At last! Christmas Eve is here. Little Rose and George are totally hyped up. The rest of us are exhausted. The presents are wrapped and the Christmas cards finally sent. But the complicated bit is the family dynamics. My sister, her husband and my niece (who live hundreds of miles away) have rented a local cottage in order for my brother-in-law to see his family. It also means they can see us too – although finding a date when everyone is around, proves almost impossible.
My eldest son is just back from Spain for the holiday but the youngest can’t get back until Christmas Day itself because of his shift work. My sister is desperate to see the little ones so we have to have an early Christmas lunch the day before. Are you with me? I’m not sure that I am.
“They’ve grown so much,” gasps my sister, enchanted as little George sits on her lap and twiddles her earrings. I have a sudden flash in my head of my little sister with a mop of black hair when she was born – there are seven years between us even though she is taller than me now. How our mother would have loved to have seen us now.
Rose is an angel – again!
At 4 o’clock we head off for the nativity service at our local church. Rose is an angel – again! Indeed, she’s adopted (with aplomb) the role of a practised actress. George is meant to be a shepherd but has decided he’d rather be a nudist instead. “You’ve got to keep your robe on,” whispers my daughter when George proceeds to rip off his outfit halfway through the service.
“Wet,” he says. Oh dear. That’s why he doesn’t want to wear it anymore. So much for potty training.
The great thing about not being on granny duty is that I can leave my daughter and son-in-law to the mopping up and bedtime bit. So my eldest son and I get back home for a hot drink and then on to the traditional street carol service on the seafront.
Once more I feel a huge lump in my throat as I share the sheet with my boy. He was a Christmas baby, born 36 years ago. When I look back on my life, I feel quite giddy. So much has happened that I never expected. Some good and some not so good. But how lucky I am to have my children.
Christmas Day is here…
I wake the following morning to the sound of my phone. “Shall we come round now?” asks my daughter.
Yes, please! My husband and eldest son are still asleep. So is the dog. When my three were little, I used to wish they’d lie in a bit longer. But now the house is too quiet. Luckily little Rose and George soon put an end to that.
“It’s Christmas,” cries my granddaughter as she rushes in through the front door, her arms outstretched. Her little eyes are shining with magic. My husband meanwhile can’t wait to show George the sit-on tractor which he’s assembled, amidst blood sweat and tears.
“Shut your eyes,” he tells us before pulling off the camouflage blanket for the grand unveiling.
George’s eyes are as wide as saucers. “Tractor,” he screams, leaping on it and straddling the seat, ready to harvest an imaginary field.
My daughter’s face is horrified. “How am I going to find space for that in our house?” she says.
I’d warned my husband about that one…
Rose goes rather quiet. “Where is my big present?” she says
Oh dear. In fact, we’ve got her lots of small presents but none of them are on the same scale as the tractor. It just goes to show that size really does matter in a child’s eyes when it comes to presents.
“It’s alright,” says my daughter. “We’ve got the you-know-what at home. She hasn’t seen it yet.”
The “you know what” refers to a mud play kitchen. Yes – I didn’t know what that was either. It turns out to be a wooden construction where children are encouraged to dig up soil and get to grips with nature. In our day – here we go again! – we simply got a toy trowel and were told to keep digging until we got to Australia. It kept us amused for hours and was a darn sight cheaper.
Lunch is a bowl of homemade parsnip soup. We’ve decided to eat proper Christmas dinner later in the day as my youngest son’s bus doesn’t arrive in the nearest city until mid-afternoon. So my eldest son and I drive in to get him. I feel a sense of mounting excitement as we get close to the pick-up point. I can’t wait to see him – and I also feel very moved that his brother and sister are excited too. But then my mobile rings.
“Sorry Mum,” says my boy. “We’re going to be late. The driver has done too many hours and has to have a rest. Apparently there was an announcement when we set off but I didn’t hear it.”
There is nothing for it but to sit in the car in the freezing cold. I’m wearing my thin Christmas Day party dress. The heating doesn’t work. My mobile phone battery is virtually dead. Around us, the city looks as though it’s been evacuated. Nothing is open. No one is about apart from the seagulls which are picking at rubbish left by Christmas Eve revellers.
Eventually, the “baby” turns up, beard and all. “Sorry,” he says nonchalantly, climbing into the back. “When’s dinner. I’m starving!”
Suffice it to say that it puts the culinary timing out for the rest of the day. Still, the important thing is that the children are having a whale of a time – not just with their presents but with their uncles. When you have little ones, it’s hard to imagine what they’ll be like as adults. It gives me a lovely sense of warmth to see how the boys play games with their sister’s children and teach them to strum on their toy guitars! (They were my presents. And yes, I know they’re a bit on the noisy side. To be honest, I thought I’d get into a lot more trouble with the parents than I did.)
That night, when everyone is finally asleep, I sneak into my younger son’s bedroom to gather up his clothes and put them in the washing machine. But he’s gone to bed wearing them.
“Ugh,” says my daughter when I tell her.
The rest of Christmas goes all too fast. Before I know it, I’m seeing the bearded baby onto a train home. (We’ve had enough of buses.) Next week, my eldest goes back to Spain where he teaches. It won’t be long before my granny days start once more.
But in the meantime, we have to sort out a home for the tractor. A “compromise” has finally been reached! On my daughter’s instructions, I’ve made some space in our house by giving away some of the toys which the children have outgrown to our local Sue Ryder. I feel rather sad as I take them round. It’s as though yet another stage has passed.
“Wonderful,” says the cheerful volunteer. “These will go fast.”
Instantly I feel better. Someone else is going to get fun out of them now. Because that’s what it’s all about. This never ending circle of sharing not just toys but also love, friendship and family. Or am I speaking too soon?
“I thought we agreed the tractor would live at their house,” grumbles my husband when I get back. “But I’ve just found it behind my favourite chair.”
“Let’s talk about it later,” I say, smoothly. “Now how about one more mince pie?”
Distraction, as any grandparent knows, can work wonders. Especially on grown-ups.
I Looked Away by Jane Corry is published by Penguin Viking. To buy, go to https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139