The Final Picture

Used to, I could tell when a certain “day” was approaching. Anniversary dates, birthdays, separation date, ask for divorce get the picture. I would feel uneasy and would be “off.” I would look at the calendar and then understand and tell myself, “oh ya, that’s why I’ve been feeling this way, this is when he packed his bags and left,” etc.


Although it’s just another date on the calendar, my heart said otherwise. Yet, the old adage “time heals all wounds” is true for me. Things stung for a while after my divorce, dates would pop up on me and memories would flood. But year after year, memories of my old life started to fade away and not weigh on my heart as they once did.

Easter will be eight years removed from my marriage. Eight years, wow. Yet when this picture popped up on my memories, it shocked me by my response; that little sting.

You see, this was the last family picture we took together. Christmas of 2009, we were struggling. We weren’t communicating, something was wrong. I wanted to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk at all. I was angry. Why didn’t he want to fix this? Why wasn’t he doing anything to help fix this? We had spent 17 years together. Weren’t we worth fighting for?


I remember the day we took this picture. I had picked out the perfect matching outfits for the girls. Our clothes for pictures always had to match! My parents and sister’s family even came along so we could get a whole family picture together. We hadn’t had one with all the grandkids. It was almost Christmas time.

The picture went out in our normal holiday cards that year not knowing in three months that our lives were about to change forever.

That’s what pictures you make do right? Make you stop and think back to that specific moment of time. If we only knew then, what we know now. Would we want to know? Would it have changed anything? No.

I’m thankful for this picture. I’m thankful we got to take our daughters on one family vacation together before we divorced. I’m thankful that when they see them as they are older, they will know they had two parents who loved them very much. We just decided we couldn’t love each other. I’m thankful for the memories that let me see where things were and for today, so I see where I am now.

Pictures are there to remind us of what we have been through, the good times and even the bad.

As Andy Warhol said, “The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” 


Santa Isn’t the Magic of Christmas

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I am, admittedly, one of those moms who (re)lives childhood joys through her children. I am the first to initiate ice cream for dinner, always down for a spontaneous dance party, plan costumes year-round, and there is nothing I relish more than the magic of the Christmas. So, last year, when my 10-year-old asked if Santa is real, my festiveness ran head first into my promise to always be honest with my kids.

As a single parent in a complicated situation with my ex-spouse, and as a human being in a world that profits from lying to people, I have created a couple of very simple metrics for my success as a parent. The first is that my children never doubt my love for them, under any circumstance. I frame my discipline with my love for them. I remind them on notes, before bed, and I do so relentlessly, whether I am angry, frustrated, tired, or overjoyed. The other metric is that my children never doubt my honesty, no matter the subject. So, we have some tough conversations, and my kids are probably more aware of the landscape of grown-up life than many families would be comfortable with. But, for me, those metrics work. Those metrics function to guide my parenting decisions and give me solace during family turmoil and in anticipating my inevitable parenting failures.

But those metrics were insufficient to answer the Great Santa Question. I was dumbfounded. Do I tell her the truth? Would that rob her of the magic of the holidays? Would she resent me forever for stealing Christmas from her? Worse yet, my 8-year-old was sitting right across the table, wide-eyed in anticipation of my response. So, I defaulted to my usual stalling mechanism: I answered a question with a question. “Do you really want to know?” I asked. “Are you certain that you want to have this conversation when it could potentially change the way you feel about Christmas?” She, having learned from and surpassed me in stalling tactics, responded to my questioning of her question with yet another question, “If you tell me the truth, can we still pretend?” So, that’s how the conversation that killed Santa in our family started. But, that conversation did not kill the magic of Christmas.

That year, and since the fake Santa revelation, the way we talk about Christmas has changed a bit, but for the better. Instead of the magic of Santa, we now focus more on the miracle of Jesus Christ and why we really celebrate Christmas. The changing narrative has prompted my girls to be more Christ-like in their approach to celebrating, with a greater motivation to give instead of receive, with more grace in their reaction to Santa not being able to grant all of their wishes, and with more intention to understand how truly magical Christmas, family, and God are, when extricated from the materialism and consumerism of the world.

Do my kids still get gifts? Yes. But knowing that Santa’s spirit lives in their Mom, who works hard to build the magic for them, has made it much more special. My daughter said to me last year, “Mommy, I cannot believe you’ve been doing this for us all these years. I know you must have worked so hard.” I cried. I cried because it is nice to be appreciated, sure. But I also cried because of the joy I felt realizing that my daughter was growing into a person who pays attention to the sacrifices others make.

Do we still get visited by the Elf on the Shelf? Heck yeah. But now we work together. I stage the first visit, and then my girls plan out their own unique scenarios, and we take turns. It has prompted so many fun, creative conversations. Do my kids still write Christmas lists? Yes, but they are shorter and buffered by the new joy they’ve found in focusing on how to make Christmas magical for kids whose lives are not privileged enough to be anchored in years of expectations of Santa. Our Christmas last year, and heading into this year, are much more collaborative, God-centered, and magical than they were with Santa.

I am thankful for our years with Santa. I would never wish away the late nights making footprints with flour, constructing return letters, nibbling cookies, sweeping away reindeer food, or constructing any other Santa-related surprises. Santa was so much fun for so many years. If you are anything like me, the Santa myth is just as much fun for you as it is/was for your kids. The thought of losing Santa can be scary for parents because he is a key figure in the cultural construction of Christmas.

I am not here to tell anyone what is right for their family in terms of celebrating Christmas. I know that each family and each child is unique. I just want to share my experience for those who are worried that the Santa question will sap some of the magic from their holiday. Ending Santa doesn’t mean ending Christmas. In many ways, for my family, it has meant rediscovering the magic and meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all of my single moms (fellow Santas)!

A. Smith

The High Road

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It’s been raining here in Oklahoma. The ground is wet. But, I didn’t think it was too bad, and I needed to get to my car. Living in an apartment has its advantages and disadvantages. And today, the disadvantage was I didn’t get home from work before my neighbors, and my car was parked down a bit. I didn’t want to stay on the sidewalk. I would just cut across the grass. It would save me 1.2 minutes. So, I took that first step. And then the 2nd. Then I was trying to hurry, because, with each step, my shoes sunk into the mud, hidden beneath the blades of grass. And my feet were getting wet. And cold. All so I could save a little bit of time.

For many single moms, this is how our holidays go. We start out with great intentions, but we decide to get off the high road. The holidays can be difficult. It doesn’t matter if you have sole custody or joint custody, for a single mom, it’s hard! With joint custody, we have to share our kids with another parent. For the sole custody momma’s, you’re it! No breaks. No extra sleep. For the mom’s who get child support, it’s probably not enough. For the mom’s who don’t get any, you try to figure out how to squeeze pennies out of the budget.

Frustrations can build. Unmet expectations can crescendo. And before you know it, that high road is gone, and you’re walking in mud; wet and tired. And grumpy.

I’ve been a single mom for nine years. Nine years of joint custody. Each year has its own “hard.” Last year, I thought I had this holiday stuff down! Then, the call came. Their dad asked if he could take them to Texas. On my holiday. His grandmother was getting older and wanted them all there. Three days before Thanksgiving! As I talked to my ex, I asked how long he had known about this request. Five weeks. He had known for five weeks. Ugh.

After a big sigh and a quick prayer, I was reminded of the advice I had been given during my divorce. “The high road is never the easy road, but it’s always the right road.”

So, I agreed. In that moment, I chose not to look at why I wasn’t asked earlier. I got off the phone and called my kids. And when I told him that my parents and I were going to move our Thanksgiving back a couple of days, I heard the relief in his voice. “Thank you, mom.”

I thought back to other years when I dug my heels in. And just kept sinking deeper through the entire holiday season. I didn’t enjoy it. And my kids probably didn’t either!

I’m not saying that you should always give in! I’m not suggesting that time with you isn’t just as important as time with dad. What I am saying is that sometimes, we have to take the high road. The harder road. Because, when it comes down to it, our kids didn’t ask to have two homes. They didn’t want to share their parents. And, sometimes, we make choices for what is best for our kids. And last year, that was fulfilling a desire of their great-grandmother.

Take a deep breath, momma. Pray. A lot! Talk to your kids. See what they are feeling. And, try to stay out of the mud during this happy season.