2:14 in the morning. The neighbor’s snowflake projector is shining right on my face through the bedroom window. And I’ve just realized that Santa will forget about me. What does Christmas look like for a single parent?
It’s my first since my husband walked out on me. My three year old is snoring softly next to me, hungover from cookies and worn out from the Mariah Carey dance party she and I had while putting up the tree. My head is buzzing with budget calculus. Can I afford to put new tires on the car the same month as Christmas? Did my ex put money in the child care account? Do I need to get my ex mother in law a gift? And, with a cold hand around my heart, I wonder who will get a gift for me?
I’m a newly single immigrant and my family is prepping for an Aussie Christmas at the beach. I’m watching the snow fall in Wisconsin, hoping that the family I married into still likes me enough to give me a Bath & Body Works candle. I imagine Christmas morning, Santa having dutifully piled up presents beneath the tree and my child opening gift after gift all for her, her, her. That’s not what Christmas should be about.
When the sun has risen, I text the bestie group chat.
“I’ve got a favor to ask. I realized that Santa won’t bring me anything this year. I don’t want Eleanor to think that Christmas is all about her. Could you do me a favor and send a little gift wrapped something I can put under the tree?”
The besties without kids respond immediately. “Of course!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The mom with older kids and a husband replies with “Oh I buy my own presents and gift wrap them. I just write ‘To mom from Santa’ on them”.
I can’t decide if this is genius or just sad. Another married mom tells me she fills her own Christmas stocking with the travel sizes from Sephora. Last year we heard from a mom who made the most of “anonymous gifts.” These women have adapted to a world where husbands aren’t creating Christmas magic and, instead of taking on the mental load and picking the fight, they’re just treating themselves how they want their partner to treat them.
When my husband left me out of the blue in July, I asked my therapist why I wasn’t struggling more. She thought for a moment and said “Because, in reality, not much has changed.” It was true. My husband and I were fantastic co-parents, decent roommates, mediocre friends, and shitty partners. I was lonely. I was desperate for affection and consideration. Every birthday, anniversary and Christmas I would hope for a miracle to make up for a year of neglect. My stocking would hang empty while his, the kid’s, and the cat’s was overflowing.
Our separation was really just an acknowledgement of what had already happened. I was alone and I’d been alone for a long time. So, it’s not that Santa will forget me this year, it’s just that I won’t spend all December reminding him.
But, if there’s one thing immigrant single mothers know how to do, it’s building chosen family. Not only Eleanor’s “aunties” send us gifts, they will come over and pop champagne. There will be cookie hangovers and dance parties and a house full of love. Because, after all, not much has changed.