Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Divorce Diaries

Christmas. Part One.

So I was sitting there staring at the box of neatly wrapped Christmas ornaments, dumbfounded. My brain hurt. My heart hurt. My body felt leaden. I had to remind myself to breathe.

It was a great love story to tell for so many years. September 2, 1978. Flying in on a Cessna over the festival site, 20,000 people below. Meeting him backstage. I was 24, he was 44. I was barely a woman and he was a Peter Pan in cut-offs, barefoot, shirtless, salt-n-pepper beard and flowing hair. It’s a long story from there to here. And I’ve told it often.

And now this box of ornaments, dusty and well worn. 33 years of Christmases packed neatly in a large plastic storage box. Each memory carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

So sad, looking at that box this year. Didn’t feel like I had the heart to take the lid off, let alone dig through it. My 9-foot Christmas tree stood by at attention—waiting to be told what and who we are now—bare, but for the perfectly placed twinkle lights. I wondered—do I open the box and just start pulling out the “Baby’s First Christmas,” Grandma’s hand-me-downs, the sweet fragile handmade-by-the-boys’ sticky fingers ornaments, the mementos from Hawaii and England and Poland, the gift ornaments from sisters and step-children and friends? Do I put the same tree up, as I have done year after year? Can I?

This being our first Christmas as divorced people, with two households, 2 kitchens and 2 Christmas trees—I hit another roadblock with that box.

I couldn’t help but go back over it. I couldn’t help but have another “moment” over this, as the blues began to envelope me again. All those years, all those Christmases, our family history can be partially read from what’s inside that box.

When I finally visited a divorce lawyer earlier this year, there were so many other important points and issues that had to be discussed, but not something like this. We went over the big stuff—like parenting and custody plans, division of property. Those were the hurricanes we had to weather as we have progressed through this process of the dissolution of a marriage. And we have weathered them and it’s been hard. But the divorce lawyer didn’t cover some of the little things that come up, these microbursts of localized storms that hit me in the solarplex and knock me off my center. No one told me about the Christmas box.

I have found that these kinds of moments can creep in and derail me—finding meaning and attachment in the stuff that mounted up over the years and seemed so mundane at the time—those moments, the ones that send me back over time and over all the years and happy and the bittersweet memories. How many of those Christmases did I stress out and rush and pull it together and overdo it, trying to make the perfect experience for my family? How many times did I wonder why do I make it so important every year?  The tree that this particular box of ornaments decorates is the symbol of all of that.

As I looked at that box, still unopened, over the next day or two, I began to get inspired. What if I didn’t open the box? What if I could bring myself to buy some new ornaments this year and start over? I could try to not make this about putting the same family tree up as we always have done. I could get creative and make a new statement with it this year. Just for this year. Maybe this year I’ll just reinvent the tree. A clean slate. A fresh outlook.

And I’m not even a proper Christian! I’m all-inclusive, but closer to being a Buddhist, actually. The tree isn’t even about religion for me and for our family. It’s about giving and family tradition. The winter festival of lights.

In our living room, the tree stands next to a Buddha, an angel and some Native American art. It faces an Aboriginal painting and a feng shui fountain. My meditation pillow sits on the floor nearby.

After the inspiration hit, I realized I’d have to have one of those sideways “discussions” with my 17-yr old Sammy. I have to go in sideways with him because he really does not like to talk very much. Especially about meaningful stuff. Or at least “Mom’s meaningful stuff.”

I lead with a general statement about how I want to discuss something that he will deem as lame….

Me: “So I know you probably don’t care about this, but I want to ask you something about the Christmas tree.”

Him: “I don’t care.” (Not looking up from his phone.)

Me: “Yeah I know, it’s probably not really important. But I had this idea that maybe this year I’d do something different with the ornaments. Like maybe not use the old ornaments at all and get something new, like make a new design or color scheme.”

Him: “OK. But I really could care less.”

Me: “Yeah, I know, but I’m your mother and even if you don’t care it’s important I give you the option to weigh in.”

Pause. (He was reading a text, I think.) I wait. He looks up.

Him: “Mom! I don’t c….”

Me: “So if you decide there is something from the old box of ornaments that you really miss and you want me to add, just let me know because I’m your mother and it’s my job to….”

Him: “I really don’t care.” (Back to the text.)

And that’s how it went. But at least he knows that he could weigh in. And he won’t come home to another big change, as God knows, there have been so many in the last few months. I’ve prepared him. And at least he knows that I care.

So, I went to Target and filled my cart. I decided to go with a cool color scheme: it will be brown and gold this year. I got excited! I went straight home and put them up on the tree. A flurry of activity, a surge of energy overtook me.

And then, I stepped back.

Beautiful. Majestic. Creative. Artistic. And a bit generic.

And foreign.



  1. I know at this point you just want to cry because it is over. But, with time and nurturing of your heart, you can learn to smile because it happened.

  2. Maggie, you are the most amazing writer. I feel every feeling, every emotion, every thought as if it were my own. My heart aches for your pain and dances for your joy. I too am just starting to refill my Christmas memory book since David died; just starting to re-decorate Christmas history. Thank you for sharing your innermost being with me; I think you are the most amazing woman and hope we become better friends and remain so forever. Love MaryAnn

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  9. You truly moved me as you wrote about your first Christmas as divorced people. I admire you.

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