The other night when we returned from our Sunday family dinner, Max was undone. It a full weekend of lights and latkes, hockey and treehouses, Grinches and pancakes and too much sparkling apple cider. He was tired. But it was more than that too.
This time of year seems to stir it up–the sense of what we don’t have. Is it the Christmas list making? Or is it the darkness that descends way too early and lasts way too long? What is it that brings up the greatest longings? The biggest needs and wants?
He sobbed in the kitchen trying to explain. “I hate that you guys divorced. I hate that Papi doesn’t live here. I hate that I don’t get to see my dad except for a few hours a week.” (I know baby, I hate it all too). “I hate that I have no brothers and sisters. I hate that I feel so left out. I hate that I am the only one without a dad at these things.”
It all started when Max got his feelings hurt by someone he adores. When he was literally shoved into a corner. It happens, the shoving, life is full of unintended bumps and pushes. They in and of themselves may be no big deal but they can bring up the deepest of wounds, can stir up dragon and gremlins.
Long after he had fallen asleep, cried out and complete, I too grieved all that we have grieved over and over again and wondered how in the world to stent a broken heart? This unhealed wound, this sense of being not quite whole, makes him so vulnerable. And nothing undoes me like this, his pain exposed.
There is something about the holidays that make it worse. The endless Christmas specials with their perfect families. Just recently, we saw not one, but two stories with a magic happy ending when mom and dad got back together and families reunited just in time to open gifts.
I have spent much of the last few years knitting us a tribe, patching together our broken hearts with a community, filling the empty places with laughter and food. Inviting ourselves in to other people’s families and claiming them as our own. We have created something beautiful out of something that was broken and that is a miracle. But it can’t replace that that bright shiny big family Max always wanted, or dare I say it, that I always wanted too. I need to keep reminding myself not to attach labels or expectations to this that we built. For while this community is many things, it is also not many things. I can lose the joy of it while I point out everything that it isn’t.
Tonight I curled up under covers in Max’s red bed and together we talked about the pros and cons of being an only child in a house with a single mom. There is no one to play with when Mom does her chores, her work, the cleaning and laundry. There is no one to pinch hit when mama is busy which makes him feel lonely and a little bit unsure. The house can feel big and empty and life can seem like too much with just us chickens. There is noone to interrupt us while we read for hours on end together–books out loud, one more chapter, why not? There is no one to take away his mama when he is sick or sad or simply just needing the attention. This bed can feel just the right size for a boy and his mom and two favorite books. Truth is, nothing is all one thing and every family can feel broken and whole all at the same time.
Our family at the holidays is a meditation. About seeing. Not what is missing but what is really there, right at this moment–ugly, beautiful, broken but real, and shiny and full of goodness. Our life is a meditation about not comparing what we have against check-lists that promise unending happiness but always disappoint. As I lay in bed long after little eyes had closed, I wondered about how to move him from longing and grief to gratitude and appreciation. I know that it starts with me and my practice. Somehow it always does. He learned to speak by emulating me. Maybe he can learn to let go of wanting by watching me too. And yet, tonight, I light a little candle on my altar, say a prayer to the universe, to make it a tiny bit easier, a little bit smoother to let go and want nothing for Christmas but what I have so that he too can learn just how whole he already is.