Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Grinch is dead

Christmas turkey

The Grinch is dead. He died nearly two years ago now. My daughter finished him off, you see.

When he was around, Christmas was a desultory old business. Like a room without a TV ­– I mean fireplace – there was just no focus, nothing to really draw the eye. In truth, my family and I essentially spent the day staring at a turkey*. We would shamble around, draped in tinsel and fairy lights, with not a child in sight. Where’s the dignity in that?

Then my daughter was born. And the Grinch was toast.

Since his demise, Christmas has become properly exciting again. Like it was during my childhood, when my parents would fill stockings knitted by Granny, and cheerfully prepare a feast for lunch.**

Now we no longer stare at a large stuffed bird for kicks; we look at my daughter instead. I won’t list the many reasons that this is an improvement, but she does say, “Ho Ho Ho” in her small squeaky voice, and seriously, show me a turkey that can do that. No, a dead one.

What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m excited about Christmas again, and it’s because of my daughter. She will have the same stocking at the end of her bed that I did. The one knitted by her Great Granny, who she never met. She will find a tangerine at the bottom of it, just as I did. Which will secretly disappoint her a tiny bit, just as it did me. It’s tradition.

So perhaps my rediscovered festive cheer is not only down to a dead Grinch. Perhaps motherhood has made me the kind of sentimental fart that bores the pants off everyone around the Christmas table. And every family needs one of those. That’s tradition too.

Happy Christmas!

* Yes, yes, we could have stared at the Christmas tree but we REALLY like to eat. We’re very greedy.
** My teenage door-slamming sessions and hours spent smoking from my bedroom window don’t fit the narrative and will therefore not be recorded here.

Something more important

While I was writing this post I learned – via Shelter’s Christmas Campaign – that 75,000 children in Britain will be homeless this Christmas. That’s more than two children in every primary school.
My daughter and I are lucky. Reading through the above, with the Shelter campaign in mind, I see just how lucky.
Please visit the Shelter website to find out more

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Bad Santa

Christmas tree baubles

Oh Bad Santa, it could have been so good. The Grotto, the elves, the sitting on your knee. Rudolph.
But sadly it was not to be. No. Instead there was screaming. Dear God, the screaming…

So we went to visit Father Christmas in his grotto (Harrods outpost). A lovely day out for my daughter and her best friend, were it not for the terror. 

It all started in ‘Santa’s Library’. Santa’s Library has crowd control barriers that slice up the room. It also has TV screens, fluorescent lighting and one of those large plasma globe things. It crackles with electrical activity. Essentially, Santa’s Library is a kind of super-charged, festive passport control.

We are all happy, though, and Santa’s helpers are sweet – waving and chatting to the toddlers. Excitedly we imagine how the grotto might be: a cozy place, full of presents and cheer, a kindly old man holding court. Damn, it’s gong to be BRILLIANT!

There are several doors leading from Santa’s Library. Several doors to several rooms. Hmmm. This can’t be right; this can’t be right AT ALL. There are several doors to several GROTTOS! Just how many Santas are there in this place?

Still, the little ones are, of course, oblivious to this disturbing turn of events and we are ushered through to meet a Father Christmas. 

Which is when the screaming began.

The grotto is bare and appears to be fashioned from molded plastic. On a plastic pew sits a Santa. He is lovely and twinkly and just as he ought to be. The toddlers wail. Begging for mercy, they scramble wildly to put distance between themselves and the guy with the beard.

The Father Christmas is crestfallen. This is the third time in succession his appearance has elicited such a panic response, he tells us. We leave, consoling our babies and the Santa too. We forgo the photograph; it wouldn’t have been very celebratory, what with all the screaming. 

The exit is on the opposite wall of the grotto from the entrance, leading us far away from the children waiting happily in festive passport control. This way, presumably, they will not be freaked out by the ashen faces of frightened toddlers.

My dear friend is muttering darkly that the whole set-up reminds her of a brothel. She’s right: all those doors and rooms and wipe clean surfaces. I shudder.

But you know what? We’re in Harrods. Maybe we’ll just shop to forget, yes? It’s Christmas; there is the Food Hall.  Oh, and look at that, there’s a doggy grooming parlour too. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

My daughter is my beard


My daughter makes a great beard. She really does.

I’m not talking actual facial hair, you understand. I don’t use her as a kind of lively facial toupĂ©e. That would be eccentric, to say the least. I mean she’s my beard. My mask. My disguise. My cover.

I'll explain.

Like many people I dislike small talk. I have a tendency to panic and blurt out something inappropriate or confused. Something such as: “Oh, I went to Devon once.” (Yes, it SOUNDS normal NOW, but at the time we were discussing the work of MAYA ANGELOU.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total pariah – most of the time I pull it off. But, dear God, the effort.

Anyway, nowadays I have my beard, I mean daughter, to conceal my mortification. She soaks up attention with her wild charm so others barely notice if I jabber madly.

Some great sage (possibly Nigella Lawson, actually) once described how motherhood means a woman ceases to be the picture – her children take on that role – and instead becomes the frame. Well, that suits me just perfectly.

I like that my daughter enjoys the spotlight while I can skulk in the wings, toasting her successes with a glass of Prosecco. “Bottoms up, darling.  Yes, Mummy’s here.” *slurps*

But it’s not only about the gaze of others. My own clear focus on my daughter since her birth is a damned relief, having looked after only myself for so long. And MUCH more entertaining too.

Friends without children have achieved this state of semi-selflessness in breathtakingly brilliant ways. But I was always a bit crap at it. Ends up all I needed was a big shove from my beard, my disguise, my cover, my girl.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The baby and the backpack – Paris

Paris Louvre

It is written: travelling (alone) with a young child will inevitably lead to trauma.
Turns out that’s bunkum. It’s a far greater strain to have your world shrink suddenly at the point of giving birth than to witness toddler meltdown on the Eurostar*. Even when it’s rammed.
I don’t know how it happened but, unexpectedly, any place that could not be reached on foot whilst listlessly hunched over a buggy had begun to seem somewhat strange. It was a bad scene.
The creeping sense of claustrophobia that can come over you as a (single) parent is an insidious thing. Doing stuff is just harder than it once was. We know that. It takes longer and is more tiring. That’s parenting. But parenting on your own? That is some serious shit.
So you do less. And slowly the shrunken horizons begin to exert their pressure.
It was largely practical, really, the source of this angst. Essentially, I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t, alone, lug everything my daughter and I would need for a period longer than about 36 hours**. In my mind I’d made myself dependent on whoever it was that ‘ought’ to occupy the space beside us. And since that space was pretty vacant, we were stuck.
But that’s no way to carry on. No way at all.
So we went to Paris. It’s not Marrakesh, or St Petersburg, or Rio de Janeiro but it moved the logjam.
Still, the proposition of the City of Light with an 18-month-old raised more eyebrows than expected. Ack, people LIVE in Paris with toddlers, it’s not Gotham City. And the French – whilst not the Italians, I grant you – DO like children, they just choose not to indulge them, or their parent(s), with anything so patently bourgeois as a highchair, or a ramp… or a damned lift.
The Metro is no good with a buggy; buses are better. Walking is better still. And the Batobus down the Seine is great. A budget cruise. A hop-on, hop-off floating sardine can of fun. If you are a toddler.
The Eiffel Tower, magnificent from afar, is of course hellish up close. But not so for the very young. Its great height and vast sturdy legs elicit gasps of pleasure from my daughter and she is compelled to find new ways to express her approval. “WOW!” she says. (Her first “wow”. I am very proud.)
And THAT is why, despite all the lugging and bawling and heaving and wailing, travelling with a toddler is really okay. Enthusiasm is contagious.
So we had fun. And I came home with my head readjusted.

*Flying is easier than Eurostar – counterintuitive but true.
**This is actually a reasonable concern – I now resemble a small, tired packhorse when we travel. And I do not like that.

An aside…

Overheard on the Batobus: possibly the most middleclass preteen dispute ever. What exactly DOES constitute a decent vegetarian sausage recipe? I can tell you it does NOT involve Quorn. (Times change. Our school French trips were largely spent discussing the procurement of butterfly knives (boys) and Gauloises (girls).)