I want to love Christmas. I do.
Mulled wine and Mama kissing Santa Claus, decorated trees and tinsel, and tinsel, and tinsel. Every year I promise myself that I will immerse myself in it, face-first, that I will breathe Father Christmas in so deeply that if you cut my wrists I’ll bleed in candy cane stripes. And every year, by the end of the first week of December I am ready to take three Vallium and politely request that somebody wake me up on the first of January.
The only part of the traditional Christmas that I’ve ever managed to get fully behind is mulled wine.
I thought that this year would be my turning point; this year is the first year that it is more about them than it is about me, the first year in which my little boys know the songs, address every fat, elderly man as Father Christmas, love our little tree with a Druid-like passion and are so excited for presents that sometimes their throats catch and their eyes brim with tears. This year, they reminded me whenever they saw me that ‘my Christmas is coming soon’ and I hugged them to me and thought yes, it is your Christmas.
A few months ago, the Alex and Alexa team invited me to their Mayfair office for a coffee. We have collaborated previously on content for their blog and for mine, and separately for an instagram feature or two, and over the course of our cup of coffee the subject of Christmas arose – specifically, what we were doing for Christmas and how Alex and Alexa could be a part of that. And I told them about my horror of the fat man in the red suit and all of the accompanying pressures and how I wished that I could just get away sometimes… and for the first time, somebody said Why don’t you. So I did.
We decided to stage a nontraditional winter escape, a chance to reconnect before the flurry of Good Tidings. Within ten minutes of my return to the office, I had bought tickets for the train. I was planning an itinerary for the day before I even thought to plan what we would wear.
The wind felt like a strange and savage animal tangling our hair and I remember feeling grateful that Alex and Alexa had sent hats for the children; standing beside the water, I closed my eyes and tasted salt on my tongue. I crouched down to let the waves break and the froth spill over my fingers; it was so cold that I gasped, and then it didn’t hurt any more. I found myself laughing, and I didn’t know why. But something about being beside the sea, about chasing my children across the wide expanse of sand, broke something heavy that had been sitting on my chest. I could breathe again. I could laugh.
Sometimes I forget that I am human. I get so caught up in being the hunter-gatherer, the sole breadwinner, a machine, that I forget that there are soft, squishy parts in me that can break. Because I can’t afford to break or to bend. Every time I make a mistake, I see their little faces and I remember that I am the one thing standing between us and homelessness. It’s easy to feel squashed by the weight of that sometimes; to feel pressed to flour by the grindstones of children at home and deadlines in the office. Somebody always needs me. I am always being asked to choose.
But racing after them, catching their small bodies and twirling them through the air, I felt concentrated and at peace.
We warmed our hands on hot chips. We lured seagulls close until they were practically stealing them from our fingers. The baby girls were half asleep in Kirsty’s arms, swaddled in blankets she had crocheted when they were still kicking, unknown things. I pulled my sons closer; in their furry coats they felt like strange creatures, like dear pets. They felt small and lost beneath so many layers and I found myself consumed by a desire to hold them again, to stroke the softness of them, to kiss their heads.
It felt like a beautiful dream; the beach seemed strange and ethereal in the desolate winter. I felt as though I had broken through the looking glass, pulling my family behind me by the hands. I felt as though nothing were real but us, the strangers around us seemed almost translucent. We were raw and vital, icy hands and thumping hearts and an almost palpable connection; I felt as though if I closed my eyes and reached out, I could trace those tangled, pulsing cords back to their sources.
Our daughters slept in the pram. We came off of the beach and stepped into the funfair, a pastel dreamland of bright lights and brilliant colour.
And oh, let me always be the mother who drinks them in. Let me always ride with them, laughing and terrified, on the ferris wheel, battling instincts to close my eyes and pray, and to hold them and watch them lest they become loose and fall. Let me always be so clear-headed as I watch my partner and babies disappear to ants below, let me always grit my teeth and smile and teach my children to be brave and to fly. And let them never fall.
I wanted to make room for levity in the Christmas season. I wanted to find a time to celebrate us, the essential, concentrated us. I wanted to fill my cup with these children of mine so that I could be unselfish with them on Christmas day, to drink them in before sharing them with the extended family whom we are so fortunate to have love our children too.
Our wintry day at the beach gave us all of that. But on that beach, for a little while, I found myself too.
You can read my interview with Alex and Alexa here. Everything that the children were wearing was sent to us by Alex and Alexa for feature on their blog. They didn’t ask me to write about them on my blog – but I wanted to document and share our day.