The thing with Christmas when you have school age children is that it starts somewhere around the middle of November at the point the lines come home for the Christmas production. Having been guilty of it while I was teaching I can’t really complain because when you’re in teacher mode you think in hall time slots and rehearsal time not in terms of ‘the children are getting excited about Christmas and its only November’. Anyone who knows me well enough though will tell you I adore Christmas. It is officially my favourite time of the year outside of the summer holidays, but not for the last couple of years and this year bought a whole host of difficult conversations and moments when I just wanted to shield my boys, especially Mr8, from more of the dawning realisation as to where they are in the list of things that are important to their father.
Much conversation happened about who was coming to which of the performances and which family were making the trip up to watch them this year (again my parents came through and I am and always will be eternally grateful) but the conversation between the boys that broke my heart was one where the reasons Daddy wouldn’t make it to the productions were discussed. Apparently he had told the boys he had ‘important meetings on both days’ so was unable to be there, which on the surface is completely understandable and a completely valid reason, but what hurt was when Mr8 caught my eye in the rear view mirror (these conversations always seem to take place in the car) and said “but between us we have 6 performances don’t we Mummy”. It was at that point, looking in the mirror, I could see the hurt in his eyes and feel just how he felt. It is so hard not to tell them how much of their lives Daddy has missed already, even when he was at home, because work always came first. Its so hard not to tell them exactly what I think to the constant list of excuses as to why he is taking more and more of a back seat in their lives. But instead I smile through gritted teeth and continue to ‘justify’ his lack of attendance and continue to facilitate the ever dwindling relationship R has which his children, because as a mother, that’s what you do and I still can’t quite get my head around how the man I married could care so little about his own children.
The weekend before Christmas we had our crib service at church in the afternoon rather than the morning, which is the usual service time. The children were thrilled as it was a Daddy weekend because R readily agreed to drop them back early they could be part of the nativity. What I didn’t expect to hear myself say when we were making the arrangements was “you’re very welcome to stay if you like”, and what I expected even less was for him to agree. Mum says God works in mysterious ways and I’m sure its part of some bigger plan but I have to say, having him there was not my idea of fun or how I wanted to start the Christmas holidays. Lots of people who know the situation asked me after the service how I was and quite honestly I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. After the service R and I stood in the car park having changed the kids stuff over between cars and for some reason he gave me a hug. Not a quick hug, but a proper heartfelt hug and although it felt good it also hurt more than I can even put into words. The feeling of being held by the one man I’d loved more than anything and who has hurt me more than anyone in the whole world, is something I can’t express. Feelings of warmth, confusion, pain and a certain amount of longing flooded my system all at once as we stood there in the car park. As quickly as the moment started, it ended again but after everything I had realised during the service and in the hours before, that moment hurt.. Really hurt. Instead of sharing those feelings however, I just answered the questions people asked by making a joke… “I managed not to burn him with the candles so that’s got to be a bonus”… And just laughed it off. Being strong even when inside I felt no strength left.
The realisation I came to during that service and in the couple of hours beforehand (and it is something I am still kind of working through) was that much of my life with R was spent making sure he was ok and not actually talking to the people I wanted to talk to or actually being the person I naturally am. What I observed that afternoon and how I responded to the situation actually made me go back and have a look at the sort of relationship we had had and who I had become within my marriage. R makes no effort with people. New people and friends alike. It wasn’t always like that but watching him try and move within a situation I am very very happy in, a situation filled with friends of mine and friends that had been ours, made me realise that if we are still together I wouldn’t be in the loving church family I am now in or be in any way the person I am becoming. I would be still spending every social occasion talking to him as he stood on the outside looking uncomfortable and as if he really didn’t want to be there.
We have had many moments over the last 2 years where plans have been changed at the last minute, R has been late to collect the children more times than he’s been on time and things that we have discussed about the welfare of the children have been completely ignored but it wasn’t until that Sunday I realised one thing, the reason all the issues have come about and why he does whatever suits him is because he has absolutely no respect for me as a person and hasn’t done for a very very long time. In his eyes my one function in life is to be there for the children and in doing that enable him to live the life he wants to. While he was at home that meant working every hour God sent (or at least that’s what he told me) and spending weekends doing things around the house but never actually giving me a break or even really engaging with the children at more than a superficial level. If I was to suggest I needed a break I would get a standard answer of ‘well I don’t get one either’. He never respected how hard it is to be at home with the children 24/7 and was utterly convinced I was at home doing nothing (his words not mine) so in the end I gave up asking and just got on with life. What I wanted out of life was not important then and certainly isn’t now and the whole idea that I might actually have a life outside of the house and the children is something I don’t even think he has comprehended. Mum and I discussed this over Christmas and came to the conclusion that in all honesty I stopped being important in his eyes when I gave up work to raise our children. Without physical leaving the house for work and bringing in a wage, I lost all value in his eyes and that showed in the way he treated me. Not in public and he is very clever at telling people what a fantastic job do with the children, but quietly his lack of respect for me and and value of what I was doing at home sucked my own self respect and self worth until there was very little left.
This all sounds very doom and gloom but actually my realisations that Sunday were in fact the complete opposite. By taking that step back and seeing him for what he is and for what value he puts on me I was able to really come to a firm conclusion that if he can’t see me for who I am then the children and I are indeed better off without him in our lives. The 4 of us have a wonderful laughter filled life that wasn’t there before he left and I am 100% happier than I was 3 years ago. Our lives are so crammed full of people who love us for who we are and each day brings new blessings, even if some days I have to look harder for them than on others.
This is the first Christmas for a long time where I have truly enjoyed every minute of the holidays. Yes I was completely shattered and slightly fed up with being the only adult who sat with Miss2 each evening when she refused to sleep but I wouldn’t change it for the world. For the first time in 3 Christmases it didn’t hurt to watch my sisters and their husbands and to be honest I didn’t even think of R once throughout the whole day. The entire time we spent with my family was filled with love and the making of such wonderful memories. Walks on the beach, meeting friends and just spending time enjoying the people in our lives. For the first Christmas in a very long time I felt happy in my own skin. Yes there is a long way to go before I reach the weight I want to be and get back into the jeans I love that are stored in a box under my bed, but as I loose the weight during this year I’m doing it for me to feel better health wise, not to feel better about who I am as a person and that is huge!
I will never understand how R cannot want to see the children over Christmas or to even want to speak to them but that is something I have realised I can’t control. As much as I want him to be an active part of their lives, if he doesn’t want it then it’s not ever gonna happen. The most important thing is that my children know they are loved beyond words just the way they are and I am beginning to accept that too. It’s hard and a constant battle, as for so many years there were strings attached to the feelings that should have come naturally from R, but I will get there….