Christmas deja vu…

My ex-husband, “Bryce,” and I have a rather unusual co-parenting situation.  Two years past our finalized divorce and we’re still spending special occasions together as a family.  Sometimes this is as simple as us, our children, and our significant others sitting together at school functions.   Sometimes it takes the form of throwing joint birthday parties for our girls, with everyone pitching in to help and make it a special day.

But Christmas is the pinnacle of our post-divorce cordiality.  Our divorce decree dictates that we are to exchange the girls at noon on Christmas day, but each year so far, we have continued to get together at the crack of dawn to see the girls discover Santa’s schwag and open the treasures under the tree.   We make Russian tea and light breakfast snacks, take photos, and generally have all the semblance of an oddly-extended family.

Life after divorce is certainly a series of “aha” moments — when the past and the present converge to illuminate something that seems so clear and simple that you can’t believe you never noticed it or understood it before.  This Christmas, Santa delivered me just such a moment.

Christmas morning I awoke early and set about readying the house for the arrival of Bryce and his girlfriend, “Debbie.”  I lit the fire and the candles, put the breakfast casserole I’d prepared the night before in the oven and the tea on the stove, and turned on the Christmas music.   The stage was set for a lovely and merry celebration.

As we moved through the motions of gift-opening and ooh-ing and ahh-ing, I observed my family, as if from a distance, with the memory of the weekend’s celebrations with James’ family still fresh in my consciousness.   I saw Bryce’s impatience with the girls’ giddiness, and his refusal to eat any of the food, including the banana bread Debbie had so thoughtfully brought over.  I saw his stiffness and forced smile.  I saw Debbie trying to keep things running smoothly (wait a second…  why does that look so familiar…?  oh, right… now I remember….).  I saw the children’s almost manic exuberance, as if they were intent on forcibly infusing joy into the very proper and formal proceedings.

Slowly, it dawned on me that there was something very off about the tableau playing out in front of me…. There was nothing horribly wrong or dysfunctional about the morning…  no nasty arguments or discourse….it simply lacked any warmth or lightness or connection.  Small, kind comments were exchanged, some sincere expressions of gratitude were made, but it didn’t feel fun.  Honestly, there wasn’t anything fun about it.  It was like the equivalent of a first date in which the food is fine, the wine is fine, the conversation is fine, and yet you’ve forgotten his name by the time you get home.

And suddenly, as I sat by the fire that morning and sipped my tea and soaked it all in, the epiphany arrived:  this Christmas was not this way because we’re divorced and things are awkward and Debbie was there for the first time.  No, this Christmas was this way because it was always this way.

Bryce and I tried.  Sincerely, I think we both tried very hard, in our own ways, for all those years, to create something special on those mornings.  We did what we knew to do — all the same stage settings I did this morning.  But I remember, over the years, looking across the room at him, as our girls tore into some much anticipated present, and having his eyes lock with mine for only a brief moment, before his gaze darted away, the connection broken almost as quickly as it was made.  And I would be left feeling dizzily detached on a morning that I’d always anticipated would be pregnant with intimate, shared family moments.

I feel certain that we both wanted it to be different, but didn’t know how to make it so.  I think we had a mutual vision for a Christmas morning that was fun and relaxed and warm, but we never quite got it there.  And, frankly, lacking both the skills and the raw materials within our relationship to truly create that connection, our efforts were likely doomed.

Later that morning, as I lay on my sofa and watched my girls play with their gifts, I pondered our previous shared family dynamic and how it has affected our current dynamic.  It occurred to me that maybe the very nature of our marriage is the reason we can be good to each other after our divorce.  Maybe it was the formality and distance within our marriage that has enabled us to remain mostly cordial to each other.  Maybe it is because our relationship has been merely altered, rather than seismically shifted, that is the crux of our current “success.”   If Christmases had been close, connected affairs, overflowing with our love for each other and our family, it might be impossible to comfortably fake our way through it as a divorced couple.  But there was little appreciable difference between today and a Christmas morning 10 years ago.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, an acquaintance mom approached me at one of the holiday school functions and laughingly told me that she and some others felt that Bryce and I should be voted “Best Divorced Couple.”  This is especially amusing if you’ve read this post, detailing my horror at being informed by my best friend during my marriage that Bryce and I were the infamous “Jones'” couple that everyone is always comparing themselves to at a disadvantage.  Apparently, Bryce and I are destined to be the prom king and queen of whatever relationship status we occupy.  It’s a little bit ridiculous, isn’t it?

My Christmas epiphany brought me a sense of gratitude.  Rather than seeing the nature of our marriage or our current relationship as something sad or unfortunate, I am instead feeling appreciative of it.  As I am no longer in the marriage, I see no point in wishing it had been something other than it was, and I think it may serve us very well as a divorced couple.  No, our shared Christmas mornings will not be lively or intimate, but at least we’re able to have them, which continues  be important to my daughters.  And if those mornings were lively or intimate, how might that actually feel to me?  What regrets might that prompt?  As it is, these mutual occasions serve as a very firm reminder of what our marriage was and why it no longer exists.   So, maybe for all of us, that’s the best possible thing.  The rest of the holiday celebrations the girls and I shared were very merry occasions indeed, and if our daughters want us to simultaneously share Christmas morning with them, how much of a sacrifice is that really?

So, while my little epiphany was a tad melancholy in the moment, with a bit of introspection, it was also reassuring of both my decision to leave, and the path I’m on currently.  I am grateful to Bryce that we can find some mutual understanding of cordiality for the sake of our children; that our love for them is still preeminent.  And I am grateful for the sharp contrast between that morning and the holiday celebrations that we shared with James.  There is much to be learned from that contrast — about me, what I seek for myself and my girls, and the choices I’m making now.  Funny how a somewhat sad Christmas morning can take on a positive shine when viewed from a distance.

It seems the only consistent thing about this journey is the surprises along the way…. but I guess that’s what Christmas mornings are all about, right?

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10 Comments

Filed under divorce, marriage, relationships, single mom

10 responses to “Christmas deja vu…

  1. Over time I have learned more and more of the back story between you and your ex.

    No one leaps to the support of the person that left a marriage without a sense of the ‘why’ the person left. I’ve reached the conclusion that your situation was and is different. Your post tonight demonstrates my current theory…

    Some people — most people as far as I know — leave a marriage because of someone else or the *idea* of someone else. Some wise sage passed on that gem to me. 🙂 Some people leave because their partner makes it hard to stay.

    You left for reasons that seem different: You never really had a “marriage” in the sense I understand it. The thing I have noticed about some of the ‘power’ marriages in my neighborhood is that some marriages seem to be more professional partnerships than anything else. In yoir case, perhaps you don’t experience a dramatically different Xmas today because the partnership is still there, as professional and unemotional as before. Now, however, you have a real relationship that lights your spirit in ways the ‘marriage’ never did. It stands in such contrast to your past marriage that you can cope with a one-family Xmas celebration without deep regret and without great friction.

    The local ‘awards’ for both the marriage and divorce may be more due to the lack of conflict than to the perception of passion… It’s an easy mistake for people to make: comfortable isn’t necessarily happy nor sufficient.

    I hope you don’t mind me passing on my theory like this. Please feel free to correct me as necessary.

    • SD, you’ve certainly hit upon something that I felt for much of my marriage — we were a really good partnership. We worked well together. We parented well together. We managed our family and our home and our finances well together. What we seemed to struggle with was something that comes so naturally to some other couples — we struggled to be playful together. To have fun. To be silly. Sure, we laughed. Bryce has a great, dry sense of humor and a quick wit, and we liked much of the same popular humor. But it was more like we experienced the same humor side-by-side, rather than as a connection.

      James and I will occasionally be ambushed in the morning by our children leaping on the bed and burrowing beneath the covers, where they are then assaulted by the Tickle Monster (James) who attacks them until they are breathless and begging for him to stop. Meanwhile, I hug and kiss and cuddle until they wiggle out of my grasp. It is the kind of simple, easy playfulness that Bryce and I could never muster. I don’t know why. I’m glad I have it in my life now, and I hope he has it in his, too.

      And, yes, the “awards” are an easy mistake to make. I think often people confuse a lack of conflict with happiness. But happiness studies have consistently shown that low-conflict does not always equate with happiness. Even so, I can understand and appreciate the mistake…. it is one I expect I unknowingly have made on occasion as well. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on MysteryCoach and commented:
    I love this woman’s mind … 🙂

  3. What an interesting introspective analysis. There are a lot of very broken people in the world. I wish that I could have had that kind of relationship with my ex, she was cnstantly verbally abusive.

    John Wilder

    • I’m sorry that you’re not able to have a good relationship with your ex. I know, from watching my friends, how frustrating and exhausting that can be.

      I wonder what your ex’s perspective on your relationship… what do you suppose she would say are the reasons for your current dynamic? No need to answer… it’s just something that I always think is interesting and illuminating…. 🙂

  4. You will remember that moment because it was the beginning of seeing things differently.

    • There are so many of those moments, aren’t there? I was just telling a friend today that everytime I think I’ve developed new paradigm, my world shifts a little bit and I have to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. 🙂

      • You know what I like? I like the shifts because when we start seeing things differently, I’ve found most times, life gets better. We let go of some things and then other things replace the bad and the ugly.

        It’s like, being an old penny and then someone shines us up and shows us how brilliant we really are. (the “someone” being ourselves or friends etc.)

        Since I like shinny, I love it!

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