Some families are messed up, while others are fine

When you’re divorced, the holiday season can be a rough time. Your mailbox and whatever social media outlets you pay attention to are filled with news and images of picturesque homes decorated by happy, intact families who want to tell you all about how fabulous their lives are.

During the first couple of winters after my divorce, I became a Holiday Hermit. I didn’t open the Christmas cards and tuned out of Facebook, because all of that Holiday Cheer was just a grim reminder of what my Christmas was destined not to be. I was bitter and jealous enough to have earned a pair of Scrooge-ian muttonchops.

Eventually, it helped me to remember that much of that cheer was just a PR sham manufactured for our consumption, and many of those people were secretly as miserable as I was.

And eventually, as I re-discovered my happier self, I wasn’t even all that pissed off at the couples who still did love each other and whose houses looked like the December edition of Architectural Digest. If they were still happily together, they’d probably worked really hard at it and deserved whatever they had.

Even now that my holiday mood has returned mostly to normal, I still get occasional twinges of what could have been. It’s stupid and sentimental and pointless, I know. But I’ve lived long enough to know that a part of me will always indulge stupid, pointless sentimentality.

Last month, Moxie asked me to come over and take a picture of her and the boys for her Christmas card. I was happy to do it, and I got a great shot of them laughing and hugging on her front stoop. There’s been an unexpected development, though: When I look at it on my phone I can’t help but feel a small frisson of loss. I mean, we had a great (sort-of) family moment while they posed for the picture and I made dopey faces to make the kids laugh. But in the end, it’s a picture of the three of them, and even though I was right there, not two feet away, I’m not in it. I’m on the outside, separate from those three smiling faces. And that small, twinge-susceptible part of me that will never go away thought I should be on that side of the camera, with them, instead of alone over here.

The super-majority of me, however, is comforted by the fact that the joy in that picture is not a manufactured sham. We are genuinely getting happier, because we’ve worked really hard at it and deserve whatever we have.