Nativity Tales

Last week was a double whammy of nativity action here. We had a dancing shepherd on Tuesday and a bewildered king on Wednesday. Both were very sweet and made me want to cry. Just as it should be.

These were my seventh and eighth nativities staring my little ones and each one has been memorable. Not always for the right reasons. In fact, our nativity journey got off to a very shaky start indeed.

 

1. The Reluctant Shepherd

img_1764Our H was 3 and he wasn’t the confident, bubbly 3-year old his younger siblings were to become. He was a creature of habit, totally thrown by change and new situations. He wasn’t yet remotely into dressing up and had no interest in performing.

Basically, it would have been hard to dream up a more alien and upsetting thing to do to him than dress him up as a shepherd, drop him off at a hall he didn’t know with nursery staff on a non-nursery day and expect him to walk past his Mum, up onto a brightly lit stage to sing carols.

He sobbed while I tried to extract myself from him at the drop off and didn’t even make it onto the stage before being handed over in floods. The entire nativity was spent with him curled up on my lap, burying his face in my jumper.

I relayed this story to H this week as I thought it might amuse him, 5 years down the line. He thought about it, looked a little sad and said in his wonderfullly old-fashioned way, “Well, I’m a bit disappointed in myself to be honest”. I explained that he was only 3, that his reaction was completely understandable.

But at the time, I have to admit, I was disappointed too. A few nativities in, I wouldn’t have minded at all. But this was my first time and it was sad and pretty traumatic. Not what I had hoped for at all.

 

2. The Weepy Sheep

img_1765H’s second nativity, in his first year at school, was a bit more successful. He made it onto the stage for a start, which was progress. He looked completely bewildered as one of a handful of sheep but he vaguely sang when he was supposed to and stood up and sat down at the right times. More to the point, he was utterly adorable and I got my nativity warm glow. A year later than hoped, but it was worth the wait. What is it about seeing your little one on stage doing a Christmas show that makes you weep like a baby?

It all went beautifully, until the very end when our dear little sheep realised that he was going to have to go back to the classroom, rather than come home with his Mum and grandparents. He left the hall with
his bottom lip well and truly quivering and me wanting to run after him, scoop him up and carry him off for a cuddle.

 

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3. Safety in Numbers

Third time round for H and I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have worried. He had got the measure of this shit now and, whilst not exactly relishing it, he endured brilliantly. His entire class were cast as angels and I think he was glad to be lost in the chorus. He wore his tinsel trimmed t-shirt with style and looked utterly gorgeous.

The only thing that stopped me sobbing like a baby was having T, an actual baby, strapped to my front. I was a bit preoccupied trying to keep my little bundle quiet as he waved his arms and legs about and cooed at the lights.

 

 

4. Voice of an Angel

img_1763This is when shit got real, friends. M, my confident little performer, took to the stage in full angel garb for her first nativity, aged 3, and absolutely shone. All she had to do was stand on the stage and sing but she did it with such gusto that the lady running the nursery asked her if she would like to do an impromptu solo into the mic.

Well, you don’t have to ask M twice. She sang Away in a Manger, all on her own, in the most angelic voice you can imagine. Cried? I nearly flooded the bloody hall. I had other parents coming up to me to congratulate me on my adorable, talented daughter.

I feel this may be our nativity zenith. It’s gonna be hard to top.

 

img_17585. All Hail the King

Forth and final nativity for H and he bloody NAILED it! As one of the big kids in Year 2 he had a speaking part, a king, and not only was he great but he also kept the other two kings in line, telling them when to sit down and nudging them when they forgot their lines. I have never been more proud of my handsome little lad.

You see, it’s all very well to steal the show as a precocious angel when you are a natural on stage. But my H is most definitely not a natural. He doesn’t love the limelight. It’s just not his bag. Three nativities of sweat and tears led us up to this point. And man, it was beautiful.

Before you ask, yep, I cried. A lot.

 

img_17626. Heavenly Knickers

M’s second time around, an angel again, was very sweet but my overriding memory of this one will always be her sitting legs akimbo on stage, costume hooked up round her waist, flashing her angelic pink pants to the entire audience for the majority of the show.

 

img_17597. The Over-Enthusiastic Shepherd

As a lowly Year 1, M’s entire class took the junior parts this year. You should have heard her incredulously telling me that, not only was she not an angel this time but she had to be either an innkeeper or a shepherd and that she was only on stage for one measly song! Outraged.

Despite her disappointment, M made a fantastic shepherd. Her role involved some hammy snoring and lots of dancing, which she was delighted by. I also finally got to put a tea towel on the head of one of my kids for a nativity too, which felt like a rite of passage.

 

8. The King of Confusion

So now we come to T. I have to admit that when I saw he had been cast as a king for his first nativity – a fairly pivotal role – my heart sank. I was convinced that my non-conformist would not play ball in the least and would leave me cringing in embarrassment at the back of the hall while he did his own thing.

To avoid this, I spent weeks explaining what a nativity was: that he would wear an outfit, go up on stage and sing songs. Not only did T never seem to take this in, no matter how often I said it, but he went out of his way to change the subject, as if he was in denial about the whole process. I wasn’t confident.

img_1761One of the kings was off sick so the 2 wise men headed down the aisle to applause. If one of the nursery staff hadn’t been holding his hand to guide him, T would have veered left and come to sit on my lap. But he reluctantly plodded on up the steps, sat down and even sang some of the songs, although he drew the line at doing the actions.

Then came his big moment: time to give his gift to Baby Jesus. Well, being a 3-year old kid from a non-religious family, he didn’t have a frickin clue who Baby Jesus was. He carried his little gold box across the stage, wandering aimlessly past the crib in confusion. When he finally understood what was being asked of him, he dropped the box on the baby’s head and legged it back to his seat.

Afterwards, T refused point blank to talk about it again. Although my funny little boy did seem quite pleased with all the praise.

 

Its been quite a ride so far. Who knew how much nativities can make you cry? But also so many smiles and memories made. We have another 4 nativities to go by my estimation. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Happy Christmas. X

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The Most Magical of Numbers

img_1741I bloody adore having a 3-year old. Yep, I really do. And the stupid thing is that, third time round, I’ve only just realised how great 3 can be.

Through the toughest of times with three kids all pretty close in age, I dreamed of the day when my youngest would turn 3. It was my target, my light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. I felt that, if I could just make it that far, it would all slot into place. What I didn’t know was just how well it would work. It seems that 3 really is the magic number I had dreamed of. I’m delighted to have been proved right for once.

You see, having a 3-year old when you also have a small baby latched on to you or kicking off is far from fun. In fact it royally sucks. 3-year old kids and babies are, unfortunately, two of the most incompatible things there are. With a first child, you can immerse yourself in their needs. Your world can revolve around their schedule and, whilst that can drag you down at times, the moment you have more than one you realise what an utter godsend that single focus was. Introduce another baby – and then another if you are stupid like me – and you are playing a whole different game, one where meeting the needs of one often means doing so at the expense of another. More than one kid to focus on basically means that things will never be the same again.

img_1752Your baby has to grow up fast when they are no longer the youngest. They have to share you and you are horribly torn between them and the newcomer. It can be a stressful and upsetting time for everyone involved. Getting you and however many kids are you trolling about with through the day is a major achievement in itself. There is certainly no time to smell the roses. Besides which, you are usually too bloody knackered to even notice there are any roses. Which basically means you miss a lot of the loveliness a 3-year old has to offer. It is an utterly adorable age it transpires, but I was never capable of seeing it before, so buried was I in baby.

Having a 3-year old without a baby in your arms is a wholely different experience. It is lighter, both physically (no massive bags of nappies and baby stuff) and mentally (no utter exhaustion and living on an emotional knife edge). My little boy is my sole focus for much of the time now and it is just wonderful. He is such a strong character, a funny, clever and unique little man who I actively enjoy hanging out with. He has his moments of course, as all 3-year olds do, but he is well beyond the entirely unreasonable phase of the terrible twos and can be coaxed out of most strops. Rare is the blind rage meltdown.

Friends with bigger age gaps or just one child have often said how much they like this age but I could never see it. It was such hard work with the first two and my memories of it are a blur of stress and sleep deprivation. But now I finally get it. And they were right. 3 can be really wonderful.

img_1751Having this particular 3-year old is especially good. No terrible threes here. T is an utterly gorgeous bundle of blonde fluff and cuddly round edges. He is sassy and pushes the boundaries but he does it with a cheeky smile. And, as I am no longer torn in twenty directions at the same time, I am far more patient with him. It is such a privilege to be able to spend this time with him without another kid coming up behind, draining my energy and my patience.  I can see him clearly for what he is, not just what he needs from me. And we can suit ourselves, without an annoying, bawling hanger-on dictating to us.

It also feels much more physically close this time round. Cuddles can be on demand, not awkwardly over a feeding baby’s head or on hold until I can put the baby down without it screaming blue murder. T is a naturally demonstrative lad and he is lucky enough to have cuddles on tap. One of the many advantages of being the baby of the family.

img_1737Another advantage is how very loved he is by his older siblings. They are protective, kind and utterly indulgent of him most of the time. They bicker but both the older ones are mostly very accommodating of his funny ways. He has been raised in the mob and nurtured by gentle siblings. Being third, with a second child buffer zone, he has never been exposed to that full-on jealously when a previously only child meets their first sibling. M was in the middle and has always had to share everything so she was nothing but kindness to her baby brother from day one. He honestly doesn’t know how lucky he is to have never known any different. And it makes him a happy, self-assured young man, surrounded by love and far more patient and confident parents than H and M had in their threenage years.

Enjoying this last year of a preschooler makes me deeply happy. And optimistic for the future of our little family unit too. I’ve not yet reached a milestone when I have wished myself back a phase. I don’t
want to do the baby bit again. I don’t want to do toddlers or teething, the heart-in-your-mouth clumsiness of first steps or the tantrums of the twos. Things are easier now, at long last, more balanced and less stressful as we are stepping away for the deeply physically draining stage into something new. Something exciting. Challenging, sure, in different ways. But moving forwards and changing in a great way.

Don’t quote me on this as I may well find I want these days back after T starts school next year and I’m left with a T-shaped hole in my days. But I don’t think I will. At least not for long. I am all about looking forward right now, not back. The future looks good and so does the present.

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And talking of looking forward, I have a feeling this may be our best Christmas yet as a fivesome. T gets it this year and is very excited. He isn’t quite there as he still wants to open more than one advent calendar window per day and is convinced Christmas is tomorrow pretty much every evening. But he gets the concept now. And he loves it. He gazes in wonder at crappy Christmas trees in the supermarket and loudly shouts “Mummy! A Christmas doughnut!” whenever he spots a wreath. The pretty basic lights in town fill him with utter joy.

This will also be the first Christmas since we finally got some sleep. I have very happy memories of previous years but all through a cloud of exhaustion. It’s gonna be just joyous having a few festive drinks knowing that we won’t be up at the crack of dawn or several times during the night. Bring that the hell on.

I’m feeling pretty full of love for my festive little brood right now. I’m really enjoying all three of them and their crazy Christmas hype as it builds. And I think so much of that is down to not having a baby any more. The fog has lifted and behind it are three little beaming faces, all still believers, their eyes wide in wonder. If that’s not what it should all be about then I don’t know what is.

Yes, 3 kids aged 3 and up is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Who needs babies when you have all that?

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After the Tinsel

imageIt is New Year’s Day. 2016 has landed. As always, we begin our year with a mild hangover in a house full of noise, wanting to do next to nothing but being got at by annoying small people. They really know how to ruin self-indulgent, lazy hangover days. The little one and I also have a manky cold, which doesn’t help. I felt remarkably well when I was knocking back the booze last night but the germs are biting back today.

The kids don’t go back to school until the 5th, but 1st January always feels like the official end of Christmas to me. Once we hit the 1st, I feel a strange mixture of sadness that it is all over for another year and a massive desire to be done with all things festive as soon as humanly possible.

It simply all has to go. Cards have been unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin and I’ve started taking decs down by stealth, one at a time. But I’ve been talked into keeping the tree up for one more day by the kids who will be gutted to see it go. They are desperate to hang onto the dregs of Christmas but for me their happy chirping of Jingle Bells has gone from cute to infuriatingly grating overnight.

The empty house, minus all the lights and decorations, will look odd for a day or two but I have such a strong urge to strip out all that tinsel, I just can’t leave it until the 12th night. It is my way of dealing with the reality of the next bit. The dream-world that is Christmas, full of magic and glitter, has to be wiped away as efficiently as possible in order for me to be able grit my teeth and prepare to face that old bastard, January.

imageGetting back to the real world feels even harder than normal this year, because we had such a brilliant Christmas. Our first time hosting the big day at home was a roaring success and something we plan to repeat. We went to lots of jolly gatherings after Christmas too and had many laughs. We ate and drank far too much and, despite the inevitable squabbles and general family overexposure at times, it was the best Christmas I can remember having since embarking on a life with kids.

A good deal of that is down to the fact that our baby, little T, is not such a baby any more. It was the first Christmas in a long time that I was neither pregnant nor attached to a very small, demanding kid. T wasn’t clinging to me or disorientated and miserable because of all the commotion. For the most part, all three of them happily got on with it, with notably less input required from us than in previous years. We could actually sit down at dinner and eat, without constant interruptions. It was as close to relaxing as Christmas with three young kids can be.

So, it was brilliant but reality beckons. We have a few days left before the treadmill starts again, during which time we have homework to do, neglected reading books to open and labour over (for the first time since school ended, I have to admit) and labels to sew in new coats. It all feels very dull and mundane, compared to the last couple of crazy, joyous weeks. My January calendar is depressingly empty of fun.

On top of that looms the horror of having to get back to some sort of sensible diet and alcohol unit consumption, losing the extra pounds gained in weeks of excess. A block of cheese and a bottle of Prosecco a day is a painful habit to break. When school, work, nursery and diet all kick in, it is like Christmas was just a lovely dream – but one that made me fat.

imageBut it is definitely time to get down to it. Time to look ahead. New Year is a time of such great promise. Who knows what 2016 has in store for us? It will soon be time to start planning the first family birthday of the year. In February my little girl turns five, a landmark age and no mistake. She is already so wise for her years that I can’t quite believe she is still only four. There is a party to plan and invitations to send out. She is very excited, with weeks to go still.

In a few months, my kids will all have had their birthdays and they will be eight, five and three. That sounds a great deal older and more manageable than seven, four and two, somehow. T turning three in the summer will be a biggie. I’ve been pinning a lot on that one, as a time when things get easier. And I can see it coming clearly now. Having such a successful Christmas has made me realise that it really is improving. Slowly but surely. By the end of 2016, we will have waved goodbye to highchairs, nappies and pushchairs. It will be the end of the baby era. I can’t help but feel a zing of excitement about the relative freedoms that will bring.

We are also going on our first foreign holiday as a family of five this year. It is months away but it is all booked and I’m very excited. I’ve not even left the country since 2010, so it will be a landmark.

Despite reminding myself about all the good things ahead, January is notoriously blue, and I can hear it’s Sirens calling me. After the Christmas high comes the dreary, dark low of long nights and routine. But I figure if I put minimum pressure on myself, I might just steer clear of the rocks this year. I’m not going to expect to breeze through it. I’m not going to make any impossible resolutions either, like taking a month off alcohol or eating next to nothing to lose weight fast. It strikes me as a crazy time of year to undergo major hardships. It can be bad enough without the extra pressure.

So here we go, folks. 2016, here we come. Time to get back to the serious business of guiding my little tribe through life. Back to the old routines and tasks. Yep, it can feel pretty monotonous and serious after all the frivolity of the Christmas run, but no-one (apart from Wizard) really wishes it could be Christmas every day. The fact that it puts all that serious stuff on hold is what makes it so special.

Kick-starting normal life again is a struggle and nigh on impossible when buried in stockings and tree lights. So, it is out with the tinsel and in with the new, even if it is initially through a the stuck-on smile and gritted teeth.

Coping strategies have to come into play in a big way in January. Time to start filling that calendar up with visits to my favourite people, so we can help each other through, so we can moan and giggle and muddle along together. You know who you are. Expect a call.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and a non-shitty January. Go easy on yourselves, stick together and avoid the rocks.

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Festive Fun and Fuckwittery

imageChristmas is coming. And bloody hell, it is coming fast this year, in the style of a runaway Polar Express. Of course when you have young kids, you are doomed to suffer Christmas as a topic of conversation from roughly August, and festive songs will be repeated until your ears bleed from early November. Such is life. But the last couple of weeks have raced by and suddenly here we are, with just one week to go until the end of term and in full-blown merry meltdown.

This time of year is always a mixture of two extremes, of the fun and hard slog. Tinsel tipped tantrums abound.

But I am a creature of alarmingly short memory and I always forget to expect the festive fuckwittery you cannot escape with young, overexcited kids. A few weeks back I had forgotten it so entirely that I declared to my best mate “I really love Christmas!” at which point she spat out her tea laughing at me. She reminded me that I actually get super stressed and end up saying how glad I am to get back to normal when it is all over. I didn’t protest. She has known me for years and was, of course, completely right.

Now, I am absolutely not a bah-humbug type. And I really do love Christmas. But the problem is that the Christmas in my head rarely manages to materialise. It often is all the lovely things you want it to be, but the real version has a large dollop of stress, exhaustion and anticlimax thrown into the mix.

imageThe run up to the festivities is always my favourite bit: all that wonderful expectation. The kids’ eyes are bright with utter joy at even a few crappy lights at the garden centre. They visit Santa and are full of wonder. How can you not love that? We’ve seen FC in his grotto twice this year (both of the men in red looked totally different but this wasn’t questioned, thankfully). All three kids asked him for entirely left-field requests, not even close to what was on their Christmas lists, so I dare say Santa had to do a bit of manic online Amazon ordering the next day. But, that aside, both grotto experiences were a big success.

Despite such heart-warming stuff, the pre-Christmas build up has its challenges. There is the constant battle to keep a lid on your kids’ emotional state: they become more manic and hyper as December progresses until they reach a state of frenzy. Then there are all the presents to buy and wrap, accompanied by the annual worry about not getting enough and disappointing the kids versus getting too much and spoiling them. It’s a fine line and I never seem to get it right.

imageA lot of the ‘lovely’ pre-Christmas traditions can go either way too. We decorate the tree as a family and that could mean either a delightful family bonding session or (more usually) a rather fraught afternoon of over-excited squabbles, ending in at least one kid going ballistic in a fireball of overstimulated rage, while the little one undoes all your good work and quietly unpicks the tree. Festive fuckwittery at its zenith.

School is a very exciting place for kids at this time of year, but for us weary grown-ups it feels like a whirlwind of things to remember. Christmas jumper days, nativity costumes, donations for this and that. There is no more manic time in the school year, and all at a time when you are stupidly preoccupied with all your own Christmas preparations and getting hammered at your work Christmas do.

So, you make it through the school festive gauntlet and reach the end of term. Yippee! Mince pies and mulled wine are dished out and you swerve home from school, slightly squiffy but delighted to be free of the school run for a whole two weeks.

Those last few days, when school is out and you wait for Christmas, are just brilliant. Everyone is happy. Yes, this is also a time with very high fuckwittery potential, with the kids at their festive peak and liable to explode in a puff of glitter, snot and tears at any moment, but it is mostly just really good fun. A big family love-in. And Christmas Eve is simply the best day of the year. Even before kids, there was nothing quite like it for me. Our annual Christmas Eve booze up in the pubs of my home town was bloody brilliant. Everyone back home for Christmas and smiling, full of genuine festive joy.

Christmas Eve is a bit different these days and this year it will involve my husband swearing quietly as he tries to construct two bikes, while I sneak in and out of bedrooms and drink port.

Christmas morning is amazing too. That look on the kids’ faces when they open the toy they have been dreaming about is priceless. It is only when all the gifts are open and you are knee-deep in ripped wrapping paper that it all starts going downhill.

I don’t think it matters what they got, even if all their Christmas wishes came true, the realisation hits the kids that, after all those months of excitement and build up, Christmas Day itself is then just a day. Yes, there are new toys and a nice lunch (which they mostly refuse to eat) but they remember how tired they are and they realise the presents have stopped coming and that great day, so full of promise, is just a nice family day after all.

In the eyes of a kid, Christmas is the most magical thing ever. They dream about it for weeks on end. Nothing can live up to that level of expectation, not even the greatest Christmas Day ever. The excitement of the stuffed stocking wins hands down over the little pile of opened gifts.

For years, we have rushed about all Christmas, spending the big day with one set of parents and Boxing Day with another set, with frantic packing and a sleepover or two thrown in. The kids open their gifts on Christmas morning and are then whisked away from them all for two or three days. By day two at the very latest, festive fuckwittery reigns supreme, with utter exhaustion written over the faces of the whole family, as we whirl around in a steep downward post-Christmas spiral.

imageThis year, after an 11th hour decision, we are spending Christmas Day at home, joined by my in-laws. I’m a bit apprehensive, having never hosted Christmas before: this year the pressure is on me to try to meet those impossible expectations. But I’m also really excited to be able to tell the kids that they can sit about in their PJs all morning, eating chocolate and playing with their toys. No packing, no long car journeys. It is going to be ace. Plus my husband and I can both hit the wine while we cook, so everyone’s a winner.

But don’t worry, I’m not going to go all soppy on you and declare that this is going to be the best Christmas ever. I’m not a realist by nature but kids have helped me with that. I know what to expect: we have three kids of seven and under. It is going to be mayhem and there are going to be lots of exhausted meltdowns. But I have a wonderful little family and I aim to enjoy it, despite the bad bits. Besides, the bad bits make for the best festive stories to relay in years to come. I also have wine, and the perfect excuse to buy plenty more. Well, you have to as hosts, right?

Happy Christmas.

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