UNPACKING the Christmas decorations recently transported me back to exactly one year ago, sifting through the boxes with a seven-month bump. I wasn’t able to do much more than supervise back then, but this year the bump has been replaced with Grace, our ten-month old baby girl, who is sitting observing curiously from her play-mat on the floor.
Yet to figure out how to crawl, the best she can manage is a slight bum-shuffle in the general direction of the tree. It seems like we may escape the stress of a baby on the move while the decorations are up, unless she suddenly takes off in the next few days! It doesn’t stop her from getting fully involved in proceedings however.
Fascinated by the twinkling lights and the coloured baubles, she claps her hands with delight and cautiously examines the star, before allowing daddy to lift her up to help place it on top of the tree. A new Christmas tradition for our little family, hopefully one of many.
And that really is what Christmas is all about for me — traditions. Created so lovingly for us by my own parents over the years, from the Christmas dinners with all the trimmings, to the annual Scrabble matches that never fail to end in heated debate!
Having Grace has made me appreciate even more all the memories from my own childhood, how precious they are, and the effort that has gone into carrying on those traditions. My wish is to pass on as many as I can to her, while also creating some new ones of our own too.
Picture-perfect it all may seem, but the other equally valid reality is that although ‘tis supposed to be the season for Christmas carols and mulled wine, so far Tis’ actually been the season for deadlines and sleep deprivation. The past few months have been a blur of trying to find our new little family’s routine, juggling work, crèche and everything else that life is supposed to include. It’s been a massive shift, one that I’m currently muddling through. It’s very easy to feel guilty for not having the perfect un-frazzled festive lead-up, especially since Halloween completely passed us by without so much as a pumpkin costume for Grace! Christmas stress has appeared just like the Elf on the Shelf - up to no good, and trying to disrupt as much as possible. It likes to remind me that I’ve nothing done, and that I’m quickly running out of time to do it in. I’m trying my best to set it aside, and cut myself the slack that I’d happily cut for anybody else. I’m attempting despite the busyness, to pause where possible and soak up our first Christmas with our little lady. Time as a family remembering what it’s all about (the people rather than the presents), enjoying one another’s company and recharging the batteries.
This is not a picture-perfect time for most people really if we’re honest about it. Whether it’s grief, illness or stress, there isn’t a household in the country that doesn’t experience its own challenges in one way or another. I’m so lucky to be able to celebrate our first Christmas with Grace. It’s other people’s first Christmas without a loved one, or maybe it’s being spent sitting by a hospital bed, not knowing what the next year will bring. An ongoing GoFundMe campaign organised by Dubliner Rosie Connolly to raise money for Temple Street and Crumlin Children’s hospitals has raised over a quarter of a million euro at the last count. It shows how the suffering of sick children and their families has captured the hearts of the nation, especially at this most difficult time of year. Either we’ve been there ourselves and have felt the pain, or we know that it could so easily be us or our loved ones.
Life is fragile and precious, and Christmas just highlights this all the more.
The decorations are finally up, the fire is lit, and a glass of wine has been poured. Grace, who should be tucked up and sound asleep by now, makes her usual reappearance past bedtime. I ignore the exhaustion to squeeze her tight, giving thanks for all that we have been gifted with this year, and reminding myself that it will all get done, it always does!