On the Saturday before Christmas, the government admit that the Coronavirus infection rate has once again accelerated and has thus rendered their promised 5 day Christmas free-for-all unwise. One might say silly, even. As predicted. Obviously.
Some areas were put into a new “Tier 4” lockdown overnight, making our continued “Tier 3” situation feel like a socially distanced picnic in the park. Of course, we had already decided not to travel and not to have family to stay this coming week, owing to the very high likelihood that it would be cancelled last minute, as it was … but still. I am still a little angry and frustrated that we had all those tears and sleepless nights a few weeks ago making that decision! It has been very hard to trust and respect our government this year.
But… that’s not what you come here for, right?! Let’s lighten the tone…
As it goes, the Christmas curfew and tighter lockdown measures had zero effect on our week, as we had already planned for that eventuality. (Rather a novelty for 2020, hey?!) So, instead of lamenting the lost promise of Grandparents, we settle in our new “Lodger” instead. (You know, the youth work volunteer from Germany? The one I was initially worried about entertaining for the entire festive period, but am now wondering how I can live without?!)
After a minute or so settling into her room, the Lodger starts to appear in whichever room we are in, first asking “can I help?” and then just mucking in wherever she sees fit.
She bakes. She paints. She plays board games. She plays hide and seek. She takes Polaroid pictures, watches Christmas movies, plays football and gets her hands dirty. She does all of the above with such eighteen-year-old vitality and newness that I actually manage to organise the activities, clean up in between and do the hundred and one other things I need to do without also having to simultaneously play Ludo. (As much as I love playing Ludo!) In short, I am starting to wonder if God really did send me an angel for such a time as this?!
By Sunday, The Lodger is fully integrated into our clan. Husband is out most of the day, and it transpires quickly that the children are far too hyped up about Christmas and the new addition that they will not cope with Church-in-a-bag or Church online or anything remotely conventional this morning. So… for worship, The Boy leads us in a Joe Wicks style aerobic workout to jazzed up Christmas Carols, before the Eldest directs us in a live Nativity- complete with costumes and props. The Lodger participates in all without question.
She draws the line at mud, which I have to respect!
Using a tenuous link to all of the travelling involved in the Christmas story, I set up a mud bath car wash outside and let the kids go nuts. It’s all good, messy, gooey fun; and, more importantly, everyone is cleaned up and bathed before Husband gets home! (Which isn’t particularly interesting for anyone else, but I just wanted to include it for posterity!)
In the evening, we write up some new dinner table rules with the kids, after all three end up running circles around it during Sunday dinner, shouting things about poo. I’m not entirely sure how we got to this situation and how far we can reasonably blame Christmas and a new audience, but it certainly reaches peak insanity today! And needs to be reigned in. As much as I would have loved to model Christian/ Clergy household perfection to our young onlooker, the reality is we really don’t fit that bill and would cause unnecessary stress to all involved by pretending to do so. And so instead, we end up modelling what we do do fairly well : namely, acknowledging the problem of the week/day/hour, discussing it with the kids and involving them in agreeing a solution. It is by no means perfect; we are often indecisive, inconsistent and say things that a positive-parenting-meme would reject with vomit... but on a messy, trying-our-best-to-wing-it style whole, this works for us. Our strengths, as always, are in communication: no situation or emotion goes undiscussed, and I thoroughly hope that one day, despite all else, this one strength will pay off!
Monday begins a week of all-baking, all-crafting lockdown fun, complete with additional Bubble-kids.
We make stained glass window decorations with discarded Quality Street wrappers, (which admittedly look better from the inside than the outside!). We make a peg doll nativity set that I forgot to photograph and is now scattered around the house. We make a gingerbread house completely from scratch and the Eldest decorates the Christmas cake all by herself.
Husband brings a giant crate of mushrooms home from the food pantry and we fill the freezer with soup.
And, just in case I’m not sounding Stepford Clergy Spouse enough here, I make my own candied orange peel from scratch.
Which is where the wheels start to fall off and reality is restored! I make the peel five days in advance; then prove dough all day for three homemade stollens. One for us, one for a friend and one to freeze for when my Dad finally gets to visit. All while making mince pies, gluing gingerbread houses and wrapping presents!
I then attempt to bake way too late into the night…
And with a German in the house too- such inexcusable shame!
We rescue what we can and then watch the ducks reject the rest! Note to self … focus on one thing at a time.
During the midweek evenings, I realise why normal people wrap presents in November … for not only have I left all of my kids presents unwrapped until this week, I have also recieved three boxfulls from my mother with instructions to wrap as well!
It is precisely at midnight, therefore, one evening, when the Lodger and I are holding both sides of a precarious gingerbread rooftop, waiting for the pretty pictures she has painted on my boring recyclable brown wrapping paper to dry, that I realise… even if God hasn’t sent me an actual real life angel, Santa Claus must have sent a genuine Christmas Elf?!
I mean, she’s amazing. So amazing, that she even remembers to put the other elves out before bed when I forget?!
Thus, one evening is also spent buying last minute gifts for the Lodger-Elf and then hiding in Husband’s office until midnight to wrap them (and his!)
By Christmas Eve, it’s fair to say we are all a bit over-exhausted. Toddler even has a tantrum on the toilet, insisting that I “PUT THE WEE BACK UP THERE!” Which is a moment only beaten in humour by the Eldest, who declares, (after the Lodger explains how Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve) that, “Germany has no patience, so why should I?!”
Husband asks me if I have set Zoom up properly for the online Christingle with half an hour to go and it quickly becomes clear that we both had very different expectations of the afternoon. I thought our Bubble family were coming over and we were all participating together in the lounge. He believes he made it very clear this wouldn’t be possible as there are too many of us; so he and the Lodger would be in his office where it is quiet, whilst me and super-anxious Bubble Mum would be in the lounge with 5 children, twenty cocktail sticks and five candles.
This was not what I had in mind!
I spit my dummy out because we have hardly seen him all week and I thought this was one thing we were all doing together. He spits my dummy and his back at me, because this has actually been the hardest and most draining Christmas for him to date, and he could do with me just playing along and being supportive, actually. (The poor Lodger slinks off to play with the actual children who don’t have dummies to spit!)
Thankfully, at around this point, Bubble Mum rings to say that, for reasons I can no longer remember, she isn’t coming! And so the argument clears up in an instant. We all crowd around the one tiny screen, it takes absolutely all adult hands on deck to not set fire to anything and Husband spends the rest of the night laughing hard at the very idea that we ever invited a clinicallly anxious single Mum with two toddlers around to light open flames.
Oh and then Toddler shoves the Eldest’s toy princess into all of the oranges. Standard.
And then… finally, finally… it is The Night Before Christmas!
Husband finishes work at 1am and the Youngest is in our bed by 5. The others join at 6.30- the latest all week!- and bring their loaded stockings. This is always my favourite part… the excitement that “he’s been!”, the discarded paper all over the bed and the over-appreciation of the most random things I could find in a charity shop!
After such excitement, I sneak downstairs to turn on the lights and music and make tea, then get the camera ready and call for them all to come downstairs and see what’s under the tree! (There was a short debate last night about whether or not to wake the Lodger for this, but she was desperate to see a complete British Christmas and the kids were desperate to include her in theirs, so that was a nice easy win!)
After presents and breakfast, Husband heads to Church and we attempt – and then quickly abandon- watching it online. The kids play with new toys and games, while I start preparing dinner for ten- very much aware of the irony that I am cooking my biggest Christmas dinner yet, in a year we’ve barely seen anyone!
By 1.30, everything is looking good; Husband is on the meat, I’m on the veg, the Lodger has taken the Toddler for a nap… but our guests have not turned up yet. Bubble Mum, who is rarely late, is bringing her ex-partner- the Bubblettes’ Muslim father– for the occasion, and we have discussed at length what he will and will not eat. I am a little nervous; we have never met him and he speaks little English, but as the rules were relaxed for one day only it seemed a good opportunity to merge. (Now that they are late and my timings are getting spoiled, however, I’m not so sure!)
Eventually, they turn up at half past two – only an hour late- with a 24 crate of Tango to make up for it! I say a quick hello, clarify with Bubble Dad that he’s going vegetarian today, and then run back to the kitchen to plate up, wondering if he had misunderstood me when he responded to my dinner querie with a request for coffee…?
We all sit up at the table and, for the first ten minutes, it is lovely. We ask Bubble Mum to say Grace, and I’m not sure if it’s the Vicar or the Muslim that inspires the emotional five minute evangelical homily, but it’s very cute all the same! Even after this, all five children are sat beautifully, sandwiched between parents, eating happily and quietly. When… Bubble Dad picks at his plate, eats a few pieces and then abruptly leaves the table, leaving a full Christmas Dinner in his wake. He goes into the lounge, shuts the glass door behind him and sits scrolling on his phone!
Apparently, he was an hour late because he was eating his own lunch?!
I try not to catch eyes with Husband, but accidentally lock in with the Lodger who has also decided that this is so rude, it’s funny. It then gets worse…
For of course, as soon as the Bubblettes see that Bubble Dad has left, they also climb down and follow him. He sends them back, saying, “I’m finished, you stay!” But obviously, this does not compute. They come back in but won’t sit down, choosing to run around the kitchen instead! Bubble Dad stays put, however… on the sofa… with his phone. And so Husband, who is nearest, leaves his now lukewarm dinner to chase after them instead! Now, of course, four people have left the table and so our Toddler also follows. Bubble Mum feels bad and starts suggesting she get up too…
“Don’t you dare!” I whisper. “You enjoy your meal. He’s not eating, he can do the childcare for once!”
Almost on cue, one Bubblette barges through the lounge door and accidentally swings it back into our Toddler’s head.
Uh-oh. There’s tears and turmoil- from both Toddlers and parents- until everyone is fine but my mashed potato is stone cold. Still… we got through it and lived to tell the tale!
The plates are cleared and everyone is, apparently, happy. Bubble Dad even comes back to the table for Christmas Pudding – “just a very very small piece!”- and we manage about 15 minutes of everyone being at the table at once.
We have a conversation; the man has had a very difficult life and I can just about forgive him for falling short of British dinner table etiquette! But still, as we sit discussing his escape from a war torn country, the Bubblettes are upstairs wreaking havoc in the room where the small parts have been moved to and I am losing the energy to contend. Nice as it has been, I’m pretty spent by now…
It’s time to go home!
Upon closing the door, I walk back into the kitchen, look at Husband and laugh as he shakes his head and concludes, “you know you’re not doing Ministry properly until you’ve had a Christmas Day like that!”
Now for Pyjamas, movies, chocolate … and a whole lot of nothing in the mix!
(Belatedly… and at an hour no one will read it.. but thus concludes my 40th blog post of 2020! I am pretty chuffed with that. Thanks for following. Happy New Year!)