A few weeks before Halloween, I asked the kids if they wanted to trick or treat in my building or in their mother’s neighborhood in the suburbs. “You’re supposed to be with me that night,” I said. “But if you want to do Halloween at your mom’s, that’s fine by me if she doesn’t mind.”
“Mom hates Halloween,” Lillie said, using her fingers to push carrots onto her fork. “She turns off the lights and pretends she’s not home.”
“I think the candy is better there,” Jason said. “Plus we can go trick or treating with Jim and his dad.”
Collie put down his cup and grimaced “No way is the candy better there, Jason,” he argued. “Think about it. This building is huge. There is so much candy here.”
I picked up my plate and walked to the kitchen for more potatoes. “Well, you kids decide what you want to do and I’ll work it out with your mother.”
The debate raged on for several days before the kids realized they didn’t have to come to an agreement. They had two homes, and there was no rule that they had to be together at the same one. For the first time since the separation, the kids decided to spend a holiday apart from one another. Jason opted to be with his mother, Collie decided to be with me, and Lillie secured an invitation to be with her BFF, Mindy.
“I’m going to be a vampire,” Lillie informed me. “And Mindy’s going to be a pirate. And this is the last year we’re going to trick or treat, because next year, we’ll be fourth graders, and trick or treating will be babyish. We’ll just give out candy and say that babies are so cute. Don’t you think babies are so cute, Dad, dressed up like little pumpkins and ghosts and stuff?”
“Babies are very cute, big girl.” I kissed her head.
Jason planned to use the same costume he wore last year, a Scream mask and black cloak. At thirteen, he wanted a costume that looked like he didn’t care about his costume. Collie ultimately came to the conclusion that he was too old for Halloween, and he would sit it out.
“Are you sure? I asked. “Aren’t you going to regret not having candy?”
“It’s not like there won’t be candy,” he said. “I mean, come on, Jason and Lillie will have too much. I’ll sneak it when they aren’t looking.”
“It’s your call,” I shrugged.
On the afternoon of Halloween, Collie came home from school and announced that he had changed his mind. Some of his friends were trick or treating, so that meant it was still cool.
“It’s a little late to find a costume,” I said. “What will you wear?”
“I’ll wear the Frankenstein mask I wore last year, and a cape. It’s easy.”
That was easy. I keep Halloween costumes from year to year in a bag with make up, masks and such, in a closet with everything else I don’t need but can’t discard. Fibber McGee would feel at home with this closet.
However, as the witching hour approached, I dug into the closet to find that I couldn’t find the bag. “Collie?” I called. “Have you seen the Halloween bag?”
“No. Is it gone?”
“I can’t find it.” I opened a box of dried-out art supplies. “Honestly, I just don’t know what to do with myself,” I muttered.
I found a bag of broken cameras and had an idea. I gathered a few more things together.
“Okay, sweet man. Put on these shorts, this Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap. You’re going to wear this camera, these sunglasses and shove this map in your pocket.”
Collie cocked his head. “What am I going as?”
I drew myself up and wriggled my fingers. “A tourist,” I creaked in my best Bela Lugosi.
“I only regret I don’t have a fanny pack.”
Collie curled his nose. “That’s too scary.”
He asked me to join him as we toured the building. We carried a list identifying which apartments had signed up to distribute candy.
“This is weird,” Collie said, hesitating at the first door.
“This. Trick or treating. It’s weird. I’m glad no one can see me.”
He rang the bell, recited his line, and took away some Almond Joys. “I’m giving these to you, Dad. I know they’re the only candy you like.”
“Thanks, baby. Okay, let’s go to the next floor.”
We passed some other kids who are Collie’s age. A boy in a cape pointed his scythe at Collie. “That’s a great costume,” he nodded. “Everybody hates tourists.”
“I don’t see the Grim Reaper winning any popularity contests,” I replied.
“Let’s go in the other direction,” Collie whispered. “I don’t want people to see me. It’s humiliating.”
“It’s perfectly fine for an eleven year old to trick or treat,” I said.
“Humiliating.” He pushed the elevator button a few times, hoping to bring it faster.
I patted the shoulder of my middle child, knowing he is in a hurry to grow up, though he doesn’t really want to.
After he counted out his haul—sixty-seven pieces of candy, minus three Almond Joys—we went together to pick up his sister at Mindy’s house. Bridget drove, as we had plans to take Collie, Lillie and Mindy to see the musical Legally Blonde.
“I know the girls will like it,” Bridget said. “But what will Collie think? Is it too girly?”
“Na, he’ll be fine,” I said. “I think.”
Lillie came to the door at Mindy’s. I was shocked. “Oh my God, Lillie—you look so hot! You look like Stevie Nicks!”
“That’s what Mindy’s mom said,” she giggled. “Who’s Stevie Nicks?”
“A famous witch. God, look at you.”
Lillie smiled and stood erect, allowing herself to be looked over. She was in a black velvet skirt, a maroon top with a cinched bodice, black tights and boots. Her red hair fell past her shoulders.
“Your mom found that costume?” I marveled. “It’s just . . . wow.”
She giggled again. “I know, right?”
We returned to Bridget’s car and drove to Times Square. Bridget parked on the street, one block from the theater. A man in a Jaguar gave us a smile. It was an amazing parking space.
“I wish I had my camera,” I marveled.
“What? I just parked,” Bridget said, shrugging it off. “Big deal.”
“You are the luckiest sumbitch I know.”
The girls sat together in the theater, giggling about the Chihuahua they knew to expect on stage. Collie sat between Bridget and me. He looked bored.
“Are you ready to be wowed?” I nudged him. “Singing sororities? Sexy UPS man? Hair salons?”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, brother.”
His eyes flashed as the curtain rose.
The next day, I was working at my computer as Collie played Halo Three in the next room. He slaughtered monsters singing “Omigod, You Guys!” at the top of his lungs.
Separate holidays may become the norm in our family. A few days later, Lillie asked about Thanksgiving.
“Dad, would it be okay if I spent Thanksgiving with Mom? She’s going to visit her friend Linda in . . . what’s it called?”
“Yeah, Illinois. And the boys don’t want to go. Can I go? Linda has a dog and a cat. Plus Terry is my age and one of my best friends. Can I go?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” I said, disguising my annoyance. I have to accept that Lucy makes plans with the children without consulting me, and that I will first hear them from my eight-year-old daughter. Lillie was excited about visiting Linda and her daughter Terry. I was in a position to make that happen or to deny her something she now really wanted, all without any input from me. “Let me call your Mom, beloved.”
I called Lucy.
“Hi Lucy, it’s Jefferson. So I hear you may be going to Illinois for Thanksgiving?”
“Yes, well, it’s not certain. I haven’t asked Linda yet, but would you mind of I took Lillie? The boys don’t want to go. Can they stay with you? Do you mind?”
“No, I don’t mind having the boys. It’s my Thanksgiving with the kids.”
“Okay, good. I’ll ask Linda. Okay, so now, can we split Christmas?”
“What do you mean?” I knew what she meant.
“I mean, can I have the kids this Christmas Eve, and you get them Christmas Day?”
I hate Lucy. I hate her above all for being so predictable.
As my lawyer drew up our divorce contract, she suggested that we alternate holidays.
“You always have the kids on Thursdays,” she noted. “Now, Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. So you need to offer her Thanksgivings every other year. Can you do that? “
“I hadn’t thought of that,” I said. “Of course, that’s fair.”
“Good.” She scribbled on her legal pad. “Now, Labor Day, Memorial Day, secular three day weekends, you should alternate those as well. And you’ll gain time with the kids, as she will otherwise have them on Mondays.”
“Is she observant?”
“You mean, Jewish? Well, her family is ethnically Jewish, but she’s a die-hard atheist.”
“All right, so the High Holy Days aren’t an issue. Easter . . .”
“We don’t really celebrate Easter.”
She lowered her glasses. “What if you remarry someone who does?”
I laughed. “I’m not remarrying.”
She removed her glasses. “You don’t know that.”
I crossed my legs. “Oh, I’m very sure of that.” I crossed my arms.
She looked at me for a moment. “Fine.” She returned her glasses to their perch. “I’ll leave out Easter and the High Holy Days, but note that this can be renegotiated pending future developments. After all, you might marry a Jew.”
“I’m not remarrying,” I repeated.
“Fine. Now, Christmas. You are not really a practicing Christian.”
“No, not really.”
“So I suggest you alternate Christmases.”
“What?” I unfolded my legs. “I wouldn’t have my children on Christmas?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Well, yes, that’s a serious problem. How can I not be with my kids on Christmas? That’s crazy. Anyway, it’s not an issue. We always spend Christmas with Lucy’s family. That’s not changing.”
“Well, you know, Jefferson, that could change.”
“Why? I’m divorcing my wife, not her family. They are my family too.”
She took off her glasses. “And what, you’re going to bring your new wife to Christmas with her family?”
I sighed. “I’m not remarrying. Look, this is about the kids. They need stability, and tradition helps that. Right? So we’ll do Christmas as we’ve always done Christmas. Lucy would agree to that.”
She looked at me. She replaced her glasses. “Let me do this. I will say that you have the kids on Christmas Eve, and then she gets them on noon Christmas Day. The next year, you alternate. And so on. That’s what the agreement will say, but what you decide to actually do is between you and Lucy. How’s that?”
I crossed my arms. “It’s fine. I mean, we’ll do what we do.”
I stood looking out the window with the phone to my ear.
“So what about Christmas?”
“So, let me get this straight. You’ll have them Christmas Eve, and bring them back to me Christmas Day? And then next year, we switch?”
“Yes, just like in the divorce says. You’re so lucky you don’t have to be with my family for Christmas! I wish I could get out of it. You’re so lucky.”
She was pitching this to me as if she was doing me a favor. Like she didn’t know me. Like I was . . . like I didn’t . . .
“Can I get back to you on this?” I couldn’t say more.
“Yes, yes, of course. Thanks!” She hung up.
I hung up. I already knew the answer.
Just after college, I met Lucy. For a few Christmases, she went to visit her family and I went to mine.
After we moved in together, I stopped going home for the holidays and joined Lucy’s family for Christmas. Lucy’s mother came to make plans with me, as Lucy avoided the holidays. We made gift lists and plotted menus. After the children were born, we were Santas. Lucy was put out by all that.
I kept up the traditions.
Lucy kicked me out of her family. Just now, just like that. She destroyed our family four years ago and now, she has destroyed Christmas.
What else can I say to her request? Of course, I’ll concede. I wonder how I’ll tell the kids, but I'm sure she will first, abruptly, like it doesn’t matter.
This year, for the first time in my life, I’ll spend Christmas Eve without family.
I can’t . . . I can’t even . . . I never saw this coming.
I hate Lucy. I hate it, but God, I hate the mother of my children.
I’ll wake up without my children on Christmas.
I never saw this coming.