Tuesday, 28 December 2010

In the Snow



With stuffy heads and over-stretched stomachs we wrapped ourselves up and ventured out into the snow.

As the cold air bit at our cheeks and breathed new life into our smiles, the intensity of Christmas melted away and the importance of presents diminished. The pressures of visiting dwindled and the need for noisy chit-chat vanished.

And there in the cold, as we introduced John to sledging, the distinction between 'james' family' and just 'family' blurred once again, until it was as hard to distinguish as the sledge-tracks in the snow.

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Message From Home


When the loudest of the guests had gone and the biggest of the gifts had been opened I sat amidst the wrapping paper and empty boxes, and opened a letter addressed solely to me.

Inside, my mummy had written these words:

"Dearest Helen,

I wanted to give you a star,
but then I realised you were one.
I wanted to give you happiness,
but I realised you had it.
I wanted to wrap up dreams,
but realised you lived them,
I wanted to make magic
but saw it was all around you."

And there in somebody else's house, under somebody else's tree, following a day with somebody else's family, I felt as though I'd finally come home.

First Christmas


Happy First Christmas little boy, you're loved more than you possibly could know.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Magic


I'd not noticed the magic of the fairy-lights before I saw them reflected in his eyes; I'd thought our tree looked stunted before I saw him gazing up at it in awe and I'd assumed a bauble was just a plastic sphere before I saw the wonder with which he beheld it.

He might not have known that it was Christmas but he made the magic complete.

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Stocking for John


I looked forward to this sewing project long before I knew the name that I would stitch lovingly onto the cloth and I anticipated the joy that I would get from hanging it long before this long-held dream came true.

As I sat up after midnight tracing hearts onto felt like a love-lorn girl I remembered the giddy thrill of bedtime on Christmas Eve and the wondrous magic of waking on Christmas morning. I re-lived the excitement that came from a lumpy-bumpy stocking and I prayed that John's Christmas memories would be as magical as mine.

Tonight, Father Christmas will stuff this stocking for the very first time and a seminal childhood ritual will begin. For the first time in a long time I can barely wait for bedtime to come...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How Silently


After dinner, we stoked up the fire and crunched our way through the frozen night to a church that was illuminated from within like a snow-topped Chinese lantern.

We pushed open the heavy door and stepped into a space that smelt of candles and wood polish and glimmered in the quiet light of dozens of flickering candles; and all of a sudden it was Christmas. 

Friendly faces greeted us with whispered greetings and wide smiles as we took our seats at the back and then the choir began to sing and candle after candle flickered to life in the darkened church, and the miracle of Christmas was real.

I sat at the back of the church with  my little family listening to the exquisite poetry of Isiah and the beautiful harmony of the carols and I felt wonder unfurl in my chest. I held my candle in one hand and cuddled my baby in the other and blinked back tears as we sang the wonderful words of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.'

Because right there in the quiet of the church with the cold air tingling on my skin, I realised that this was everything that I could possibly want for Christmas.

"How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given."

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

One Truth


Some day, we'll look back on this Christmas and smile.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Chistmas Party


The foolishness that I'd felt at dressing John in his best dungarees was assuaged when I arrived to find that the other mothers had dressed their offspring in crimson Christmas outfits.

The babies sat propped against the padded sides of the ball pool like fat, floppy elves whilst their mothers arranged plates of egg sandwiches and bowls of crisps on the laden buffet table and chatted somewhat over-excitedly about their forays into Internet shopping.

There was a hum of excitement in the air and although we all knew that the Under 1's Christmas party was not the social event of the century we couldn't help but feel it. 

Because in a season that's designed especially for children we'd somehow been forgotten. Our babies were too small to visit Santa or make paper snowmen or bake gingerbread cookies or squeal at the sight of snow, and whilst we all knew that there would be many years ahead in which to enjoy these things, I think we all felt a little cheated.

We wanted to share the joys of Christmas with our little ones and to play the games that we'd associated with motherhood for as long as we could remember, and we wanted to do it now without feeling silly or self-indulgent or sad.

And so, for one happy morning we did.  

We sat in a circle playing pass the parcel whilst oohing and ahhing dramatically for the benefit of the babies on our knees; we clapped and smiled as dexterous mothers ripped open layers of shiny paper one-handedly ; we stuffed our faces with party food whilst our babies kicked and played unattended on the floor; we sang along to the Christmas songs that had been haunting our dreams for days and when Father Christmas arrived with a sack -full of presents we whooped and giggled as giddily as children.

I know this little gathering won't feature as one of John's top ten Christmas parties, but it gave me an excuse to make rocky road, it gave me a reason to smile and it gave me a chance to celebrate Christmas with a group of newfound friends. I think it was one of the best Christmas parties I've ever had the pleasure of attending.

Friday, 17 December 2010

It Matters


It doesn't matter that he doesn't know that it's Christmas.

It doesn't matter that the nativity story makes him smile simply because the sheep have woolly coats and donkeys make very funny noises.

It doesn't matter that his heart doesn't thrill at the miracle of angels and his eyes don't light up with wonder when we sing the soft sounds of 'Silent Night'. 

It doesn't matter that a Christmas tree seems no more extraordinary to him than a table lamp or that a carol service seems no more magical than Sunday school.  

It doesn't matter that "he's too little to know much about it" or that "he'll enjoy the wrapping more than the presents" and it doesn't matter that won't remember any of it next month or in the years to come.    

It matters that we show him the magic of Christmas. Because it matters so much to me.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Real and Imagined


In the life that I used to imagine for myself home was a busy place in which jam boiled on the stove, carrots grew in the garden, honeysuckle meandered round the doorways and children ran barefoot through the hallways.

It was a bright and breezy sort of place full of cosy nooks and ancient books, where roaring fires and golden lamplight reflected off polished wood by night and curtains flapped breezily at open windows by day.

It was a place where sweet-peas tangled from vases in summer and a majestic pine tree cast its glittering glow on spell-bound faces at Christmas.

In the life that I am living, home is nothing like that at all. In this home milk is burnt onto the stove, rubble fills the garden, spiders monopolise the hallways and dust carpets the floors.

In this home chaos is a monster whose neck I cannot leash and order is an ideal that's forever beyond my reach. In this life summer is spent chasing flies against the window panes and Christmas is a fragile promise whose impossible beauty makes me weep.

Some days (when the sun shines) I can forget that there is mildew growing in my bathroom and mice running through my lounge, I can light a candle and I can concentrate on the little corners of my life that fit the templates of my dreams.

But on grey days like today when the sun's snuffed out by cloud and the sky sucks the colour from the world, the ideals of my youth seem remote.

And so on days like today I have to look very hard for the fragments of beauty that lie in forgotten corners of my home, and I have to remember that the dreams we have for tomorrow are gradually, gradually coming true.

I have to cuddle my happy baby who cares as much about bare plaster and broken cupboards as I do about particle physics, and finally I have to get up and clean my bathroom; because action has a power to banish the blues that's beyond the limits of my understanding.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Deck The Halls


When people ask if the house is all decorated for Christmas, I don't think that this is quite what they have in mind.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Sleep, Baby, Sleep


Little one, sleep in quiet peace,
I've made you a sleepingbag lined with fleece
And stitched all round with lemon thread
So little one rest your sleepy head.
 


Little one, close your tired eyes
Whilst bright stars shine in quiet skies
I stitched this bag to hug you tight;
So shut your eyes 'til morning light.


Little One, snuggle into bed
Where butterflies flutter overhead;
The morning is just a few hours away
So hush your cries 'til break of day.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

If The Name Fits


I've never been a fan of nicknames with their cheesy over-familiarity and unnecessary exclusivity.

But around here people have started calling him 'Smiler'. And I really rather like it.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cold!


It's cold around here. Ear-aching, chin-chapping, head-splitting cold. The land is held captive in the grip of a fierce frost and it's devastating, beautiful and awesome, like any force of nature.

This morning, when the world woke up it found itself transformed into a fairytale too wondrous to have ever been told.

Ice crystals hung from every surface in sight and time seemed to be frozen in a wonderland of white.

Grass blades stood in stillness, transfixed by their own brilliance, lonely pine trees found themselves transformed into tinsel-laden Christmas trees and ruby apples hung like forgotten baubles in a world where everything else was white.

As I stepped out into my garden the cold slapped my cheek and the grass groaned beneath my feet. I looked beyond the crystalline branches and dropping strands of frozen cobweb to the Christmas-card vista beyond and I noticed that the air was sparkling with glitter.

It glinted in the morning sunshine like fairy-dust.

And I don't know whether it was the cold or the astonishing beauty of the day but it literally took my breath away.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Concentration


Mostly, his days are spent in enthusiastic exploration but sometimes a stillness comes over him and he stops quite suddenly in silence.

On those rare occasions, I see concentration cover his face and absorption flood his mind. His chubby little fingers grasp at the treasure at hand and his over-stretched brain tries to grapple once again with the newness of the world.

He sits silently examining the texture and taste of his toy, investigating its weight and sound, and frowning intently as he comes to terms with the new limits and possibilities of play and the ever-changing parameters of his world.

For a moment he is utterly engrossed. Past bruises are forgotten, future falls are unthought of, other toys are unimportant and other games are unimagined. He is completely consumed by concentration and as a result he is completely content.

Sometimes as I watch him I become awed by his contentment and I wonder when I was last so perfectly absorbed in anything that past and future diminished into insignificance and complete contentment prevailed.

I wish that I could loose myself in the perfection of the present and recapture some of that calm concentration of childhood.

Then I realise that I've lost the last five minutes just watching my baby play and that the little boy on my floor has helped me to do just that.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Real Thing


I've no need for an advent calendar this year, showing pictures of wintry scenes, because every day when I open my door there's a Christmas card behind it.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

This Box


This box holds a bear and some jelly beans, a bag of blocks and some play dough, a yo-yo and a wooden train, a little blue hat and a small pair of gloves, some chunky wax crayons and a big sticker book, a box of chalk and a domino set, some toiletries, an assortment sweets and a Winnie the Pooh washmit.

It was wrapped and packed carefully so that each present fitted perfectly in its proper place and no gaps would be left unfilled, and it sat on my windowsill for a week tempting me to take out all the presents, one by one, just to re-pack them again.

Its toys were bought with a secretive sort of excitement that I can never quite re-capture, and when I'd dropped it off at the warehouse and seen it join thousands of other brightly wrapped boxes, stacked up like giant building blocks, I knew that Christmas was coming.

Soon, this box will soon be making its way to a little boy who I've never met but who deserves to be loved every bit as much as my boy.

I hope that he enjoys unwrapping it as much as I enjoyed wrapping it. I hope that his serious eyes will light up at the sight of a bag full of blocks. I hope that some of these toys will become treasures that he values for years to come. I hope that the hat and gloves will help keep  his little body warm when the nights are dark and cold. I hope that he giggles at the sticky fizziness of a Wham bar and feels wonderfully grown-up when he brushes the sugar from his teeth. I hope that his chalk will draw a hop-scotch on the tarmac and that other children will join him in his game. And I pray that between the tightly-packed gifts he will find some of the happiness and hope that are at the very heart of Christmas.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Boy


The other day when I looked at him I saw a boy instead of a babe and a part of me was crushed because I never kissed my baby goodbye.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snowfall At Dusk


At the end of a long and lonely week in which my heart hung heavily in my chest and refused to be fooled by my smiles, the snow began to fall.

It started with a white mist in the dimness of the late afternoon and developed into soft, dropping flakes just as daylight faded into dusk.

We stood by the window watching it settle on tree and canoe, grass and cement mixer, and slowly transform builders rubble with its beauty. Then we wrapped ourselves up warmly and wandered out into the wonderland to feel our souls settle under its hush and our eyes widen at its beauty.

The snow shower had finished by nightfall leaving a dusting of beauty in its wake, but its soft flakes had worked their magic and everything was transformed.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Durham Days


When long shadows stretch from the trunks of trees and a golden sun shines warmly on a world as cold as glass, I'm always transported back to Durham.

I'm taken to a city in which it always seems to be autumn and the trees that line the river are always tipped in gold and bronze, where low sunbeams shine off ancient stones and students wear black cashmere coats, wound at the neck by scarves.

I feel the cobbles dimple my feet as I hurry over Old Elvet bridge with a bag of books on my back, I see rowers flash by on the shadowy water below, I feel the cold air pinching my skinny waist as I walk and I hear the cathedral bells ring out across the river, making my heart peal with pleasure as they chime.

And as I dart through the winding and well-trodden streets of the city, trudge up the endless expanse of Church Street to the library and wind my solitary way back to college along the silent tow-path I feel the old emotions crowd my heart; the adrenaline of discovery, the awesomeness of tradition, the elation of self-sufficiency, the stress of high expectations, the hopefulness of infinite possibilities, and the intense loneliness of life.

It's always startling to return to this place so suddenly as the autumn sun starts to shine, and my visits to this dreamscape always leave me adrift, because my memories are as clear as yesterday but I have no idea how the person that I was then and the person that I am today can possibly both be me.