83: Daddy’s Still Here

83: Daddy’s Still Here

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Daddy’s Still Here

People can be more forgiving than you can imagine. But you have to forgive yourself. Let go of what’s bitter and move on.

~Bill Cosby

“The twee! The twee!” Three-year-old Ana Lu sprinted toward our three-foot-tall Christmas tree.

“Isn’t it adorable?” I knelt down next to my daughter and wrapped my right arm around her waist. I wasn’t exactly sure who I was trying to convince, because I couldn’t believe we were decorating the tree without Daddy. Something was missing. Then the hopeful, motivated mom in me encouraged the exhausted, saddened ex-wife in me: You can do this.

The fact that our petite tree could easily be mistaken for a tree topper in comparison to our old Christmas trees did not bother Ana Lu. And relative to our 300-square foot apartment, our mini-tree rivaled the one in Rockefeller Center.

“I want hang dis one!” Ana Lu exclaimed, pulling out a wooden snowman with a stethoscope that a friend had given me the year I graduated from nursing school, some twenty years before.

Ana Lu giggled, “Ha ha ha — look at dis one, Mommy! It so silly, Santa no swim!” Ana Lu dangled a two-inch-tall Santa Claus figurine a few inches from her amused little face. Santa’s big belly hung over his red floral swim trunks, and he wore a snorkel mask and large black flippers. My ex-husband Charles and I had bought it while on our honeymoon in Hawaii six years earlier.

I headed to the kitchen for more eggnog. As I filled my glass, I watched a jovial Ana Lu bounce around the room searching through the bins for the next ornament to hang. I leaned into the wooden kitchen island, thinking about how I wished I could protect her from the pain of the separation and missing her daddy during Christmas. I felt horrible that I couldn’t offer her a big tree with the scent of real pine, like the one she had at her daddy’s house. Not only was our tree miniscule, it was fake.

I reminded myself that our tree was super-special because it was the one Charles and I had ever since Ana Lu’s first Christmas. She was just four months old so we decorated it in a pink sugar-and-spice theme with pink booties, a pink teether, a white rattle, and a host of “sweet” ornaments like cute sparkly gumdrops and a reindeer with teeny-tiny candy cane antlers.

I refilled my glass, wishing the stores sold eggnog year-round, and then headed back to join Ana Lu. I plopped down in front of our coffee table, sat with my legs crossed, and started to sift through the ornament bin labeled “FRAGILE.” I selected two and added them to the top of our tree. I picked up the next ornament and peeled back the layers of the red tissue paper as if peeling an onion. I knew what was inside. Maybe if I held it far enough away while I took off the layers it wouldn’t make me teary.

It was a small, personalized, ceramic ornament with a candid glossy photo of my ex-husband bonded to both sides. It was taken on his 30th birthday while he was blowing out the candles on his cake, a great shot because it captured his charming smile without being a cheesy “I’m posing” type picture. I felt a pang of sadness. Not because I doubted our separation. I was confident both he and I were happy with our decision. But my heart ached for Ana Lu. Was she missing out on something now that her parents lived in separate homes? I didn’t want Ana Lu to see it. I hated the thought of her missing her daddy. I folded the red tissue paper back around the ornament and tucked it away.

“The twee’s ready! Can I plug the lights in, Mommy?” she asked.

“Yep, it’s ready. But this is very special, okay?” I answered in my annoying, authoritative Mommy tone to let her know we don’t play with outlets, but this time she was ready to handle the responsibility of lighting up the tree.

“Yes. Special. Special,” she replied, clearly humoring me. Ana Lu plugged the lights into the wall outlet. The tree lit up, it really did look adorable.

“Wow! It’s got lots of colors just like twee Daddy house. We show him dis one. Soooo pretty...” Ana Lu marveled at the colorful tree.

Then it hit me. Daddy wasn’t missing. Her daddy was with her this very moment. Maybe he didn’t live here, but he wasn’t missing. He is in her. He is in me. And most important, he is a part of us.

The ornament! My mind raced through pros and cons. If I had a picture of him up in the house, what would people think? They’d think I’m nuts... they’d think I want to get back together with him... they’d think it was ridiculous to have a picture of my ex. My rationale brain took over. Who cares? My girlfriends are great. They would understand when I explained. And anyone who didn’t, well, their opinion didn’t matter. I know what’s best for my family. And in this moment every cell in my body was telling me to acknowledge that Daddy is always with us. Always.

Focused, I walked to the bins stacked at the door, pulled out the one labeled “FRAGILE” and grabbed the Daddy Ornament. Determined, I walked back to the tree and unlike all of the other fragile ornaments that dangled from the top branches, I hung this one on the bottom. The perfect height for a toddler to see the most important man in her life — her daddy.

Ana Lu should be able to enjoy seeing a photo of her daddy smiling at her every day during Christmastime. Marriage... divorce... it makes no difference. Her daddy is always with her. She should know it.

~Gretchen Schiller

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