Creating holiday traditions with your child when you’re divorced can be extremely tricky. Especially when you have to alternate holidays year to year.
In one home Santa doesn’t wrap gifts. In the other home he does. In one home Santa leaves letters behind. In another home he just eats the cookies and takes off.
Yes, trying to have consistency with phantom holiday characters is mighty challenging in divorced households.
For years I didn’t have to worry about Christmas and the legend of Santa Claus because my daughter was always with me. I grew up steeped in Christmas tradition and I carried that tradition on in my own home — big, open house Christmas Eve tree-trimming party, Santa’s UNwrapped presents under the tree and in stockings, Santa’s cookies eaten and gone with a note left behind and off to my sister’s in our pajamas for the massive opening of gifts, more stocking stuffers and an incredible breakfast feast on Christmas morning.
But a few years ago my ex, who had never shown an interest in Christmas and was raised Jewish, decided he’d like to have our daughter with him on Christmas morning too. I was devastated. I mean, years of tradition was suddenly going to be interrupted every other year. That wasn’t something I ever thought I would have to deal with.
But, things change. People change. And, yes, traditions change.
The truth is, I knew my daughter’s father had just as much right to experience waking up with his daughter on Christmas morning as I did. So… thus began the alternating years.
What was once a Santa Claus who did things one way now was a Santa Claus who did things an entirely different way. Neither one better or worse just… different. And, for a child, understanding Santa’s ever-changing routine was just another thing to try and explain.
“Well, baby, in Daddy’s home, Santa wraps gifts because that’s how he knows it’s the daddy home, and he leaves them unwrapped at the mommy home because…” Oh, lord.
But let’s face it, it’s not just Santa who has different routines and rules in each home. The same goes for all the invisible characters. There’s the Easter Bunny and his alternating, completely inconsistent Easter basket antics, and, of course, the goddess herself—the Tooth Fairy.
I will never forget the time Hannah lost her first tooth. It had been dangling forever and every time I sent her to her dad’s and it still hadn’t fallen out I kept wondering if it would stay in until she came back to me. After all, that first Tooth Fairy experience is quite a momentous occasion, not only for the child but the parent as well. Definitely something every mom documents in the ol’ journal of firsts.
As luck would have it, that first baby tooth fell out on my watch—yes! And so, that night I got to do the whole routine that I had waited so long to explore.
There was so much excitement in the air. I got out the special box I had given to Hannah to put her tooth in. She sat down and composed her first letter to the Tooth Fairy. And, of course, we had the tooth itself to be excited about—so small, so innocent, so not worn down from bitter grinding or pocked from cavity invasion or chipped from old age and hard candy.
No, it was perfect in every way. And just like all the lost teeth that had come before in other homes, Hannah’s tooth took its special resting place under the sleeping child’s pillow.
I waited until my little girl was fast asleep before beginning my fairy adventure.
First, the money. My ex and I never discussed what amount we would give for a tooth, and since we never could agree on money when we were married I didn’t think calling him at midnight to fight over the value of a lost tooth made much sense.
So, I considered the economy, inflation, the amount of blood that came out with the tooth and the fact that I only had a $5 bill in my wallet. Five bucks it is!
Next, I crept into her room. Using my cell phone as a nightlight to help me find the tooth, I slid the box out from under the pillow, took out the tooth, and put the money inside.
What a rush! It really works! Just like the movies! She didn’t even make a sound.
I started to head out when I remembered the letter she had written to the Tooth Fairy. Crap. Somebody had to answer that letter and seeing as I was the Tooth Fairy, well… I had some writing to do before the night was through.
Back in I went. My hand felt around. Where’s the letter? I couldn’t find it. Now I was shining the cell phone right at my girl’s sleeping face. Amazingly, she didn’t wake up. I looked all around until finally I spotted it.
It had fallen off the bed and was on the floor. I grabbed it and, feeling pretty damn awesome at this Tooth Fairy business, I floated out of the room leaving my sleeping (minus-one-tooth) angel behind.
Hannah’s letter was quite extensive. “Where do you live? What is your name? What color is your hair? What do you do with my tooth? How old are you? If you could have been anything other than a Tooth fairy what would it be…” and on and on.
I wrote with my left hand so my daughter wouldn’t recognize my handwriting and at 2 a.m. I found myself desperately trying to think like a fairy. Scribbling answers, drawing odd diagrams, describing my fairy world by using words that didn’t exist… it was exhausting. When I finally got to the end I realized I again had to re-enter her room.
This time my cell phone light not only led the way but someone decided to call just as I was nearing her pillow. A jazzy ring-tone version of Amazing Grace blasted out and it completely startled my daughter, making her flop over on her back, groaning, but with eyes still closed.
I literally dropped the letter and ran out, falling over Woody and Buzz on the way.
Waiting… waiting… had I blown it? Would she learn the truth and at the tender age of 5, after only one tooth, learn that there wasn’t and never will be a Tooth Fairy?
No. Thank goodness she stayed asleep.
Come morning, my girl was beyond excited by the money and the letter and the magic of it all. Reading the letter over and over, looking at the money, asking me if I saw anything, the sparkle in her eyes of sheer Tooth Fairy delight was a picture I would never forget.
So, here’s the thing. Tooth Fairy established, right? Wrong.
The next day my daughter was going to Dad’s house. As I was dropping her off, Hannah was filling her dad in on the incredible Tooth Fairy visit. Her dad smiled and then the following words were spoken, “Ya know, if you draw a picture of your tooth and put the picture under your pillow the Tooth Fairy will return. That’s what happens for children with divorced parents. Since they have a mommy house and a daddy house, the Tooth Fairy comes twice.”
There was a stunned silence. Hannah took this information in and looked at me like, “Is this s— for real? The fairy’s coming back?”
I simply smiled, nodded and went along with the story, “Wow, that’s right, baby. Isn’t that so… cool?”
And here, friends, is a perfect example of how the contradiction of invisible characters is established in Divorce Land.
That night, Hannah drew a picture of her missing tooth, put it under her pillow and do you know what the fairy at Daddy’s house brought her? Not five, but eight big smackaroos. I guess she pays more for art than bone.
And it was then it dawned on me. This is only the first tooth. We have a bucketload of teeth to come. If next time she loses a tooth at her dad’s I have to break out a pencil and paper and have her draw a picture of it and raise the Tooth Fairy by three dollars! Not to mention the fact that I answered some pretty specific Tooth Fairy questions—ones that only this Tooth Fairy can keep track of.
What if the letter she gets back from the daddy Tooth Fairy says a bunch of other random craziness? Or worse, doesn’t write at all?!
Panic and fear set in and the small voice saying, “See!? Shoulda never gotten divorced! Now your kid won’t ever grow up with consistent lies!”
Needless to say, the next two teeth fell out at my house and I guess her dad realized the “draw a picture/two-visit fairy” theory was a bit of a challenge to continue with. So, it never came up again. Not even Hannah mentioned it.
Perhaps she forgot, or perhaps she knew it didn’t make sense. Either way, we have one fairy. She still gets letters, she still answers the letters, she still delivers money, and she still hasn’t gotten caught… in either home.
As for Santa? This year Hannah is with her dad and apparently she’s staying awake to see him “for sure” this time.
So, Santa Claus will either look like a Jewish man with tattoos sneaking around in the dark, or, if next year she tries to stay awake with me, Santa will have boobs and long hair and hum Stephen Sondheim tunes while hiding unwrapped gifts under the tree.
Either way, it’s all good. Better than good. Because the truth is, when all is said and done… it’s about her memories, not ours.
I was thinking about this the other day as I called my father in New York to wish him a happy Thanksgiving. Being a child of divorce… what I would have given for alternating years. For inconsistencies and conflicting details if it meant once, just once, I could have the memory of waking up with my father on Christmas.
So, I say: Here’s to the invisible characters of the night…. in his home and in mine.