When living on a tight budget, one problem that I find repeatedly cropping up in my subconscious is the feeling that we aren’t doing ‘the family thing’ as nicely as I would like to. It’s not nice to not have the financial independence to buy Christmas presents for each other, or family holidays, or meals out, year on year.
Last year, I felt underwhelmed with our Christmas celebrations. It was indulgent and silly, but I acknowledged those feelings all the same.
We chose to save our finances by doing only stocking presents for Arlo (at the cost of £15 in total) and, as usual, Sam and I bought nothing for each other.
But in the absence of the giving and receiving element of Christmas morning, we had neglected to think of a replacement in order to create some sort of ceremony or festive atmosphere.
For me, things felt a little flat, and every time someone asked what we got for Arlo or what I had bought for Sam, it was another reminder that we were having a pretty boring Christmas compared to the standard expected.
This year, when my thoughts turned to Christmas preparations somewhere in mid-December, I realised that the guilt I felt from looking at social media last Christmas Day was still very much in my head. This year, I resolved to get my children a present each – something just for them.
I didn’t care that Rory is only a baby and therefore doesn’t NEED presents (our excuse for not buying Arlo anything in recent years), I didn’t care that Arlo doesn’t necessarily need a bike right now, in the middle of winter. I wasn’t going to agonise over whether buying them presents was the best use of our money. I was just going to do it. To make them happy, and really, just to make ME happy.
Our presents weren’t over the top, they were all well thought-through and were items that we knew they would appreciate and would get a lot of use.
We gave Arlo a balance bike. Rory received an activity cube. I treated Sam to some ale and cheese, and he thoughtfully bought me some makeup and a necklace that he’d seen me eyeing up recently via Twitter.
My favourite present-opening quote came from Arlo when opening his OBVIOUSLY bike-shaped present from Sam and I that he had eagerly picked to open first: “It’s a bike!! I thought it was wine”.
Christmas isn’t about presents. Yeah, I know. But it made a difference. It made them happy, the late night wrapping, the anticipation to see them open their gifts was exciting. And it put us in a great mood to enjoy the rest of our Christmas celebrations.
Of course, it’s easy right now for me to say “I just decided to fuck it and buy stuff without worrying about it too much”, only because my earnings are OK at the moment (and because I took full advantage of all the guest content opportunities in the lead up to Christmas…yeah, sorry about that). That sort of indulgence is just not an option for a lot of people, as it wasn’t for us last year. And at that point in time, if I read something like I’ve just written, I would probably want to punch that person.
Last Christmas, I think I was still in the hangover of what had been a very tough year. I should have been focused on the baby that was due to arrive in May (Rory). A healthy baby had been ALL I wanted. But in retrospect I think the pain from the losses in 2012 was still very much raw. Christmas 2012 was a reminder of our absences. The babies that weren’t there (one had been due the week before Christmas).
For a number of reasons, the past years since 2009 have been my hardest yet, with 2012 being the crap icing on top of the crap cake of several crap years (for want of a snappier metaphor). In my head, we should have been able to treat ourselves at Christmas, seeing off the end of a very bad year with some specialness.
2013 has been so much better in comparison. Although it has been tough adjusting to two children, it’s the first year in a long time where I’ve felt mostly in control, and that life is going according to my plan, rather than fate, bad luck, or whatever else you want to call it. Rory is such a special thing to have happened to our family, and I think about that daily.
Even though we had a toddler with a sick bug, my most sober Christmas ever (including the one I spent pregnant), and very very little sleep, Sam remarked that I seemed happier than he’d ever seen me at Christmas time before. And I was. Because in playing Christmas my way, I freed up some thinking space to reflect on how much I love and appreciate having an Arlo, a Rory, and a Sam.
In 2013, we have had it pretty damn good.
(Just before Arlo and Rory opened the world’s largest present from Grandma and Grandad)
This was meant to be a post reflecting on Christmas 2013. The fact that my thoughts have repeatedly wandered back to 2012 throughout writing this tells me that I’m still processing that difficult year. I hesitated publishing this post as it is, because the writing is all a bit disjointed and it’s really just a muddle of thoughts. It’s sort of about Christmas, but it’s mostly not. But one of my goals for the next year is to make more effort to write the posts I want to write, without hesitating because I don’t have any nice photos to fit the post, or because there is no compelling story, no resolution at the end, or whatever the latest advice is on the subject of how to write engaging blog posts. I want to write for me. And so here is this blog post.