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Christmas

January 12, 2013

Last night was the first night I had been alone in the house since the last time I posted. It’s remarkable to note how odd this feels. All those years I was married I spent only a handful of nights in a house all by myself…if there weren’t children around, there was generally a husband, and even if I went somewhere alone (to visit my mother, for example) by myself, I wasn’t by myself when I got there, of course. Married adulthood means you are rarely alone.

Now, of course, I’m regularly alone. Life is much more varied since the divorce, as I’ve noted before, and I seem to have become acclimated to what seemed, at first, an incomprehensible and unstable routine. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes I’m alone with my children, sometimes I’m with my boyfriend without any children, sometimes I’m with my boyfriend and all or some of our various children. Once you divide this by location (his, mine) and setting (city, small suburban town) and by extraordinary circumstances (holidays, travel, relatives) and then factor in my erratic work requirements (sometimes overwhelming, sometimes unnervingly slight) you have the makings of an unsettled life indeed. But I have gotten used to it. I must have, or I would not feel strange when one part of it (solitude) goes missing. I used to find all this change exhausting and upsetting, and long for the day I could finally appreciate how nice it was to have so many different routines. And lo and behold, the day seems to have come without my even realizing it. This augurs well for the new year, I think.

And so I’m alone. It has been an eventful month. Where to begin?

This year the kids and I spent Christmas with my father and stepmother. Also in attendance were my sister and her wife and their baby girl, my other sister and her fiancée, and my stepbrother and his two daughters. My father lives in Dallas, where my stepmother grew up, and her entire extended family (with their six million spouses and offspring) live within a six or seven block radius. I saw cousins I haven’t seen in years, and my kids met family members they never knew they had, and the whole thing was so jam-packed with events and people that I hardly remember what we actually did. If memory serves, we ate a lot (one of my sisters is a chef) while lying around reading in our pajamas, or at least I did. The kids ran wild. My father and stepmother were troopers–there were thirteen people staying in their house–and though there were always six or seven things happening at once in various areas, it never felt hectic or overcrowded or oppressive. Or at least it never did to me. My stepmother is a painter, and my kids and I were sleeping in her studio at the end of the upstairs hall. Everyone else was spread out in bedrooms and offices and studies and whatnot, and you could sneak off pretty easily if you wanted privacy, and if you felt like playing cards or Jenga or whatever, you could always find a few people willing to get up a game.

My stepbrother and his daughters were facing their first christmas without their mother, who died last April. The girls were troopers–they talked about their mom, and even talked about missing their mom, but they did not seem haunted or lonely or miserable. They joined right in, playing basketball in the alley behind the house with my kids, or singing carols around the piano as my younger son played (yes, indeed, we actually did this, at my stepmother’s behest. She went and bought the sheet music and talked my son into learning to play Silent Night and a few others, and he complied even though he didn’t want to, and we all went and sang even though we didn’t want to, and it was great. My little heart swelled. Way back when I first started this website, on my first divorced Christmas, I wrote about how disgruntled I was that no one else in my immediate family knew or cared about Christmas carols, and a few years later lo and behold, there we all were, singing Christmas carols on December 23rd. I knew all the words! My aunt and cousins sang harmony! We sang all the verses! It was quite the thrill. Hours later, when I went to sleep, I was still glowing contentedly. All was calm, all was bright.)

My sister’s sixteen month old daughter had a cold, but nobody cared–we all hugged and kissed her as much as she would let us, which turned out to be a lot. She’s an astonishingly beautiful and good natured baby. She learned everyone’s name in about six minutes, and followed my stepbrother’s oldest daughter around adoringly. My other sister, the chef, cheerfully made delicious things to eat and handed them around to everyone all day long. We went to a party filled with relatives on Christmas Eve, and my sister and I went to see my grandmother in the dementia floor of the nursing home where she now lives, and it wasn’t bad at all. She didn’t know exactly who we were, but she knew we were people she’d loved, somehow. And she looked so pretty. We showed her pictures of the baby, whose middle name is the same as her first name, and she was charmed. Her husband, my grandfather, is 95 and still lives in his house–we saw him several times as well. This whole side of the family only came into my life as a result of my father’s remarriage–these grandparents and aunts and cousins are all my stepmother’s relatives, and I now see how amazing they were to welcome a skinny little stringy-haired six year old into their family without any questions asked, and to keep me in their family all this time. My life has been immeasurably enriched, without a question, by my parents’ remarriages after their divorce.

Anyway, the whole holiday felt like Christmases when I was little, even though I have only spent a handful of actual Christmases with my dad and his family. It was so unbelievably relaxing to be with other adults, with several generations, with a large group of merrymakers, and it was such a relief not to have to muster Christmas all by myself, with the ghosts of happy family Christmases Past hanging around in the corners of the rooms, dolefully rattling their chains. I regressed a bit–sleeping in your parents’ house will do that to you–and I felt more like a child than like a parent, which was unexpectedly wonderful. And it struck me that not having a spouse made being home for Christmas easier, not harder. I didn’t have to worry that my husband was pissing off my parents, or vice versa. I didn’t have to see the ways my family was strange or annoying or Other through the eyes of someone who hadn’t grown up in their midst.

My stepbrother and I hung out a few times, which I hadn’t expected. We were very close when we were kids–our parents started dating when he was three and I was six–but the years have intervened, and we had not spent any time together–certainly not any time alone together–in years and years, since we both got married. Now we are both unmarried, and a couple of days before Christmas, during a lull in the action (the couples had gone off to nap or tend babies or whatever, and my older son was expertly managing all the kids), my stepbrother asked me to go do a few errands with him in the car. We drove around what used to be our old neighborhood, the neighborhood our parents had lived in when first we met. “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?” he said, and I said, no, I don’t think so. I said I could see living with my present boyfriend eventually, when the kids get older and circumstances allow it, and that we certainly talk about getting old together, and that we both seem to assume that we will be with each other forever, but that I am, for reasons I don’t quite understand, completely gun shy when it comes to remarrying. “So you don’t think you’ll get married?” he said, and I started to explain again, and then it hit me. “Um,” I said. “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?” And that was all it took. We drove around for nearly an hour, and he talked and talked and talked about things–about the death of his wife, about his future, his girls, his present state of mind, his ardent desire to remarry, his longing for a home, for a mother for his kids. I suddenly remembered why my stepbrother was, when I was young, one of my very favorite people in the world.

On Christmas itself it snowed, and he and I went for a long walk alone, circling the block because we were reluctant to go home, talking the entire time. It felt like when we were little and whispered and giggled all night in our room. It felt like I was his big sister again and he was once again my little brother–I don’t mean that it felt as if we had regressed, but rather that we had reclaimed our old familial friendship. We were conspicuous all week, the only two unmarried parents in the whole extended family, and while divorce is very different from death, we stood together on a kind of common ground. It was wonderful to hear him talk. I was flattered, even honored, that he would confide in me, but what really struck me was how unremarkable it all seemed. We were ourselves with each other. It felt the way our closeness always felt. Love for a sibling cuts right down to the bone, I think. In the end, we are closer to our siblings than to anyone.

So that was the fourth Christmas–I think it was the fourth, am I correct?–since the separation. Fourth, and best. Hallelujah.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. cruella permalink
    January 12, 2013 5:45 am

    A very vivid post and a wonderful read, like a feelgood movie. And I do mean it in a good way:)

  2. Annette permalink
    January 12, 2013 6:13 am

    It’s nice to see you posting again, and I’m glad you had such a wonderful Christmas and feel close to your stepbrother again. I am wondering, though, about using his confidences as, provocatively put, blog-fodder. If this were me, and I found out about it, I would feel bitterly betrayed.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 12, 2013 8:50 am

      This is why I am pseudonymous, and everyone in my blog is anonymous, and I kept the nature of our conversation deliberately vague. Most of my family members do not know about this website–only a few, enough to keep me honest. I do think carefully before I write, and I don’t write specifics that I think would hurt or upset anyone. I know that any website can be discovered, but I truly don’t think that anything I wrote in this post is scandalous or secret or confidence breaching….

  3. January 12, 2013 9:12 am

    This made me well up and put a lump in my throat. Utterly lovely. I have decided to forgive you your ridiculously long absence from the blogosphere… (No more pacts with Ms Waffle please; the blogosphere limps along without one of you but is unbearable without both). Happy New Year IB – I hope 2013 is wonderful for you xxx

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 12, 2013 9:51 am

      Thank you, TRL. (IB sounds like a gastrointestinal condition, whereas TRL sounds like an upscale literary journal. You win the pseudonym contest.) I am duly chagrined and think often that if you are able to write online with an infant and two young children, then there is no excuse whatsoever for me….

  4. Reading While It Rains permalink
    January 12, 2013 10:11 am

    Welcome back. Missed you.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 12, 2013 11:40 am

      Thank you. It is an immense relief to post again after a long absence, and to see that readers are still here, and not in fact angry as one imagined.

  5. January 12, 2013 12:51 pm

    So great to read your post and so happy for you that you had a great Christmas break! Here’s to seeing more posts in the new year! Happy New Year to you and your family!

  6. January 12, 2013 4:38 pm

    I am glad to hear that you had a great Christmas.

  7. January 12, 2013 10:19 pm

    That all sounds lovely. Especially the Christmas carols. In my family for a few years my dad would write crazy song lyrics and I would come up with music and my siblings and cousins and I would all sing. It was our own holiday sing-a-long and it was my favorite part of our family events. I miss it.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 12, 2013 10:37 pm

      It’s funny–the more elaborate the routine, the more fun it is, even if you have to force everyone to participate. I was happy I’d insisted my reluctant kid learn the music…

  8. Elena permalink
    January 12, 2013 11:57 pm

    I was happy and tearful while reading this. I somehow have four children and I hope they enjoy growing up together. You describe beautifully how it feels to be again with people that knew you when you were little

  9. telechick permalink
    January 14, 2013 7:36 am

    It sounds like you had a lovely holiday. It’s wonderful that everyone got along so well – not always a guarantee with family get togethers! And you got to sing carols 🙂

    I’m especially glad that you were able to reconnect with your brother and that he felt comfortable enough to share his feelings about widowhood with you. Having someone to talk to who won’t judge one’s grief path is hugely helpful. I hope you can keep up the connection/dialogue.
    I can’t remember if I’ve suggested these sites before (my apologies if I have), but your brother might find them helpful: http://www.widowsvoice-sslf.blogspot.com/
    http://widowedvillage.org/

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 14, 2013 2:20 pm

      You haven’t! And thank you. I took your advice and offered to take his kids shopping–no one was especially interested, but the idea was appreciated. It was really, really nice to talk to him. Among many other things, he said he feels that his wife’s death is often the elephant in the room, and that sometimes people seem to need him to be unhappy all the time, and he doesn’t want to be unhappy all the time. Which makes perfect sense….

      • telechick permalink
        January 14, 2013 6:37 pm

        one can never grieve “properly” to suit everyone – either you’re too sad or too happy or you’re taking too long, or not long enough. The list is endless and people seem very happy to tell you what they think (kind of like child-rearing I’d guess, but even more personal).

        What is amazing in this process is how almost unbearable grief can coexist with times of happiness and even joy.

  10. Lea permalink
    January 14, 2013 9:44 am

    It all sounds wonderful. I am so glad that you rekindled your close relationship with your stepbrother. It’s so special when people are able to communicate in the way you two did. I love my family, but often I feel burdened by the differences in our personalities, and by the wary eye I keep lest the peace suddenly balloon into arguments.
    Having a Christmas that reminds you of your childhood is the very best kind of Christmas!!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 14, 2013 10:04 am

      I think being with my auxiliary family (ie father/stepmother) helped with the ease of it all…I am less caught up in the family dynamics than my siblings, but it still feels like family. All the comfort and ease, none of the sturm und drang. And I’ve had such half-assed Christmases since the divorce that this one felt especially nice. I’m already trying to figure out what I’m going to do next year, when the kids are with their father again. Something decidedly outré.

  11. January 14, 2013 1:04 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. And I read with interest about the caroling…that, too, is something that I miss in my life, but I can’t quite imagine how to engineer it back in. The lack of a piano is one obstacle, but the lack of a singing tradition in my nuclear family is a much bigger one. So I was taking notes as I read (in sum: just force them to do it. It will be fine.)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 14, 2013 2:05 pm

      The thing about singing together is that everyone ends up enjoying it, even if they think they won’t. So you just have to be ruthless with the forcing. Though I never succeeded with my ex-husband, who is tone deaf and doesn’t know the words to anything and wasn’t terribly interested in learning…I forced him to listen to me sing carols, but it wasn’t quite the same thing….

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