When I had to move my mom into an assisted living facility, I spent a day in 120 degree Vegas heat, in a garage with no air conditioning, cleaning out her garage. She sat in her wheelchair at the top of the garage’s steps giving me instructions on what to keep and toss.
We sorted through the favorite baby clothes she’d kept from me and each of my two siblings. Old pillows and the comforter she’d hand-painted as a Christmas gift one year. And, of course, Christmas wreaths, ornaments, and decorations.
A few nights ago, I was reminded of that long ago day when my son and I pulled plastic boxes out of our storage unit in the basement, loaded them in a shopping cart, and hauled them up to our apartment. It was time to decorate the tree.
Unlike the huge artificial tree that my mother set up in the living room every year, I only have a three-foot tree. While I share my mother’s love of celebrating the season I’ve had to pare back my decorations in a series of moves.
Carrying on family traditions is an important part of grounding our children in their roots. It gives them a sense of belonging and marks the year’s passing. After plugging in the tree, we started unwrapping and unboxing ornaments, many of which formerly belonged to my mom.
“Look at this one!” I laughed and passed C the frilly, lace circle into which my mom had inserted a picture of my five-year-old self with an unfortunate bowl haircut.
“Mommy, you look so silly!” he said.
Years and years of memories, handmade ornaments marked in pen with the dates she made them, the felt fairy tale series my grandmother sewed, and newer additions.
“See this?” I held up a ceramic stocking with a baby’s face poking out of the top and the year 2011 inscribed on the front. “It’s your first Christmas ornament.”
He insisted on hanging it front and center. But some of the memories weren’t so great. Like the “First Christmas” as a married couple ornament I’d bought with such hope and joy my first year of marriage. It’s two Snowmen, a boy and a girl, wrapped together with a single scarf around their necks and the year, 2009, painted on it.
“Or maybe it’s because ex-husbands should stay where they belong – in the past, with bad fashion trends and regrettable haircuts.”
Don’t ask me why I haven’t thrown it out yet. Every year I find the box in the jumble of decorations and feel a pang of hurt. Not for the marriage’s end – I walked away and have zero regrets – but for the hopeful girl I was when I got married. The girl who believed her husband would include her in decisions about their life together, instead of unilaterally announcing them as a fait accompli. The girl who believed she’d be loved and cherished, instead of constantly criticized and put down.
Often, what we as divorced women cling to isn’t the spouse who turned out to be so disappointing. It’s the memories of the women we were, and the hope we had, when we first walked down that aisle.
This year was different, though. When I saw the ornament I didn’t feel anything. Maybe that means I’m finally at peace with the woman I’ve become, and proud of how I’ve grown. Maybe it’s because, frankly, the ornament is a little ugly. Or maybe it’s because ex-husbands should stay where they belong – in the past, with bad fashion trends and regrettable haircuts.
Despite the fact that this last year has been one of the most difficult in my life, I’m oddly at peace. It was also one of the most unpredictable. I’ve had to learn a lot about releasing control and allowing things to be what they’ll be.
Once the tree had been decorated and my son tucked into bed, I plugged in the lights and turned off all the lamps. Poured myself a glass of wine and, on my way to the kitchen, tossed the “First Year Married” ornament in the trash. And then sat in the darkness, illuminated by the tree, sipping wine and luxuriating in the knowledge that in that moment I was exactly in the right place.
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