from my past. I want Christmas to be different this year. I don't want to be stressed and miserable and I want to be able to give my kids a Christmas to remember. Since I can't buy them the world like their father can, I thought maybe I could give them something that he can't give them, something that might last longer than a computer or a camera or some clothes. I can give them some Christmas spirit and a memory to take with them when they leave.
And so Christmas will be different this year. I concentrated on all the things that I missed so much from the last 20 years. I did lots of baking, using baked goods as gifts for friends and family, I even gave them to my managers instead of their usual gifts from me. Most people that I gave gifts to got something made by me with love instead of a bought gift. It wasn't easy....I had to make so much stuff, and Kyle and his friends kept eating the fruits of my labor before I could wrap them up and I would have to make more....That didn't really bother me though. I liked it that my efforts were a success and that the boys couldn't keep their hands off of the goodies.
I've been concentrating on the true meaning of Christmas. I started going to church before Rob left but I actually joined my church about a year ago and I have been trying to re-familiarize myself with the traditions and meaning behind Christmas. I had to make myself an Advent Wreath, as I guess that's not the sort of thing you can just walk into WalMart and buy....And instead of buying my kids a bunch of expensive presents I picked four cards off the Angel Tree at Church (selfish til the end, I couldn't bring myself to pick the card for clothing....all the ones I picked out were for toys). One each for Becca, Kyle, Jessie and Katie. I explained to them that we were buying gifts this year for people who had less than we did. They were terrific about it. Katie even wanted to go buy stuff for her Angel Tree kid herself and mail it (she has a job and her own money and I was sooo proud of her for that) but there wasn't time so I had to do it all, not that I minded. It's the thought that counts and I knew that I could impress my children with the thought behind the gifts, even if they weren't here to help shop for them and wrap them. I did the best I could and when my presents joined the others beneath the tree at church today I felt so happy and satisfied. Becca even went with me today so the joy was even greater.
I have decorated the inside of my house as well as I can. My tree is filled with ornaments made by Aunt Amy over the years. I left all the other ornaments in their boxes so I really feel that my whole tree is decorated with love. For those of you who don't know, Amy has hand made ornaments for each of her nieces and nephews every year. I have ornaments made by her from 1990 until now....That's 19 years....anywhere from 4 to 6 a year so that's somewhere around 50 to 60 ornaments. Some have disappeared, some were broken but most remain and it's more than enough to decorate a 4 ft tree. I have bought some new stuff, but not much. I have a lot of lights and most of my decorations are seasonal and festive without being centered on "Santa" or snowmen or the like. Like my mother, I have at least 6 or 7 different Nativity scenes around the house along with lots of candles.
In addition to these more superficial preparations I have made our plans for Christmas as well. We will attend Midnight mass (one of the most beautiful ceremonies in the Catholic religion) at my church. I won't force anyone to go but I will encourage and welcome those who chose to participate. After that, we will drive to Bartlesville to work the Christmas day dinner with my Mom. She puts this together every year. A dinner for those who are alone, or unable to get out, or who don't have the means. Kyle will wash dishes, Jessie and Katie will serve and I will do some unknown computer thing.....But we will work on Christmas day. We will work to bring some joy and spirit to those who have less than we do.
I'm sort of looking forward to Christmas, and I really can't remember the last time I felt like this. I have been less stressed about it this year and I think it might actually be a good one. So....Merry Christmas everyone, and I REALLY mean it!