Monday, December 24, 2012
Train Crashes into Iceberg
I'm not sure when my personal Polar Express derailed. The train wreck was already unfolding long before the end of my marriage. In the decade before we had children, The Someone and I frequently traveled back to the Midwest to spend the holidays with family. The year that our second child was born delivered the coldest Iowa winter on record. The airlines lost the children's car seats, our winter coats, and all our luggage. It was days before I had anything to wear besides my brother's sweatpants, and The Someone complained for years that the muscle cramps in his back were due to being underdressed while pulling our three-year-old on a sled. But it was probably carrying our hatless, coatless baby inside my shirt from the airport door to the curb and into my brother's drafty truck in sub-zero weather that convinced us we should to create our own Christmas traditions in Los Angeles.
Other than the gingerbread house baked from scratch and the sugar cookies, not much stuck to the free- floating iceberg of our lives away from family. There were a couple years of dad and daughter forays to choose a Christmas tree, several years of big festive dinners with friends. There were a few years at the same favorite restaurant for Christmas Eve dinner A few years of a Christmas carol Mass at the church The Someone attended--for which we routinely forgot to bring the de rigueur gift for needy children. Some years I cooked salmon. Some years I have no idea what we ate. Gifts for our children figured quite prominently into the celebration when they were younger, but The Someone and I never shopped together for them--or even discussed what they might like--that I can recall. Our 1950s division of labor required that I tend to those sorts of errands while he made the money. We bought gifts for one another, of course--in the early years before children, quite lovely sentimental things. Later when there was money he bought me diamond earrings, pearls, a beautiful outfit, or a cashmere sweater. But, in the later years, as the pressures at work pulled The Someone away from us for more and more hours, as our appetites for everything diminished, as our marriage lodged into some kind of permanent solstice, Christmas seemed like a charade.
My gifts from The Someone became more and more impersonal, and the things I chose for him never quite hit the mark. Books remained unread, a scarf stayed in its box, the whimsical choice of a 6 ft. tall farm windmill never went to his office as I thought it might. The daughters stockings were filled with the same lip balm, the same lotions--until we did away with gift-giving all together. No one in our house really needed anything, and if there was something Mr. Ex and I wanted, well, those desires went undetected on our personal radar.
I had my chance to reinvent Christmas when the marriage ended, but I didn't. The daughters were pretty much grown--and Thanksgiving is our day for gathering together. As my son's birthmother, while I'm not regarded by him as superfluous, I am wary of elbowing into the traditions created by the parents who raised him. So each year has been different since 2007. Hawaii, St. Paul, home--which has, itself, changed again this year. The man who loves me and I don't make a big deal out of Christmas either. We'll eat dinner at my place with my mother tonight, and tomorrow he'll go off to his sister's place. But I'm searching for something. Not religion. Not material things. Just something, or some place, or a purpose I can look forward to during the darkest week of the year.