I am not the Grinch. I love Christmas. I get excited on 1st December because that means we are in the hallowed month, and the kids can open the first window on their Advent calendars. I love candles, tinsel, gift wrap, the smell of cinnamon, Santa, mince pies. I love crying at sentimental ads on TV to sponsor a tramp’s Christmas dinner. The first sighting of a robin fills me with such cheer that I start yelling Christmas Carols and getting misty eyed over the kids’ crap handmade cards. I veer away from anyone who shows the slightest inclination towards Bah Humbug. Its as if they have The Christmas Pox, and I don’t want to catch it.
And yet….come the actual week of Christmas I find myself increasingly fighting a sense of rising panic and disappointment. Where is the snow? The grateful urchins? The friends arriving with arms full of beautiful gifts? The perfect Christmas Eve supper and the contented glow sitting by the stocking-festooned open fire?
Well, for a start we have a gas effect fire, and its knackered because when the triplets were toddlers they kept hiding the coals up the chimney. We thought they were eating them because we kept finding them with black hands and several coals gone, until we thought to look up the chimney and found them inexplicably stacked along the ledge inside the flue.
As for snow, the weather has clearly not read A Christmas Carol, or it would know that gales, floods, power cuts and uprooted trees blocking the roads of people Driving Home For Christmas are definitely not Christmassy. I can’t remember it ever snowing at Christmas, and I’m quite old. It always seems to be pissing down, and looks nothing like the frosty white countryside idyll of every card you receive. Still, I suppose a picture of the exterior of The Bull Ring Shopping centre in Birmingham in the pissing rain doesn’t quite say ‘Merry Christmas’ as much as some children in mufflers laughing on a sleigh, does it?
The tree is always a let down. I get real tree envy – no matter what I do ours is always droopy, dry and shedding by Christmas Eve. Much like myself. I try to tart it all up with baubles and bows but nothing makes it look nice. I know how it feels. As I trudge to work of a night time I gaze enviously at other peoples’ trees twinkling gayly in the show-off front windows of their clean, ordered houses. ‘Look at us!’ their trees seem to say ‘OUR LIVES ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOURS!’ This year I got our tree from Ikea – they were selling them for £25 with a voucher for £20 to spend in the January sales. Great. So what looked like a bargain is actually a double insult – a crap tree plus the ‘opportunity’ to queue up for two hours to buy some teelights and a bag of meatballs.
The kids are meant to be full of wonder, and are supposed to rip open their presents from Santa with genuine excitement. The whole Santa situation has become very complex. With modern technology there are too many options re Santa – you can write, send a letter up the chimney, email, text, send a video message and receive one back….I can’t ever remember which one I’ve done so I end up muttering vague things about having contacted him on facebook. We leave a mince pie out, and some carrots, and a glass of something alcoholic to warm Santa’s heart. This year the youngest daughter put whiskey in a plastic beaker ‘Because Santa was too drunk last year and he smashed the glass’. Stupid Santa. He probably had about three bottles of Asda Cava beforehand. Come Christmas morning we do not allow early rising. The kids are under strict instruction that 8am is the earliest they can get up – they have had the fear of God put in them that Santa may well not have been if they get up any earlier. Bang on cue they storm into our bedroom and demand opening rights. We stumble downstairs and watch them express thinly veiled disappointment at the cheap versions of the latest devices they have requested. The eldest actually ran into the toilet in tears this year because the longed-for iPod Touch was ‘only 2nd Generation’ and didn’t have a camera. Stupid fucking Santa.The youngest gets the guitar she requested, tries out one chord, finds it’s quite hard and discards it for the rest of the day. The two boys immediately try to download memory-eating games on their new Tablets, only to find the storage available is only sufficient for a few photos and Temple Run. I watch R open his presents from me – the usual thermal socks, pants and golf balls which are invariably always ‘wrong’ (how do you get golf balls ‘wrong’?!). I have given up buying him anything nice to wear – he dresses like an old Irish alcoholic farmer, and hides every nice item of clothing I’ve ever given him under the bed. He doesn’t wear any of it because ‘it’s too new’. And my presents? Well, it’s churlish to moan about gifts, so I won’t. Occasionally I’ll get something I really like. Mostly I get something almost right. We’ll leave aside the year he bought me a gold chain and told me that he hoped the length was right because he’d made sure to tell the jeweller about my ‘stocky neck’.
The gathering of the family is meant to be what it’s all about, and this year we all went to my mum’s as she is in the middle of chemotherapy, is quite old and doesn’t want to travel. Selfish. Twelve of us squished into the small terraced 1970’s house she now lives alone in since dad died three years ago. Mum, my brother, his partner and their son, my sister and her husband – and us six. It always seems like a good idea, and for the most part it was lovely to be together. I adore my mum, and love my family to bits, but its cramped and there si nowhere to hide from the kids. Add to that the shame of the rest of the family witnessing what me and R go through on a daily basis with four kids (the tantrums, irritating fights, squabbles over toys, bad manners and sulks) and you get quite a challenging few hours. Its shocking when you’re not used to it, and by 5pm everyone was sick of us. Still, they wanted a real family Christmas – and we made sure they got it until 10pm, when we dragged them crying and threatening to puke, back home. R had elected me to drive, which was very thoughtful, so I didn’t even get to drown out the whining with a nice snooze on the way home.
Boxing Day is much better. Its more honest. There is no expectation. You can just do what you really wanted to do all along – sleep in, get up, eat Chocolate coins for breakfast, go to the pub. Yesterday we did just that, and the two hours we spent in the Nightingale drinking pints of Stella amidst the tinsel and swearing was the best two hours of Christmas.
Now they’ve all gone up north to do it all again with R’s side of the family. I’m left at home to do 5 shows this weekend. The house is quiet, tidy, clean. No toys playing loud music, no demands for crisp sandwiches and shandy. No Disney Channel abominations blaring out from the front room.
They’re not back until Monday.
I hate it.
This house dies when they all go away. Even the cat knows it, and stares at me with hate in his yellow eyes as if to say ‘Oh God not YOU’.
There’s nothing for it – I’m going to have to get dressed and go out. Even the hell of Westfield Shopping centre in the Sales is preferable to the deafening silence and the echo of parenting fails ricocheting around these walls.