A couple of months ago my relationship of almost fifteen years ended very suddenly, leaving me reeling. Aside from the actual break, one of the hardest parts of accepting what happened was knowing I was going to have to stay in Norway, even though my every instinct screamed to run home into the open arms of concerned friends and family. But to do that, I would need permission from my daughter’s father to take her out of the country, and though I knew he’d give it for a short period, moving back to Australia was always out of the question.
Luckily (or not perhaps not luck—maybe my subconscious was hard at work preparing me all those months ago), I had already booked a trip back for my daughter and me before everything fell apart. Through November and December, we spent five weeks surrounded by the Australians who love us, not one of whom didn’t want us to stay forever, yet not one of whom said or did anything to make it harder to do what I had to do: return to Norway.
We arrived back just five days shy of the shortest day of the year. The snow that had fallen the week before was melting fast in the two-degrees-and-sleet weather, leaving everything grey and dull, almost as if to make sure we noted the difference between this and the sweltering 42C day we’d left behind. It was also a week before Christmas, which in Norway is celebrated on the 24th—a lucky thing for me, because it means there’s no dispute over Christmas custody; our daughter can spend Norwegian Christmas with her dad and his family, and Christmas Day with me, which is the most important day in my own tradition.
So now here I am, midday on Christmas Eve, and I’ve just said goodbye to my little girl until late tonight when she’ll settle down in her own bed, ears pricked for the sound of hooves on the roof.
We had many kind offers from expat and Norwegian friends alike, most of whom were understanding if confused when I politely declined. I appreciated those invitations more than anyone who made them will ever know, truly. If there’s anyone who knows how to be family away from family, it’s an expat. But the thing is, as far as I remember, I’ve never had a Christmas in my life where I didn’t have to go somewhere. Usually to at least three events if not more. My parents have been divorced and remarried since I was in primary school, making four Christmas events in my family alone. Add a partner to that and it can turn into a three-ring circus where you do nothing but drive around for three or four days in a row.
And so this year, because I can’t spend Christmas with my own family, I’m spending it alone. This has been the cause of some head-tilting and lip-pressing from well meaning friends, but seriously, it’s a GOOD THING. I have Christmas music on the stereo, a little pork rib roast ready for our Mummy-daughter dinner on Christmas night, candles burning, cats purring, a bottle of South Australian wine, a Christmas tree decorated with the decorations I’ve been collecting since I was six, and a Skype date with one of my best friends. There will be Miracle on 34th Street, and Love Actually, and A Christmas Carol. I’m wearing the new red dress I bought in Australia, because one of the best things about winter in Norway is that you can wear a summer dress inside and not be cold. My new haircut is spritzed and styled, and I have a light dusting of make-up on. No sad Ugg-booted, pyjama-clad, chocolate-bingeing, tear-stained Christmas Eve for this little black duck, no sir.
There is peace on my little piece of Earth this Christmas, and that’s something I haven’t had for a long time. Internal peace. I have the knowledge that this horrid year is behind me now, and I’m about to embark on an exciting new journey. It’s a journey I get to take part in with my daughter, with whom this morning I opened at least a million toy blind bags eagerly pulled from the two stockings her Australian grandmothers made for her when she was born. We played with the stocking toys all morning, and tomorrow we’ll tear open all the gifts our Australian family sent home with us, as well as all the fun things I bought on our trip. Then we’ll spend Christmas Day playing, crafting, cooking, eating, cuddling, laughing.
Who could ask for anything more? Not me.
Merry Christmas, everyone.