As a child I’d get sick every Christmas. Every single Christmas. Like clockwork, I’d wake up on Christmas morning and the first thing I’d do was not run to look at the presents under the tree, but run to the bathroom because my stomach was feeling queasy.
I’d try to participate in the family Christmas gatherings, but it was difficult because I was so anxious with celebrating Christmas with two different families. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved Christmas as a kid and still do now. It was not only exciting to open up gifts, it was time I got to spend with my family.
The downfall of it was that it was always two families, two Christmases, since my parents were divorced. I guess the sickness was all the stress from going back and forth between parents and the stress of them arguing about who was going to get me for which part of the holiday. Usually, it ended up that Christmas Eve I’d spend with my mom and Christmas day I’d spend with my dad.
As you can imagine it was tough. Celebrating Christmas with my then-stepmom around was painful. She’d treat her kids differently than she treated me. They’d get nicer stuff than I would, and I felt like an outsider in what should have been my family, too. I learned from a young age what it feels like to be left out.
And even though my mom loved us dearly she was a single mom so she didn’t have much money to spend on us. She worked so hard and was always sure to buy us one main gift that we really wanted, but then would wrap up smaller items that she’d found at The Dollar Store.
Regardless of the gifts, holidays have always been a top priority on my mom’s side of the family: we do the big family thing, get together, make a big dinner. Basically we get together to get fat together. Even though we all live just a couple miles away from each other, mostly in the same town, everybody is so busy with work, family, and life that we don’t get to see each other that often. So I get excited when Christmastime comes around because it means we have an excuse to all see each other. In those times, I feel loved and like I fit, like I have a place where I belong.
So even though my children have the unfortunate similar situation that I had growing up with splitting time between Mom and Dad, what I hope my kids experience at Christmas is togetherness, inclusion, and love. Thinking of my own childhood, I try to make sure that I’m civil with my ex when we talk to work out the details for Christmas. I also try really hard to make sure that my boyfriend’s son feels welcome at our family gatherings, and that he doesn’t feel like I play favorites with my own kids. I don’t want him to feel left out like I did.
Family should mean togetherness–which is the opposite of feeling left out or excluded. When I was a young teen and dealing with the way holidays like Christmas seemed to bring up division rather than togetherness, I happened to see the movie Lilo & Stitch. The way that Lilo describes family touched me so much that I cried: “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
Photo credit:Jason Mrachina/Flickr