Christmas 5

As the leaves start changing colors and pumpkin-spiced everything monopolizes the shelves, it’s obviously time to start talking holly, twinkling lights and mistletoe. In a divorced family, the Christmas conversation starts months before everyone else, and the confusion lingers even longer.

“When is Aaron home from college?”
“What days do Ethan and Avery get out of school?”
“When do Aaron and Avery head to their mom’s house?”
“We have to be back in York by at least the 24th because Adam and I trade Ethan off on Christmas Day.”
“When are the boys back in DC?”
“How are we getting the boys to and from Virginia Beach?”
“When is Ethan back from Rhode Island?”

Scheduling Christmas when your family is divided is harder than planning a wedding. Give me Bridezilla any day. At least she only has to worry about two families. My divorced family has to worry about four.

Once Mark and I drew the Venn diagram of schedules that I think divorced families with kids should call the Barely Overlapping Circles of Unmet Familial Expectations, we basically find a sliver of time—a good 1 hour, 12 minutes and 32 seconds—where we and our three kids will be in D.C. together alone. (I’m exaggerating. We get 1.35 days. Really.)

The logistics can even stress a planning ninja—a girl who may have booked, organized and sent a save the date for a 30th birthday 6 months in advance. Just last night, I found myself staring at the clock. 1 a.m. 2 a.m. 3 a.m. For hours I was nestled all snug in my bed while visions of schedules danced in my head. How were we going to make this work?

I wasn’t falling asleep. I flopped from side to side. When are we actually getting to celebrate Christmas just the five of us? Do we really have to wait two weeks after Christmas? (We really do.) Stop thinking I screamed in my head. What if we traveled a few extra hours this day or maybe if we moved this around? Is there any way to celebrate our family Christmas earlier? Christmas on January 9 seemed wrong.

Images of Christmases past popped in my head, but there was one in particular. Since our divorce, Adam and I have alternated Christmas morning. At five, I knew it was my year to go without, and Ethan was right smack at the perfect age where Santa magic is real, where the smile on his face Christmas morning was one you hold in your memory forever. And I was going to miss it.

I saw myself sitting in my office crying on the phone to my sister-in-law Pam about how I didn’t know how I would explain to Ethan that Santa wasn’t coming to our house that year. I remember pieces of emails that plotted with my family to wrap some gifts, distract him and perhaps even convince him that Santa had a totally different schedule for divorced kids. There was a flash of my parents taking Ethan by the hand a few hours earlier than normal to get him to sprinkle reindeer dust outside on Christmas Eve.

Of all the Christmas memories from that night that flashed by, there’s one so deeply imprinted. As the end of the night neared, I still didn’t quite know how Santa would show up. Then there was my brother Chuong, who swept in last-minute like only an older brother can. In one arm, he grabbed Ethan and flew him around the house like a plane. Giggles from afar rang through the air as the rest of us scrambled to bring the slew of Santa presents out and placed them under the tree amongst the mess of our opened family presents strewn about. In under five minutes, Chuong and Ethan came in for a crash landing.

“What?! Santa just came to our house?!” There it was. That smile, as big as Christmas morning.

Christmas morning. Christmas Eve. January 9. No matter what, it’s magic.