Something missing at Christmastime this year

Cross-posted at TheSmartlyLA
My son’s been out of college for almost four years. He lives 3000 miles from me, and about 1000 miles away from his dad’s hometown. He’s got a good job, his own apartment (no roommates!), his own activities and interests, and the occasional girlfriend (but not “the girlfriend,” at least not yet). He doesn’t own a car – he has chosen to live in a city where he doesn’t need one – or have a mortgage or children, but for the most part, he’s living an adult’s life. 
I was never a parent who wanted my kid to stay little forever; I always saw my job as raising a future adult. The future is now, and along with it is a time that I’ve both expected and dreaded. I’ve been trying to prepare myself, and the rest of the family, for awhile now, saying, “We can’t just assume Chris will come out here for the holidays any more. It’s going to be a new decision for him every year.”
I usually start asking him about the decision in September, but he rarely commits before early November. This year, however, he started giving me hints a little earlier than normal. He was down to just four vacation days for the year, and he’d had some unexpected expenses, but he wasn’t sure…
But when I got an IM from him on November 1 floating the idea of a Skype call on Christmas morning, I was pretty sure I was looking at my first holiday season in 26 years without my kid. (Two years ago he came for Thanksgiving instead.) The money, the time, and the knowledge that some of his friends would be staying in town for the holiday too had all pretty well sealed the deal that he’d spend Christmas in Washington DC instead of Southern California. I’m glad he won’t be alone, but I’m sorry he won’t be here with me, his stepdad, and his extended family. We did get to spend some time with him this summer when we were on the East Coast for vacation, and that’s helping me take the news a little better than I might otherwise.
My family has always been pretty far-flung geographically, and there have been many years when we couldn’t all be together during the holidays. Work responsibilities, the challenges of traveling with small children, the cost of plane tickets, obligations to the in-law side of the family – any or all of these have contributed to not having a big family gathering, and we’ve accepted that and made do. And there were years when I was the one who didn’t come home for Christmas, especially when my son was little. At the time, I felt that my parents should be understanding about my need to start my own traditions, with my own young family…and I think they were, but now that the shoe’s going on my foot I’m getting a sense that they may have had some very mixed feelings about it.
I’ve known parents of young children who can’t imagine the day might come when their kids are somewhere else on Christmas morning. And maybe it won’t; I’ve known families who’ve never lived far apart, or who have had the resources to bring everyone together every year no matter what. But I’m not from that kind of family, and therefore my son isn’t either.
I’ve been getting used to long-distance parenting over the last few years, and as I said, this is something I expected eventually, but it’s not something I was looking forward to, either. It’s going to be strange. A video call is better than nothing, and preferable to an old-school phone call because we will see each other – sort of – but it’s definitely not the same. The fact that his absence will mean more Christmas-morning cinnamon rolls for the rest of us is by no means an even trade.

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