Christmas can be a tough time for the single mom. The holidays can take a toll on any family with even a whiff of dysfunction (in other words, everyone). But as a single mom, this season has always been an unexpected minefield of situations and emotions, with questions that aren’t quite ready to be answered. And this year, the jig is up. Soulagirl is almost 7 now, so I need to step my Santa game up. Snoopy McSnooperson is hot on my tail, and hiding things at eye level is no longer an option. Nor is shopping with the kid in tow. When Soulagirl was a baby and toddler, I practically flaunted being able to buy gifts in her presence with a mere distraction. (Gracias, M&Ms and Goldfish.) Nowadays, every errant trip to Target is, “Mom, can I have this? What about this? But I neeeeed this!” To which I say, “Nope, nope and nope. Put it on the list.” Then I make a mental note to try to go back to the store without her.
But when exactly would that time be?
CAUGHT IN A SANTA-22
I can’t really go Christmas shopping during the day. As all working moms can attest, single or not, we need to hoard all of our personal time off this time of year for the inevitable sniffly sick day, snow day, or that school assembly in which your kid is starring. And oh yeah, the dreaded Winter Break, when there will be a day, our four, when your childcare option falls through. Con~o.
I can’t take advantage of the late-night store hours, because, well, last time I checked, Child Services frowned upon parents abandoning a sleeping child in an empty apartment.
I can’t safely shop online because every package arrives in our building’s front entrance flaccid and conspicuous—practically begging to be opened. (FYI: First-graders are obsessed with the mail.) And since we come home together— with my racing to pick Soulagirl up from after-school before the late fee kicks in—it’s not like I can cut a cardboard box off at the path.
But somehow, I manage to scramble, and cobble together small morsels of shopping time. This year, I have the “luxury” of being not only the 99%, but the 9% of the Unemployed. So, uh, yay! to the extra time windows, but boo! to the non-existent budget. If not for a couple of angels, I would have next-to-nada to spend on Soulagirl’s holiday. Still, I emphasize that my child ask Santa for practical gifts, not frivolous (i.e., anything Angry Birds-related).
PUTTING IN ELF OVERTIME
Once the presents are purchased, they must be wrapped, of course. Again, in the Life of Single Santa, this must happen without anyone else in the house to distract or run interference. (I haven’t gotten around to training the dog on this seasonal task.) And yes, TV, DVD and the Wii can work wonders, but they can also all be paused to allow for the surreptitious inquiry: “Whatcha doin’, Mami?”
Bedtime isn’t even a guaranteed present protector. Soulagirl has always been a crappy sleeper. She finally has her own room, painted a lovely lavender. Still, every other night, Soulagirl climbs into my bed. At first, she would arrive like an elephant clearing brush. But now, she’s mastered cat-burglar stealth-mode. At no set time either, so, no way to predict when I will be giftus interruptus. Just last week, she busted me at 4:16 am bringing in holiday fixings from the car. Even half-asleep, her eyes got big as she said, “Ooh, wrapping paper.”
UNEXPECTED CHRISTMAS CHALLENGES
As a Single Santa, I also feel compelled to buy myself some presents. Nothing ostentatious, but just so I have something to open under the tree too. This helps preserve the Santa Myth. Even though the abuelos come later that morning, I have to explain to my parents that Christmas to a child happens wherever and whenever that child wakes up. You can’t tell a 7-year-old to wait till noon to open presents. You might as well try to convince a cat not to purr.
Every year, the holiday challenges increase as a single mom to an inherently precocious child. It’s only a matter of time before Soulagirl starts wondering why Daddy isn’t with us on Christmas morn, or why the clan of people who share her last name aren’t a part of her life. But I’m not here to rack up sympathy points, so put your mini violins away. I realize that on the hardship scale—from court custody hearings or child support or keeping a roof over our heads—having a Merry Christmas isn’t exactly Code Red. That we have anything at all is a gift. But as far as I’m concerned, my job is to protect my daughter from the harshness of reality, this time of year, and beyond. Not to candy-cane coat the situation, but my maternal goal is to make both of our holidays palatable, heck, even enjoyable. So I’m willing to go to the North Pole and back for as long as I have to being the Single Santa.
Soulamami has been a professional writer and editor for 15 years, and a single mom to Soulagirl for about seven. Sure, one may pay the bills (mostly), but the other enriches her soul. Blog coming soon at soulamami.com, but meanwhile, follow her on Twitter at @soulamami.