Friday 16 December 2011

It's Christmas ... again

Julie-Ann Corrigan
Gin –Mother’s Ruin

It’s early November and already, like a seasonal mythological monster, Christmas begins to loom ominously inside my mind.  I try to blank it out but it’s impossible to escape.
First, the toy adverts begin.  Day and night.  Unremitting.
Then the magazines start with: ‘How to lose weight in three seconds and look like either Madonna or Scarlett Johansson’ depending on which magazine you pick up in your pre-Christmas dental appointment.  And this is only the beginning.  During your weekly supermarket shop you can’t help but wander down the aisles of the Christmas section, buying everything you don’t need; an over-priced Christmas cake, dates, and Brazil nuts.  Items no one in your family will ever eat.  Not to mention the chocolate Santa that your daughter has shoved secretly, beneath the grapes.  It’s only November the second.
The kids, if you’re lucky, are still basking in the fast fading glory of who had the best Halloween outfit; who had the most fireworks.  But this honeymoon period doesn’t last long.  By mid-November you can’t hide your kids from the hype any longer, ‘But Mum, it’s only nine weeks away … that’s only nine Saturdays,’ and you think, my ten year old is right, how am I possibly going to do everything in just nine Saturdays?
And how are you? 
Well, one thing for sure, you won’t be doing it with your partner, will you?  Because no matter how fantastic he is on holiday, at the weekend, and at family funerals, there is something about the Christmas celebrations that alienates the male.
I remember once before marriage and a child, my now husband decided to invite his mum for Christmas lunch.  I was terrified.  I couldn’t cook.  Noticing – too late – the look of sheer terror on my face at the thought of having to produce a turkey with all the trimmings, he proclaimed grandly that he would cook lunch.  I was over the moon.  After opening our presents he set about preparing.  I set about drinking.
Lunch appeared on the table just after six.  I was too drunk to eat it!  After that first Christmas together he never sets foot in the kitchen between the twenty-third of December and New Year’s Eve.
And so; the clock is ticking, the bathroom scales are pulled from their resting place and your child suddenly learns to spell words which were impossible for them in their SATS exams only months before.  Yet, in her enthusiasm to write to Santa, to get what she wants, she suddenly develops the semantic and grammar skills of A.A. Gill.
Buying the presents is the first hurdle to pass, and so you decide to be organised and go for one big shop at Toys r Us. You fall into the same trap as you did last year, buying the ‘must have’ present in good time for the big day; believing the hype that the shop will sell out.  Of course, by the end of November, all people under ten have changed their mind.  They don’t want that ‘must have’ toy – they want another one.  The ‘must have’ one which you’ve already bought has definitely not sold out – there are hundreds of them sitting on the shelf – on offer now.  You’ve mislaid your receipt, so only get back seventy-five per cent of the toy’s original value.
Things are already not looking good.  The husband begins to spend longer at work and your strictness at only allowing ice cream on special occasions is deteriorating rapidly, as you begin – insidiously – to lose your parental nerve.  Anything for an easier life becomes your mantra.
‘How am I going to get to December twenty-fifth?’ you are beginning to ask yourself.  This is before the dreaded phone call around mid-December, when your sister-in-law informs you, for the fourth year in a row, that they are ‘abroad for Christmas’ and ‘can you have Mum?’  Qualifying the request with, ‘You know how she adores being with the kids…’ 
No actually, I don’t know; she hasn’t seen them since last Christmas. But by December fifteenth you’re losing the will to live anyway and your mother-in-law coming to stay is the least of your problems, because your main problem now – mid-December – is THE TREE.
Do we have an artificial, real, fat or thin one; one with dropping or non-dropping needles?  Tree shopping has become like shoe shopping.  Too much choice.  Finally, we pick one and bring it home.  Invariably, everyone including my daughter (who helped me choose it) moans about my choice.  By now I’m anaesthetised to opinion; until my daughter begins to decorate it.  Years of collecting ‘arty’ baubles are wasted as cheerfully, she puts her school-made dough decorations on the tree. 
Opinion begins to manifest itself.  I have to stop myself from yelling, No!  ‘It looks lovely,’ is what I say. 
An earth mother I am not.
Thinking of mothers’, I don’t remember my own mum being this stressed out – she made it look so easy.  I wonder if my own daughter will be thinking the same thing in twenty-odd years’ time?
Julie-Ann writes short stories and articles. She has had short stories published in collections and one of her recent articles was published in Beat Magazine (see her interview with Laura Wilkinson here: )
She has recently completed her first novel and is now working on her second.

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