Oh, how a parent, particularly one who is going through or has just been through a divorce, wants the holidays to be magical, restorative, everything for their kids. And there's just too much that can interrupt the sweetness and snow.
I've been through a few of these holidays. I've passed by windows decorated with Harry Potter and Santa with his miles-long nice list in department stores that smell like Chanel perfume and faux fur on my way to the courtroom. I've yelled back at my ex on the porch on Christmas Day while my mother distracted my little boy inside. I've sobbed into my dad's chest after sending my son off with his father only hours after Santa visited. Those moments were tough. But the days, the actual holidays themselves, were also wrapped up in a lot of hope and calm. Maybe because, after all of that, I needed them to be, we needed them to be.
Things are better now. Mostly. What I've learned is to hold on to the time with my son that I do have. And to put thought, rather than just money, into the holidays we share together. It's easy to throw a debit card at a holiday to make it feel BIG! WONDERFUL! PERFECT!, especially when the child will head off in a Honda CR-V to his dad's house where there it will surely be BIGGER! MORE WONDERFUL! EVEN MORE PERFECT! It's easy to make the gift-giving a game, with your kid in the middle (again).
I do buy gifts. Maybe more than I should (I'm working on that). Aside from the ridiculous Lego sets with 8,000 pieces and 400th stuffed animal and play kitchen kitchen that took five hours to assemble, I've learned that the gift that really means something has always been the one that I've put my whole, throbbing, sometimes-terribly-broken, often-gushing heart into for my son. It's the gift that says, "This isn't what it used to be. And I see that means for you. I love you and I get it."
It's the gift I make or buy that puts away a joint parenting agreement, an irrational text message, even an hour or two alone next to the Christmas tree to validate what the small child is experiencing. Of course, it's not the only time he (or your child, I am quite sure) has been the focus of love and attention during a divorce -- many of us leave our relationship with the kids' other parent because we want their lives to be better. Still, it's the opportunity to pad what can be time that's full of heartache and hope for everyone in every house.
Do you have a child you'd like to give something more than a LeapPad Explorer or American Girl armoire of outfits? Here are the gifts you can give a kid you love whose family is in the midst of a separation, divorce or big change that will tell them (and remind you) that it's all going to be OK.
Seedling DIY Family Kit ($40) - Your child's family (and many children's families) probably aren't made up of the standard dollhouse foursome anymore. This kit is an artistic, empowering, lovely way of acknowledging that's perfectly fine. You and your child can decorate the wooden people to make up the people in your family that feel most familiar.
Reminder bracelet ($4.50) - Going back and forth between homes can make for a few moments of chaos, tears, or even a little too much glee. Settle into those transitions with something as simple as a special bracelets that you can take from your wrist and place on around your little one's arm or tuck into an overnight bag or school backpack. The bracelet can be a reminder -- I love you, I'll be back Sunday to pick you up, we're always connected, I'll be thinking of you, have fun! If your child is small, tie a ribbon on this bracelet that's attached to a laminated card with phone numbers for both parents or a special poem or message. If your child is little older, a heart key chain with both sets of keys might be a good symbol that all these houses come together to make one family. If you're on a budget, visit Oriental Trading or a party store and pick up cheap, easily replaced bracelets that work the same magic for a few cents each.
Heart pocket stones ($2 - $7) - Even when a separation is amicable and visitation is welcome by everyone in the family, it can be comforting to have some little way of saying you are all still in each other's hearts and thoughts when you are apart. Give a child a heart for each parent and child as a way of acknowledging that different doors and changing relationships don't change the shape of love for moms and dads and kiddos. Put them all in a pretty box, keep them displayed on a table near the front door, sit them lovingly on a windowsill in the little one's room, or slip them into a wee pocket to carry along from place to place.
Photo book ($12 and higher) - Some kids need reassurance. Others want to know more about the time when their parents were together. Others are afraid of forgetting what life was like in that one house. Some just want to see pictures of the people they love smiling. Others want to see photos of themselves with each parent, when they were a baby, or other big memories with both parts of their family. Make a little photo book that will make your child smile, feel soothed, settle down. If you're ambitious, put together pictures of your child's life so far. If you need for it to be more manageable, make a little book of ten favorite photos of the year. If you all just want to get the giggles, make it a themed book of photos of your silliest faces. If you've just moved into a new home, honor the old house with an album of those nooks and corners where you once lived. Because there are often great deals when you order multiples, create a special photo book or order an extra as a gift from your child for the other parent, or give each kid their own customized gift from mama.
Personalized artwork journal ($39) - This beautiful handmade journal has a cover crafted out of your child's artwork, is leather-bound and has a perfect little place to tuck a pencil. But a simple, cute notebook from the dollar store or one you wrap in Star Wars paper will also work just fine. What's important is that you give your child a place to write or draw out whatever's going on in their precious head. My own son often misses his dad, so we've deemed one blank book as his place to write a little note to his father during his time, to make reminder notes of things that happened during the day to tell him, or to sketch a little face to show how he's feeling in the moment. He hasn't used it very often, but knowing it's there on his desk seems to help when the tears or frustration well up.
Dry-erase calendar ($12 plus lots of markers in funky colors) - This might seem like a boring gift to an adult, but to a kid who has a lot going on in their weekly schedule, a calendar can calm some of the stress of shuffling around. The best part of the calendar (and I can attest to this) is the half-hour spent every month plugging in visitation and vacations and play dates and activities. It's helped my son practice writing numbers and writing words. My favorite monthly calendars are those that are littered with his drawings of his daddy's house, with birthday cakes and airplanes, with big pumpkins and fall leaves to mark the holidays. The bonus is that it's a place to point when he asks over and over how long it will be until... and is a little ritual that's made the months feel more organized and easier (even when they are totally crazy and complicated).
Two of a new book or another copy of an old favorite (thrift-store cheap to hardcover spendy) - Nighttime snuggles can make the whole world feel just right. Make more of those moments possible by giving your child a copy of his favorite book to have at your home or the other home he goes to. Or give two copies of a book you're sure she'll want to read over and over so that there's no carting around, forgetting or misplacing of great read. This might be a book about finding the blessings in being raised by parents who don't live together like our go-to "My Two Homes" or a much-anticipated release like this new volume of left-behind Shel Silverstein poems.
What gifts have you given your child to cushion all the emotion and changes divorce can bring?