It was always going to be a slightly tricky Christmas and New Year this year. Not only is it the first without my over-the-top Christmas loving mother but also because last year she was failing fast and died on New Years Day.
But I had a cunning plan. Oh yes indeedy a plan so cunning it could indeed have been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. I was going to surround myself with people and stuff to do to distract me from my thoughts. Stop heckling in the cheap seats, it seems like an excellent idea at the time.
Stage one involved Christmas at my sister’s house at the Isle of Wight. There were 18 of us staying on average about 4 days at her rambling georgian house near the sea. Everyone was lovely, ages ranged from 1 – 84. Everyone was respectful and tidied up after themselves and a diffierent group cooked every night. It should have been perfect or at least as perfect as it could be without my mother.
But there were two problems:
1 – My mother wasn’t there and I felt under pressure not to be miserable about that, to put on a brave face and plough on through. I hadn’t yet reached the acceptance that you don’t “get over” the death of someone that close to you, that you just move on from it as a different person, battle-scarred but hopeful and slightly fearful now that you have experienced life’s sting in the tale.
2 – There was no place to just be. No rooms that weren’t full of teenagers with headphones, middle aged men doing crosswords, no garden without drones or off-road bikes buzzing. It brought home to me that despite my outward appearance of sociability, I crave time alone when it’s robbed from me.
A brief day at home and we moved on to stage 2 of Operation “Survive Christmas” a weekend away at another rambling Georgian house in Norfolk stuffed to the brim with single parents and their children. Many teenagers to occupy the child and fresh air and activities like go-carting. Oh I am a cunning one when my brain is on fire – keep the teen busy and leave me no time to mope.
There were a few problems with the cunning plan which hadn’t seeemed immediately obvious when I conjured it up.
1 – we shared a room with another mother with her teenage boy. They were lovely and they were quiet and we couldn’t have chosen better roomies but I refer you to point 2 above.
2 – it was self-catered with a rota and a menu to cook. Again everyone pitched in and there was no shortage of help. There was however (as always in life) no shortage of people to point fingers and complain about how things were being done. As I had (unusually) decided to be a worker bee and just do as I was told, I didn’t take the crabbiness personally but it was hard to watch friends who had worked extremely hard, being nit-picked over really minor things. When I am dictator, there will be summary executions for people who are bitching not helping.
It may sound harsh but it’s for your own good.
3 – the teens initially played nicely but a late arrival disturbed the dynamics and the teen den descended into what I can only liken to a Lord of the Flies pit of bullying and racism. And I have a non-white teen who takes these things very badly and doesn’t have the sense to seek help until it’s really too late. I’ll draw a discreet veil over it but suffice to say I wasn’t at my most calm and rational when confronting the “gang” of mostly very nice teens who had gone along with the tormentors. It’s a real exercise in understanding group dynamics and how people find it amazingly easy to go along with the wrong thing when they are part of a group. I don’t exclude my teen from this statement, it’s just that this time he was on the receiving end of the hate and as I have discovered over the years, racism and sexism attack something so fundamental to who we are that it’s very difficult to respond to it rationally when you are the focus.
Really the only response was to remove ourselves and so we packed up early the next morning and headed home just a little earlier than planned.
I told the boy that if in future anything of the same sort was going on that he should come to me and remind me of this weekend and we could leave (if appropriate) or tackle it together (if appropriate).
And we came home, together, spent time together and chilled in our living room together, chatted and relaxed… and booked a Caribbean cruise for the following Christmas… just the two of us.
But the Christmas wasn’t without it’s highlight. We met up with my sister-in-law who of course bought me a present when we’d agreed we wouldn’t (hello Sloe gin!) and produced a little plant. A tiny baby spider plant in a pot.
“It’s an offspring of Grandma’s” she explained.
My grandmother had a huge spider plant that had propagated through the family over many decades. She had the most amazing green fingers – giant orchids, the spider plant, tomato plants. Her repertoire was limited but what she grew, man, it grew. Her secret ingredient was “cachu ceffyl” – I’ll let you google it – diluted in water and watered in.
“I had a cutting many years ago” she said “and this is one of it’s babies. So it’s a grandchild of your grandmothers plant”.
I had to swallow a lump at her thoughtfulness and at the additional fact she didn’t know.
“Thank you. Do you know where Grandma’s original spider plant came from?” I asked. She hadn’t a clue.
“My mother gave it to her as an offspring of the giant spider plant I grew up with in the corner of the kitchen in the 1970’s”.
I have no idea if football will ever come home, but I feel like the spider plant did.