To all the other parents out there who are separated from your children this Christmas, I’m with you.
There’s something about this national family holiday — forget the religious aspect of it — that makes a child-free Christmas seem so very wrong. It’s like being the only grown-up trapped in Disney World surrounded by zillions of happy kids eating Mickey Mouse ice cream cones. Wait, maybe that really happened.
I’m currently holed up in my apartment in New York recovering from last week’s surgery. My last-minute hysterectomy 12 days ago has led to the slowest recovery ever, plagued by side effects of various antibiotics, back pain and more. I know that last week I told God that if it wasn’t cancer, I would be grateful forever and would never complain about anything ever again. Whoops. Sorry!
My kids left yesterday for eight nights away with their dad, my ex. I said goodbye to them all in my lobby, trying really hard not to cry in front of them, hugging them too tightly, smiling too falsely and telling them that my heart would be with them always. As soon as they left and I got back in the elevator, I burst into tears. Even my kind-hearted doorman reached out a concerned arm as he watched the door slowly slide shut.
Never mind the fact that two hours earlier upstairs I was counting down the minutes until the kids left. I was so tired, so sore from surgery and a week spent chasing after the kids when I should’ve been resting, that I could barely keep myself together. Irritable, short-tempered and ill-equipped to meet the constantly changing moods of my four kids with the patience required for the job, I was ready to fall onto my bed and sleep for a week.
I just needed a minute without monster tantrums, like when I didn’t let my two little ones drag their newly named kitchen stool, “Benchy,” all across our wood floors and up the staircase. I needed a minute without my older son stealing the 3-year-old’s new Hannukah gift, a squishy pogo stick that squeaked every bounce. (Thanks for that feature, toymaker.) I needed two seconds to not have to tell my older daughter, again, to get off YouTube. I needed a second to stop convincing the kids to eat their meals, to stay in their beds, to not steal my TV remote and turn it into a pretend phone. All the things I normally deal with as a mom of four that usually just exhaust me on a good day had me crying and screaming. I knew when I threw down the kids’ final bedtime book (“Sunday Morning,” an oldie but goodie) in a crazed huff because I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me that I needed a time-out myself.
But I didn’t need the kids to jet off to the west coast of Mexico.
That’s the whole thing with parenting. When you’re in the thick of it, the screaming and the noise and the runny noses and the middle-of-the-night-I-need-a-snack episodes, it can feel oppressive and overwhelming. But as soon as the kids really leave, the quiet and stillness at home becomes as deafening and depressing as the chaotic cacophony was crazy-making. The peace and quiet I longed for “just to hear myself think!” is lasting way too long. I only needed a minute. Okay fine, I needed a few hours. Maybe even a day. But not half of Christmas break.
Not to mention that today is actually Christmas. No, I don’t celebrate Christmas. But everyone on Instagram does so I feel like I do too. As I sit on the couch under my favorite soft blanket surrounded by the fantastic books I couldn’t wait to read, with all the world’s movies at my fingertips, I can’t enjoy my kid-free zone. I know, I longed for it and longed for it and to be honest, I feel like I friggin’ earned it. And most moms would kill for this moment like I felt I would before I got it.
But instead, here it is and I’m feeling so empty. I’m on my phone, flipping through my friends’ special moments, their kids in matching pajamas opening gifts and playing idyllically in the snow, and I’m already wishing I could be back in it again. With the kids. With the noise, the spilled drinks, the kids running around the hallways laughing, dripping wet from the bath and still naked, because I can’t manage to catch them to get their jammies on. Even though it felt like it was literally, physically, killing me last week because I could barely move and lacked the stamina to even stay on my feet.
For whatever the reason, work, divorce, the military, the hospital, whatever, being apart from your children on a national holiday just feels wrong. Painful and wrong. My heart today, despite being filled with so much love and gratitude for everything I have in my very blessed life including awesome family, loving friends, a wonderful new husband by my side and a cancer-free recovering body, feels like it’s being squeezed a bit too tight. My chest feels a bit too hollow. My mind a bit too scattered. Because the largest chunk of me is gone right now. And I don’t mean my uterus.
So, Merry Christmas to all you other parents who aren’t with your kids today. No matter what holidays you celebrate. You’re not alone. I’m with you. And now, time for Chinese food.