Will fun holidays ever be possible with all of us together? Will it ever be less awkward? That’s my hope.
My girlfriend and I were planning to have my ex-wife over for a Yuletide morning brunch. Yep, in the grand logistical nightmare that is holiday planning with an ex-wife, her boyfriend, my girlfriend, two children, and a cat named Mister Baz, I drew having the kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning—on the condition that my ex-wife, Natalie, could come for the present opening.
We’ve experimented before with blended familial togetherness. This past Halloween, for example, my girlfriend, Chantel, and I carved pumpkins with the kids. Natalie came by after work to help get them into their costumes, and the five of us ate pizza together. There was a moment, just before Natalie left to take the kids trick-or-treating, when I looked around at all of us, munching our slices, bobbing our heads to “Monster Mash,” and said, “Hey, this isn’t so bad, is it?” Both women looked at me. “Actually,” I said, oblivious, “it’s kind of fun.” But it wasn’t. The expressions on their faces suggested that the evening was as enjoyable as a bikini wax.
Will fun ever be possible with all of us together? Will it ever be less awkward? That’s my hope. Chantel and I had a conversation a while back about her relationship with my ex. “What do you want it to look like?” she asked me, and I replied without much thought: “Well, it would make my life easier if the two of you were best friends.” JOKING!
My mom tore a strip off me when she heard about what I’d said. “Why are you forcing them together?” she asked. “You’re not being fair to Chantel.” My mom’s right, of course. Chantel has been incredibly tolerant. I have never seen her ex. Not in person, anyway. Once I clicked through every photo on her Facebook timeline, and the sight of them together made me feel kind of sick. So I can’t imagine how she feels seeing my ex several times a week.
Me, Chantel, my ex-wife, her boyfriend—we all love the kids. The kids love Chantel. They get a huge kick out of my ex-wife’s boyfriend. Sometimes I imagine the four of us adults having dinner together, cheers-ing our drinks, sharing high-fives over parenting pratfalls, hugging it out as we comfort each other over childcare challenges. It would be so great if we all were friendly. But we’re not there. Of course we’re not there. It’s been 13 months since the breakup of my marriage, and I’m just seven months into this relationship with Chantel.
The more I thought about Christmas Day, the more I dreaded it. Both Chantel and Natalie were anxious, too. Natalie and I went over the morning in minute-by-minute detail. If she wanted to be there for the present opening, she’d have to show up at around 6 a.m. What was going to happen with stockings? Did she expect a stocking? What about presents? “Nobody is going to enjoy this,” I told her. “And the kids are going to pick up on that. I just wonder whether we’re ruining everybody’s Christmas by trying to keep everybody together.”
The next day, we talked again. Maybe, Natalie said, while everyone’s getting comfortable in their new roles, it’s better to do two separate present openings. She conceded the first one to me. She’d pick up the kids later in the morning, and then keep them the rest of the day.
I felt warmer to her in that moment than I had since our marriage broke up. Natalie’s decision reflected the selfless spirit of the season. Suddenly, the holiday I’d been dreading turned into something else. Something special—the first Christmas my kids and I will spend with Chantel. I hope there’ll be many more to come.
I don’t know how other blended families handle big holidays, but the way we’re doing it this year feels right to me. Yep, thanks to my ex-wife’s generosity, I’m excited about December 25th. Joyeux Nöel, indeed.