I have one Christmas memory from my early childhood.
I’ve thought about that sentence all day. First, I tried to scan all the corners of my brain, lest I make a liar out of myself on social media to make sure it’s true. It is true. I also thought about what a bummer that is to admit out loud…or out…keyboard (since I’m typing this after all), but here I am, staying on brand to bum y’all out this holiday season as I’ve done most years before. You’re welcome.
My parents divorced when I was three, remarried, and were divorced again by the time I was five. Somewhere in that space of time, my only early Christmas memory was formed.
I remember standing in our living room with its white walls and brown trim, its forest green carpet and the TV stand holding a chunky late ’80s TV that would much later blast Batman, the Clinton/Gore election, and Saturday night Nickelodeon shows. But this night, my mom, my dad, and I were putting up our Christmas tree and The Grinch was on. Around the time the Whos gathered ’round their communal tree and began to sing, my parents joined hands and took one of mine each and we sang and danced around the tree too. I’m sure it maybe lasted two minutes. I don’t remember what we did before or after. And it wasn’t some huge event that they did with any sort of intention I’m sure, but it’s the only memory I have of Christmas when I was young.
I know we went to my mom’s side on Christmas Eve, my dad’s on Christmas Day. Much later, I can remember events that took place each holiday season, but from birth to about eight or nine? That’s it. The one memory I have.
I think a lot about that as an adult with kids — kids who split time between my home and another. I wonder what memories they’ve made. I wonder what they will each retain as sacred in the Christmas season. I mostly wonder if one day they’ll look back on their childhoods and realize their mom was a big ole phony who put a tree in every room starting November 1st and took them to see lights and meet Santas and shop for other kids in need and did all the shiny happy Christmas things from a place of holiday trauma. I hope not. And yet, here we are.
Maybe if I overload their senses with twinkly lights and thumbprint ornament crafts and matching pajamas, they won’t sit in their car one December morning at 33-years-old, waiting for the light to change from red to green and realize their Christmases just aren’t there. Aren’t in their memories. And they just have the one small thing to go on.
I wonder what spending the majority of their time in a one-parent home will leave them longing for year-round, not just when the Advent calendars come out, but something about Christmas makes it a little more nuanced. Will they wish they had a man, any man at all, here to hang out with at night? Will they say, “Mom was doing her best,” with an air of grace or of resentment? Will their one Christmas memory be the time the dog ate all the presents from under the tree and threw up foil and cardboard for days? Who knows. I really am trying to make the holidays memorable for all of us, no matter the underlying reasons behind my efforts. Sometimes it’s just, well, it’s hard.
About ten years ago I was 18 weeks pregnant with my oldest. I was lying on the couch, watching The Grinch, and he kicked for the first time. I sat up and remembered back nearly two decades thinking I had come full-circle in a way.