A few comments from the kids about disappointment over spending Christmas at dad’s house heightened my anxiety, and when my card arrived I went overboard.
In my sudden relief and joy, I let them open several of their “lesser” gifts. Bad reactions and disappointment from the kids brought back dad’s bad response. More panicked spending.
Finally talked to mom and a close friend, both of whom adore Christmas and have been doing it forever, and surrendered to their advice. I had nothing to lose at this point.
Mom: Invite your brother over and have him make dinner. Make a Christmas memory and don’t focus on the gifts.
Friend: Make interesting and cheap stockings. Everything’s going to be discarded and forgotten just as quickly as the expensive gifts, but a grumpy reaction to a single disappointment is easily overshadowed by amused reactions to 20 confusing dollar store gifts.
First thing in the morning I hear screaming: “Dad! Dad! Where are you!” I let them sleep in the living room last night and didn’t get to bed until 3 or so, so I was disoriented and still half asleep. I jump out of bed and Malcolm and I startled each other in the dark as we ran into each other. “Santa did come! You have to see these stockings! And oh my gosh! We both have huge presents under the tree!”
Stockings were an amazing hit, though they both LOVED the gift they opened this morning. Still, icing on a successfully baked cake. But they had both expressed some concern over the week that I wasn’t going to get any presents and that morning there was nothing stuffed in my stocking. *Lesson learned…put some crap in your own damned stocking if it’s hung over the fireplace. So I had also stuffed a microwave popcorn packet into each of their stockings with a note from Santa about how they were to wait for the delayed arrival of the new microwave oven he had ordered for me from Amazon (ours went out in, like, August and I’m replacing it next week). “Hey! Santa brought dad a present but it just didn’t get delivered on time!”
The kids weren’t so thrilled about dinner, but god damn it was amazing to have another adult there with me after this week. And he’s a fantastic cook. Brussels sprouts with uncured bacon and garlic, mashed potatoes with a surprisingly improvised gravy from ramen noodle spice packets (I forgot the gravy mix!), ham steaks with a sweet pepper glaze, and the company of my brother around my dinner table.
Thanks for everything. Not everybody’s near, but they’re close.