Christmas letters can be like facebook: You see the photos; read the update and feel different reactions. For some, you enjoy the connection with someone you haven’t seen for a while and its good to know what they are doing. With others you wonder what lies behind the idyllic family pictures. And with a few you know the inside track; perhaps you helped mop up the tears on the holiday, or helped agonise over a decision that, from reading the letter, you would think was all straightforward.
We tell ourselves and our children that who we are is more important than what we do; that success and status count less than people and relationships; and that it’s ok to go through hard times. But we still live in a society that prizes wealth, activity and institutional position; that rewards things that get you noticed and ‘liked’. It’s rare to hear much discussion in the media of what builds ‘character’, or what it means to live a good life. I feel that without that grounding we seem to be in a bit of a tailspin about what our lives are for, and its reflected in the national state of our mental health. So, in a world where ‘”Its time to talk”, perhaps it’s time to be more honest with ourselves and our friends about how our experiences of the last year have really felt.
This post is my Christmas letter…of sorts. It’s a bit circumspect as this is a public blog. And I appreciate that the line between authenticity and self-indulgence is an easy one to cross. You can be the judge.
“Our greatest achievement this year has been an improvement in our family’s ability to kick about at home; to understand what each of us needs in terms of space, activity and downtime, and to be generous about allowing it for each other. It doesn’t always work, but it is getting better. One day, we may even be on time for church.
My daughters (7 and 2), have become much better at playing together: Dens, camping, lions, princesses etc. Normally they want to include each other. Normally they are happy with half of my lap each, and sometimes they interact beautifully and make each other giggle. Other times they yell and scream at each other. I find it astonishing how quickly, particularly in the holidays, my overwhelming sense can go from “this is fine, why don’t I home school, what’s the problem?” to “If I see my child do anything or hear them say anything. Anything at all, I think I will scream”. The most useful phrase we’ve found as a family is “I’m sorry. And sorry means I will try not to do it again” and the most helpful thing I’ve seen is a lecture by Jennifer Kolari on CALM parenting. It’s long but I’d thoroughly recommend it.
My eldest daughter is learning to control her feelings better and is less prone to tantrums. She managed the discipline to finish a story and enter it into a competition and then manage the inevitable disappointment of not winning. But she is still writing stories. She keeps me on my toes when her toys act them out “Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude but are you paying attention to your cue” and her expectation is that Father Christmas, who is magic and can do anything, will be able to bring her a doll, complete with clothes, cot and teddy; not for her, but for her toy panda. She is mocked at school for being small and whilst it makes her reluctant to go, she is being fairly resilient.
My toddler is trying to rule the roost as toddlers do. She knows her mind: “Mummy nuff swim. Ice cream now please”. I am not allowed to hum, for fear of being told “Mummy, open your mouth; sing nicely”. If she wants a book read once, she will want it 20 times in the next few days. She is often very pleased with herself; her most frequent phrase is “I’m doing really well” or recently “I’m doing brilliantly”. Woe betide your breakfast if you come and stay – she will stand next to your chair ready with her spoon to dig in. That is, when she isn’t suffering from a winter illness that seems to have been constant. After a few nights of shouting (by her) for an hour in the middle of the night, I confess I struggle to maintain family calm.
For me, I have had a bit of time at home to read, pray and write. Without that time in the school holidays, I recognise I get irritable and lose perspective. I have to accept there is always less time than I would like and my first free morning is normally spent sleeping (I appreciate that’s a luxury but it still seems the best investment in building resilience!). With regard to the blog, I don’t check thefigures or dwell on it as furiously as I used to. With each post I still go through a cycle of getting the idea, thinking it’s brilliant, start to write it down and realise it’s much more challenging, and then rushing to get it finished, panicking no one will read it and then moving on. I keep reminding myself that I don’t want it to take off as a thing but it’s a useful way to see reactions to particular ideas.
The playgroup that meets here each week gives me great joy. I aim for it to be an amalgam of all the best aspects of the different groups I went to in the UK and after a year, it is starting to feel like a real community. Almost the best moment was last week when I needed to take some time out with my toddler – and everything carried on regardless. As my friends remind me when they come to visit, our house and my life here feels a world away from the part-time London commute I will return to, and I am quite apprehensive about that. But for now, it’s good to use the space and time.
In the summer, my husband and I went away to celebrate my 40th birthday which proved he was more than capable of romantic gestures. We are getting better with each other about trying to be kind, rather than right. I am managing to anticipate stress points better, and recognise what I am likely to feel. However, I don’t always manage to manage what I feel in the stress points. That’s one of the challenges for 2019.”
So that reflects some of my preoccupations for 2018. Perhaps it is as smug in a different way: Perhaps it still conceals as much as it reveals. Frankly, Christmas leters are a declining breed. But even if not through this medium I do think we should be prepared to talk as much and as concretely about what we say really matters as about any external achievement.
Finally, I wanted to appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read any of my posts in 2018 and I wish everyone a very joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year!