For the past I don't know how many years - pause - actually thanks to my blog I can track it back to 2009...
So for the past eight years, I have celebrated Christmas with an Advent Activity Calendar for my kids. Each day leading up to Christmas, instead of chocolate, they pull out a note "from the elves" with an activity for the day. In early years, we did all kind of arts and crafts together to prepare for the holiday, though in recent years the activity lists have gotten a little - I hate to call it lazy but - perhaps less time-consuming?
(I also used to blog about it. I named the blog project DeBloAdMo, riffing off of NaBloPoMo. However, just as I was always bad about daily blogging during November's National Blog Post Month, I was equally bad at daily blogging my December Blog Advent Month.)
Last Christmas, for the eighth year in a row, we put out the Advent Activity Calendar, but it was an awful month for me and Scott. We chose really easy, low-maintenance activities, and even still we ended up not doing half of them. Part of that was the busyness and excessive travel of the early days of my new job; much was due to the struggles he and I were facing as our marriage crumbled. I didn't even blog about it once, apparently.
Some people eschew anything that brings back difficult memories. It would've been easier to leave my tree ornaments in the box and buy new ones. It would be easier to do away with old traditions and start new ones that don't remind me of the past. But the pains - and pleasures - of the past make us who we are. They are a part of our tapestry. I don't want to forget any part of my life, not like I could if I wanted to, regardless of where I am now. As I journey on through life, I want to learn from my mistakes, bask in the moments that filled me with joy and respect the obstacles I've faced that have led me to where I am now.
The feelings of being a part-time parent are difficult to describe. There are pluses and minuses. I would be totally lying if I didn't say I really enjoy having some time to myself. I like having a quiet house, and I love being able to clean a room and it stay clean for a whole week. I enjoy having some free time again to do whatever I want. The freedom is pretty awesome, but I recognize this isn't how it's meant to be. I hate feeling like I'm missing out on time with my children. I hate that they are making memories every other week without me, and making memories without their dad on my weeks. The house gets too quiet sometimes, and I find myself wandering around at a loss for what to do and missing the delight of seeing life through those three pairs of child-sized eyes. It's an indescribable feeling, enjoying being alone and hating being alone. If I think about it too hard, well, I just get upset over the whole thing.
But ever the optimist, I look at the bright side. When the kids come back to my house after a week away, I am excited to see them again. My patience tank is full. My appreciation for their little quirks is in full swing. My tolerance for their messes is higher, knowing that I'll just clean everything up in a week, and it'll be okay. I am energized and rested and ready to be their mummy full time and to the best of my ability. That's got to be a good thing! And when the week is up, and I'm starting to feel the strain and stress and frustration of being a single mum, they go to a rested, patient, excited-to-see-them daddy. So despite only getting half the month of December with them leading up to Christmas, I've been able to have a lot more fun with them this year, especially with our activity calendar.
Here's what the elves had lined up for this 2017 Advent season:
5 – Drive through Sherwood Forest to look at Christmas lights.
6 – Check email message from Santa.
7 – Eat dinner by candlelight.
8 – Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows.
9 – Cut out snowflakes and hang them around the house.
10 – Choose toys to donate and go see a Christmas movie at the cinema.
11 – Have a sleepover after school with Mimi and Poppi.
19 – Make reindeer food.
20 – Eat Christmas pancakes in pajamas for dinner.
21 – Film a Christmas video for family and friends in Scotland.
22 – Wrap presents to put under the tree.
23 – Make gingerbread men for the Christmas tree.
24 – Go to a carol service, then put out snacks and reindeer food for Santa’s sleigh team!!
Our first week was a lot of fun. The kids were bouncing in their seats and singing "All I Want For Christmas" at the top of their lungs as we drove through the Christmas lights display at Sherwood Forest. Jaguar still believed his email message was actually from Santa (even though Santa pronounced his name wrong) and had the most magical sparkle in his eye as Santa talked directly to him. We enjoyed hot chocolate with gigantic marshmallows for breakfast. (Bad idea, folks, bad idea right before school - they were so hyper!) We went to see Coco together - not a Christmas movie, but one we all LOVED. And last night they spent the night with their grandparents (a total cop-out since I had to travel for work that day, but still looked on as a mid-school-week adventure).
Confession: We forgot to light the candles for dinner on the 7th. And we have yet to cut out the paper snowflakes. Both of these oversights will be remedied. And as for the toy donation, my youngest refused to part with ANYTHING, so one of the benefits of part-time parenting is I have all week to sort through their toys for them, and they will never notice anything has left the building.
Yes, it feels sad to have those empty pockets, representing little days and precious memories I'm missing out on. In an ideal world, sure, all the pockets would be full. But we make of the world what we choose to make it, and we're making it the best we can for ourselves and for our children. I'm thankful my kids get their daddy as much as they do. I'm happy I get them as much as I do. I'm glad that he and I get along well enough that the kids still get both of us together fairly regularly. The twenty-four days leading up to Christmas this year may be split in half, but Christmas day will be whole, as all five of us open presents together, first at my house then at their dad's, in our new different-kind-of-family way. We know that our new different-kind-of-family will likely morph and grow over the years, that new traditions will develop and some old traditions will fade away. One day all of those pockets will be empty, come to think of it, as the kids grow up and abandon their childhood games. So I'm grateful for the time I have with our kids, grateful for the time they have with their dad, and I'm grateful for the time I get to recharge my own batteries every other week.
It feels like in closing I should say something about when life gives you lemons, but instead, since it's Christmas, let me just say that when life gives you broken eggs, you gotta look on the bright side and make eggnog.
Though it doesn't hurt to double the rum.