Christmas is wonderful – and hard

December 1st. Yes! We made it through November. Is there a way to request that November be stricken from the calendar permanently? I am sure we could celebrate Thanksgiving and November birthdays in December. But December brings its own set of bullshit. Let’s just jump from September to January and extend all the months by a few days… Ok, Ok, I get it – not possible.

My youngest daughter is over the moon that it is December and the Christmas season is here. She is sitting next to me right now on the floor, with her new Santa footie jammies on, drinking hot cocoa and eating cinnamon toast, in front of a fire. By her request, the tree has been up since last weekend and the rest of the house is in transition to holiday madness. She’s thrilled.

I am never that thrilled. Bringing the tree in from the garage is such a task every year and I always end up scratched and mean because of it. Only half the lights are working on it. I don’t want to spend the money to address that issue. My girls asked if we could get a real tree this year. Ummmm…if I don’t want to go spend money on new lights, do you really think I want to lay down $75 for a tree? One that will be dropping needles on my rug from day one? Nah – I’ll pass. So the tree is up in the living room – half lit. And no ornaments because you can’t put on the ornaments until all the lights are on – right? That’s what my dad always said. This situation needs to be addressed this weekend cuz it’s depressing af.

The fact that she is so happy about Christmas makes me smile. This is a very special girl with a heart the size of Texas, and she brings all of us together with her amazing spirit that is evident all year long. November was tough for her too this year. She really struggled on the deathiversary, more that the rest of us did. She was going thru a lot of transitions – new school, new loss in her life, dealing with some learning issues, anniversary of her dad’s death. Children grieve so much differently than adults do and she has a very unusual path – grieving a dad that died before she was born. Children tend to grieve in fits and spurts – they take a break from it, which is such a superhero power. As little kids grow up, they continue to re-grieve the loss as they understand it better. Death changes from make-believe and a faraway concept, to reality and the revelation of the enormity of the loss. As kids continue to grow, they then re-grieve the loss as they experience events that their person “should” be there for: sports, awards ceremonies, illness, holidays, prom, graduations, weddings, etc. It’s a hell of a path. My girls have constantly impressed me with their openness about their feelings, their ability to talk about what is going on for them, their ability to share their journey with others, and their resilience.

I loved Christmas all my life – until Steve died. And what’s funny about that is that he really didn’t love it, and I really did everything holiday related for our family. He was the guy that was out getting my present on Christmas Eve. He was so damn touchy about everything and the holidays could just set him off. He loved seeing the girls happy on Christmas morning and he loved telling me to get in the car in my pajamas to go drive around and look at Christmas lights together. We did have some wonderful holiday memories together.

After he died, the first Christmas I don’t even remember really. I remember that 15 days before, we had the wind and ice storm of a lifetime and lost power for 7 days. Mind you, this was just a month after he died so my garage freezer was chock full of all nature of casseroles and other goodies that were so generously brought to us.  All gone. We spent that powerless week with my mother and father in-law that lived not too far away and had power. Being away from home was really hard after Steve died and it was rough being gone for 7 days. Not to mention the fact that I had shopping still to do, wrapping to do – and I had just figured out that I was pregnant. Good times.

I don’t know why Christmas is a struggle for me every year still. I suppose it’s simply the having to do all of it myself and managing to pull it all off for my girls. This year, money is tighter than it’s ever been, so I have already prepped them for a smaller Christmas morning. And they will be OK with that. We are a strong unit – all for one and one for all, and they are fully aware of the financial issues that are going on at the moment. My kids are true survivors.

When I get right down to the heart of it, I simply hate that I am an only parent to these amazing kids. I hate that our family doesn’t look like it’s “supposed” to. I hate that there is always someone missing. I hate that I am alone. Again. I hate it all but I keep going and pushing forward because I love them all so damn much. I am a very strong person but every now and then I need someone to hold my hand and hug me tight and tell me everything is going to be all right. And drive me around to look at the lights in my jammies.

“If my life has taught you anything, I hope it is these three things:

Hell is real

So is love

And both can be survived”

Widowed and…Dating?

The first time I was asked about my interest in dating after Steve died was about one month in. One month! And I was pregnant – not exactly prime dating material. I was kind of horrified when I was asked about dating then. I couldn’t think about it – there was simply not enough room in my brain and the thought was about as appealing then as hot French onion soup on a sizzling summer day. I wasn’t sure I would ever date and I didn’t care at the time. Who could think about such things while expecting your third child? I suppose some could but it just made me laugh.

Fast forward about 3 years – my baby was two, my big girls were bigger and life was starting to seem a bit more manageable. Ah, not really. It still doesn’t feel manageable. But the thought of dating, of finding someone that I could have some good, quality adult time with – that seemed worth making manageable. I would say that dating in and of itself did not seem appealing. Good Lord – who wants to go through all the BS that entails. How do you even go about it at the age of 39? Bars? Online dating? Yuck. No thanks.

I have a really great male friend – that I have never met. He knew my husband professionally when we lived in Massachusetts. He reached out to me after Steve died to offer condolences but also to let me know that he understood what I was going thru as his wife had died just a few months earlier, leaving him an only parent to 2 girls about the same age as mine. Of course, he wasn’t pregnant. But we connected through Facebook and have had a fun, unique, supportive relationship ever since. He had started dating and was encouraging me to do the same. “How?” I asked. “Tell your friends you are open to it. They will know someone who will know someone. Trust me.” He likes to tell me to trust him and I usually do. I do not always listen to his advice – he doesn’t like that.

So I did it. I told a friend that I was open to dating and right away that friend introduced me to a lifelong friend of hers that was single. We were introduced electronically and that made it a bit easier for me, a bit of a gentler entry into this new uncharted territory.  Thank God for technology! I don’t know how single parents did this before texting and Facebook and messenger. How do you incorporate meeting and getting to know a new person without the covert means of texting? I certainly didn’t want to tell my girls that I was dipping my toe into the dating world – I wasn’t sure I was ready yet, let alone them. This man and I started a conversation and then met in person about a month later on a…. date. I was 39 years old and hadn’t gone out on a first date since I was 22. And I had children. And a wagon  full of baggage. 

I have always had incredibly low self-esteem and here I was hoping this new person would find this 39 year old, widowed version of me attractive. I was beside myself with nerves – changed my clothes 3 times and kept calling friends for reassurance. My girls were at my in-laws that evening and I was on my own – such a rare occurrence. We had agreed to meet at a restaurant that was in a really busy shopping area – and it was a week before Christmas. I made a critical error in coming up with that plan and another one in not leaving enough time to get there. I was late. Everyone that knows me will not be shocked by this but I felt terrible. I was really late. And I texted him that I was trying to get there but traffic was crazy heavy. I was worried that he wouldn’t wait for me, that he would think that it was a waste of his time. That was the low self-esteem sneaking out. Hell, that night it wasn’t sneaking out – it was balls out and making me doubt everything from my outfit to my butt to my eyebrows.  But he waited for me. We had a lovely time through drinks and dinner. He walked me to my car and then it was done. I did it. I went on a date. What the hell? But it felt good, felt great to remember a whole other piece of myself and to look at myself in a whole new light. It seemed really significant at the time, like a whole new milestone had been reached in my life. How funny to feel so accomplished over something people do every single day all over the world. But this wasn’t just any date. This was a moment for me to really move forward in my life and to let the universe know that I was in, that I was ready for what was next and that I was hopeful that there was more for me out there. Feeling hopeful felt really good.

As I type this I am realizing I had a very similar first date many years later. I was almost 45 minutes late, totally unintentionally, but so late and felt so badly. He also waited for me – thank goodness. I have discovered that I am worth waiting for, worth fighting for and worth all the excitement, pain and disruption of loving me. I am worth it all and that I know for sure now, in a way that I never did before. I’m fucking amazing.