Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. While the turkey and pumpkin pie are always amazing, it is family and cooking together that makes the holiday truly special for me. Christmas has always been a distant second, but I have a newfound appreciation for it now that I have children. It is so nice to see them get involved with the Elf on the Shelf, writing letters to Santa, and the smile on their faces Christmas morning is simply priceless. Until last year, I had been lucky enough to have spent every single Thanksgiving and Christmas day with my family, which can be pretty hard for someone in the military. Unfortunately, to reach a compromise that would give me primary custodianship of my girls, I agreed that their mother could have them for Thanksgiving every year, which was really tough to give up, and Christmas every other year. This is the first year that we are executing our Parenting Plan with their mother getting visitation rights during Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same year, which makes for a really lonely holiday season for this single Dad. So with my girls enjoying Christmas with their mother, her family, and her new fiancé (yes, already), the holiday season is forcing me to cope with this as best as I can and to try to figure out where to go from here.
For the few that have been following our journey, you have probably noticed that I much prefer to write with a positive state of mind, trying to find solutions for problems, and having a general vibe of “everything is going to be okay.” But I am only human, and I feel pain and have bad days just like everyone else. I also am fully aware though that my girls need me in their life and they need me to try to be my absolute best (as a habit in my military career, when discussing personal sadness, it is always best to preface or finish a statement with “I am not going to do anything stupid”). But I am not going to sugarcoat this: Getting through this holiday season, the first without my girls for Thanksgiving AND Christmas, without breaking down, is going to be tough. This post is not meant to make you feel sorry for me though. This post is meant to find ways to occupy your time so that you are not thinking about the sad situation that you are in, maintain contact with your kids so that you still can somewhat enjoy the holidays together, and take care of yourself so that you can be ready to be a great Dad again once they get home.
So I have hugged, kissed, and said “Goodbye” to my girls. I tell their mother to please send me pictures and I tell them to call me every evening. Then I watch as they go through security at the airport before I walk away. After some tears in the car, I can do two things. I can either cry about missing my girls or I can start doing things to get my mind off of them being away (which, ironically enough, includes a lot of things that I do not get an opportunity to do while they are here). So let us go with Option B. I concentrate a little more on work. I bake some cookies for my co-workers. I get caught up on some movies on Netflix. I even start writing in the book A Father’s Legacy, so my daughters can one day read more about who their Dad was and what he did with his life. But I decided to focus on the one thing that I rarely get to do anymore as a single father of two girls.
I play a tabletop miniatures game called Star Wars Armada. With a setup time of 15-30 minutes and a play time of more than two hours, unless I can coax someone to play at my house, I rarely ever get a game in. I mean, I enjoy the game and all, but I am not willing to fork out $45-60 for a babysitter just so I can push plastic spaceships around a table for a few hours. Anyways, this is what was going to occupy the majority of my time while my girls were away. I organized a local tournament, held numerous Learn to Play demonstrations that recruited several people into the game, and painted a sizable number of the ships that I own. A week later, I have already wasted a ton of time with this hobby, time that was not spent crying over my girls being gone. It certainly helped that I had loads of fun as well. So my first piece of advice for getting through the holidays alone is to stay busy, preferably with activities that you do not have the ability to do with your children there (I am sure that some people would suggest trying to go out on a date, but I am just not there yet).
The next important part is to maintain contact with your children while they are at their mother’s. As soon as you say “Goodbye” to them, you already want to call them to see how they are doing, and this certainly continues into the evening. But by the third night, I will be quite honest, it is kind of nice having a quiet house and not being woken up in the middle of the night by one child screaming that she has to go to the bathroom (“Just walk to the bathroom and go!”) or the other asking you to make her blankets flat for the sixth time. So as much as I am enjoying my free time, I call them every other day just to ask how they are doing and what fun holiday activities they are taking part in. I would call them every day, but since they are with their mother, the last thing I want to do is take away from her already limited time with them. The second part of this is to continue to include them in your holiday traditions. The Elf on the Shelf continues to get into crazy shenanigans once the lights go out and I definitely send pictures to the girls on what she is up to. When I talk to them, they are quick to ask about the presents under the tree, so I wrap one more each day to let them know another Christmas will be waiting for them when they get home. I would give them updates on their advent calendars, but they successfully manipulated me into letting them open all the doors (and subsequently eat the rest of the chocolate pieces) prior to leaving for San Antonio… so proud of them. Anyways, prepping for these updates will not only keep your mind further occupied (are we seeing a theme yet?), but it will also get them excited for what awaits them when they return home.
The last piece of advice is to take care of yourself. While the house could be included in this as well, this part focuses mainly on your personal hygiene, diet, and exercise. While this is not a particular problem of mine, as the military forces me to do these, I can definitely see how easy it would be to just slack off when it comes to these things, especially if you are alone for the holidays. As soon as I got home from dropping off the girls, as is my normal routine, I cleaned the whole house from top to bottom. Laundry done, beds made, even the garage cleaned. After reveling in my clean home (that will last until about five minutes after they return), I meal prep just like any other week. If you do not meal prep, this is where someone can falter, as I will just end of eating whatever is the quickest and easiest to make. In my home, that includes ramen noodles, macaroni & cheese, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and pizza delivery, which are not exactly the healthiest of dining options. So I made my list and went to the commissary, picking up ingredients to not only make Albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup, my specialty), but also plenty of fruits and vegetables. I mean, we do not eat those things just so we can yell at our kids to eat them, right? When it comes to personal hygiene, this is an easy one: Shower (possibly shave) and put on new, clean clothes every day. This should seem like a no-brainer, but it is really easy to just not shower or brush your teeth, put on the same shorts and hoodie from the previous day, and then head off to the game store (where I seriously suspect that almost everyone there had the same exact routine of poor hygiene). Lastly, get outside and exercise. In general, the last thing people want to do is exercise (ever), but this is important. Something about endorphins triggering a positive feeling in your body. Which is a way better method of getting happy than eating chocolate (but if you exercise enough, it is possible to do both and be healthy… Just saying). I was proud that I actually lost some weight during Thanksgiving because I exercised before and after the meal, instead of just eating a whole pumpkin pie during the game and calling it a win.
I truly hope that those reading this are not alone for the holidays. The only reason that I am is because I have to pick up my girls the day after Christmas, so I need to be driving to Texas on Christmas evening. If you are alone, I really hope that this helps you make it through the holidays without losing your mind. Trust me, I do not wish this on anyone. Thank you again for checking in on us, and from our family to yours, we hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!