Diary of a separation

A moment of truth – I’ve got to be grown up about Christmas

Christmas is coming, and the recently separated are squaring up to discuss the Arrangements. X calls, using his patented negotiating voice: friendly, reasonable, with the faintest edge of steel. He does a lot of negotiating in his job and it shows: he can convince you almost anything is perfectly reasonable.

“I talked to my mum,” he says. “All my family are getting together at my parents’ this year for Christmas.”

My first impulse is a shiver of relief that I don’t have to go. Not because I don’t like X’s family – I do, they’ve always been absolutely kind and welcoming. But Christmas with someone else’s family is never quite right, is it? They do things differently: they open presents at midnight, or they eat goose; they don’t have crackers or stockings, or paper hats. And in X’s family, the eating parts of any festival are interminable. I think back to the many many-coursed Christmas dinners of previous years, the way his mum made us sit down at 12 sharp, how we’d stagger bloated from the table at 4 or 5pm, only to be ordered back again at eight o’clock to plough through another gargantuan spread. At least I won’t have to do that this year.

Then I realise where he’s heading.

“So, if you agree, I thought I’d take the boys this year, then you can have them at New Year? We can swap around next year.”

It’s odd: I know, instantly, with a heavy heart, that I’ll say yes and I do, quite tersely, making an excuse to get off the phone as soon as I can. I can’t bear to get into a squabble about it. We’ve both been so good, so grown up, and Christmas seems a starkly inappropriate moment to descend into petulance and selfishness. Also, I have to accept that this is our future: sharing out Christmases and birthdays – one for me, one for you. It’s a dispiriting thought. A second or so later, the reality hits me with a lurch: I won’t see my boys this Christmas.

Because I love Christmas. I love the dark, frenetic days in the run up, squabbling over the size of the tree, the daft family rituals, the wrapping of tangerines and clockwork teeth and chocolate coins after the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve. X is more ambivalent: the relentless consumption makes him a bit queasy, but he always went along with my festive diktats, bemused, occasionally protesting, but basically cheerful.

The thought of no Christmas – because surely Christmas without the boys is basically no Christmas – is very peculiar. Not necessarily awful: I remember the year my mum died, we just didn’t bother and there was an odd relief about it: no giant bird to fret about, no presents except for children, no fuss.

I know I’ll be OK, but what about the boys? My way of doing Christmas is their way and surely this year it’s more important than ever to show them that there’s some continuity, that nothing precious has been lost?

I find myself wondering if I should have argued, made a fuss. After all, it’s not really about me: what good is it me being all noble and self-sacrificing if the children lose out?

I fret about it on and off and, in the end, go for a walk to clear my head. If I’m trying to escape Christmas for a few minutes, it’s hopeless: everywhere is relentlessly festive: the lights are up all over town, there’s a first hint of frost in the air. They’ll be OK, though, I think, finally. They’ll have cousins to play with, aunts and uncles and grandparents to spoil them, a faintly obscene pile of presents. The excitement, the bustle, will stop them missing me.

It won’t be perfect, but nothing would be: perfect for them is their mum and dad together, and that particular Christmas miracle isn’t on the cards.

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