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December 22, 2010

Before beginning to confide in you, may I confess one thing? I am fucking FURIOUS that my ex-husband has purchased a ping-pong (perhaps that is table tennis to you, international readers?) table for our children for Christmas.

I was going to get them a fucking ping-pong table. God damn it all to hell. I love ping-pong. I hate that the Dream Cottage now has ping-pong. Also, the ex-husband (one cannot really call him an au pair at this point, can one? An au pair would have gotten the children a soccer ball) had the fucking nerve to COMPLAIN to me about how expensive the ping-pong table was, and how hard it would be to assemble. “I’ve got paddles to put under the tree, but I figure they’ll have to help me put the thing together,” he said in an aggrieved tone. Probably he wanted me to offer to come over and do it for him. Perhaps he’ll call consoling-windows friend next. He asks her for favors from time to time. Oh, Christ. I am fuming. This is most unattractive, and most unworthy of me.

Late last night, on the phone with my long-suffering boyfriend, I realized I want one thing and one thing only out of the year to come: I want out of this house. I want a tiny rental, an apartment, a small bungalow. I do not want this huge behemoth any more. Today, while I was at the grocery store, my fourteen-year-old son and his best friend cleaned the kitchen for me (as a Christmas present, complete with Merry Christmas spelled out in magnets on the icebox door) and when I came home to a patch of pristine counter and swept floor, I practically wept. I want an apartment I can manage. I do not want a three story house any more, on nearly an acre of land. I want out. Every time I come home, every time I turn into the driveway, my heart sinks. It’s not the house. It’s a lovely house. It’s not the town–I love this town. It’s just me. I can’t quite manage all these rooms, this sink of utility bills and taxes, the stupid memories of failure that dog my every movement in this place.

While I’m being petty, I’d also like to complain about everyone who sends my kids presents that aren’t wrapped. Oh, I know. Sometimes it’s inevitable, sometimes the companies that ship things won’t do it for you, sometimes it’s a pain in the neck. But if you are wondering what a divorced woman might appreciate? A little present, a gesture that speaks louder than words? Have some things wrapped. It’s not just the hassle of wrapping itself–a task I am stupendously bad at–it’s the ruined surprises. I sound like a child, I know. But it’s fun to be surprised with the kids when they open their presents, it’s fun to have different wrapping papers under the tree, it’s GREAT fun to open a box stuffed with mysterious gifts and hand them out to the kids, with strict orders not to shake them TOO hard, as we arrange them ourselves on the cruddy old sheet that passes for a treeskirt around here.

Instead I open boxes furtively when the children are in bed, and wrap present after present at night when the house is cold and I’m tired and disconsolate.

I used to love Christmas. What on earth has happened to me?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Camilla permalink
    December 22, 2010 1:06 pm

    Call me un-festive, but I tend to ditch cardboard shipping boxes under the tree unwrapped, with the recipient’s name written in sharpie. Especially if the item’s large, it seems like such a waste of wrapping paper to wrap the whole thing. The kitchen scissors will be on hand Christmas morning anyway, to defeat clamshell packages.

    I was considering a 4″ band of shiny paper over the tape, for the one box that I ordered, opened, verified contents and taped back up.

    My dog is not to be trusted around packages that are soft or bagged, so I tend to raid the recycling bin to re-box items that didn’t come boxed. My children are conditioned to ignore a heap of unopened boxes that populates our front hallway much of the time (housemates with a mail-order variant of shop-and-drop).

  2. Anom for now permalink
    December 22, 2010 2:09 pm

    You are normal and human and need to be kind to yourself for being normal and human. Of course you are wishing you could be all things and wonderful to your children. Of course you want to live in a fantasty world/home. Every one wants to. And in time you can change where you live and change the pressures you face.
    But for now: Hug your child who cleans up for you, laugh with joy at being you and count each package you put paper on as an investment in the future. Take a picture of the refrigerator with it’s message of love and save it!
    It is a long time since I was newlyish single with children who were not always with me on Christmas and other holidays. But now my children are grown and facing their own trials of life; we can remember and talk about some of the times past and it helps them know they too will move forward. (E.G.:no table to eat at so we had a special blanket/tarp on the floor and sat around it for dinner.) What you are teaching your children is flexibility, that people not things are important in life, that you, and they, keep going when things are not perfect. That when you discover you are walking through hell that the key is to keep on walking. Because your children will also have human and imperfect lives. You are a marvel and I love your honesty and humanity. You are not alone!!!!
    Happiness in the new year to you! Please keep on writing.

  3. December 22, 2010 2:31 pm

    What a booger he is for getting the ping pong. Did he know you wanted ping pong? Is he doing this on purpose? Is he just blundering? Maybe you could get the air hockey?

    Maybe you used to love a certain kind of Christmas and now you have a different kind of Christmas, one that isn’t quite as easily joyful. There is still joy to be found, but it’s hiding in odd corners. But the rest of the year is mostly better because you’re no longer married to the wrong person, so it’s okay if this new version of Christmas isn’t immediately fabulous. Someday it will be fabulous. Probably when you celebrate it in your new, small, easily managed condo/apt./bungalow.

    And oh, unwrapped gifts from other people make me want to double the rum in my eggnog. It’s hard wrapping presents when my hands are sticky with polyurethane from staining my oldest boy’s new bunk bed! Don’t they know?!

    Anyhow, Merry Christmas. I wish you all the joy there is to wish.

  4. julie permalink
    December 22, 2010 2:43 pm

    First off, I slap ribbons and bows on the cardboard boxes. Ping Pong will be a joy for a week or two, then it will become a place for him to fold laundry. Do not despair. Also consider, when you move to the lovely little apartment, where would the ping pong table go? It is going to be annoying to drag that thing around. Live light. Get a Wii.

    Oh, and when I found myself single in a house too big, I just started closing off rooms. Basement? Only for laundry. Attic? Never go up there again. Extra bedrooms? Close the door. Lawn? Let it go au natural. Now I live in a different city, in a place much, much smaller…. but I’m getting claustrophobic and I’m buried in kids’ toys. So much for living light.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 22, 2010 2:57 pm

      You can buy my house if you’re feeling nostalgic for outmoded hugeness…I’m about to list it at the break-even price, I think. I should have done this last summer so I could have nabbed the cottage.

      But yes, closing the doors does help. I keep forgetting.

  5. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    December 22, 2010 2:46 pm

    Thanks, thank you, thank you so much. I am cringing that I sound like such an ass, I do apologize. Minor sinking spell. I remember reading on someone’s website ages ago that when you feel shitty you should clean something, do something for someone else, then do something for yourself. Very good advice, seems to me.

    Andi: I am just being petty and competitive. I wasn’t planning to get ping pong till later–we always wanted it in this house, but somehow despite the house’s vastness the rooms are all too small (old houses are like that) and the basement is like the maw of hell, so I wanted an outdoor table. They’re indeed expensive. So I’ve put off buying one, but stupidly talked about it, and while it isn’t as if he scooped me per se, I wonder whether I planted the idea in his head. He has every right to get the kids whatever he wants, and I have no right to be annoyed, yet I am. The Dream Cottage has a ping-pong-perfect basement, bien sûr. It was one of the things I happily noted when I first looked at the place for myself.

  6. yammeringon permalink
    December 22, 2010 2:48 pm

    Don’t throw lemons at me (I’ll irritatingly make lemonade), but I think he did you an unintentional favor by getting the ping pong table. It’s one less thing that you’ll have to schlep and shoehorn into your new fantastically compact and efficient housing arrangement – the one that you are on the cusp of finding. Once it all falls into place, you’ll be able to outfit the house/apartment with the perfect pingpong/foosball/etc equipment, and it will be truly perfect.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 22, 2010 2:53 pm

      Don’t think I haven’t thought of foosball. God, I love foosball. I’ll kick my kids’ collective asses at foosball. Perhaps I can hide drugs and scales and the like inside the table, like in cafés in Amsterdam, and start dealing to support my expensive competitive-gift-one-upmanship habit.

  7. December 22, 2010 3:15 pm

    Divorce can be so isolating – especially around the holidays. I remember my mom saying something along those lines to me when I first separated – when I was so happy and carefree and NOT MARRIED TO THAT IDIOT anymore. And while I still feel that way 99% of the time, around the holidays it can morph into isolation and loneliness. While I shop for the kids, wrap for the kids, decorate the tree with the kids, think about their expressions on Christmas morning when they see that Santa has arrived….who is thinking about me? The answer is: no one, really. Oh sure, my parents think about me, but not in that “I need to do something really special to totally surprise her” kind of way. I get a sweater in a color my mom loves to see me wear, but that does not feel like me….I get some gift cards at work, my kids make me pictures and such….but there is missing the anticipation of getting something special, frivolous, something bought for me out of love. Perhaps you are feeling a little bit of that as well, and add to that the bitterness of your ex stealing the joy of anticipating your kids’ joy at YOU buying them the perfect gift. He just keeps taking and taking and taking from you. And just when you thought it had been dealt with and there was nothing left for him to take, he snatches ping pong away from you as well.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 22, 2010 4:08 pm

      Well, now I do feel properly chagrined (though that’s not what you meant for me to feel!) I mean, I did leave the guy, so, you know. And actually he was never that good at getting thoughtful presents. And we never had any money, at any rate, so didn’t ever get each other much. Though I did like the stockings…Santa gave the kids stockings, but we always gave each other stockings. Part of my fascist insistence on my childhood traditions.

      I think one gets nostalgic for younger Christmases, perhaps? Back when the family was new and one was in love and the kids were babies and it all felt like playing house, in the most delightful and satisfying way?

    • December 24, 2010 3:24 pm

      Love your comment.

  8. December 22, 2010 4:03 pm

    Whenever I’m unsettled I LOATHE holidays. There I am, doing so well at walking the narrow, comforting path, congratulating myself, even, for being so focused and managing to simultaneously be in-the-present Zen and forward-thinking, and then WHAM come the holidays like a divisive deluge from the sky.

    This isn’t helpful at all, is it? But consider this: now you have a goal, a useful, focused goal, and also, as many commenters have said, no ping-pong table to drag along and complicate that goal.

    (Also? Maybe the au pair was hoping to surprise you, right? You’d mentioned that the kids love ping-pong, but you just don’t have the space right now…and voila, he tries to solve the problem in his own way. Slightly bumbling and insensitive to the larger issues, yes, but you knew that about him when you hired him, and his heart IS mostly in the right place.) (Right?)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 22, 2010 4:11 pm

      Right. That’s how I’ll take it, you’re exactly right. Poor au pair, he does his best. I do hope he puts it together by Christmas morning, though. Because there’s something a little anticlimactic about getting a paddle and some ping pong balls under the tree and then not being able to go play till the grown ups get around to assembling the table…

      Eeeh, who am I kidding, I’m jealous, and I wish I had the kids on Xmas morning. That’s what it is, and it’s just stupid.

      • MEP permalink
        January 3, 2011 1:59 pm

        It’s not stupid. I changed Christmas morning at my house and had Santa come on the morning of the 24th so I could have a Christmas morning with my daughter… and I was still a little sad I didn’t have her on the 25th. I don’t miss my horrid ex, or our traditions, or regret the divorce or any of that shit. I just miss my baby’s presence, and let myself be sad about it for awhile.

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          January 3, 2011 6:25 pm

          Yeah. It’s funny how sentimental we are, as human beings, right? There’s a good line in Daniel Menaker’s book The Treatment (highly recommended) in which he says something to the effect of this: it’s possible to miss someone you don’t much like. That’s how I feel.

          I don’t regret any of the big things, either, but sometimes I feel rather unmoored.

  9. Celeste permalink
    December 22, 2010 9:43 pm

    I’m sorry that Christmas got fucked over for you this year, IB. I hope you sell that albatross fast.

  10. December 23, 2010 12:01 am

    i’m sorry this happened. such a thing would hurt me as well. it hurts me that i walked away without taking some of the kids’ favorite toys to play with in my place … but then i reason that it’s only “stuff”. anyway, i know you’ll be alright; it sucks big time not having the kids for christmas, that really is painful, but try and look forward to the day they’ll come back to you. i keep telling myself that, so that’s all i have to offer. i hope you have a good christmas morning, no matter what … and write about it so we can all share it with you! chin up girl!

  11. December 23, 2010 6:08 am

    I just grumbled and muttered the other day about paying extra for the wrapping for some gifts we’d ordered for my niece and nephew on line. (Mostly I was grumbling about if I had shopped earlier I could have wrapped them myself and it was my own fault I was spending the extra money on wrapping.) But I begrudged every “gift wrap” box I checked. So *thank you* for saying that about sending unwrapped presents – it makes me feel that the extra money was totally worth it.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      December 23, 2010 9:24 am

      Totally worth it. And, I’m sure, totally appreciated. Money well spent. And even if you’d done it yourself, the extra shipping (once to you, once to them) and the time spent doing it isn’t free, either. So even though it doesn’t feel quite as cozy as sending hand-wrapped presents, the courtesy of sending ANYTHING wrapped is a real gift to the recipients…and their parents.

      (My mom apologized for not paying to have my kids’ presents wrapped–but she DID have mine wrapped in among them, so I’d still be surprised. Which was awfully nice of her.)

  12. Kim permalink
    December 24, 2010 6:36 am

    I read your post, and then the subsequent one apologizing for it. Anyways, I love your blog, and I am very happy that I stumbled upon it. Your town sounds exactly like mine!
    As a realtor, and someone who is also trying to sell their home, here’s my unsolicited advice. Declutter, and CLEAN, like you life depends on it. You will feel so much better for it. Reduce the price, I know a hard one, but the market is still pretty stagnant, and if you REALLY want to sell, you have to be agressive. Get the price down to what it should be, dare I say even a bit lower, make the house as picture perfect as you can, and get it sold!
    Good luck, and enjoy a peaceful Christmas.

  13. December 24, 2010 3:22 pm

    Love this post. I can relate to everything you’ve said. I worked my ass off over the years creating and maintaining this beautiful home and there are such amazing memories here. Pending divorce, I get the house. What that means is I get the mortgage, the upkeep, the bills, and on and on. Getting the house is not the deal it once was years ago for divorced women and children. I know in time there will come a day when I have to leave it behind, and I’m already traveling there in my thoughts because like you I crave simplicity. Plus I recently found out my husband brought his lover here when the children and I were gone .. a lot. And he originally lied to me about that nice little detail when I found out about them. Thank God he took all the master bedroom furniture when he left.

    BTW .. my shrink gave me a good anti-anxiety prescription for the holidays. I have two weeks off of work, and I’m taking long naps and playing quiet music and watching funny movies. It’s helping.

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