Where's Home for the Holidays When You're Divorced or Remarried?
—The turkey I prepared last year, when my stepsons celebrated
an early Christmas with us.
When my first marriage officially ended, the day before Thanksgiving in 2003, I took a deep breath upon returning from court and began meal preparations for my first major holiday on my own. I set myself (and my raw nerves) to the comforting task of marinating pears for a compote, then started on the bread-sage stuffing. Why? Because for as long as I can recall, I've cooked elaborate dinners for the holidays. During my first marriage, our family shared hosting duties for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The times when others weren't coming to our home didn't mean I was off the hook, though. With other members of the "visiting" team, I would contribute side dishes and desserts so the burden of cooking an entire meal wasn't borne by the host. That was all in the past, however. The next day, my son would be joining me, and so would my cousin. Taking the smallest turkey I'd ever roasted out of the oven, I marveled at its lightness. And shed a few tears.
One month later, at Christmas, I performed a variation on the theme. My cousin brought her nephew, my son came with his girlfriend at the time, and I rounded out the rest of the table with a young violinist from the Ukraine, who was studying at the Conservatory where I worked. She brought her mother along. And, for the first time in my entire life, turkey was not featured on the table. Instead I prepared a standing rib roast from one of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.
This was my new family dynamic, and the start of a new tradition.
It can't have been easy for my son, who was in his early 20s. He was now required to divide all of his holidays in two; the first half of the day was spent with his father, the latter half with me. Those mornings and early afternoons dragged on so! It seemed strange to be alone in the house on a holiday. I probably hugged him far too long and far too tightly when he arrived. But so it went, each year, until last year, when I remarried.
My new husband had taken a job here in Richmond, and I was now living nearly 500 miles away from my son. Whereas holidays had represented a mere logistical inconvenience, now the geographical stakes were raised to challenging heights. Would I be able to spend at least one holiday with him? And what of John's sons? How and when would we see them? The oldest is in graduate school in Illinois; his youngest had just started college in Ohio.
As it turned out, I wasn't able to see my son at all during the holidays last year. His work schedule simply didn't allow him enough time off to make the trip. I cannot tell you how that rocked me. Things fared a bit better with the other boys; they drove to Richmond the second week of December to have an early Christmas with us. But again, what orbits they had to navigate! The eldest and his girlfriend drove from Illinois to Ohio to spend time with his mother and brother. Then, with his brother in tow, he drove from Ohio to Virginia. Then it was back around and up to Ohio to drop his brother off, and westward to St. Louis, so his girlfriend could see her family. And back to Illinois. It was like the movies, where they show you a map of the United States with moving, dotted arrows to illustrate the character's progression from Point A to Point Whatever. The mind reels.
This year, John and I decided that it was our turn to give the kids a break and do the driving. We leave for Ohio Wednesday morning; once there, we'll stay with my son and his girlfriend. We will be joined the next day by John's sons, and we'll all have Thanksgiving dinner together in a suburb of Cleveland. In a restaurant. For Thanksgiving. This will take some getting used to. Never in my life have I set foot in a restaurant on a major holiday; it goes against every cooking and baking gene in my body. I remember feeling nothing but sadness for Ralphie and his family in A Christmas Story, forced to eat Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant because the Bumpus' hounds devoured their turkey.
It's true that there's no place like home for the holidays. But when you create a new family, and those family members are scattered hither and yon and you have no real base of operations, what else can you do? When circumstances dictate that your home be fungible from time to time, another axiom can serve to brighten your thoughts with a clarity that brings comfort and joy:
Home is where the heart is.
The Midlife Second Wife