One of my favorite things about being a member of the H & L Writes group is that each Wednesday, the editors ask us to share what we’ve written in the past week. One of my fellow writers posted about disappointment during the holidays and it really resonated with me. Or maybe the better term is that it triggered me.
When Alissa’s dad first decided to be involved in her life, he really struggled with a lot of the parenting things that seemed to come naturally to me. Granted, he didn’t get the five year head start I had on him, but some of his parenting missteps really threw me for a loop because they seemed like common sense.
She started kindergarten that fall and I was struggling to save money so we could move out of our friend’s basement. One thing I had been looking forward to, however, was taking Alissa for her very first back to school shopping experience. It was a tradition that my mother and I had when I was little with (mostly) good memories. (There was one year in high school where there were not a pair of jeans in a hundred mile radius that I liked. There may have been screaming and pouting.)
He agreed to join us and offered to buy the clothes that we picked out. It was a win-win. I could have the shopping experience with my daughter and I didn’t have to stress about how to pay for it. He would have the opportunity to bond a little with the child he had only come to know in the past two months.
When he canceled on me once, then a second time, I got really frustrated. We needed to get this done because school was starting in just a few days. When could he realistically meet us? A big fight ensued and later that evening, he dropped by a huge bag of new clothes that he and his friend had picked up at Kohl’s.
I was livid and he didn’t understand why. He had taken the one thing out of that experience that meant the most to me: taking her shopping to pick out her own outfit. It hadn’t even dawned on him that how I felt mattered.
When Christmas came a few months later, I took Alissa shopping so she could pick out gifts for her dad. I assumed he would do the same. He and I exchanged texts, coordinating what we were getting her so that we didn’t overlap and so we could agree on an appropriate “Santa” gift. I was really excited for Christmas.
He came over to our house early in the morning and tucked the gifts under the tree. When she woke up, we enjoyed breakfast together and began opening gifts. One by one, the gift paper was torn open and I sat and watched, waiting for there to be one for me.
I chalked it up to the fact that he was a new dad and probably wasn’t thinking. He had never had to take a kid shopping for presents before, so it just must not have occurred to him.
The next year, we went to his house. She opened present after present. Nothing for me. Although this year was even more awkward because I didn’t have the buffer of the gifts from my family to lessen the blow. As we drove home that afternoon, I cried. I wasn’t sure if I was more upset or frustrated that I didn’t matter enough to shop for.
The following year, it was the same. Although he did give me an envelope with $50 shoved inside. That was even more upsetting than not opening a gift from my daughter. It wasn’t about not getting presents, it was about not being important enough to even consider when he was doing his shopping. Don’t get me wrong – I never expected him to get me a gift, even though I always got one for him. It was that I expected him to teach our daughter about the spirit of giving and to think about someone other than herself.
I never said anything to him about it. I didn’t want to pick a fight because I knew he wouldn’t understand anyway. I just sulked and tried to figure out if there was a way that I could teach Alissa how to think of everyone special to her when planning her Christmas shopping.
A year later, my dad took up the slack after I told my parents about it. While it was nice not to sit empty-handed, that was also the year that Alissa’s dad joined me and my family for the festivities. My parents both got him gifts, and miraculously, he bought me a new coat, which I desperately needed. And I didn’t hate it, which was a friggin’ miracle. But he didn’t help Alissa shop for me and that dashed my short-lived hope that things had finally changed. The coat was just a bonus.
There was one more Christmas that he celebrated with Alissa before he lost his rights to see her. I wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be and I was fine with it. He still didn’t take her shopping for me and I finally stopped caring. I had learned that I just wasn’t important enough to him to consider teaching his child how to give.