This wasn’t going to be a fun outing. We just had to run to the mall to make a quick exchange in time for me to make it to my afternoon yoga class, but when my 5-year-old daughter noticed the Christmas decorations were already up, she wanted to linger.
I thought to myself, “Is it Christmas already?”
It felt too early, but when you live in Florida, it always feels too early; palm trees and beach weather make it hard for me to get into the holiday cheer. It was more than that this year, though. For the past two years since I’ve been without my mom and dad (it’s not possible for us to have a relationship at this time), I secretly dread the holidays. I didn’t want it to be Christmas or even Thanksgiving already because this is the hardest season for me to be without my family.
Everything had been reminding me of my mom lately. She loved the holidays so much that once she even painted her walls the color of pumpkin pie. Her mashed potatoes were the greatest. The stores were starting to play all the songs she loved, and I’d see an outfit in a shop window and know she’d have to have it. We had more traditions that I can even count, but now they were all gone, making Christmas the loneliest season for me. What used to be a month of celebration had turned into one big reminder of everything I’d lost.
“Come on, Mommy. Let’s go look at the decorations!” my daughter called.
I looked at the time on my phone.
“I don’t know, sweetie. We don’t have much time,” I said. “Let’s just go.”
But when she sighed and hung her head and slumped her little shoulders, I had to change my mind.
“You know what? I don’t need to go to yoga. We can have an adventure. You lead!”
With a huge smile, she clasped my hand and practically dragged me down the escalator. We tried on perfume samples and looked at lipstick. Then she wanted me to admire the oversized wreaths hanging overhead, and after that we marveled at the beautiful display in a children’s clothing store. Finally, drawn by the warm scent of cinnamon, she pulled me into an upscale cooking store where she was fascinated by the bright boxes of holiday baking mixes and fancy turkey platters.
“My mom and I always used to come here. This time of year they always had hot cider, and we never missed stopping by to have a cup,” I told my daughter.
“We still do! It’s at the front of the store. Help yourself!” called an employee over by the register.
The flavor brought back so many memories that I almost cried.
“Hey, we’re just like you and your mommy!” my daughter said after she took a long sip from her paper cup.
I squatted down beside her and gave her a kiss.
“You know what? Every year, my mommy and I would take a special day and come to the mall just to see the decorations. We’d go in all the stores, buy fancy chocolates, try on Christmas outfits with lots of sparkles, and we’d have this hot cider. That was one of our best holiday traditions,” I said.
“Now your mommy is gone, and you were sad, but you can do it with me instead,” she offered.
“Exactly, and we’re going to do it right now!”
We didn’t get home until it was almost bedtime and my daughter and I had so much fun reliving the tradition that my own mother and I had once shared. As my little one got into her pajamas, I couldn’t help but notice how she had certain mannerisms that were uncannily like my mom’s.
“Thank you for making me skip yoga,” I told her.
“Do you still miss your mommy?” she asked.
“I will always miss my mommy when I’m not with her, but I have you now, and we can do all the wonderful things together that I grew up doing with her. And we can find new things to do, too, that are just our special traditions.”
In this way, our children can be such a potent antidote to loss. Over and over again, as I have grieved the absence of having any nearby family members, my daughter has forced me out of loneliness and mourning and made me focus on the present moment with her instead of the past that I miss. For her, I find the strength to step up and create celebrations anyway.
I’m the mommy now, and it’s up to me to carry on the traditions and perform the little rituals that go along with the holiday season. I’m in charge of making the good memories for my daughter that my mom was so dedicated to making for me, and one day she will grow up and hopefully do the same thing for her children.
Parenting alone, so far from family, wasn’t what I’d planned; it isn’t ideal. I wish I had all my siblings and cousins a short drive away. I wish I still had my mom and dad present in my life, and I wish I could at least make my mother’s mashed potatoes right. I wish my daughter could grow up surrounded by the energy and love that come with a big, close, extended family like I did. Sadly, that’s not possible right now, but I can at least rest assured that my child has me and she has her father and we are dedicated to carrying on the customs we remember.
There are so many of us who can’t be with our loved ones this time of year. We are separated by death, by distance, deployment, or incarceration. Career obligations, financial restrictions, health problems, and a variety of other reasons can make visits nearly impossible for a lot of people. For a great deal of us, our holiday festivities won’t resemble TV commercial perfection and we will feel alone; the distance will feel greater, we will feel lonelier.
No cure exists for that kind of melancholy, and it shouldn’t really. It’s normal to miss the people we can’t be with during the holiday season. For our children, though, we can step into a new role this year. We can be there for them, and for their sake we can still find genuine joy. They are the ones who can show us how.