Like many things in life, such as waiting in line for a rollercoaster, the end result is never as bad as it may seem at first.
Since writing a heartfelt blog about spending Christmas Day without my two-year-old son TJ for the first time, life has taken a few steps forward. I finally got the keys to my own flat in time to put up a Christmas tree. Getting those all-important keys made life a lot easier. It gave me perspective, space and the freedom that I have been craving.
As the December days flitted away, I was gradually able to get through Asda’s festive advert without crying. I realised that Christmas is about more than one day – so I went to town making sure all the days around it were as special as can be.
This culminated on Christmas Eve. After throwing money at the problem with Black Friday deals, I established some Christmas traditions for TJ and me. A Christmas (Eve) box was packed with activity books, a reindeer soft toy, new pyjamas and The Snowman on DVD. As darkness fell on the night before Christmas, I silently cried a few tears. There were sad tears for missing TJ before he had even gone but also tears of happiness that a little bit of Christmas magic had given us time for just the two of us.
Afterwards, I tucked TJ up in bed, filling him with promises of presents, a visit from Santa and a day of all of his favourite things after a lovely night’s sleep.
That didn’t last long.
TJ and I were both plagued with the lurgy which had been doing the rounds faster than Santa on his sleigh. Before Midnight came, TJ requested to sleep in my bed and I didn’t have the heart to do anything but scoop him up and carry him to where he wanted to be.
Eight restless hours later, and with moments to go before my family arrived laden with presents, I whispered to my tired toddler that it was Christmas morning. He replied with an excited ‘yeah!’ as he hopped out of bed and went to see if Santa had been.
As TJ opened his gifts, my mum made breakfast and my sister took photos whilst my dad and sister’s boyfriend sat in the corner assembling plastic. It was brilliant and blissful. However, the minutes ticked by and the dreaded 11 am pickup from daddy arrived. TJ was distraught. It was the worst handover we have had so far. My little boy clung to me as his dad wrestled him away and I choked back the tears. With hindsight, I totally understand. He was torn from the fun of that newly assembled plastic without knowing why.
I tackled the emotion in the best way I know how – by doing something practical. I threw away wrapping paper, I put toys in their new home and I did the washing up. When I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I shut myself in my bedroom to cry, like a lovestruck teenager. My phone bleeped from a couple of friends who knew what was happening. Then, I picked myself up, I had a shower, and I got on with the day.
My fabulous sister cooked up a feast and kept the alcohol coming. I worked myself into a gluttonous haze to the sound of Eastenders in the background before my dad drove his 34-year-old daughter home.
The 27th was fake Christmas Day as my sister (amazingly) got back in the kitchen with one extra place to set at the table. TJ still was somewhat under the weather so he had a couple of tantrums up his sleeve but we had some family fun too. If we all loved each other as much as TJ loves (homemade and alcohol-free) mince pies then the world would be a much better place.
I learnt a lot by facing the festivities without my favourite family member. I realised that a date on the calendar shouldn’t dictate everything. I learnt that TJ deserves an explanation for all that happens to him. I discovered that I shouldn’t overthink things.
Next Christmas will be a completely different ball game – and not just because it will be my turn to have TJ for the big day. He will be older. As his parents, me and TJ’s dad may be wiser and have worked out how to successfully co-parent a little bit better. But one thing will never change and that’s the love that we have for our son and also for each other, despite everything. That’s the really important stuff.