Simply having a wonderful Christmas time…
Unless you’re an incredibly chilled out person that rarely stresses out about ANYTHING, Christmas can be one of the most overhyped and stressful times of the year. Beaten only by the appended New Year’s Eve craziness. There’s a lot of preparation required for a good Christmas – months of searching for the perfect presents, organising where to have the obligatory slap-up dinner(s), negotiating the murky waters of which relatives have to be visited and when. Nice and all as it is to have more time with your extended family, it can all be a bit much being crammed together into one place. Having a baby or young child means even more obligations to fulfill. Ultimately, the real magic of Christmas belongs to children. Adults want to live vicariously through any young relatives they can rustle up at this time of year. As the parent of a small, exhausted and overwhelmed little person, you’re the one left picking up the pieces afterwards.
Things were very different last year. Christmas 2012 was at a terribly inconvenient time for us. We had a very small newborn that had just turned our lives upside down, and were too busy trying to figure out how to function as parents to be able to partake in much merriment. Even Santa couldn’t bring a good nights sleep for us. If our brand new son wasn’t awake all night, we were up watching him breathe, worried about keeping something so small and dependent alive. Breastfeeding was, well, not fun. Painful and isolating. I didn’t have anyone else that I could compare notes with, and figure out what was normal. When it came to Christmas presents, there’d been little time to source good ones for family. I’d been too immobile and preoccupied to offer many suggestions for what I’d like to receive. I was most in need of new clothes. After all I’d just spent a year in a very limited selection of maternity wear. But unfortunately I was also ‘between sizes’ with no idea what would suit me in a few more months. Not the best year for gift-giving in general.
One thing I hadn’t really been prepared for post birth was that I still looked heavily pregnant. On the last day in hospital I waddled down to the physio department and was glad to find I wasn’t the only one still sporting a massive bump. “I want to know if I’m going to look very pregnant at Christmas, or just fat?”, I asked the nice nurse. She looked very uncomfortable about phrasing it that way, but reading between the lines, the answer appeared to be “Fat”. A room full of new mothers sighed and added it to the mental list of indignities they were being subjected to. A week later I made it out of the house for an hour to meet some old work friends. One of the guys I didn’t know very well had obviously missed the finer details of why everyone was surprised I’d made it out. As a husband and father who should really have known better, he looked absolutely mortified when he asked me when I was due, and I had to explain that the baby had already arrived, despite appearances.
A few weeks later at Christmas I had lost most of the bump, but the baby weight was still hanging in there. I did indeed look fat, even though I had seemed relatively trim when pregnant. The bump definitely provides a slimming effect! This meant I didn’t yet fit into any nice normal clothes, but the loose and flab-friendly clothing I received as presents weren’t very exciting, nor would they last very long (hopefully). I wince a little now looking at photos of my cute little newborn, being held by an extremely chubby and un-preened mother. I didn’t realise just how much surplus weight I had until I lost it. In hindsight, vouchers for clothing stores would have been the best way to go. Wearing tracksuit bottoms and baggy jumpers for Christmas day would have been far more comfortable, and weren’t going to make me look any more overweight in photos. It would take a couple of months before I would start to recognise my former self in the mirror, only a new version of me that was covered in baby vomit and looked exhausted.
Christmas 2013 was an entirely different prospect though. Presents were mostly bought online in advance – who wants to cart a grumpy 1 year old through the hordes of Christmas shoppers, desperately in search of those last couple of presents? We were fairly well prepared. We even got a real live tree. Which we then spent the next two weeks protecting from the amorous advances of an active 13 month old with a fascination for lights. We had stockpiled food in the fridge, arranged visits with friends and family. The Christmas carol playlist was on repeat, and many colourful presents sat under the tree, waiting. A few with exploratory holes in them from when we hadn’t been vigilant enough about guarding them. We were all set for a Merry Christmas this time round! Then the Rascal kindly sabotaged us by having one of those weeks where he just would not, or could not sleep. This was much worse than his normal regular night wakings. Christmas with a just-turned-one year old proved to be an exhausting experience. For every fun moment, there was another tedious hour rocking a cantankerous baby to sleep at an unsociable time when other revellers were sound asleep. Children are much more fun when you’re not the one they come crying to at night to wipe their snotty nose on your pajamas.
So, another Christmas where staying in bed would have been more tempting than exchanging gifts if our early riser had given us the option. There were a couple of quiet hours for the three of us to open gifts, and play with packaging before it was time for things to kick off. It didn’t take long before we had a cranky baby. Christmas dinner was chucked on the floor without even tasting most of it. Instead he ate only plain food that I had separately prepared. And not even much of that as he was too overtired. As a result, my meals were also being interrupted by his naps and feeds. There’s so much going on in the first year or so. He was too busy learning to sign and starting to walk for all this distraction. 13 months was just old enough that he didn’t do well with the disruption to his regular routine. But he was also too young to really buy into the magic of Christmas, which only got in the way of his own plans for world domination. However all the relatives were hell bent on watching him ‘enjoy’ everything. He might appear happy running around laughing maniacally and falling over like an old drunk. But at some point, someone was going to have to deal with the aftermath. And that someone was his already very sleep-deprived parents.
Thankfully post-Christmas there were longer stretches of sleep at night, and more free time to just have fun with our little boy. A less hectic social schedule was more appealing to him. He even cooperated for dinner and a movie at a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve to finish out the year. 2013 has been a year of the best of times, and the worst of times. We’ll never have all those precious early moments with our son again. The snuggly newborn becoming aware of the world, his first real smiles, the achievement of crawling, the babbling, tasting strange foods, the wobbly steps being attempted, occasional moments when kisses and hugs were freely on offer, a delighted smile as he mastered a new skill or saw something new and wonderful to him. On the flip side, it would be nice to eventually have one full night of uninterrupted sleep again. We’ll have a 2 year old for Christmas 2014. He’ll be at another stage in his young life. We can hope for a holiday that might live up to a little of the hype, and expect that it probably won’t be smooth sailing. But it will always be an adventure.