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Day 71: ‘Tis the season...

Let me list a few things that disturb The Cat:

  • A long build-up to an exciting event
  • School being ‘different’
  • Being asked to sing
  • Surprises (e.g. presents)
  • Large family gatherings 
  • Music that he hasn’t pre-approved
  • Mummy singing along to anything at all, or even humming
  • Candles
  • Unfamiliar smells, like, say, a tree indoors
  • Cooking smells
  • Any strong smell (with the bizarre exception of the little boy wee smell that he leaves on bathroom floors and walls)
  • Changes in routine
  • Sitting at a table for more than ten minutes
  • Noisy chatter or laughter
  • Loud bangs (from, say, a cracker)
  • Seeing girls (e.g. his kind, beautiful, little girl cousin)
  • Food other than pizza, salmon or sausages 
  • Going places he has to wear clothes
  • Cake that isn't chocolate
  • Talking to anyone other than Mummy, The Dog or The Friend
  • Mummy talking to anyone other than him
  • Thinking about anything other than Pokemon, Greek mythology or Minecraft
And a few of The Dog’s dislikes:
  • Weeks where his sports are cancelled 
  • Getting wet/cold socks on the trampoline 
  • Being away from his friends 
  • Eating
  • His parents being stressed and busy
  • Grown-ups spending time with each other rather than playing with him
  • Staying inside the house for large chunks of the day
And The Big Boy: 
  • Being at home with his brothers 
  • Being cold
  • Roasted vegetables 
And Mum:
  • Kids fighting
  • Compulsory spending
  • Darkness 
  • Meat/poultry of any description 
  • Hangovers.

Put 'em together and what have you got? Yes, it’s CHRISTMAS. Bibbidi-bobbidi-fa-la-la-la-la.

I’ve got to tell you, we’ve had some truly awful festive seasons since the kids arrived.

I guess it’s always tricky when differing family traditions come together in a new family unit. As a Kiwi abroad, though, it took me a good decade to understand  that this ritual of face-stuffing in the freezing cold was supposed to be the equivalent of ‘real’ Christmas, with its cold meats (for the non-vegetarians) and salads (for me) and chilled white wine in the sunshine (for any sentient being), right in the middle of the long summer holidays. This meant I was quite happy to do whatever The Cyclist saw as normal, fitting in with the many traditions of his extended family gatherings, tipsily enjoying the whole bizarre affair and only missing ‘my’ Christmas on a random day in July or August when the sun would come out over England for more than an hour. (Sorry, Brits, but your weather sucks.) Easy peasy — except, perhaps, that I was used to a champagne breakfast, and here we had to wait until after church (yes, church!) for a glass of sherry. But fine, it was An Experience, and after a decade or so I’d begun to understand how this turkey-and-sprout-based version of Christmas fitted into English culture, and to appreciate the joy of festive over-indulgences and family shenanigans breaking up what would otherwise be a seemingly endless succession of dark, damp, miserably cold winter weeks.

Then the kids came, and they hated pretty much every Christmas tradition, and ruined our best efforts to carry on regardless and teach them How Christmas is Done. After a couple of years of The Big Boy (then Little) disrupting church services and failing to appreciate the sanctity of Sherry O’Clock, it became clear that we needed to spend Christmas Day as a smaller, more flexible family unit, joining in with the wider family on Boxing Day. Our first attempt taught us that trying to carry on the same traditions on a smaller scale wasn't going to work either: there was screaming in the Cathedral and loud expressions of boredom, and he clearly wasn't keen on sprouts or carols. Then the twins came and I spent every Christmas exhausted and ill for at least a couple of years, with The Cyclist sitting alone, Scrooge-like-but-sadder, to eat his turkey breast crown while I went back to bed or fed the non-turkey-eating and culinarily non-adventurous kids.

Sometime after the diagnoses came in, and it dawned on us that meeting the needs of the kids made our own lives more pleasant, we realised there was no point in carrying on with traditions for the sake of it. The moment where The Cyclist and I admitted to each other that we didn't actually like Christmas pudding, bread sauce or Christmas cake was like lifting off a heavy rucksack after walking for far too long. Or chucking out plastic bits of your car (see previous post!). Every year we have done less and less in terms of meals, so that we have more and more time to hang out with the kids, and are relaxed enough to deal with their needs on a day so exciting that it can easily tip them over the edge. And now I love Christmas, and here are some of the things we all love and enjoy together:
  • Buying a beautiful tree at huge expense, but then smothering it in so much tinsel that it looks like a Poundland plastic fake 
  • Counting up the times the cat has knocked over the tree
  • Staring transfixed at the non-tasteful colour-changing lights
  • Making more and more and more and more Hama Bead decorations (mostly Mummy)
  • Seeing kind, quiet friends on Christmas Eve
  • Driving home in the dark and hoping to spot Santa's sleigh
  • Going to bed late and being allowed to get up early - and I mean EARLY
  • Opening presents in pyjamas and not getting dressed all day if you don't fancy it
  • Watching the cat pounce on the wrapping paper and go nuts over her yearly catnip mouse
  • Seeing if we can get the tower of empty wine boxes to reach the ceiling
  • Playing board games with The Dog, building Lego with The Cat and reading with The Big Boy (the presents are the same, pretty much, from one year to the next)
  • Cooking the most bizarre Christmas lunch - pigs-in-blankets, definitely, but whatever else the boys fancy on the day, at whatever time they fancy it, even if it’s pizza and chocolate cake
  • Not enforcing time limits on technology 
  • Collapsing into bed knowing that, while there are always sibling battles, we’ve done more for the boys than we do on any other day of the year.
It’s like the car: the kids have taught us to chuck out all the extras and concentrate on what matters. One year The Cat most wanted raisins, socks and his own new spoon for Christmas, and so that’s what he got. Total and utter joy for him, and the knowledge that we’d got it right.

So yes, there are times where we struggle - and just a couple of days ago there was a drawer ripped out of the kitchen and an explosion of quite terrifying violence between the twins - but there are also the most amazingly liberating moments over the course of the year and the joy of being Us, finding our own unique traditions and not caring what anyone thinks.

I hope you all feel as lucky as us when the build-up is over and the big day finally arrives. x


This blog is part of a self-care challenge (not least because writing is a bit like therapy!), in aid of The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust, a wonderful local charity who provide support and training to Hertfordshire families affected by these neurological differences. The first week of their 6-week parenting course is about self-care, but it is of course the hardest thing for any parent with a child in distress or difficulty! To help ADD-vance to help other families, please consider sponsorship via:
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LizThompson

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