And so another Christmas Day draws to a close. Hubbie is watching Star Wars on the TV, the children are fast asleep, the house is littered with piles of new possessions and the dog is slumped exhausted on our feet.
It’s been a wonderful day. The sun shone brightly from a warm sky, without a breath of the predicted storms and gales. Aside from a small panic attack (literally – hubbie tells me it was quite impressive) when Santa’s Little Helper discovered some gifts hadn’t made it into daughter’s bag, as she opened her last present, all was well.
Some swift thinking (“Why don’t you go and bring Mummy’s gift upstairs, children?”) and the hiccup was skimmed over. We rode through the tantrums and tears, the whining and the “want more”. We walked to the park and enjoyed being the only ones there. Our daughter opened nearly every gift with the words, “It’s exactly what I wanted but forgot to ask for!” (Funnily enough the abacus didn’t get much interest) and our son just about grasped the concept that some of the gifts under the tree weren’t for him.
For the first time in a long time, every gift was just right. All the hours spent worrying and researching, buying and wrapping, were rewarded with smiles and thank yous and happy children. All the time spent preaching gratitude and patience seemed to pay off. Prior discussions on gift opening strategies were mostly adhered to and the only change to the plan turned out to be the right one.
Gifts were opened and played with, rather than instantly discarded for the next unwrapped box. That, more than anything, made me happy. The day became about more than just getting stuff, it became about sharing family time and having a giggle.
We played Three Little Pigs, and blew each other’s houses down. The children did some Christmas Jammin‘ (my rock star kids!) and shot cars across the room with the gravity loop. They painted pictures and did craft. It was an interactive day and I loved it.
All of it got me thinking about how planning for Christmas Day is a lot like writing a novel: You put in days and days of hard work, and the output is ‘consumed’ in a few hours. You wonder whether the effort was appreciated, but you know that the lasting memories are created by the attention to detail. Not just the grammar and punctuation, polishing and editing (think wrapping and tag writing) but also the understanding of character, the manipulation of plot (or taking note of wants and likes, and strategic gift-opening order). Details that go unnoticed but enhance the experience and enjoyment.
And, like writing a novel, the echoes last long past the consumption. We don’t have many photographs from the day today, because for once I wanted to participate rather than record, but even blurry snaps of happy faces tell a story. This Christmas was one where I put all the effort in upfront and then let the recipients connect it together into an experience. Hopefully it was a happy one for all. It certainly feels like a job well done.
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 out over the cloud-draped hills of Glastonbury Tor and sighed. It was beautiful. A different beauty to Cornwall, although she couldn’t put her finger on exactly why. Driving down the lanes, the roads were wider, the hedges lower. Even the trees seemed different in Somerset; tamer somehow.
Now I am being silly. Counties are artificial boundaries. The trees don’t know whether they’re Cornish or not.
Yet there was a difference. As she travelled back towards Dorset, ready to deliver her final report, she felt the pull of the Cornish coast like a cord attached somewhere beneath her ribs. No matter how hard she tried to rationalise the sensations, they refused to be controlled. Dorset or Cornwall, there was nothing and everything in it, and it had sod all to do with the trees.
The sky along the horizon darkened, despite the sun directly overhead, and long legs of rain stalked across the hills, pulling the clouds down to earth. It matched the heaviness in her heart. It had been nearly two weeks and still there had been no response from Conor. She told herself she didn’t want to date a sulker anyway, but it didn’t lessen the pain. Instead she’d buried herself in the report, making sure every last detail was correct. It stretched to hundreds of pages, and the presentation she was to give in a week lasted an hour.
How am I going to stand for an hour and talk, with him watching?
She shuddered. That was why you didn’t fraternise with colleagues or bosses. It always went wrong in the end.
Well, he won’t be my boss or my boyfriend from next Friday. This time next week I’ll be starting a new life, with Timothy and Gemma, Louise and Eddie and all the others.
It wasn’t exciting. Petrified was probably a closer description and every day started with a rehearsed conversation to Timothy explaining that she’d changed her mind.
Claire turned and got back into her car. It was only a short distance to the next hostel and she was keen to check in before the stalking rain reached her. She wondered if the concert that evening was under cover.
The world rolled away like a rumpled blanket as she drove along the lane, passing stiles and footpath signs that called to her to walk the hills and get wet. She fought her maudlin mood, determined not to succumb. She hadn’t realised how much she’d come to rely on the daily messages and calls from Conor, until they stopped. But with her attempt at a peace-offering rejected, her pride prevented her repeating the gesture.
Is that why I’m going to a gig? To show that I can enjoy loud music and crowds without him?
She wasn’t sure why, only that when she’d seen the poster and realised it was that evening, she’d had to go.
Claire viewed the multi-peaked blue and yellow striped tent with relief. As the clouds jostled for room in the sky above, and the rain began to fall, it was good to know there would be some shelter from a storm.
All around, people walked with golf umbrellas threatening the eyes of their neighbours, or coats held high above styled hairdos. Girls in short shorts and tight t-shirts wandered alongside blokes with crates of beer cradled in their arms. Turning up the collar of her waterproof jacket, Claire let the rain cool her skin.
At least I don’t have to worry if my hair turns into a ball of frizz. How nice to have outgrown the days of being on the pull.
The sound of the first band warming up filled the night air, as bodies crammed under the striped pavilion. Claire could see the stage in the distance; a rectangle of colour and light calling everyone forwards to join the party. Hanging outside away from the crush, Claire watched the milling people, feeling removed from their tanned skin and immaculate make-up by more than a few extra years.
Am I going to be able to relate to disadvantaged children? What do I know of their lives? I’m old before my time: look at me, with my sensible coat and shoes, drinking water and staying away from the noise? I feel like I’m in my thirties. When did I get so ancient?
As evening fell, the bonhomie expanded, travelling through the crowd by osmosis, until the beat and the laughter could be felt even at the edge of the enclosure. It seemed to flow around Claire as if she were a rock in a stream. Deep in the crowd she saw people on their partner’s shoulders, rocking to the music.
A loud crack rent the air and she jumped. Her hammering heart drowned out the music as she spun round, trying to locate the source of the noise. She was just in time to see a long fork of lightning strike the ground behind her.
The power of nature drove through her, leaving her shaking, and she ducked under the cover so as not to be an easy route to earth for the next strike. Instinctively she looked around for Conor, to make sure he was okay, and her face fell when she remembered those brief days of companionship were over.
Damn you, Conor. Damn your stupid male pride and your fickle, grasping, ex-wife.
Claire stepped back out from under the canvas, no longer concerned whether she was a target, and let the rain wash away her tears.