Holidays Deployed: A Chance to Break With Tradition

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Shantel Bell, a Sailor assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) hands out pizza at the USS George Washington Kid's Holiday Party at Huntington Hall December 8, 2018. U.S. Navy Photo/Steven Young

For Thanksgiving dinner, my kids and I ate pizza. The frozen kind, because all the delivery places were closed.

It was delicious.

My husband, who is deployed right now, emailed me a picture of his Thanksgiving meal and it looked equally pathetic, especially compared to the feasts I saw as I scrolled through my Facebook feed.

I'm not fishing for sympathy. Thanksgiving this year was a great holiday in my house, and not just because my Shiraz paired nicely with pepperoni.

The weather was gorgeous. The kids and I jumped on the trampoline for hours. Everything was closed, so we stayed home and watched "Frosty the Snowman" on TV while we sipped on hot cocoa. We made caramel corn together, and played board games, and cocooned on the couch, and FaceTimed with the missing man in our lives.

It may not have been exactly the holiday any of us wanted, but it was definitely a day that highlighted all we have for which to be thankful. We could have joined friends for a traditional Thanksgiving meal; we had some invitations. And we did have a full feast with visiting family members on Friday. But you know what? My kids prefer pizza to turkey anyway.   The holidays can be the happiest weeks of the year or they can be the unhappiest. All that cheerful music can make it seem like everyone else is having more fun than we are, especially when our life situations aren't what we'd like them to be.

I've been through several holiday seasons now with my husband deployed. I'm speaking from experience here. During the bad holidays, I believed that everyone else was surrounded by the people they loved, going to parties and having endless hours of fun.

I was at home. Alone. Again. Naturally.  (Cue music, if you remember that song.)

But it isn't all bad. A solo parenting holiday is also an opportunity to try something new, to break with tradition, to find the fun -- for our children and for ourselves. If you do everything the way you always do it, you'll only be haunted by that empty place at the table, so do something different instead.

Being a solo parent is hard. One parent doing most of the work is not the way life is supposed to be. Not having another adult around to share moments with is certainly less than ideal. But lots of lives are harder than they're supposed to be, and no one's life is ideal. Most everyone I know is carrying a heavier load than the one they thought they were supposed to carry.

Smiling Christmas card portraits, Photoshopped or not, only tell one minute's worth of the story.

Illnesses and injuries happen. Infertility crushes dreams. Kids are born different, and some require extra care and attention. Loved ones make mistakes and someone must take up their slack. People get laid off. Economies crash. Savings get depleted. No one gets an easy life.

Solo parenting holidays can be lonely, each event reminding us of what we don't have, or they can be adventures-in-waiting, unconventional opportunities to give our children the gift of fun memories.

Why not let them remember this Christmas as the year you went camping (if it's not too cold) or celebrated the holidays on a cruise ship, or at a ski resort? It could be the year you all went out for Chinese food on Christmas Day, or buddied up with another Must-Have family for several days of sleepovers. This might be the year you stayed home but picked another culture to research and adopted their holiday traditions instead.

The holidays will be what we want them to be, and our children will most definitely follow our lead. If we view them as days to be overcome and endured, as days when others have plenty while we are lacking, our kids will see them that way, too. And that's the memory they will keep.

My kids would rather remember pizza.

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