So this is Christmas and what have you done?
Turns out it’s not just John Lennon who asks himself this question on repeat. What, indeed, have I done? Another year over and the resolutions I promised I wasn’t making but still planned in my head anyway didn’t quite come to fruition.
I love this time of year but it also triggers all the emotions in me. I take the same photo of my troops on the couch every year on Christmas Eve – all in their Christmas pyjamas looking as though butter wouldn’t melt. Not a hint of the stress and roaring involved in getting them all into the same room, to bunch up on the couch and look at the camera at the same time. No indication whatsoever of the threats made if one doesn’t stop poking the other, if another could stop talking about snots because it winds up their brother, or the reminder that I don’t want funny faces or rabbit ears or photographic evidence of them attempting to strangle each other, you know for the craic, like.
[ Small gifts for the loved ones in our lives who are impossible to buy for at Christmas ]
So usually I resort to saying what the great Mariah Carey would definitely have sung about if she too had a socially unacceptable number of children: “All I want for Christmas is a photograph of you all looking at the camera at the same time and not killing each other, so I can pretend we’re more like the Waltons than the Addams family.”
They adore Christmas. Posing for photographs when they’re hyper with excitement, not so much. It’s just a photo, some may think, but it’s an important tradition for me. I, the queen of over-sentimentality, can look back at the photos every year, recognising immediately the special Christmases where we were joined by a new member of the family. Or the ones where we were awaiting a new member. And I can see at a glance how much they’ve changed over the past 12 months. I look at my babies, including the 6ft 3in one, and wonder how they all outgrew Peppa Pig without me noticing.
With great reflection comes great obsessive tendencies: the obsession with getting it right. It’s like the Christmas version of that most unhelpful parental reminder that circulates on social media every summer, guilting already frazzled parents as they attempt to navigate the never-ending summer holidays and the struggle to juggle, “You only get 18 summers with your children. Make them count”.
If that’s doesn’t scream “don’t mess it up or you’ll scar them forever”, I’m not sure what does.
[ Jen Hogan: Your beautiful babies will grow up. Where does that leave you? ]
The pressures at Christmas are different though. The never-ending shopping lists, the pressure to create and maintain the magic, the perfectly decorated house and perfectly prepared feast. The pressure to do special things and make social-media-worthy memories. The pressure on time as you try to make sure you see everyone. The self-inflicted pressure to try to include as many recognisable and relatable Christmas song references into your final column before Christmas without it looking like you’re doing a Leo Varadkar on it.
I blame “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” for a lot of it.
And though we’re reminded repeatedly of what really matters and that we don’t have to do this to ourselves by those with the wherewithal not to get caught up in the madness, few of us are brave enough to step out of it completely. “Don’t mess it up or you’ll scar them forever” rings hollow in our ears.
Some things on the never-ending list have got to give. Himself realised that before me. I’m trying to catch up
But, the thing is, we won’t. We’ve just allowed ourselves to become completely caught up in the narrative of it all and to be told what a perfect Christmas should look like. Christmas is a time for family. Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and families are fabulously imperfect. They make Christmas special in their own respective ways. This is how memories are made, we just need the time to make them. Which means some things on the never-ending list have got to give. Himself realised that before me. I’m trying to catch up.
So, as I get ready to step into Christmas, I’m going to start my new year’s resolutions early. The house may not be decorated to social media standards. The food most definitely won’t be. But the excitement on my children’s faces, from eldest to youngest, as they count down to the big day, is enough to remind me that Christmas for them is perfect already.
This Christmas Eve will be my 22nd year with the Christmas photo on the couch. I have all I could need. All I want for Christmas is them.