Around the holidays a few years back my family was in a really weird place. My parents were separated and on the road to divorce.
My dad had stopped coming around in recent months and was living somewhere else with a not-so-secret girlfriend. On top of that, my mom was desperately trying to sell our beloved home of over a decade—she knew the payments were too much for her on a single income—but hadn’t been able to find a buyer in nearly a year.
Money was tight, emotions were high, and all of us were drained from the chaos that had been our lives the year prior. Although I lived on my own in a different town, I was constantly worried how my mom was doing and more times than not livid with my alcoholic father for the pain he had caused our family.
Despite all of this, I was looking forward to the week of Christmas. I thought the holiday spirit and time with loved ones would offer a welcome relief from the stress and anxiety. And we were ready to make this Christmas the best yet, bringing a bittersweet but cherished ending to an era in a home we loved. So I made a conscious decision before the day arrived that I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone ruin it.
We invited my dad to come over Christmas morning to open gifts with us. And it went well at first! Everyone was in a great mood; we were all laughing and having fun. For a moment it felt like we were somewhat of a normal family. But after only a couple hours, my dad got up and said he was leaving to go “to his friend’s house.” Who knows what he meant by that; all that mattered was that in his mind he had more important places to be than with his children.
I’m not a confrontational person in the slightest, but as I hugged him goodbye everything in me wanted to scream, “Are we really not worth enough to you that you can’t spare more than two hours for us on Christmas day?!” But I remembered the promise I had made to myself and refrained. It hurt, and if it was any other day I might have said something to him about how I disagreed with his actions, like I had on countless occasions before. But I wasn’t willing to let him him ruin my Christmas spirit.
I accepted in that moment that that was his choice, and but I chose not to let it negatively affect the rest of my day. So I kindly said my goodbyes. Sure, my mom, sister and I briefly discussed our frustration—venting a bit to get it out of our system. But then we went on to have one of the best Christmases I can remember.
The night before my mom had given us all different pajama sets which we proudly wore all day, and even got a picture in to document the occasion. We gave our pets their Christmas treats, played board games together and chatted about nothing and everything. We ate our traditional Christmas breakfast that our mom made for us every year. And at some point, my grandparents came over and we got to spend some quality time with them. At the end of the day, we started a new Christmas tradition with the three of us going to see a movie.
Although it made me sad that my dad didn’t want to stay and spend more time with us, that is not the main memory I have when I think back to that Christmas. What stands out to me instead was the love I felt by my family. The laughter we shared as we swapped stories from years past. The cupcake-clad pajamas that I cherish to this day. And the beautiful memories made on our last Christmas as a family in our old home. Because chaos and all, we’re still a family.