Divorced people don’t hang around the kitchen stirring cranberries and sipping wine and laughing about the old days, do they? Even if they’re parents, I always figured that divorce meant divorce. Boom. Done. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. I get the kids on Christmas Eve, and you get ’em back Christmas afternoon. And if either one of us is sad and blue about any of that, well, too bad.
We chose this. The Norman Rockwell holiday togetherness crap died when we signed the papers. Now one of us might have to spend Christmas Eve alone in some dive bar, bum rushed by a thundering herd of Ghosts of Christmas Past.
So it goes, I figured.
Whatever we end up doing, I’ve been telling myself, we can’t do it together.
Ummmm … so, yeah.
We’re doing it together.
Thanksgiving, I mean.
“As a family.”
I feel selfish about that F word, about “family.” That word seems like a real stretch to me most of the time, and I’m not sure I see it that way anymore. Our family is gone, that’s what I tell myself. And in its place are two new families with some super-cool interchanging members named Violet, Henry, and Charlie.
It’s like yeah, the kids and me are family. And yeah, the kids and Monica are family. But I think I’ve been wanting, or even needing the whole family thing to end there for reasons I can’t quite explain.
Even though this whole notion of us spending the first big holiday since our divorce together as a family has been bugging me for months now, it’s still the option that I ended up settling on, or actually the one we ended up settling on.
It was not in some kind of soul-touching, sit-down, ultra-mature “conscious uncoupling” discussion over tea either, so cool your feel-good Internet jets there. Our respect for one another as parents stems from our love for our kids, and anyone who doesn’t try to handle stuff with that in mind is basically a pure idiot.
Our worlds are wildly separate now though, and so perhaps more than anything I fear the possibility of awkwardness at something like Thanksgiving dinner. What the hell will we talk about? Talking about the kids is fine and all, but that can get old fast. I mean, I can only discuss the ups and downs of preschool progress with my ex for so long before I’ll need to plunge my face into a steaming vat of boiling cranberries just to escape the insanity.
We agree to have Thanksgiving together as we stand by her running minivan in the alley behind my house one day when she’s picking up the kids.
We’re three feet away from my trashcans. They smell sour, like discarded Happy Meal Gogurts.
I try to conjure up the Chris Martin in me. Speak from the tender heart! Be honest and brave! Show love to your ex! But I quickly realize there is no Chris Martin in me, not this afternoon anyway. I’m exhausted. I’ve been up since 5 AM. I want to eat a a clump of November mud just to have something in my stomach.
“Where are you having Thanksgiving? Where should the kids eat? Blah blah blah.”
We go back and forth for an uneasy two or three minutes. We mumble stuff in each other’s general direction as Charlie, 1, cries his face off in his car seat and Henry, 4, keeps asking me to run in and get him a juice box.
We settle it in the true spirit of two tired exes, of two late afternoon parents. We’ll just have Thanksgiving here. At my house. Together.
“Later,” I say.
“Later,” she says.
I don’t know.
I want the balance. I want the kids to have sweet, fuzzy-filtered memories of divorced parents who were always laughing and joking around each other!
*Clink* Look at that, they’re doing another toast to some random shared memory they have!
But it isn’t easy or simple either.
We have grown apart, really apart, my ex-wife and I. No surprises there, right? It happens. We speak in text mostly. We speak of our kids almost exclusively. In divorce, I think different people move along at different speeds and although I have been clocking my own trajectory hard over the last year, the truth is, I have no idea what her speed is. I guess I never ask. We used to talk about everything. Now, we only talk about the kids.
Isn’t that strange?
People are funny.
But mostly people are scared and aloof and dumb.
I am anyway.
We can make it cool though, and we will. Thanksgiving ought to be this sort of day when people come together and suck down some beers, house a four-pound plate of overcooked grub, talk a little, laugh a little, take offense at certain things said, feel glad they have a place to hang at for the holidays, and feel glad as hell that they don’t have to live with certain people gathered around the table for pumpkin pie.
Plus, at the back of my mind flaps a bittersweet flag, a notion that there probably won’t be too many more holidays like this, holidays where the kids are still young and wild-eyed and we have this fleeting chance as parents to lay all the new aside and try on our goofy old past. For just a couple of hours, for the kids’ sake, or for whatever the reasons we each tell ourselves when we go there in our thoughts.
Change will keep coming.
There probably won’t be many more times when we can both sit there together and look at those three kids we created together, raise a bottle of beer to the only true legacy that will always bloom up out of our once upon a time.
Hell, I might as well look forward to it, and in a lot of ways — I’ve got to be honest — I am. It’s like, it’s one thing to watch your kids shovel down mashed potatoes and turkey in a heated rush so they can get back to Sponge Bob on the tube, you know? But it’s another thing entirely to do that with family.
Even if there are times when you try like hell to pretend that it isn’t.