Saturday, December 26, 2015

Triptych

This is our third Christmas like this.


Since I've been divorced the kids have spent every Christmas with me. For anyone doing the counting that's three Christmases. Honestly at least the one before that was very much a pretend family Christmas. The first one as a divorced dad was fairly modest. I'd not long moved to a little apartment in Westmoreland, New York and had very little furniture, no internet service and it was shockingly cold. I didn't have any decorations up. But I had bought one of those two-foot tall Christmas trees. My daughter spent a good few hours attaching the tiny baubles that go on it and also making a bunch of decorations herself. She cut out cards and colored paper to make figures for the tree. We gave each other a gift each. But I also carried on the tradition of giving a tree ornament to each of them so that when they're older they'll already have a tree-full of ornaments that mean something to them. There was a little Douglas fir tree out in yard that looked like a Christmas tree. So we spent some of that Christmas day out in the snow making a snowman next to "Daddy's outside Christmas tree." My son was quite concerned that Santa wouldn't have any idea where to leave presents seeing as he'd have to go to two houses. He ended up leaving them at both houses. He's a smart one is Santa.

I do remember feeling guilty when we got up and there was no real Christmas scene in the living room. The kids had put their stockings out. And when they got up they were fat and plump with little bits and pieces. After opening what we had I made breakfast and the kids set abut watching the Christmas episode of the kids show Arthur. I remember being stunned at how - unlike any other kids show - it stated outright Christmas is a made up holiday stolen from the Romans and the Jews. It went to great lengths to ram home the uncomfortable points that both Santa and Jesus have sod all to do with Christmas, thank you very much. And that Christmas in America has now evolved into a weird, commercial nightmare where families of people whom don't really like  each other force themselves into the same company.  The reason I remember this is because I recall quickly turning that awfulness off and thinking we'd try the radio. Can't go wrong with Christmas songs. Only for my radio to be set to NPR. And as I popped to the bathroom I swear I could hear my kids deflate a little as they were subjected to a story about the spread of "militant radical Islam" in Ireland. And I quickly thought "we're going to the playground in the snow" and, "Really? Suicide bombers in Ireland? Oh that'll never catch on there."

I did make a big Christmas lunch though. Which was hard in my tiny kitchen. And we sat down to eat and it was just happenstance that it was one of those days where neither of the kids really felt like eating. Both fully aware that they were going off to their mother's a bit later on to carry on with Christmas there. My daughter often does this thing where - even if she isn't all that enamored with dinner - will try to eat as much of it as possible to let me know she ate it for me. Not on that Christmas. They just wanted to know when they were going to their mother's. That was the first time I'd ever truly felt like I'd let them down. It was a very difficult evening after they left.

Christmas Spiders
I recall last Christmas being a mix of Lego and sweating. My son was utterly Lego obsessed. But at not-quite 5 years old he didn't really have the patience to build his own Ninjago Lego Jet Fighter thing that I'd got him for Christmas. I must have built that thing three times before getting it right. And then ten minutes later he dropped it. We spent a large part of the day at the playground. The kids remarking often about how weird it is to be outside in shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day. There were people swimming in the apartment pool. Of course in hindsight now I know they were visitors. Nobody who actually lives here is going to be swimming in December. Last Christmas my every waking moments were a medley of weird joy and discomfort. I would continuously think how fantastic it was to live near my kids again. It'd been almost 8 week since I'd arrived in Arizona. But it really felt like a few weeks. I'd also met some wonderful people who I just instantly clicked with. Principally a few English people. Some actually in town and a few farther afield. I kept just walking around with a silly grin on my face. But then I'd also think about how frighteningly hot I was at all times. Unable to sleep. Richard Herring talks about a time when he was quite depressed and started crying and had the realization that he may never stop crying. Obviously that's absurd - but he felt that knowing that he may actually never stop. Last year I was absolutely convinced that I would never feel comfortable again. Always be too hot. Always the sweaty one. Always thirsty. Too hot to eat. I am beyond delighted that I was completely wrong. Right now it's 40 degrees and I've got the heating on.

It was also the first Christmas in a very long time where I wanted to be back in England. For expats/immigrants there is sometimes a nagging tug that you belong "back home." Mine was exacerbated by living somewhere that seemed entirely alien. All I could see was desert and cactus. My eyes were being extremely selective. I'd also suddenly met a whole host of British people. All with different ideas of why they were in the US and what England meant to them, But most of them made trips back home every year. For many it refueled them. Able to enjoy the benefits of living in the US because they knew that they could go home - see family and friends. Feel where they felt they belonged. I hadn't been home in over seven years. And I knew I wasn't going to go home. But I felt that knowing - that I want to grow old there - very strongly. I dropped the kids off at their mother's house Christmas afternoon and dearly wanted to go find a British pub. Not to get drunk in. But to enjoy that British tradition of being with friends for a chat and a laugh. 

This year I've completely adapted to Arizona. I'm bloody freezing. There are decorations all over my apartment. The tree is big and sparkly. And the kids have been here since Christmas Eve and aren't going back to their mums until Wednesday morning. I made a bloody big dinner. Made Christmas cookies and we've completely overloaded on hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. We gave and received gifts. I really enjoy giving other people gifts. Somehow this year I ended up with a whole pile of stuff under tree. The kids loved what they got. My daughter has been asking for a Chocolate Pen for three months. And despite it clearly being a sex toy for lovers who love chocolate and calligraphy she ended up with it for Christmas. And truth be told it's a bit crap. But she's happy enough to have fund that out rather than not. She also got jazz dance lessons from her mother and I. There's no soccer between now and Spring so it's dancing instead. Santa also threw in a few books and little bits and bobs. And of course - a tree ornament. Like every good boy my son wanted a sword. Done. He got a little radio-controlled car, a Guide To Being A Superhero book (ghostwritten by me, obviously) and the bits and bobs of his own. And - about bloody time - they got proper beds. Plus the gift of the year - Pie Face.

Spoiled little monkeys.
I was rather spoiled. Sugar Skull wallet and decorations. Some chocolates. A new crock pot too. Plus a wonderful package in the mail crammed with some truly lovely things. I even got a Christmas Pickle in the mail. Yes. A Christmas Pickle. It's funny how you can be almost forty and have never heard of that until this year.


This year there was no playground. Although at first it seemed like me cooking a big, Christmas dinner had not really landed after they sort of made an effort at it. Only to ninety minutes later eat the entire thing. We don't even have any leftovers .And we sat and watched Netflix - wonderfully projected to my TV with another gift - last night and enjoyed a rather quiet Christmas.

This morning they want to put everything away. Owen has already grabbed half the ornaments and put them back in the box. Quite honestly I don't know if they do this at their mothers. Usually they've gone home Christmas evening so this is quite different. So we've been slowly packing things. I've been talking about friends of mine - some already back in England and some about to go. And my son asked me flat out if I'm going to move to England. I told him I had no plans to. To which he very strangely answered with, "...you should Daddy. Then people could understand you." 

I've been overthinking that statement since he said it.

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