12 Blogs: A Ghost of Christmas Past.

The Day is done.
The presents have been opened.
The Turkey has been eaten and the chocs have been scoffed.
Leafing though photos of the festivities on my computer I stumbled across an old folder I hadn’t opened for years.
Clicking on it, out tumbled hundreds of images of me and my husband as novice parents and our first Christmas together as a family. Our daughter must have been about 15 months old and it took me straight back to the early days.
I could remember looking at that little smiling face in the pictures worrying that I wouldn’t be good enough; that I would somehow let her down. And I was oddly freaked out because at the time I couldn’t quite picture the little girl she would grow into. I don’t know why it was so important to me but I needed to be able to look into the future and see us not just as the parents of a baby but also parents of a little girl and I couldn’t. Every time I tried it just got hazy. Maybe it was just the general anxiety of becoming a parent for the first time but there seemed to be so much to worry and think about!

Fast forward five years and surprise surprise here we are. No longer the parents of a baby but yes, parents of a little girl.
I hadn’t needed to worry about it after all because like most things in life – it just happened. It evolved.
For me it was a timely reminder to try to let go of things that I cannot control. To try not to waste any more time worrying myself into the future.

Easier said than done I know.

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12 Blogs #11. Unleashed

It was our first Christmas together and we were spending it away from London, in a house in the country.

There was great excitement all around, from the boys who we had been working on for weeks filling them with expectation and from us looking to make our first christmas together special and memorable.

However, something that we had not considered was the weather – which was quite simply horrid. It rained constantly and apart from the gloom that it brought about, it prevented the boys from going outside as it was very cold and the garden (as well as the surrounding countryside) were quite literally a mud bath.

It took us a while to realise what was happening, but regardless of out attempts to keep the boys busy and entertained we started to notice that they were getting restless and were becoming more and more difficult to cope with.

By the end of day 4 things were bad, their behaviour was getting out of control and we had little patience left. They were sent to bed early amid tears and anger.

The following day – Christmas Eve – started pretty much how the previous day had ended and the prospects of having to deal with two increasingly uncontrollable little boys on top of preparing for the big day tomorrow was quite simply looking beyond our ability.

My sister – a far more accomplished parent – phoned to ask how things were going and I shared our distress, the conversation went something like this:

Me – We have had enough, the boys are clearly unsettled being here and none of us are enjoying it, in fact the boys are driving us mad.

Sister – They have been couped up for 4 days, it sounds like big time cabin fever to me.

Me – Could be, I hadn’t considered that. (duhh)

Sister – You need to get them out to release some of that energy that’s just building and building.

Me – We can’t, the weather is just too terrible’ I think it best that we just go home.

Sister – Don’t be silly, you have everything planned and set up for Christmas there, why don’t you take them to a soft play area.

Me – What’s a soft play area?

Once she had finished laughing at me – the oh so clearly novice dad – she educated me into the word of indoor play and advised that there was a great centre about 50 mins away and that it will be a journey I would be very grateful of.

51 minutes later we are paying to get in and I could see the boys positively ‘chomping at the bit’, waiting to be let loose. Armbands on wrists the gate was opened…

And they were off, immediately running into the thick of it without looking back, we found seats and made them aware of where we were and they did not come to us for over 30 minutes (and these were still the very early days when they never seemed to leave our sides).

They ran, they climbed, they jumped, they slid, they shouted and they laughed – before they even thought about us. When we did finally come to mind they ran to us for a quick drink and then they were off again and it was like this for the next two hours or so.

I have described it as being like letting a dog off a lead – you could see the ‘need’ they had to get rid of all the pent up energy and it was actually a delight to watch.

Our sons are quite active little boys and of course four days stuck indoors was going to drive them mad – and by default us too – it is just shocking how oblivious we were to the blindingly obvious – even as it unfolded around us.

We live and learn and as painful as we the parents can find the hour or two in a soft play centre it saved our Christmas and has become a regular part of our life since.

12 blogs #10 Christmas Day 2017

I am sitting in the quiet of the kitchen in candlelight listening to the whirl of the dish washer. It’s peaceful after all the hullabaloo of the day. Cold sprouts, roast potatoes and the turkey are still on the table.

My six year old son went to sleep asking if he could pull a cracker tomorrow with our 82 year old neighbour. “Mummy I’ll let her have the present inside as she’s so old”.

He spent much of Christmas singing the same carol over and over again (jingle bells with the bit about Uncle Billy losing his ……, eating as many mince pies as he could find and then ripping open presents like he was being timed for the olympics. This year it was filled with “thank you Mummy and Daddy – wow I love this!”.

These comments wouldn’t have seemed possible this time last year. It has been like two years in one. My son has gone from a frightened hyper vigilant five year old kicking, swearing, hitting and screaming to a calmer more playful six year old. Last year he couldn’t attend the last few days at school as he couldn’t cope. He was running around the corridors wildly and I had to piggy back him out of a school sports cupboard back home. It was a relief to have him out of an environment which he clearly wasn’t coping in but I wondered how this year would pan out.

His behaviour had been triggered by events for sure – the change of the timetable with the nativity rehearsals and his LSA being off sick plus countless different people then replacing her. He felt neither safe nor secure . He had an EHCP which stated he must have consistent care but it wasn’t happening.

This year his LSA has not been away for even a day’s sick leave and the difference is huge. Our son now runs into school happily. He has gone from 10 mins in the classroom to 4 hours a day. We’ve had every treatment in the book from AIT (Audio Integrative Therapy) to Cranial osteopathy and Primitive Reflex work (INPP). We’ve also had therapeutic parenting sessions. We have begged, borrowed and stolen the therapies getting discounts where we can and using the Adoption Support Fund. Without them I don’t think we could have survived.

Things can change and Christmas is a natural hiatus in which to realise the change. He still can’t eat a meal without getting up five or six times and is like a mosquito buzzing from thing to thing but a happier mosquito. I still end up in tears every couple of weeks with the exhaustion of it all but even that is changing.

We all had melt downs on Christmas Eve but the big day has been a success – a lunch with just the three of us, presents under a tree, card games, log fires roaring around the house and ‘Arthur Christmas’ on a big screen We promised ourselves that if we felt stressed to say “nevermind” reach for a glass of vino and put another log on the fire.

I actually read a poem by Wendy Cope out loud at breakfast. No one was really listening but it meant a lot to me.

12 Blogs of Christmas #8

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

In theory no – it’s against my principles, but sometimes we cannot help opening “just the one” before midnight !

When do you put up and take down your tree?

Up: Almost as soon as the local Tree market opens and;
Down: probably not within the boundaries set by tradition/superstition.

What goes on the top of the tree?

A fairy (not a real one) or a star (again, not real), depending

Fake or real Christmas tree?

After a good number of years as a singleton with a re-usable fake tree, my wife has me converted to real and no way am I going back.

Favourite Christmas film?

It’s A Wonderful Life

Coloured or clear fairy lights?

Clear

Favourite Christmas song?

Depends on who is singing it – It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, if a choir; We Wish You A Merry Christmas, if our daughter.

Favourite Christmas food?

Sprouts. And my wife’s home-made sausage rolls. And Beef – I do not like Turkey !

What is the best Christmas gift ever received?

Socks

What is the worst Gift you’ve ever received?

Socks – it’s all about timing.

What’s the best part of Christmas for you?

Watching people open their presents; the second glass of wine with Christmas lunch

Most annoying thing about this time of year?

The West End

12 Blogs 5: When was your best Christmas ever?

When was your best Christmas ever and why?

Easy – The one when my dad came back.

It was 1976 and my parents had recently separated.

As a small child I must have missed the more obvious signs of what was to come but i do remember being woken up in the night by sound of my mother crying and when morning came my dad was gone. It was a strange feeling.

It followed close on the heels of the hottest summer imaginable. My dad and I seemed to practically live up at the outdoor swimming pool and I can remember laughing my head off with him over and over again in the water, as well as brilliant family BBQ’s where we were allowed to stay up late in the heat. I thought everything was perfect.

Then Autumn came and he was gone and the atmosphere in our house became confusing- and sombre.

Memories of this tine are like snapshots…

Day Trips out with my dad – when it slowly dawned on me that he was willing to buy me whatever I wanted! Brilliant! That had never happened before…

Catching my mum crying when she didn’t know I was watching…

Teachers suddenly paying me much closer attention and asking if I was ok.. apparently I didn’t have to stay at school all day if I didn’t feel I could manage it.. Again – brilliant! That had never happened before! – I thought I was OK.

Then Christmas was on it’s way and my Grandparents arrived much earlier than usual. That’s when it hit me. It suddenly dawned on me that my dad was not going to be there on the big day and I can remember an unleashing of sadness and fear that I had somehow managed to suppress up until that point.

Christmas without my dad seemed awful. Wrong. Unthinkable.

Nonetheless festive preparations carried on and as the tree went up and presents appeared underneath it, there was an inescapeable atmosphere of something being missing, and as a child I felt the overwhelming need to try and fix it. It felt like my life depended on it but I didn’t have the tools to do so.
So instead I just worried and worried and watched.

Then Christmas Eve came and there was a knock at the door. My mum said “why don’t you get it?”

It was my dad! He was back! They’d sorted things out.

What I remember most of that night is him lying on the floor laughing while me and my brother crawled all over him in a marathon wrestling session because we couldn’t get enough.

It was the best Christmas ever because my family got back together but it has also stayed with me for another reason.

I soaked up everything that was going on in that house in the lead up to the best Christmas ever and it has been with with me ever since.
And I have come to realise that this is what children do. we cannot protect them by telling them what’s going on is not their fault, it doesn’t go in. Doesn’t compute because it is not a conscious decision to worry. It just happens…

I remember this Christmas more clearly than any of the others and I’m sure a big part of that is because of the fear and worry that things were not right. I was vigilante the entire time and it imprinted on my memory.

Whatever we’re going through, it seeps into the very being of our children and leaves a mark.

If I hear songs that were popular around that time, I still get taken back to the time my dad left and the feeling of deep uncertainly I learned to live with.

Memories are physical as well as mental and we carry them around good and bad. As do our own children on daily basis.

12 Blogs #4 A Blog about Christmas


Would I like to write about Christmas?
Well, I would but I’m sorry as it won’t be all sparkle and joy. I have found myself having to dig deep to find even a little Christmas spirit this year and it feels like it has been like this for some time, I wish it were different.
Once upon a time I looked forward to Christmas with childlike wonder and excitement. I was the queen of Christmas cheer. I loved the anticipation of decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, writing and sending out Christmas cards, spending time with friends and family, the giving of gifts I had either lovingly chosen or even handmade. Where has the sense of delight and magic gone.
I long for those Christmases gone by and wish I could bring the energy, enthusiasm and pleasure back to life, into the here and now.
Before parenthood, I dreamt of celebrating Christmas with my own little family, I fantasised about watching our little cherub open presents on Christmas morning. In my mind’s eye I saw that little person smiling in delight, happy and easy going amid the Christmas goings on (turns out that last bit was some fantasy, trauma is rarely easy going!).

That said I have the family I dreamt of. The cherub I wished for. But after our first forever family Christmas some years ago the gloss and shine of those Christmas hopes and dreams has worn thin. It is reflective of an accumulation of hard times across these years.
Maybe I need to cut myself some slack. This year has been particularly hard. I am incredibly tired… drained, drawing on Christmas spirit and goodwill feels like a huge effort, I have little left to give, I am spent!
That said, those who meet me on the street will be none the wiser, I will still put on my Santa hat, I will find a smile and I will create some Christmas magic, for our cherub, our little family and memory making.

The Pixies. 12 Blogs #2


This year I’ve tried out an advent calendar. In our house it is a piece of cloth with 24 small pockets, into which I sneak a small item every evening after my son has fallen asleep. Something simple, tiny, unpretentious but special. He’s loving it.

The first week I focussed on stones and the like. One morning he got a biggish stone. Igneous looking. From the depths of the house collection. He showed it to his dad. Who raised his big daddy eyebrows in very real surprise. If not disbelief. ‘You gave him the stone I collected as a young boy from Vesuvius?’ Oups. I guess I did. Which would explain why I couldn’t remember where or when I’d collected it. He soon relented and he likes the beauty of passing it to his son. If only he’d been part of that decision. Not unlike the year I told our son The Santa doesn’t exists.

‘That’s the kind of stuff I think we should agree on as parents – before we tell him.’
That does seem very reasonable to me. Even in hindsight. But the cat was out of the bag. Out and gone. My son now tells a number of other kids that santa is just made up. Apologies if you are a parent of a kid who has met our six year-old myth buster.

That same evening of Vesuvius Gate my son asked me why I had stolen it from daddy.
I told him I didn’t think I had bla bla bla.
‘But mummy you lied to me.’
‘?! What do you mean…?’ I thought I’d been honest. Too honest it turns out.
‘I thought the pockets filled by magic…’
Errrrmmm….
‘You just fill them, Mummy. When I am asleep.’ He was very disappointed. And I was busted.

How to get back from that one??

Turns out there was a way back to December magic. After another few mishaps.

One morning my son complained there was nothing in the pocket for that morning.

‘Are you sure?!’ I remember finding something the evening before and carrying it downstairs. But my son was adamant: There was nothing there. I checked with him. The pocket was totally and completely empty. And my son’s eyes as big as saucers.

Hmmmmm. Puzzled but not deterred I went about my business, grumbling over what may have happened. I distinctly remembered having chosen something small and fine.

‘Maybe we have nisser (Danish for gnomes or pixies)….’

‘Maybe they took it? Like they sometimes take daddy glasses and put them up on top his head so he can’t find them.’

‘Or they ate the last biscuits. Pesky creatures …’

I walked into the living room and there on the mantle piece was the thing I’d chosen. Small and shiny. I managed to sneak it in to the pocket. And soon after I heard a scream of joy:
‘Mummy! The pixies have been! They brought me a crystal!’

Since that morning his faith in the pixies has been restored. Which all together is a better fit for our family than Father Christmas. They’re mischievous and fun. Not good, nor bad, but a bit of both. Altogether more real. They also don’t judge. No elves on our shelves!

Next year I think I may introduce more of their mischievous sides. You see in Denmark where I grew up you put food out for the pixies. Every night in December. To keep on good terms with them. If you forget you may upset them. And they may play tricks on you and your family. Like dye the milk blue only for you to realise as you pour it over your breakfast cereal. Or they may fill Your pencil case with raisin instead of pens! Which you only find out when in school.

I think my son is ready for some December themed mischievousness. But am I?