I have a pumpkin pie about to come out of the oven and herald the end of a very long, busy day. I am exhausted but I know that I won’t sleep for some time.
My head and my heart are full to bursting.
After my kitchen timer sings and I remove my bubbling pie from the oven, I suspect I will go upstairs and lay with each of my daughters for a few minutes, listening to their soft sleeping noises and feeling their peace. They are dead to the world… physically tired and emotionally drained from their own joy and excitement.
We spent the first of two Christmas evenings with James and his children — me, my two daughters, my mother, James, and three of his four children. It was the kind of evening that I might have hoped for but never expected….
At dinner, I looked down the table. The children, so easy and comfortable with each other, teasing and loving on one another. My mother, tipsy from her martini and relishing every bit of the family experience. And James. I looked at him and wondered how it managed to come together that we should be sitting across from each other at Christmastime….
Life is sure funny.
I never meant to be divorced. Never thought it would ever happen to me. No sir, I was way too smart to end up divorced, to do that to myself, my children, a man I’d once promised to love forever. But there I was tonight: having a “blended family” holiday dinner.
I realized that I am, perhaps, well-prepared for this time… that, just maybe, life has given me exactly what I need to navigate this whole chapter of my journey. I’m adopted, so “family” has never been dictated by DNA for me. Had I relied on that “flesh and blood” measure, life would have been pretty lonely, indeed. No, to me “family” has always meant those people that you love and love you back. Nothing more, nothing less.
I wonder if that is why James’ children have so effortlessly stolen my heart. I worry about them much as I do my own children. I am as affectionate with them, as strict with them, as attentive to them as I am to my own children.
Also, my own mother was a single mother, so I have lived many nights like tonight from my children’s perspective. I remember meeting other kids and wondering if they might, someday, be my sister or brother…. I remember feeling sometimes exhilarated and sometimes mortified at the possibility. I no longer remember the names of most of those children, but I do remember some of the day trips and holiday meals we shared together. I wonder if they remember me similarly, those near-siblings of mine…
Maybe life has provided me with exactly the background necessary to have a truly successful blended family experience? Maybe the quirks and struggles of my early childhood were all so that I could make a successful go at this whole “blended family” thing — one of the most difficult socio-emotional structures of our time? Who knows. What I do know is that it felt so very nice and right tonight, to be there. All of us. Together.
I spent many, many years hosting and attending Christmas gatherings that had all the earmarks of a Norman Rockwell moment… and yet I felt empty. I would often look around me and wonder if anyone else felt the same sense of futility, of desperation, of sadness, with which I was wrestling. More than once, I retreated to the bathroom to fight back tears while staring at my reflection in the mirror and wondering why this wasn’t enough for me. What was missing? Was I crazy? What was wrong with me???
There were no tearful bathroom moments tonight. Instead, I watched the little girls’ “fashion show” and giggled hysterically at their creativity. I smiled as James’ 11-year-old son attempted to explain an X-box game to my 72-year-old mother. And when James pulled me close in the kitchen for a kiss, I sighed and felt dizzy. The beautiful gifts James gave me, as expensive and well-chosen as they were, were nothing compared to those precious moments. Regardless of what the future holds, I will treasure those people and those moments forever. They showed me — concretely and unequivocally — what was missing all those years.
And that was the absolutely best gift ever.
P.S. I wish each of you an equally wonderful present this holiday. Whatever you dream of or your heart secretly desires… I hope that wish comes true for you!