i am a book full of pages torn down the middle. i think this way, and that way too; i feel that way and this way both. torn, my constant. i hope that as i read my own story, as i get further and further into me, i'll find more pages that are whole.
this year, my son is old enough to be excited. he knows about santa and the north pole and christmas trees and hot chocolate. his excitement only stokes the christmas nerd i've long been. last weekend i began our holiday season by decorating the apartment. early, i know, but i wanted him to come home from visiting his grandparents and walk into a wonderland (as wondrous as one can get with Dollar General decor). as i hung the garland, to which i attached bulbs and a center bow that i made from ribbons and bells, i remembered its original purpose: hiding the bald spots in my Dollar General tree i bought in 2004—the year i went without cable, made lattes for a living, and spent a lot of time with my sewing machine in the painfully outdated apartment full of structural and functional oddities, among which was a staircase to nowhere. obviously the folks at Generic Christmas Tree Company could not spare another branch or two to make their product look remotely legit, so i had to make do with ten feet of space between each tier. every year, once i decorated my little tree that could, i always looked upon it with love, proud of the something i could make out of not much.
in years past, i put up that tree while singing carols to my dogs, kaiser and phaedra, and then i'd put santa hats on their block heads and say the word "treat" to get them to hold still so i could take their picture. kaiser and phaedra are a few years gone now, so last weekend it was just me and private joker. i didn't sing him carols. i thought i'd save that for putting up the tree with my son in tow, and make it a full-family affair. so i turned on a Hallmark holiday movie instead . yes, really. for two months every year, i immerse myself in corny dialog, unrealistic scenarios, and sickeningly wholesome themes. except this year i've picked up on a pattern that counters that trademark nice with some naughty: most of the films' protagonists find love while committed to someone else they unceremoniously dump. i think Hallmark is going for "love conquers all," but what they're actually getting is "all's fair in love and war." the latter does have a certain appeal, a realism that reminds us that there's no ideal scenario leading to love. however, when the reality of love is coated in sap, it's unpalatable. i wonder if the average Hallmark viewer notices or cares. i'll go with no. i doubt "perspicacious" is on Hallmark's list of target-viewer traits. and now i'm redeemed for my cable-bound sin: it turns out that even the low art of holiday movies offers opportunity for critical analysis.
i've digressed. as for my bargain wonderland, when i unveiled it, my son acted like a two-year-old, literally, giving me a scowl followed by "i don't wike it." a few minutes later, predictably, hyde became jekyll and he was thrilled. in the toddler psyche, elation is generally correlated with destruction, so soon my place looked like a christmas massacre. still, he loved it. exhale, mamma. christmas mission one, accomplished.
what comes next? decorating the tree. the christmas parade. christmas movies and cookie-baking. candy cane hunting at the local park. christmas crafts. the joy of my parents seeing their only grandchild's delight. nighttime drives to see light displays, and maybe this year that pined-for trip to the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort. i'm going to make it so good for him this year. this special year when he can first feel the magic.
and what comes between all the joy-making? visions of what isn't. the kind that leave a single parent ... torn. the page begins whole, filling up with all the beautiful possibilities, and i want to stay there, there and only there, but inevitably the page begins to pull away from itself. there's no man to put my son on his shoulders to see santa at the parade; no date for holiday parties; no one to keep the kid from smashing bulbs while i trim the tree; no extra set of arms to carry and unpack and wrap; and all the holiday driving! i'd love to sit in the passenger seat and look out the window instead.
but there's this: being single is good, too. there is comfort in the familiarity of long-held habits. my days are mine to use as i please. dinner is at whatever time i make it. there's no one to blame besides me. i don't have to care if my in-laws like me. i don't have to fret over how someone else might parent my child.
is it possible to simultaneously like and lament being single? yes. normal? i have no idea. it's my normal. torn.
people tell me to try online dating. no. i can't look for mr. forever (and god help him if he finds me); i just don't want to try that hard. we'll have to cross paths in one of the places i frequent, which doesn't leave much room for possibility, unless he likes Dollar General or the secret organic aisle at Giant Eagle or, i don't know, sidewalks? i'm on them a lot. my son and i have a good thing going. last wednesday, i was washing dishes [dear santa, how 'bout that countertop dishwasher, eh?], my boy was napping, and i suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. that happens from time to time. that hackneyed "warm feeling" becomes altogether real, and i know we're better than okay.
we're gonna have a merry christmas. turn the page.