I still vividly remember the mornings of my childhood. My three siblings and I would always be up by 4 a.m., but to avoid our parents' wrath we'd vibrate under the covers until the more acceptable hour of 7 a.m. rolled in.
Then, on the dot, we'd leap out of bed, launch down the stairs of our large family home and gasp at the glittering tree surrounded by dozens of multi-colored presents.
We'd creep around the boxes, guessing at the larger ones and hungrily dig through our stockings while mom and dad brewed coffee. Once they were appropriately caffeinated and could combat our excitement—we'd take turns opening gifts, marveling at what new toys, books and clothes had arrived overnight.
After presents, my dad would set about putting together the various "assembly-required" pieces and mom would make breakfast—platters of fluffy pancakes with bacon or waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries.
I guess as an adult, I always pictured giving my children the same experience I had growing up—not just the big house adorned with garland and tinsel, not just the large tree we'd all cut down and decorated together, not just the presents and pancakes—but that magic of family too. A day of slowing down and remembering how lucky we were to have each other.
Since I've grown up and have gone through a divorce, my definition on a lot of things has had to change. My twin daughters and I don't have a family home but instead a two-bedroom basement suite, where one of the girls sleeps Harry Potter-style in a finished storage closet under the stairs. Our space is small and our Christmas tree fake, and both my counter space and budget are so limited that making that brilliant Christmas breakfast is going to be a challenge.
And most of all, my girls' dad won't be with us. He's wonderful, but he's spending the morning with his family so we don't confuse the children, which means they'll miss out on the way the holidays made my parents' love grow, how it would reach out and hold us all in its golden bubble. Instead, I'll have the kids for the morning, he'll have the kids for the evening, and in a way—I feel like we all lose out on something.
Some December days break my heart. This time of year families are everywhere and their excitement is inescapable—it's the mom and dad on either side of their child lining up for a picture with Santa, or taking a picture on one of those Polar Express train rides with hot chocolate. It's this beautiful caroling chaos—and sometimes it feels like my girls and I are on the outside of it, watching through a frosted window.
During the holidays I feel like I exist in this liminal space between happy families and happy childless couples—never sure if finding the same joy they have is possible or even acceptable to the masses. Christmas is a time where our hearts and homes are lit up to celebrate the happy glow of the season and as a single mom, I often don't know where the darkness of my grief fits within it.
I try my hardest to create the same magic other children get—with half the team and half the budget—solely carrying the burden of two parents on my shoulders. As the weeks draw closer, Christmas can feel like a reminder of my feelings of failure around not being able to provide what other children receive—an intact, unbroken family.
But recently, it occurred to me that perhaps my own sadness is entirely due to the fact that I'm expecting the holidays to look like what I once thought they should look like, rather than embracing the beauty in what they are.
Our home might be tiny and I might not be wealthy, but our lives are full of love, happiness and health. My kids are, despite the trauma of divorce, thriving and I am, too—against all odds, I've emerged from the darkness and have come out stronger and quite grateful. At the end of the day—we have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge and gifts under the tree.
We have been blessed with the beauty in the little things.
Instead of feeling sad about not having a house to adorn with lights, we go for magical evening walks and admire everyone else's. We won't spend any time this year worrying about keeping up with long gift lists or the status quo. And rather than trying to meet certain family traditions, we get to make our own. Like the way we baked a huge batch of gingerbread cookies last week and ate them hot from the oven, dripping with unset icing and sprinkles. We've got no one to impress and I'm still scraping glaze off the floor— but there is bliss in our free, unstructured joy.
And ultimately, the biggest reward this year is that I am exponentially more grateful for these holiday moments with my daughters. This Christmas, we've been given the gift of perspective. We're finding love in the limited and joy in our journey, and that could make this the best Christmas yet.
While I might be a divorced single mom this holiday, together my girls and I sure are dancing merrily in a new, old fashioned way—and if I'm being honest, I'd take that over picture-perfection any day.