After Halloween comes Thanksgiving, and then Hanukkah and Christmas: All days just asking for pain when your family is going through an upheaval. Even MLK weekend had me distraught one year. (I was convinced that, unlike us, all the intact families had amazing plans. Possible but, I now realize, unlikely.)
Holidays often bring joy, but they are also reminders of who and what we have lost. During rough years, they tell us that the picture we had of our lives is no longer looking how we imagined it. Days intended for family and friends, they can also make us feel alone. And yet, ironically, we’re not alone in this. Particularly during a pandemic and a health crisis that has affected millions of families, it’s likely that so many people feel this way.
This year, I am going to prepare for each holiday ahead of time. On Halloween, I will make sure the time my boys and I have together is as fun as possible — and try to lower my expectations. If they go trick-or-treating with their father, we can be together beforehand getting all dressed up. (As it turns out, shockingly, Halloween is not actually about me.)
I’ll have my boys for Thanksgiving, but I now know that the rest of that week can feel depressing without them. Perhaps I’ll reach out to my group of divorced mom friends and plan a Friendsgiving for another day. A holiday weekend alone is also a great opportunity to volunteer at a local food pantry or help others in the community — this year, I’m doing it.
Thanks to my own experience, I’m more aware that others might be going through this, too. My father and stepfather are both having rough years, and I’m going to be sure that during the holidays I spend extra time with them.
My kids will be with their father for the winter break. Long stretches without them can be rough, particularly when others are posting cute snapshots of their children lighting menorahs and wearing matching PJs. The audacity. (Pro tip: On sad days, take a break from Instagram.) I have learned that it helps to focus on hobbies while I wait for them to return. During the pandemic, I spent my every-other-weekends without them writing. Rather than feeling lonely, having a manuscript to work on gave me something to look forward to.
This winter break, I’m going all in. I’ll make a list of projects I’ve been eager to accomplish. (Finish my novel! Learn how to paint! Clean out my attic! Become a ballerina — why not!) And in case that still isn’t enough, I’m planning a trip with a friend.