By Louise Ward*
‘Darling,’ said my mum this time last year, ‘I know you already have so much to do – but I was wondering if you’d be able to get some books for the children for Christmas. I don’t know what they like or what they’ve read. And it takes me so long to get around the shops.’
This is what I said in reply, ‘Mum it’s no worries at all. I’m at the shops nearly every day anyway! No trouble.’
But this is what I felt: Right. Now I have to shop for presents for our kids from you and dad, as well as our kids’ presents from us. Then there’s our presents for you, Dad, my sisters, their partners, the nieces, nephews, Michael’s parents, his sister, the kids’ teachers, Maggie next door and my best friend Fran. Those presents must be de-tagged and wrapped and receipts filed for January’s ‘Return Of The Gifts.’
And that was before the question of food shopping. The prawns, the ham, the mangoes. And Mum and Dad are traditionalists – they still live in the big old house my sisters and I grew up in. They’re not ready to leave and I worried that asking them to pass the Christmas baton onto me (even though in many ways it would be easier to have the whole shebang at our place) would make them feel … a bit, redundant. Which would be awful, because they’re not.
A big part of what keeps my parents going, despite their health issues, is the knowledge that their house is still the family home. It’s where Christmas happens. I get how much that means to them. Mainly because it means a lot to me too!
But last year my sisters and I felt it was up to us to prep the place for Christmas. We cleaned it from top to bottom, we hung lights, we put up the tree, we wrapped the gifts we’d bought. My husband spent a Saturday he didn’t have cleaning their pool and leaf-blowing the yard and driveway.
Their house looked as fantastic, but we were wrecked and felt Grinchier than the Grinch. Every time someone wished me, ‘Merry Christmas,’ I wanted to either laugh or cry. Neither of which is an appropriate response.
But Christmas happened, as it does, and it was lovely. Mum and Dad enjoyed every minute, as did the kids. My sisters and I felt pleased and a little smug that we’d been able to make it happen. But we were tired too. So when New Year rolled around with talk of resolutions, we got together over a wine and planned a micro-revolution.
We agreed that was the last Christmas we’d spend in seasonal servitude.
What was the point in doing everything to make Christmas nice if it made us feel resentful?
So this year, in October, we put a plan in place. We booked a house cleaning service for a top-to-bottom spring clean of Mum and Dad’s place, and then another tidy-up for the week before Christmas. And through their home help services – this was a game-changer, we found a fantastic young guy who could help Dad navigate the wonderful world of online shopping – something we girls had never had the patience to do.
Dad thinks Rohan is Steve Jobs reincarnated and I suspect he enjoys his IT workshops as much as the joy of seeing cases of wine appearing as if by magic at his front door.
Now that we’re on the runway to Christmas 2016 I already feel calmer and happier.
I’m genuinely looking forward to the 25th and, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas I can smile, thank them and say, ‘Merry Christmas to you too.’
‘I’m a writer by profession as well as a wife, friend, mother and daughter. I’m surprised and unprepared for the fact that the ‘daughter’ part of that resume is becoming the dominant one as I approach fifty. As I was growing up there were all sorts of articles and discussions and TV shows about building a career and raising a family but nothing at all about what happens when your parents, perhaps suddenly, need your care when you’re still up to your ears in career and kids. I suspect in the next decade we might see a Netflix drama (or even a comedy?) called ‘Sandwich’, but until then, I’ll write my thoughts for Five Good Friends. Because thinking leads to talking and talking means we’re not alone.’
* A pseudonym to protect this family’s privacy. The story is authentic.