Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas in January

This is something of a belated post, obviously. But had I published it prior to Christmas as originally intended, I wouldn't have been able to tell you about the Christmas surprise. So there. Poor time management for the win!

Every year since we split, I've gotten the The Ex a Christmas gift.

I don't mean that I assist The Kid in getting his dad a Christmas gift (though I do that too). I mean I get my ex-husband a Christmas gift. From me. Every. Single. Year.

It's nothing big or fancy or, God forbid, personal. It's just a book. And not even a passive aggressive book carefully selected to point out one of his personal flaws that I think needs fixing. Just a book I honestly think he might enjoy. Over the years, I've introduced him to Tom Robbins, Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, Charles Bukowski, and non-fiction that isn't about World War II.

The gift-giving wasn't an intentional decision. It just sort of happened the first couple of years after we split, mostly out of habit I guess. But I kept it up, because I realized a few things:

  1. It stops – even if only momentarily – whatever disagreement we might be having.  The book is a tangible reminder (just as much for me as for him) that I don't think he's a total douche bag, despite indications I may have given to the contrary. For a minute every 25th of December, we smile at each other and mean it. 

  2. It's nice for The Kid to see. When The Ex and I split, I was fiercely adamant that The Kid never have to deal with our shit. We've been pretty successful there, but "not dealing with our shit" is a pretty low bar. I think it's nice for The Kid to see us go beyond that, even to the point of being (gasp!) genuinely nice to each other.

  3. It makes me dislike The Ex less. As far as divorced parents go, we actually get along pretty well. But we do argue, and sometimes it can get pretty ugly – and those ugly parts make up the bulk of our interactions. (Because when things are going well, we don't actually talk a whole lot. There's no reason to, beyond the standard pleasantries during pick-up and drop-off.) So the ugly times – the arguments about child support and video games and whether or not Gatorade and crackers "counts" as dinner – become the only times we spend any real time together. That can leave me with the perception that The Ex is more of a douche than he really is (see point #1). But picking out a gift for him forces me to think about him as a person, not just my ex-husband. And it is SO much easier to show empathy, compassion, and patience to a person than to a former spouse.
It's been therapeutic for me over the years – an annual detox of sorts, serving as a reset button that wipes the slate (mostly) clean. Christmas certainly isn't the only time we're nice to one another, but it is – for me, anyway – a clear reminder to step back from whatever anger might have built up over the year and to forgive, as well as I can.

This year's ritual came with an extra surprise: for the first time, The Ex returned the favor gave me a gift. A thoughtful gift, even: a book that is right up my alley and that I'm excited to read.

While it never bothered me in the past that he didn't reciprocate (gift exchanging former spouses are hardly the norm, after all), I have to admit that it was nice to receive as well as give this time around. Not for the book itself (though that's nice too), but because of what it symbolizes. This is a forced relationship he and I are in. It's not one that we would choose to continue were it not for the benefit of our son. But since it is for the benefit of our son, we WILL be civilized, respectful, and friendly.

And books, it turns out, make excellent peace pipes. Especially when they're puff-puff-passed back.

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