As I write this, it’s just before nine in the morning on Friday, December 25.
I’m sure that my children have been awake for at least a couple of hours. By now, they’ve likely torn gleefully through whatever Christmas presents were under the tree for them at my ex-wife’s house and are, I imagine, playing with them. My tween has probably finagled some screen time and is comparing notes, via text and SnapChat and FaceTime, on Christmas booty with his friends. I’m sure they’ve had some version of a festive breakfast, with lots of chocolate and with Christmas music on the playlist and Bailey’s in coffee for the grown-ups.
But the truth is, of course, that I don’t know exactly what’s going on this morning with my kids. Right now, I’m alone in my quiet house. Last night, I took myself to see an early showing of Sisters, the new Tina Fey and Amy Poehler movie. Today I’m writing, and puttering and I’m going to do some yoga. And then I’ll make a side dish and grab a bottle of wine and head over to my ex’s place for an early Christmas dinner with her and the kids. She timed the dinner so that I can take them afterwards to see a matinee of In the Heart of the Sea. The matinee is at least partly my influence: the long-standing traditions of Jews seeing movies on Christmas Day.
Last year at this time, Rachel and I had only just decided to separate. We hadn’t told the children. We just managed to get through Hanukkah and were enduring Christmas and a week-long visit from my mother-in-law. It was a scary, painful, confusing time. Surrounded by the trappings of two faiths’ worth of tradition, we knew that we were about to say goodbye to all that; to familiarity and to nuclear family.
“Bittersweet” is hardly sufficient to describe the mood. But maybe, somewhere in my private anguish over the end of my marriage, over the years of struggle and the hurt that goes along with the end of marriages, I could glimpse the possibility of new beginnings. I could imagine, just barely, a time when the holidays—when life in general—wouldn’t seem so fraught.
Mostly, though, I had to take it on faith that things would get better. I had to trust that time would help me to heal and ease the grief. I had to go through the motions of the holidays, try to remember that Rachel and I had—in the almost two decades we’d been together—managed to merge traditions and to find creative ways to celebrate holidays and festivals that recognized both our backgrounds. We did this with more and less grace—less as we grew further apart. And as our relationship deteriorated, we both, I’m sure, felt a stronger pull to the comfort of the traditions we grew up with, while resenting each other for not being more accommodating of them.
A year later, my birthday coincided with the fifth night of Hanukkah, and I threw my first real dinner party since Rachel moved out. I fried up four recipe’s worth of latkes (not enough, as it turned out), and celebrated surrounded by dear friends. The kids played dreidel and lit Hanukkah and birthday candles, and I basked in the glow of light, and made a resolution to entertain more. A few nights earlier, I’d taken the menorah over to Rachel’s house so that I could light candles with the boys on her nights with them—she graciously invited me to dinner. A few nights later, all four of us attended our synagogue’s annual Hanukkah party. And we had fun.
A year after Rachel and I separated, my family is only just beginning to rebuild our lives, to build new traditions. Some will stick, and others won’t. Even in two houses, though, we are still an interfaith family, and we will continue to navigate what that means to us as we go forward.
Today, I do miss my kids, but I am also happy to revel in my quiet house for the morning. I’m happy that Rachel has the Christmas tree she’s longed for. I’m looking forward to seeing my boys in a few hours, to turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie and—let’s face it—Bailey’s. It might be slightly awkward, but chances are it will be a million times more joyful and peaceful than Christmas was a year ago. And for that, I am profoundly grateful.