It’s three days before Christmas. Rose is in a fever of excitement. “We’re seeing Father Christmas today,” she announces when I drop in on my early morning dog walk. George, at 15 months, doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on but he knows something is up from his sister’s leaping up and down. So he follows suit, dancing from one foot to the other and beaming away, determined to pretend that he’s in the know too.
My eldest son – known to the children as Uncle “Wow” because he plays silly games to keep them amused – is down for Christmas. So he’s coming to see Santa too. “Yes!” shouts Rose, tugging his hand. It makes my heart melt to see my first-born (now in his mid-thirties) in this new role. I do hope he will have children of his own one day. He’d make such a great dad…
Meanwhile, we’re off to the local grotto where Santa is holding court. (He’s so popular locally that my daughter had to book him back in the summer.) By now, the Christmas hype means it’s hard in Rose’s mind to determine what is real and what isn’t.
Polar bears, sledges and singing donkeys!
Then an elf appears. Honestly. “Have you all been good girls and boys?” she asks. Rose nods solemnly and George swiftly follow suit. “This way then,” she trills, leading us past huge polar bears, sledges that the children can clamber into, an “ice” bridge and a stable of singing donkeys. “Wow,” says my son and tears prick my eyes as I recall taking him to Father Christmas in the 80s before his little sister and brother were born.
“Please wait here,” says the elf, taking us into a little antechamber. “Santa will see you next.”
But it’s all getting too much for George. Not only is it nap time but his next batch of teeth are fighting to get out. He bursts into tears and does that arching-the-back thing when it’s almost impossible to hold him. Then the doors open and he suddenly stops. This big red man with a white beard is sitting on a chair with a plate of mince pies by his side. Rose’s eyes widen. George, who doesn’t take kindly to strangers, clutches his daddy’s legs.
“I like your boots,” says Rose coming forward and staring at Santa’s black clodhoppers. (My granddaughter has always had a keen sense of style.)
“Thank you,” he says. “I like yours too.”
“Gan Gan bought them for me,” says Rose, pointing to me. (Russel & Bromley, since you’re asking. And very pretty they are too!)
George begins to yell again, clearly worried that the conversation is going to be all about fashion rather than presents. He squirms out of his father’s arms and heads for the very realistic chimney.
A present has come whooshing down into the fireplace
“Watch out, sonny,” says Santa. Whoops! A present has come whooshing down into the fireplace and then another.
Wow! “What do you say?” we ask Rose.
“Thank you,” she says. Then she peers up the chimney. “Are there any more?”
“Rose,” says my daughter, shocked. But I can’t help feeling a sneaking sympathy. Us adults have built up Christmas so much that it’s no wonder the children expect a pressie a minute. It’s easy to forget the real message which is why, on Christmas Eve, we go to the nativity service. And what a lovely time we have! “Mother Christmas” and her helpers dressed as mice, run a wonderful hands-on session with triangles, tambourines and music to tell the nativity story. It takes three of us to keep an eye on both Rose and George as they belt up and down the aisle with their friends. (Several of my granny mates are here, too.) It’s wonderful to hear so much laughter and joy in the church.
That night, when the babies are safely tucked up at home with their parents, the rest of us go to midnight mass so we can concentrate on what it all means. I have to confess that I feel my eyes closing from tiredness but I do recall the vicar saying that we need to go about our ordinary days with extraordinary kindness and understanding towards others. It seems like a good principle to hang onto in the months ahead.
In the morning, the adults (including my younger son who has arrived with his girlfriend) sleep in. I tiptoe round, placing stockings by their beds, thinking back to the days when they would be up at 5am. Just like my grandchildren are doing now at their house round the corner. Then the door goes at 10am. It’s my son-in-law with a pram. “Shhh,” he says. “George is asleep.”
We do our best but it’s hard on Christmas morning. By mistake, I find myself calling up the stairs for my husband a few minutes later and George promptly wakes. Oh dear. “He’ll be a nightmare for lunch now,” warns my daughter who’s just arrived with little Rose in tow.
Right now, it doesn’t seem important. The children are diving into the mound of presents which I’ve been buying and wrapping over the last few months. The ballet dress doesn’t fit and the toy flamingo gets a quick cuddle but it’s the £1.99 squidgy playball (one each) which really goes down a storm. “Thank you, Gan Gan,” says my granddaughter, her little arms round my neck.
“Just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a fortune,” points out my husband.
This year, we are going to the local pub for lunch. (Last year, I struggled to cook for everyone on my smallish cooker.) It’s lovely – except that my daughter was right. George is over-tired (not to mention teething) so his parents take it in turns to take him out for a walk while we make glitter pictures with Rose on the table. “Look! I’ve got silver stars in my turkey,” points out my youngest son when my granddaughter flicks some over. It all adds to the magic.
Afterwards, we go for a long walk on the beach before evening. What a lovely ending to a very special day. “I think I need a nap now,” yawns my husband.
“But it’s not long until bed,” I point out.
He pretends to pout. “If George can have one when he wants, so can I!”
He has a point. Meanwhile, the babies are back at their house, exhausted but hopefully happy. And I curl up with a box of Roses in front of the Call The Midwife Christmas special.