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Adeste Fideles

December 21, 2009

I was singing my younger son to sleep last night, and because I’m starting to believe my own hype (tree up and decorated, two holiday events with music attended and enjoyed, some presents exchanged, a big beautiful snowstorm, and a weekend of cheer involving children and my best beloved) I ran down the list of Christmas carols, singing as many as I could remember and feeling peeved, as I do every year, that there’s no such thing as an elementary school Christmas pageant any more. Or that they don’t even learn to sing “Silent Night” in music class. I’m not railing about how multiculturalism has displaced or obliterated a Christian hegemony, I just like the damned music and want my kids to learn it. Every year I swear I’m going to homeschool everyone in Basic Caroling Harmonies, and every year I’m foiled.

It didn’t help that my ex-husband claimed not to know any Christmas carols either, though I’d tried, once our first kid was born, to get a ritual going where we all sang carols by the tree on Christmas Eve. (It never quite got off the ground. When you’re the only one who knows the songs, and your putative audience is either slightly bored or totally disinterested, not to mention tone-deaf, caroling is an uphill climb.) It became a little joke–there she goes again with her Silent Night, insisting on ALL the verses. Won’t Santa be scared away? Shouldn’t we all go to bed?

But there was one Christmas Eve–in a shabby, stately, slightly spooky hotel in Cairo, on our honeymoon–where we felt so bizarrely displaced and so far away from anything resembling the holidays we’d grown up with that my husband indulged my urge to sing every Christmas carol I knew, lying there in the dark in a huge old wooden bed. When we were children, my younger sister and brother and I would always sleep in one bed on Christmas Eve, singing carols: that weird Egyptian night, I felt as if I had truly come of age and was seeding my brand-new adult life with the traditions of my youth. It was a heady moment, and it certainly didn’t feel like hubris at the time. It still doesn’t, because how was I supposed to know what would happen?

No one gets married thinking it’ll end in divorce. There’s a script for falling in love (“You’re not just my boyfriend, you’re my best friend!”) and for marrying and having kids and doing the whole thing we all do in lockstep together, and guess what? There’s a script for divorce, too. The people who leave all say the same things, and the people who don’t want to split up hit their predictable marks time and again. And no one can believe it’s happening. They never, ever would have thought it. Those of you on the outside, who hear that friends are on the skids, who phone each other up and say “My god, I can’t believe it! Can you believe it?” You’re not alone. We can’t believe it either, so don’t get too excited. We’re as shocked and dismayed as you are.

So anyway, there I was singing Christmas carols to my son, thinking about how I’d sung them to my ex-husband in Cairo on our first married Christmas Eve, and suddenly, with an unpleasant little twinge, I remembered that he’d asked me to marry him on Christmas Eve (the year before Egypt) as well.

It’s not something we marked as an anniversary–even I, absurdly and obsessively sentimental about various milestones, didn’t go around on Christmas Eve saying “And this makes six years since you proposed!” It’s therefore possible he won’t even think of it. But he might. And if he does? One could reasonably expect that the memory would inspire bitterness, rage, a sense of futility, of wasted effort on his part, of utter ingratitude on mine. Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal. The original night–a lovely surprise, when he flew cross country to appear at my mother’s house (she collaborated with the plan) and propose in front of my grandmother, my little brother, and my mom–curdled to nastiness.

You can’t console the person you yourself have hurt. It’s a selfish urge–I want to make him feel better so that I will feel better. Still. I have no idea what our Christmas ritual will be this year, and I’m reluctant to invite him over, and he seems to be waiting for me to make the first move. I have the kids for Christmas Eve and Christmas day as well. I’ve reached for the phone several times and drawn back. “Stop feeling responsible for him,” many friends have told me, and I don’t think I can. I think the best I can do is figure out how to feel responsible in a new way, in a way that isn’t edged with condescension and guilt. To invite him over on Christmas Eve because I want him there (or at least don’t actively dread seeing him), not because I worry he’s alone and worry he doesn’t have friends, invitations, inner resources.

The kids haven’t said anything, asked anything about what we’re doing. I have, I suppose, a couple of days to figure it out.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. wuzntme permalink
    December 21, 2009 2:04 pm

    It is Christmas after all, the season of giving. Invite him. He’ll appreciate it. Or not. You’ll know you did the right thing and it will delight the children. Just be sure to set an end time; children need to be put to bed, wrapping to do, friends coming over, etc… Obviously, lie if need be. You will sleep well knowing you, and you alone are taking the high road. Merry Christmas.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 21, 2009 2:10 pm

      Yes, yes, yes. If you’ll play the part of friend coming over, I’ll stop playing Scrooge. xxx

  2. not that I actually know permalink
    December 21, 2009 9:18 pm

    Ask the kids? they can work on inventing some new rituals… they can even be the ones to invite dad, if they like that idea… would that work?

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