It’s the perfect street in San Carlos: It’s called Christmas Tree Lane come December. That’s the street we walk on our way to and from Riley’s school. It’s perfect with its sidewalks and picket fences and grand homes and handsome husbands and beautiful wives with fat diamonds. It’s perfect with its nuclear families that have 2.3 children and dogs that look like Lassie or Air Bud.
As a single mom, walking that street gives me an upset stomach.
I used to be in one of those so-called perfect families with the grand home and the handsome husband and the fat diamond, minus the picket fence. Perfect on the outside. But nothing is perfect. No family is perfect. No relationship is perfect. But when I walk down the street and I see the neat yards and the dogs and the arched front doors and the clean cars and the basketball nets here and the bikes leaning against the front porch there, it’s easy to believe that those marriages, their lives, are somehow better than my single status, my life.
But I don’t know anything about those families. I only know the shiny exteriors. There is probably depression, addiction, and divorce. There are probably failed marriages, loveless marriages, sexless marriages, affairs, and nontraditional families with step kids in there too, but there are no such labels on their mailboxes. I only see what is visible from the curb.
In this bedroom community, the single parent is rare like a strip mall without a Starbucks. Walking that street twice a day creates a longing in me, a longing to be settled in a way that I haven’t been in years. I want the security of a committed relationship, the comfort of waking up every day with my lover (who is also my best friend), the sense of peace that comes from sharing the minutia of cleaning up the kitchen together after putting the kids to bed, the wholeness of a routine that doesn’t include the words your days or my days, the simplicity of a relationship that doesn’t include ex-husbands and ex-wives.
After years of hating Disney and its princess franchise, I find myself wanting the fairy tale. I want the magic of Christmas that hangs from the trees on that street each December. I want it, even though I know that come January, it gets boxed up and forgotten until the following year. I want it, even though I know that Santa is just a dude in a fat suit. I want it, even though I know if I settle into a committed relationship, wake up in my lover's arms, and enjoy the little stuff together for decades to come, there will always be exes, different houses, custody schedules, and imperfections.
I also suspect, however, that when the things I crave are a reality, the houses and picket fences and seemingly-perfect families will be much less noticeable.