Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mistletoe: A Family Tradition

The concept of holiday traditions has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.  The weekend after Thanksgiving is the weekend I have always set aside to pull out the Christmas tree and all of its associated paraphernalia, and I usually plan for that weekend to be devoted to the cause and look forward to it with anticipation.  Putting up Christmas decorations is always my favorite part of the season.  This year, however, the thought of decorating for Christmas didn’t even occur to me until the day after Thanksgiving.  We had a very hectic week preceding the turkey feast, complete with out-of-town visitors, an electrical fire, and two family members with various stages of nauseous stomach.  And finally, on Black Friday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even begun to consider what I wanted to do about my holiday decorations.  Most of them were storage, and all of them would have to be put up here in my mom’s house, or not at all.  Somehow, the finality of my divorce suddenly felt more real when I recognized that I would not have my own home to decorate this year, or a husband to decorate it with, for the first time in over a decade.

It was this recognition that was the catalyst for a sudden battle with holiday loneliness.  I’m not coupled off with anyone for the first time in many years, and am not going to be, and that sobering reality on top of the thought of doing my traditional holiday decorating under the magnifying glass of my mother’s control issues gave me a near onset of nauseous stomach.  But my kids started getting excited about pulling out the Christmas decorations as soon as they saw Santa on TV at the Thanksgiving day parade, and I wanted to continue the traditions that are so familiar to them.  I had just never considered how very emotional and lonely it would be for me to face the task. 

Finally, this afternoon, I trudged over to the storage unit to conquer the challenge of unearthing a few favorite decorations, my kids’ holiday books and movies, and some ornaments for the tree.  I had thought that it would be easier for me to do that by myself, but since the kids were getting antsy and needed to get out of the house, I decided to make it a family event and bring them along. 

They were so excited to go to the storage unit and dig through all of the treasures stored there (unaware that 80% of those “treasures” consist of really fun stuff like kitchen utensils, old crafting supplies, and my favorite coffee pot).  As I started to pull out the bins that held our holiday decorations and saw my kids’ faces light up with excitement, I was suddenly glad that they were with me.  It was striking to me that this felt like an odd sort of tradition, to be dragging Christmas decorations out of the remnants of my shattered marriage, but my kids didn’t see it that way.  They were excited to kick off the holiday season and their enthusiasm was not at all lessened by the thoughts of the life we used to share with their father.

I dug through each of the holiday bins in turn, trying to decide what was worthy of displaying this year and what would stay neatly tucked away in storage.  The item that struck me the most, oddly enough, was one I’d forgotten about and was not looking for: mistletoe.  A fake sprig of silvery green leaves that I remembered purchasing a couple of years ago in an effort to try to stir up some affection in what was left of my marriage.  When I opened the bag and saw the mistletoe inside, I thought immediately of my ex-husband and of my recent failures in the world of dating, and I had to fight violently against a forceful surge of tears.  I don’t have anyone to kiss under the mistletoe, and I decided it would only exacerbate my loneliness, so I closed the bag and replaced it bitterly.

As we continued sorting through the rest of the decorations, I thought again about that mistletoe and how hurt I’d been when it had failed me.  I had hoped that its prominent position hanging in the doorway between the kitchen and living room would help remind my husband that I was craving affection, but it hadn’t worked.  We didn’t do any more kissing in the presence of mistletoe than we had done without it.  It had felt like a sad sort of failure to me, I remembered, and then I pushed the thought away again before it could consume me in negativity. 

Finally, as I was replacing the now half-empty bins that had been sorted through, I stopped for a minute to notice my children’s joy.  I enjoyed the sound of their little footsteps pounding up and down the hallway as I handed them things to bring to the door of the storage building, and I listened to their excited chatter over the various items we’d found.  And then I thought of the mistletoe again.  It had been my kids who had used it the most, not my husband or me.  I suddenly remembered the many nights in that kitchen when I simply could not cook because one or both of my kids would insist on standing under the mistletoe to collect their kisses.  And mistletoe was a serious rule not to be broken; no matter how busy I was or what I was doing, I HAD to stop for them if they stood under the mistletoe, and they knew it.  And because their constant demand for kisses represented the strongest force of love that was flowing through our home at that time, I allowed them to insist on it as much as they wanted.  They did so often, and with giggles, and it always breathed a much needed rush of life and love into my then-barren heart. 

Upon recalling that memory, I reached up and pulled down the bin that held the rejected mistletoe.  I took it back out of its bag, walked down the hall to my kids, and held it over my head.  “Hey, kids, do you remember this?”  And then I got down on my knees, closed my eyes, and collected wee kisses and giggles from my children.

Right now, that mistletoe is hanging in my room in my mom’s home, in a place where I can enjoy it with my kids any time I want to this season.  I don’t have a husband this year, and that’s okay.  I don’t want one.  I don’t have a boyfriend either, and I probably won’t even have a date for a holiday party.  But that’s all perfectly fine.  What I really want most of all is love, and that, I already have so much of, more than I know what to do with.  And that is what the mistletoe will be for me this year: Instead of it being a forlorn reminder of what I’ve lost, or have yet to find, it’s a token of what I already have.  I have a family, and I have love. 

And already, my kids have both enjoyed abusing their privilege to interrupt Mommy by grinning at me from under the mistletoe.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.