The holidays. Usually, I love them. But this year, they are different and most decidedly because I do not have my precious children near me. I struggled through Thanksgiving with no trip to Goofy's Kitchen at Disneyland or, at the very least, a trip to Patty's in Burbank. This Christmas will be my first away from my children in 13 years and while they will be here the very next day on December 26, it just doesn't feel the same.
I can't help but summon the Ghost of Christmas Past, with its vision of 1-month-old Zoe in her tiny Santa suit. We lugged her to many holiday parties that year where she rarely fussed and only once spit up on a very expensive pink velvet chair. I tried to clean it with a green holiday napkin and left a giant stain. We quickly moved to other seating to hide our guilt and I'm sure left soon after, with our tiny Santa baby in tow, laughing over our narrow escape.
Year two, she wore a handmade red cable-knit sweater with matching hat and little jeans. She had just learned to walk and took a nasty spill, splitting her lip. With her port wine stain birthmark under her right eye and blood gushing everywhere, she looked like she'd received a Christmas beating from her parents.
At year 8 or 9, she played Mary in the church nativity play. She was supposed to carry a real baby in the processional, but at the last minute the baby started crying so they gave her a baby doll to hold in swaddling clothes. She had a scowl on her face for the entire play. When it was over, I asked why she had such a sour look. She thrust out the doll and said "Fake Jesus" and walked away.
And then there was Gracie, who at age 8 demanded me to tell her the truth about Santa Claus. She said "don't lie to me Mom". So I told the truth. Then she went to a Girl Scout holiday party and told all the other girls that their moms were lying to them about Santa. Several girls cried and I received a few phone calls from unhappy troop leaders and parents. Right before Christmas that year, Gracie tearfully told me "You should have lied Mom. I want to believe". So I told her that I had made up the story about Santa and that she SHOULD believe because in fact, he IS real. She knew better, but agreed that definitely there IS a Santa Claus.
I miss shopping with the girls to help them choose presents for their dad, his girlfriend, their friends. I miss drinking egg nog with them and going to see Christmas lights and singing carols in church. I miss the Toluca Lake Open House and the Christmas Truck. I miss friends that I've lost and other friends that I've gained who live miles away.
My Christmas spirit is nowhere to be found. The holiday feels so wrong to me now, not just because I'm away from my girls, but because people are hurting each other over $5 off a video game in Walmart. Because there will be a video game out this season called Left Behind: Eternal Forces, where kids will assume the role of a Christian "gang" and go about Manhattan trying to convert atheists and Jews. And if they don't convert, the Christian gang is allowed to kill them. Is this not supposed to be the season of love for each other despite our differences? Isn't it supposedly better to give than to receive? And what about Jesus? Isn't the whole point of the holiday to celebrate his birth? I feel cheated, like Zoe. Fake Jesus.
Pete asked me the other night if maybe we should get Christmas lights for the house. I snapped "No! It isn't necessary and it's wasteful!". Wow. I never thought I'd hear myself say something like that. It reminds me of 9/11. I remember I was so incensed that people started posting American flags on their porches and their cars. "What kind of fake patriotism is this?" I demanded. "Where were your flags the other 364 days in the year?" But my ex saw through me and finally said, very gently, "Would you feel better if you had a flag too?". I broke down and wept with relief. Yes, I wanted to have a flag too. I wanted to be part of something, to show my solidarity and my love of country and my fellow countrymen. I just wanted it to be real.
So, I guess that's my problem this year. It doesn't feel real for me. It feels tainted and lost and tarnished. It will never be shiny and new again. Not like it was when Zoe wore a tiny Santa suit or Gracie still believed. But maybe if I get a little tree, drink egg nog and watch It's a Wonderful Life", I will feel better.
And that would be a Christmas miracle.