They were metaphorically placed between us on an overly-polished, black mahogany conference table that was the length of a football field. I saw our children inside the shine, their faces on Thanksgiving, their plates full of food and their tired overstuffed moans by the end of the evening. Inside a pool of despair, guilt and disbelief, I nodded when my ex said we should leave the holidays the way they had always been, why disrupt our children more by confusing their holiday schedule? That meant, that our children would spend Thanksgiving FOREVER with my ex. And, the infuriatingly chipper mediator (engaged before we realized lawyers were needed) with a grey goatee and gold pinkie ring wedged onto his bloated finger, with a stroke of his pen, confirmed that Thanksgiving as a family and most excruciatingly, for me as a mother, was erased.
The first bunch of years, I turned down well-meaning offers and invitations. I could not bear to sit with other families. To see the faces of my friend’s children. So, I sentenced myself to turkeys in boyfriend’s ovens. And trying out sugarless recipes for cranberry sauce. Always too bitter and too healthy, I’d throw them away. And waiting. For the day to be over. I waited for Thanksgiving and the long weekend away that housed the holiday with my children hundreds of miles down the road with their father to end.
Oh, and then there were the unhappy phone calls from my daughter. The desperate sad and somatic filled phone calls. Stomach aches and head aches chief among the reams of symptoms. I coached my daughter on how to “have fun with her cousins.” After I would hang up, I would have acquired her stomach ache and headache.
After the mediator’s pen, I packed away the paintings and drawings my children made of “what my family does on Thanksgiving.” I packed them deep inside a box and someday when they have families, my children can dig and find them. And by then, I might be able to bear the robust table of family and smiling faces and crayoned circle with legs in the middle of the feast. Guilt, because I opted out of our marriage, had me agree to Thanksgiving and my ex having our children on the day.
Divorced parents share children on holidays. As if they are blocks or toy trucks or dolls to be passed across the preschool table to another self-centered toddler with a runny nose. With no concern for the blocks. Just a greedy little engine of want fueling the exchange.
Now I go to my family. No more boyfriend’s ovens and interminable waiting. I put a moratorium on that a year or two ago.
I go alone to my family. Or, I go with one of my children. The mediator’s pen was not, in fact, more powerful than the will of a child. My daughter’s stomach aches proved greater than a divorce agreement.
I celebrate and remember holidays with my ex’s family. The decade plus spent with his family and not mine on Thanksgiving.
I am acutely aware of the losses that comprise life and the reason that as we age we learn to live more fully in the moment and to cherish the present.
When I worked in nursing homes, I did not understand how a card from a child, placed on a pressed plywood dresser, standard nursing home issue, would make a 90-year-old woman so happy, so content.
If we are afforded room to heal between life’s shockers, we find we are adaptable. Miraculously, we scab over. In the end, my ex and I had to accommodate our children. Not our egos. Not the line we drew all those years ago on the mediator’s table. Our children grew bigger. And as they grew, they started to say what they wanted in clearer and clearer voices. Their voices raised, meant holidays and all other divorce decrees became tattered useless pieces of paper we spent a lot of money to construct.