There are very few of us who grew up with the dream to become a single parent one day. Rather, single parenting is usually the byproduct of life taking us down a road that we hadn’t planned for. Each of our stories look different, and the intricate circumstances of failed love resonate personally and individually different in our hearts and memories, yet we all share the common bond of one strong truth: Our deep love for our children and an unyielding drive to be the best parent we can be for them.
The holidays, abounding with great expectations, are no exception to our hope that we can provide for our children the joy and experiences they are anticipating. However, for most of us, our pocket books do not correspond with the exuberance in our hearts to meet those great expectations. Children have such a beautiful gift for believing that the impossible is totally possible. Yet, somewhere along the way on our road to adulthood, we give up the idea of living full-time at a water park and having a pony reside in our living room, though this sounds totally acceptable to my kids.
I’ll be the first to tell you that Christmas is not about the glam and the glitter. It is about savoring the hope and joy that it brings with those we are closest to. Again, depending on our single parent situation, even this ideal can add disappointment or complications to our holiday aspirations. The fear of lacking the “total package” creeps into our minds as we attempt to budget and plan for the culmination of our Christmas cheer.
I remember vividly that first Christmas my children and I were on our own, with that realization very fresh and heavy in our hearts. On a snowy Sunday after church, my children relentlessly petitioned that this was the day we must find a tree. So after rocking the dollar menu for lunch, which is often my habit after wrangling four young children through the rigors of being presentable for the Sunday service (and by presentable, I mean wearing socks and hoping we get there with matching shoes), I conceded to the tree event. I pulled into a fresh Christmas tree lot and told the children to wait in the car while I went to scan the potential candidates. My heart sunk when I discovered that the most homely looking tree on the lot was $40 plus tax. The Christmas cheer in my wallet was not prepared for that! I trudged back to the car and broke down in tears. My kids sat silent as I proclaimed that there was just no way I could fork out $40 for a dead tree.
Now let’s pause a second. The single mama’s reading this know that the tree was not the inherent problem, but rather the final plug that burst open the rancid bottle of feared potential disappointment that I had now believed was in motion with my kids and their first Christmas without the hope of a “fixed” family. As I pondered the tree dilemma, my children solemnly proclaimed that they did not need a Christmas tree this year. And that is when the “mama wheels” churned inside my cluttered mind and came up with a seemingly impractical but, nevertheless, possible childlike solution. We’ll just chop our own tree down!
Being that there was some personal property I still had access to, the tree chopping event became the most viable solution in my mind to cultivating that cozy Christmas atmosphere for my family. After bundling up in our winter attire and stopping at the hardware store for a $7 hand saw, we embarked on our search and retrieve mission for our first, hard-earned, hand-cut Christmas tree. And, I cringe to admit it, but I may have a little bit of the “go big or go home” mentality when it comes to things like this.
So we raised our eyes to the tallest tree tops to find the prettiest pine reaching up towards the heavens. And when we all agreed on the perfect one, I found a safe spot for my kids to spectate, said a prayer (or several) for strong muscles and physical fortitude as I embraced the challenge of conquering the towering conifer before me. As you can imagine, if you’ve gone through any heartache or injustice of your own, there were so many parallels running through my mind for inspiration!
At last, after bombarding voices of the past in my head telling me that I could never finish this crazy task I had taken on, the tall pillar started to creak and lean. And, with my oldest catching this monumental memory on video, the tree toppled to the ground with the final stroke of the saw blade. Victory was ours for the moment! My heart leaps with strong affirmation every time I go back and watch that video, as I hear my daughter declare with amazement and pride, “Whoah! That’s my mom!” That proclamation alone made it all worth its effort!
This holiday season, we celebrated our fourth anniversary of what we call “The Tree Chopping Event.” Over the past few years, we have made it an anticipated occasion we share with friends, enjoying a campfire, hot cocoa, and roasted treats to round out what has created many cherished memories. What originated as a desperate quest to not fail at meeting my children’s desires, helped to create a precedent that I try to remind myself when I believe I am not measuring up. That the glitter and delight comes, not from the shiny package, but from the intentional process of creating it with the resources we have. Through these past few years, that has been an ever-present quest, continuously challenging my creative process. Whether it’s Christmas stockings sewn out of old sweaters, shining up second-hand toys, or succeeding at creating another variation of the frugal scrambled eggs dinner.
Wherever the holidays find you this year, in your heart and in your life, my hope for you and myself is finding joy in the process rather than the package. In the end, the toys will break, the new clothes will be outgrown, and the tree will come down. It is the joy that we make together that will be preserved. There will always be things about “the package” that we would like to change. Some circumstances in our lives are easier to change than others, but it is in the day to day process that we are given the gift and challenge to be intentional and present every morning we wake up and get our rosy-cheeked babes ready to face the day. Find joy in your process this season and be blessed! Merry Christmas!
Kelly is a single mom of four strong, courageous kids. She and her children live in Duluth and enjoy all the nature this area has to offer. Together they love to build things and create art, music and much out of little. They live by the sign above their dinner table: “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.”