The Complexities of Christmas

I turned to Brandon tonight when we got in the car and I said, “sometimes I like my mom”.

But at the same time, this isn’t how I envisioned it. When I was growing up I didn’t know there was anything different except the way that I experienced holidays…which usually was through the lens of anger, frustration and disappointment. After the age of 8 or so, Christmas wasn’t magical anymore. When I was in college and my parents started really becoming distant, we were all making our own plans for Christmas. My dad started going to Ohio, my mom stopped going, my brother would sometimes go, and I was working at a church which meant I would usually fly to meet my family on Christmas Day or I would spend it alone or with friends who would welcome me in. The Christmas’ I was able to spend in Ohio with my Mimi and my Nana were the best though. Tonight I was making whipped cream and I immediately transported back into my Nana’s kitchen watching her and my cousin Molly licking the beaters together. Her house and her presence were magic for me when it didn’t feel that way at home and the respite of her hugs, and her saying “I love you, darlin”, and her cooking, and all of us who gathered around her (because of her) was magic for me. And then there was the Christmas we gathered after she passed away and my aunt had me pray for the meal and I couldn’t hold it together because a piece of our magic is distant now until we see each other again. Those memories are painful and sweet and hopeful all in the same breath. 

Now…Christmas since my parents have been divorced and since my husband and I got married feels like a mixed bag. We originally thought we would alternate years, one with his family and one with mine, but quickly realized through a pandemic and diagnoses and personal needs that we need to be flexible and willing to adapt.

If you have divorced parents, you know figuring out the dynamic of shared or split time is weird and hard. Since my parents divorced when my brother and I were adults it felt like this added layer of complexity because there’s no rule book. There’s no court order of how you will spend your time. There’s still weird and complex things that we are figuring out about holidays, how we spend time with each other, and how we talk about each other when the other is not around. We are four years from the official divorce and it finally feels like it’s getting a little easier.

Finally a little more “normal”.

My relationship with my mom is complex. If you are new here it has been for a large portion of my life and I try hard to keep many details private because while it is hard I still very much respect her and love her and hold space for what she has gone through personally. I’ve held resentment towards her for so long and there’s boundaries and hard conversations we have to have but simultaneously she is the comfort I often need. But tonight I felt warmth, which is something I haven’t experienced from her on a holiday in a long time. I told Brandon that I can’t imagine my parents together but I didn’t imagine this. And I don’t know, maybe it’s good?

In the midst of all of these feelings today I even questioned, “is it bad that I can’t go to church today?”. Say hello to someone unlearning the expectations and anxiety of religion. And then today, at the end of it all, I feel like this was the most spiritual way to spend today. Spending time with my husband and good friends this morning, cooking this afternoon for my dad, and spending the evening with my mom. Jesus feels more present and real to me in the middle of the redemption of familial trauma and loss than on any previous Christmas Eve. I know it is not always this way and there will be years it doesn’t feel this good but I’m hopeful that it does right now. I’m hopeful that in my unlearning there is peace that continues to come with the gift of a Companion in the midst of this life who wants good for us all whether or not we showed up to church today. 

Today I feel like I’ve felt every emotion. My mom made lemon bars which reminded me of when I was 8 and she was in the midst of a severe, chronic depressive episode she forgot my birthday and the only thing we had in the house was mix for lemon bars so she made them for me after she realized. I was always mad at her for that until today where now I feel like I have a little more grace for what she was going through. In addition to that, I’ve experienced the feeling of what it’s like to miss someone who is not here anymore but to be so grateful for the memories and the people they passed on to me. I’ve experienced what it’s like to miss someone who is still here but who I can’t be with and who isn’t the same. I’ve experienced the feeling of relief that a lot of people who I love have had mental health breakthroughs. I’ve experienced the tension and redemption of divorced and then blended families. I’ve experienced the gratitude of planning and serving food to people I love. I’ve experienced the freedom of making a decision for myself and letting that be ok and good as it is. I’ve experienced the gratitude of having a husband who is home for me, wherever we are.

I can reflect on all of this now being in a different place than when I was deeply hurting on Christmas, for so many years in a row. And if you are someone who is hurting this holiday season, I’m so sorry. It sucks and it’s painful and it’s lonely. All the posts that we will see just affirm that for us, that our situation is not worth ruining someone else’s feed of happy, smiling faces of people who are all together and enjoying themselves. I hope that you can hold out hope that it won’t always be this way, that in the midst of it you are not alone, and that you can find a glimpse of something today that will bring you joy. 

I hope that if today is joyful for you, and that if you are looking around in the goodness and grief holding them simultaneously, and wondering how the heck we got here when things were once so bad…that you love someone well who is where you once were. I hope you hold hope for them when they can’t see it for themselves quite yet because the pain in this moment is too much. Invite them over, bring them some food, send them a text, make the call. It could make all the difference in the world to show up in someone else’s low places like people have previously done for you. If you have been one of those people for me, first of all, I am forever indebted to you. Second of all, I love you more than you know. 

So much love to you all. I hope that if your Christmas this year is not merry that it is hope filled. 

Xoxo, Leste

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