Faith and Father Christmas: 2013 365 Challenge #347

Meeting the man last Christmas

Meeting the man last Christmas

At dinner last night my friends and I discussed the challenge of maintaining the Christmas magic with our children. Do you lie? Evade, prevaricate? Are robins secretly Santa’s spies, identified by their red breasts? Or is the red flashing light of the security system Saint Nic keeping an eye on who is being naughty or nice? Do you have an elf on the shelf to watch over and guarantee belief and good behaviour?

And it got me thinking. In the end is it about magic, or is it about faith? Or even control. We talk of the magic of Christmas but it does seem it comes hand in hand with mild threats to ensure good behaviour. I read a quote on Goodreads once that compared belief in Father Christmas to belief in God:

“Be sure to lie to your kids about the benevolent, all-seeing Santa Claus. It will prepare them for an adulthood of believing in God.”
― Scott DikkersYou Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day

I was reminded of the quote during my daughter’s Nativity this week. Towards the end, the audience stood to sing along with two carols. I love carols normally, and thought I knew them all, but was surprised by a verse in Once In Royal David’s City that I hadn’t seen before, containing these lines:

“Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as he.”
What's not to love?

What’s not to love?


Interestingly as I googled it for this post I found some versions of the lyrics without this verse, and some saying “should be” rather than “must be”. I’m clearly not the only person who struggles with the concept of telling my children to model their behaviour on baby Jesus, who had a helping hand in being a good child because he was the son of God and all that. And yet we tell our children to be obedient, mild, good, if they want Father Christmas to come. What mother won’t use everything at her disposal in those frantic weeks leading up to the big day?

Maybe that’s my problem with it all. I’m agnostic. My belief tends towards Nature or the Universe or some Spirit of Humanity, rather than an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being. I respect the idea of Faith in God – envy it sometimes – but don’t have it. My husband is atheist. So, between us, we don’t believe in invisible beings watching and controlling our lives.

Of course that didn’t stop me, last Christmas, saying a dozen times a day “Father Christmas is watching” although my aim was only to get them to smile. So, “Father Christmas is watching, show him your best cheesy grin.” It worked like a charm and staved off the teary tantrums of this time of year.

My daughter goes to a Church of England school and I’m okay with that. Christianity is more than a religion. It’s part of my country’s heritage. She should know the tenets of the faith so she can choose later what she believes, armed with some knowledge.

I make sure the kids know the real meaning of Christmas too

I make sure the kids know the real meaning of Christmas too

I went to a non CofE primary school until I was eight years old, and moved to where I live now. I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer or any hymns, and my school friends were amazed. I’m glad that my daughter will learn them, if only for when she goes to weddings as an adult!

Besides, religion teaches forgiveness and love and good deeds, and who doesn’t want their child to learn all that? My role, as I see it, is to temper the school’s teachings by allowing her to question what she learns (not that I’m even remotely qualified to answer her questions!)

However, if I let her challenge the stories of the bible, should I let her question the existence of Father Christmas? Already she doesn’t really seem to believe all that much. She said of her letter from Santa, “That’s really from you, Mummy, isn’t it?” and thankfully I didn’t actually have to lie because it came from a charity. Still it’s close to lying. She’s only four but I sense it won’t be long before she asks me outright if it’s all true. When that time comes, should I destroy faith, destroy the magic, or deceive a child and potentially break her faith in the honesty of a parent?

Daughter learns about Jesus at school

Daughter learns about Jesus at school

My good friend solved the dilemma by taking her child, at five years old, to Lapland to meet the man himself. Pricey but maybe worth it to preserve the magic. I wonder if even that would work for my little girl (particularly as she hates the cold and snow!) even if we could afford it.

And, if belief in Father Christmas is like religion, surely meeting the man defeats the object? Isn’t the whole point to have faith without evidence? Like the ironic line from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, “Your faith was strong but you needed proof.”

(Incidentally, for some great discussions on faith and religion you can’t do better than Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, particularly Carpe Jugulum. Granny Weatherwax’s best quote is this one:

“You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just . . . is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.” )

Anyway, we seem to be okay for now. She accepts the existence of baby Jesus, she accepts the concept of Father Christmas. She’s excited about getting gifts and spending time with the family, but mostly she looks forward to opening her chocolate advent calendar every day and can’t wait until the end of term. Exhausted and tearful and tired, I think she’s approaching the arrival of Christmas pretty much as I am: with relief!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Can I come and see you this weekend?”

There was an air of forced casualness in Conor’s words. Claire cradled the phone to her ear and looked out her bedroom window at the view down the hill to the sea. The hostel was a million miles away from the one in Swanage: clean, bright, modern, with comfy beds and duvets, and en-suite facilities. Despite the ache in her chest that told her she missed Conor, she was happy to be there by herself. Still the weekend was a few days away, who knew how she might feel by then.

“I don’t have to come, if you’d rather be alone.” Conor’s voice sounded strained and Claire felt a shiver run across her skin.

“Yes, of course you can come this weekend. Sorry, I didn’t mean to hesitate; I was just trying to work out which hostel I’ll be in by then.” A small white lie to take away the hurt.

“Why don’t you ring around for a private room and let me know what you find?”

Now his words made her shiver in anticipation and she smiled. “You’re on.”

“Grand. So, tell me about your day.”

Claire leant against the wall and chatted about surfing, and the hostel, and her call home to catch up with her nephews. It felt strange, talking about things outside work. Conor listened attentively, asking questions and adding his opinion. Claire realised it had been a long time since she’d had a grown-up conversation with someone other than Kim. As the thought drifted through her mind, she remembered that Kim had wanted to catch up with her after the Carnival.

“Damn.” Her outburst cut through Conor’s review of a band he had seen the week before.

“What is it?”

“I just remembered that Kim wanted me to visit her this weekend, because her sister is home from Hong Kong. What with everything, I completely forgot. She’s going to kill me, I haven’t even called. That’s two lots of people I’ve let down in as many weeks.”

“Sure but it’s my fault, Claire. I kept you busy with work for the Carnival and then, well…” He trailed off.

Claire put a hand to her forehead, trying to subdue the stabbing pain in her temples. “Look, I need to call Kim. Can I get back to you about the weekend?”

“Of course. Your friends need to come first, I’ll still be here.”

Claire couldn’t quite read his words. Was he not classing himself as a friend, or making a dig that she wasn’t putting him first? She shook her head. It was too hard to fathom. Wishing him a quick farewell, she hung up the phone then scrolled through for Kim’s number.

“Hello, stranger.” Kim answered the phone on the second ring.

“Hi, Kim. I’m so sorry I haven’t called sooner. The Carnival was manic.” She hesitated, unsure what to say about Conor. Before she could decide whether to mention it or not, Kim started talking again.

“It’s alright for some. I’d give anything to get back to work. I’m still waiting for the doctor to say I’m fit.” She gave an irate snort and Claire felt her heart sink into her stomach. The happy Kim she had spoken to a week before seemed to have vanished again.

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” she said in a soothing voice, wary of annoying Kim further. “Is Helena home yet?”

“Oh yes. The prodigal daughter returned this weekend, proudly displaying her bump.” Kim cackled and Claire thought the sound didn’t suit her. She didn’t like to hear her friend being nasty, even about her sister.

I guess it’s no different than how I feel about Robert.

“So she is pregnant then. How do you feel about that?”

“Sodding angry, to be honest. I lose my baby and get told I can’t have another one, and my sister gets up the duff with some bloke she barely knows. At least she’s decided to keep it. I don’t think I could stand it if she’d had a termination, whoever the fella is.”

The pain in Claire’s head stabbed sharper. She wanted to empathise with Kim, but what did she know of babies and wanting to become a mother? She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a girlfriend, never mind anything else. And the bitter jealousy in Kim’s voice was hard to take, however much she knew and sympathised with the cause.

“Do you still want me to come and visit?” Claire held her breath, hoping for an answer in the negative.

“Good God, yes. Come and save me from her sanctimonious preaching, please.”

Claire inhaled silently and deeply, and then had a brainwave. “Why don’t you both come down here? I’m in a charming hostel, five minutes from the beach, and the forecast for the weekend is gorgeous.” She hesitated, then plunged on. “And you can come hang out with my new man, if you like.” If Conor came to stay, she wouldn’t have to share a room with Kim and Helena.

“Claire, you old dog, you’ve been keeping secrets. Is that the real reason you’ve abandoned me. Come on, spill the beans. Who is it? Is it your boss? It is, isn’t it. You’re shagging the boss. Ha ha that’s priceless.”

Claire winced at Kim’s tone. “Yes, it’s Conor. If that’s how you feel, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to stay all in the same place. It’s not like we work in the same office or anything, so it’s not how you make it sound.”

“Oh get off your high horse, you muppet. If you like him then good on you. From what I can remember he was pretty dishy. Mind you, that might have been the drugs.” She laughed. “I’ll have a chat with Helena, but I’m sure she’ll agree. Anything to get away from Mum’s fussing.”

As Claire hung up the phone she wondered if it was too late to get a flight to the Maldives before the weekend.


Christmas Grump: 2013 365 Challenge #335

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

I love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. I love buying presents, wrapping them and putting them under the tree. I love decorating the tree, and Christmas lights and tinsel.

In the past I’ve made wreaths from scratch with fir-tree branches and pine cones. I’ve hand made Christmas cards and sent them to dozens of people with individual messages in each one. I agonise over gifts to get the perfect present and don’t really have anything I want for myself. Hubbie’s never been a great fan of the season, but Christmas is me to the very core.

Then I had my daughter, and the magic continued. I dressed my daughter up in a Mrs Christmas outfit, aged 10 months, and she was adorable. I made Christmas sacks and Christmas cards with hand and feet prints on them. Magical.

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

I had my son. And that Christmas was special too, if slightly stressful, as we hosted 13 to dinner in our barely finished kitchen. But my son was only three months old, and poorly, so I did very little on Christmas Day but make little felt stars and sit in the corner breastfeeding, surrounded by family. Gorgeous.

It all went down hill from there. The children started noticing Christmas. The pressure to get the perfect presents, to make it magical for them, too, increased. And my time diminished. I no longer had endless head-space to plan presents, or endless evenings to sew and make. My temper got shorter and my nerves tighter. Christmas started too early and went on too long.

This year has been the worst so far. It’s not even December for another few hours, and already I’ve turned into Scrooge. I’m trying, I really am. We went to see Father Christmas arrive at the farm today, as he pulled up in his white carriage drawn by shire horses, accompanied by Mrs Christmas. It should have been great. But his cushion had slipped and he didn’t say hello to my son, which made him sad.

Children's tree

Children’s tree

And the lies had to start. “Why can’t we see him and get a gift today, Mummy?” “Because it’s too early, because it’s busy, because, because…” The real reason is the Farm have two men playing Father Christmas, and we’ve always seen the other one, who I used to do Panto with when I was a teenager. He’s fab. He makes Christmas for us. But he doesn’t start until the 16th, and now my daughter’s at school that means we won’t see him until 21st December. That’s a long way off.

The lies are the hardest part of Christmas. You have to be alert to lie consistently and with conviction. I’m rubbish at it. And my children are smart. I’m trying to create the magic, but it doesn’t come with a handbook, and quite frankly I miss being able to get ready for Christmas in my own little magical bubble.

I can’t even share the pain with the hubbie, because obviously some of the gifts are for him, and surprising him is one of the few joys left. Because the other problem is, my children are a bit spoilt. Yes, I know; my fault. When my daughter got her bike, two years ago, she said, “Where’s the bell?”

She gets it from me. Because I want Christmas to be perfect, I do have a tendency to be a bit ungrateful when I get an utterly random gift that I think is a waste of money. I try to hide it, but did I mention I’m rubbish at lying? It’s a minefield.

The finished tree

The finished tree

Oh, and money, there’s the other stress this year. I dreamed I got caught shop lifting last night, and I think it was my psyche telling me that might be the last resort (joke!). It’s not that we don’t have the money, but because I haven’t earned a penny this year, I don’t feel like it’s mine to spend. I’d have to sell a lot of books to buy even one gift! Not like in the days when I earned proper cash as a contractor!

Anyway, I’m getting my grumble and gripe out now, before December arrives (even though you’ll be reading this in a few hours, when it is December!) so hopefully I can work on the magic. Try and stress less, do less, and concentrate on getting through a whole hour with the children without wanting to scream.

I did manage to let them decorate the tree earlier, and only ‘tidied’ it up a little bit, removed some of the tinsel and added the lights. (It helped that I’m reading a good book, so I kept my head down and didn’t watch!)

Please tell me it gets easier, though? The lying at least.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Leave him alone.” Claire’s voice whipped across the empty space, stopping Robert as he was about to follow after his son.

“I will not have a child of mine talk to me like that.” The urbane smile was gone, replaced by a dangerous red flush. “Two weeks with you and they’ve turned savage.” He pulled his arm free of the wide-eyed woman by his side, and once more turned to go.

“I said leave him!” Claire’s shout echoed off the white walls and glass doors. Robert turned slowly to face her, his eyes wild.

“Stay out of this, Claire. You’ve had nothing to do with the boys all their lives; don’t start playing Auntie now; it doesn’t suit you.”

“It suits me better than father suits you. When did you become such a monster, Robert? You were always a whiny child, but I don’t remember you being such a wanker.”

Jack sniggered behind her, and Claire flushed as she remembered there was still one of her nephews in the room. She looked over and gave him a rueful smile. “Jack, why don’t you go and see if your brother’s alright? I’m just going to have a chat with your dad.”

With a mischievous grin, Jack nodded and silently left the room. Claire noticed that he gave Gabriella a kind smile, and Claire wondered what the poor girl must make of her welcome. Judging from her bemused expression, Claire decided she probably didn’t speak very good English.

Just as well.

She dismissed her from her mind and turned her attention back to Robert. He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at her, his chin jutting out pugnaciously. He looked ridiculous. Claire felt the anger drain away, taking all her vicious words with it.

“What possessed you to bring her here? As far as I can gather, the boys haven’t even met her yet, and you turn up two hours late to collect them and coolly announce you’re engaged. What planet are you on?”

“I don’t see how that’s any business of yours.”

“When you ask me to look after your children, while you’re off seducing a girl half your age, then you make it my business. Are you having a midlife crisis, is that it? A beautiful wife and two gorgeous boys not enough for you?”

“Francesca, beautiful? All this time alone living like a peasant has screwed with your brain. The woman’s a bitch. All she cares about are her vacuous friends and her spa treatments.”

Privately Claire couldn’t disagree. She didn’t know her sister-in-law that well, but from what she could remember of her at the wedding years before, she didn’t have many redeeming features.

“You married her, Robert. For better or worse. I was there.”

“Grow up, Claire. No one believes in that, ‘’Til death do us part’ crap anymore. I grew tired of her whining and her constant demands.”

“So you threw her over for a younger model, leaving your boys stuck in the middle. Very mature, Robert, very grown up.”

“I’m not going to take relationship advice from my harlot of a little sister, who can’t even keep a man for more than a few months.”

Claire reeled from his words as if they were a blow. With rapid breaths, she took three quick strides across the room and slapped his smug, arrogant, face as hard as she could. She smiled in satisfaction as his head snapped back, even as the numbness and pain shot up her arm.

“Get out, Robert. Now.” She pointed at the door, ignoring the throbbing in her wrist. “Go and leave the boys with me. You don’t deserve them.”

Robert felt his cheek with fingers, before looking up with hatred in his eyes. “Are you insane?”

“No, I’m not. I’m perfectly lucid. I will take the boys to Mum’s house and they can stay there until Francesca comes to collect them. Or they can transfer to a British school and come and stay with me in the holidays. Anything has to be better than having you hurt them any more with your towering indifference.”

She panted, as if she’d run up the cliff from the sea, but her mind felt clear. Knowing she would regret it in the morning, Claire stalked past her brother and went to find Jack and Alex.

“Boys, come and say goodbye to your father, he and Gabriella are leaving.”


Sanguine Saturday: 2013 365 Challenge #328

Can I come out now?

Can I come out now?

I’m starting to really enjoy Saturdays since my daughter started school. For the first time I can vaguely relate to the host of mothers who look forward to the school holidays.

I used to follow the debate with interest, as those mothers climbing the walls by day two of a school vacation fail to understand the mums that love every minute. I will be a bit of both, I have no doubt, but the fact that there is anything to look foward to is encouraging.

I was wide awake at 4.30am this morning, despite it being the weekend. Hubbie was out with work last night and I fell asleep on the sofa at 8pm, as I have been doing all week. I feel like I have jetlag. I’m not even watching the cricket (as a Brit, I’m happy to give it a miss just now). I think it’s the time of year, with the dark nights and a brain buzzing with Christmas plans; it throws my body clock out of kilter.

So I ventured downstairs in the wee freezing hours and ended up standing at the family computer (which is on top of the piano at the moment!) for four hours looking at photos for November’s cover. The children shuffled down at 7.30am and hubbie appeared nearer ten o’clock, despite not drinking on his night out. We’re getting old!

First handwritten letter

First handwritten letter

The thing I love about Saturdays is the way the children take themselves off to play while hubbie and I get a chance to chat. Today, my daughter was running school in the playroom, teaching my son his words. Aside from a gentle reminder to her that he’s only three and can’t read yet, they occupied themselves for hours without intervention. The trampoline has been a godsend, too, allowing our energetic boy to burn off steam without getting into trouble.

I finally dragged myself away from online Christmas shopping to cook lunch and encourage the kids to write their letters to Father Christmas. They’re not really hyped up about the big day (I worry that they’re spoiled because they can take or leave getting presents – they’re more interested in their chocolate advent calendars) but I need to be organised this year, if I’m going to find time to write a satisfying ending for Claire.

After lunch I risked a trip to the local shopping centre to get white tights for my daughter’s nativity (she’s an angel) and to let the children to cash in their reward charts. Goodness me the supermarket was heaving, but my darlings were superstars. Funny how much more relaxed they are when I’m not in a hurry. I guess it took a strict routine for me to appreciate the freedom we always had before.

I’m not saying the school holidays don’t still fill me with trepidation, but there is a ray of light. The contrast to the school run stress and chaos appears blissful, at least from this vantage point in the middle of it. For the first time since the children were born I’m looking forward to the end of term.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked at the faces staring expectantly across the table at her and wanted to scream. The boys had only been with her for a week, and she had crammed as many activities as possible into their days, not just to wear them out, but to keep herself from flying apart.

When they were occupied they didn’t bicker and she had more space to think about her assignment. Although time to think wasn’t always a blessing. Conor hadn’t been in touch since the visit to St. Mawes Castle. She kept reminding herself that a week in the office wasn’t like a week with two boys to entertain, and that he’d just been too busy to contact her.

As the weekend came and went with no surprise visit, she couldn’t ignore the insidious sense of disappointment that sharpened her temper and dulled her senses.

“What are we doing today, Aunt–, I mean Claire?” Jack was the first to break the silence. After a week together they had finally learnt it was best to wait until she’d drunk at least one cup of coffee before they badgered her with requests.

Claire looked from Jack to Alex, trying to work out how much energy she had and what activities were left on the list. They’d been based in the same hostel all week – one without internet or phone signal, which was driving her almost as crazy as it was Alex. Part of their daily routine incorporated locating a café with free WiFi.

“Are we moving to a different hostel today?” Alex looked up from his phone, having long since given up waving it around in an attempt to find the elusive spot where a text message might go.

Claire smiled warmly at her eldest nephew. “Yes, Alex. I have to say, you’ve coped brilliantly with the lack of contact with the outside world. I’m sorry it didn’t occur to me to check before I booked us in here. The location is brilliant, though, isn’t it? And the pool table has been fun?”

Alex nodded without enthusiasm. Claire suspected their hilltop location, with views to die for and a crystal clear beach in walking distance, had been more her idyllic holiday destination than theirs. The next hostel on the list wasn’t much better, but they were only there for one night, possibly two.

“We’re staying next to the lighthouse tonight – that will be fun, won’t it? Although let’s hope it isn’t foggy. Apparently the foghorn sounds all night in bad weather.”

“Wicked,” Jack said with a grin. “Can we go in it?”

Jack was definitely more her kindred spirit. He’d done the cliff top walks, the pony ride and jungle trek with obvious delight, whilst Alex had only really come alive at the theme park. Claire shuddered at the memory of being dragged on the rides, and wondered why she hadn’t thought to take the boys there when Conor was with them, instead of to the castle.

Their windsurfing lesson the day before – which Claire had excused herself from, claiming work commitments – had been Jack’s crowning glory, as he’d been the only lad of his age to come near to controlling the unwieldy craft in the allotted time. Claire wondered if there was anything that might remotely interest Alex.

“Yes, I believe you can play lighthouse keeper,” she said, in response to Jack’s question. “I think you even get to sound the foghorn and have a go at tracking ships.”

“Brilliant.” Jack said, and received a disgusted look from his brother. “What? Just because you’re in lurve,” he drew out the word, “doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be boring.”

Alex punched him on the arm and Claire concealed a smile, for once not irritated by their fighting. It had taken a while to get used to the physicality of brothers. With two sisters in the house, Robert hadn’t been a rough-and-tumble child, although she remembered a few times when they’d fought. Mostly he and Ruth had been the ones at war, verbally more than physically. Claire found the fighting easier to deal with than the telling tales and snide remarks she remembered from her own childhood.

“Leave him alone, Jack, and Alex, don’t hit your brother.” She drained the last of her coffee, making a mental note to pick up takeaway when they stopped at the café, and stood up.

“Right, here’s the plan. We’ll go check in, visit the lighthouse, and get our bearings. Alex gets to choose tomorrow’s activity.”

A surprised smile from the older child rewarded her suggestion and she returned it gladly. As they left the breakfast room in relative harmony, Claire felt that she might be starting to get the hang of this parenting lark.


Flexible Minds: 2013 365 Challenge #322

Morris Dancers

Morris Dancers

It seems everything has an up side, when you look at it. Hubbie and I are pretty rubbish at making plans at the weekend. The children don’t do any classes and we don’t have set routine things like cleaning or shopping because I do all that during the week. About the only thing we try and do is go swimming on a Sunday morning at the local pool.

The children had swimming lessons at a gorgeous private pool for a while, until it became far too expensive, and we kept up the routine all last winter. In the summer, of course, we swim in my mum’s little pool. But last week it was time to restart the weekend swim.

So, eventually, after I had written my post, and the children were fed and dressed, we made it to the pool. Only to find out it was closed until the afternoon to non-swimmers, because the pool was broken. (They have a snazzy moveable floor and they lift the ends to under a metre for the little kids. Only one end was stuck above the water level.)

Reindeer and elves

Reindeer and elves

We managed to just about redeem last weekend by a trip to the nearby indoor play centre, and we actually had a lovely morning. This week we made sure we had learnt our lesson. After we were up and dressed and ready to leave, we phoned the pool to see if it was open. It wasn’t. Unfortunately we made the mistake of letting the children hear the conversation and “Want to go swimming, now!” ensued.

We looked into going to a different pool but, like me, hubbie isn’t great at unexpected new. So we dithered. The children whined. They’d already had a whole day of broken plans on Saturday, after the abandoned trip to the zoo, and had coped with that brilliantly.

It turned out hubbie was a bit lost about the whole thing, too. I guess we all get something stuck in our heads. So, by mid morning, a plan was required. Grandad wasn’t answering his phone, the weather was too dismal for a walk.

A yellow elephant?

A yellow elephant?

Thankfully I remembered seeing a flyer on the kitchen table about Christmas events at our local garden centre! Hurrah, it was the day. We’d already missed the parade and the arrival of Father Christmas, but I was okay with that, as it’s a bit early for them to visit the grotto. But I knew there would be other activities, so off we went.

It was great. We met the horses that pulled Father Christmas’s carriage. There were morris dancers and most of the staff were dressed as elves. We had to hunt for balloons and flags, which had been given out during the parade (a nice old man found a couple under some shelves!), but even that was fun.

We didn’t bother with the Punch and Judy or the biscuit decoration because it was heaving. But we went to see the reindeer and we started to queue for face painting. There were six children ahead of us in the queue after twenty minutes (it was free!), when another genius idea popped into my head (I’ll do anything not to queue).

Spooky man with glass ball

Spooky man with glass ball

“Why don’t we buy a cake and go to Grandma’s and I’ll paint your faces when we get home?” I said brightly, muttering quietly, “As long as you don’t look in a mirror,” much to the amusement of a waiting mother. “Can I have a blue cat?” Littlest Martin said. “Of course,” I nodded, praying the cheap face paints I bought and never opened had blue.

So, that was the plan. We were lucky enough to find the balloon man with few children waiting, so we had some balloon models made on the way out. The children asked for Father Christmas and an elephant and got Father Christmas’s teddy and a yellow thing that looked more like a giraffe. They didn’t care.

We watched the spooky many with the glass ball and we went to the supermarket for cake. When we got home I painted a blue cat on my son’s face (my first attempt at face painting and it wasn’t so bad, considering my set doesn’t have black!) and my daughter did her own.

DIY Face Painting

DIY Face Painting

And, do yo know what? There were virtually no trantrums all day. A whole weekend of mixed up plans and last minute changes and they took it all in their stride. They’re three and four years old. They put me to shame! (I’ve been known to have a tantrum or two if things don’t go to plan.)

So even the bits of parenting you think you’re rubbish at – being consistent, making plans without letting the children know in case they change, changing your mind at the last minute, refusing to queue – even those things can turn out to have value.

Everything happens for a reason. 😉


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire’s ears thrummed with rage, as she drove blindly along the country lanes to the hostel. How dare he? How dare Robert interrupt like that? Wasn’t it enough that she was saving his arse, looking after his brats while he went of canoodling with his new lady friend?

She wrenched at the wheel, to avoid a pigeon sitting in the road, and nearly put the car in the hedge. Adrenalin coursed through her body, making her hands tremble. She loosened the vice-like grip of one hand and slammed it against the horn, even though the bird was now twenty yards behind her.

By the time she reached the hostel her anger was piled high like the stacks of clouds lining the endless horizon, obscuring the blue sky and promising a howling storm. Claire pulled into the right driveway, glad she’d already visited the hostel once to check in, and abandoned the car.

Striding into the hostel she wondered what exactly she was going to say to Robert. She hadn’t yelled at him since she was twelve; she certainly hadn’t had such an overpowering urge to gouge his eyes out since they were children.

The hostel seemed deserted as she stalked through the rooms, and her anger began to seep away. She reached the red lounge and stopped short at the sight of two boys wrestling on the sofa.

Great. I had to bump into the kids before finding Robert. I don’t even know which one is which.

Forcing a smile on a face that ached with tension, Claire slowed down to a walk, hoping these were indeed her nephews.

“Hi boys, great to see you. Where’s your father.”

“Bonjour, tante Claire, comment vas-tu?” the youngest boy beamed at her. Claire reeled as if she’d been shot.

Oh crap. Robert didn’t mention that the brats don’t speak English. What the…? I haven’t done French since school.

“Bonjour, ça vas bien, merci.” She smiled brightly, hoping no further communication would be necessary. Pummelling her brain for the word for father, she stuttered, “Où est ton père?”

One of the boys pointed out the door and rattled off a sentence that Claire didn’t understand. She tried not to look blank, but the amusement on the boy’s face suggested she’d failed. He mimed talking on a phone and Claire nodded. With a half wave she turned and hurried out.

Robert I am going to kill you.

She found him sitting in the courtyard, looking relaxed in an open shirt and sunglasses propped on his head, despite the clouds gathering above them. As she stood watching, he spoke into the phone in rapid French. Something about his demeanour brought to mind sweet nothings, although he spoke too fast for her to understand a word. When it didn’t seem likely that he would end the call anytime soon, she cleared her throat.

Robert looked up without a trace of embarrassment. He gave a cool nod and raised one hand as if signalling to a secretary to give him a minute. Claire felt the blood rise again, and looked around for something to hit him with. Robert’s eyes widened slightly and he said a rapid farewell before hanging up the phone.

“You’re here finally, then.”

Claire ground her teeth. “You’ve got some nerve. You called me away from a business meeting, you failed to mention your boys only speak French and now you have the audacity to act like I’m some tardy underling. You can take your brats back to Geneva with you, and you can rot.”

She took some satisfaction from the look of consternation on his face. With a vicious grin and a toss of her hair, she spun round and went in search of a cup of tea.