What’s gone forever

The boy-child and his grandfather, January 1999. Photo: Su Leslie

The boy-child and his grandfather, January 1999. Photo: Su Leslie

Today is my parents’ in law’s 54th wedding anniversary. Both are unwell and may not even be aware that today is a special day for them.

Though not particularly hands-on grandparents, they have nevertheless been part of the boy-child’s day to day life since we returned to NZ from the UK when he was a toddler.

For the first few years, my in-laws generously let us take over their house and garden for the boy-child’s birthday parties. After that came many years of family birthday dinners – followed, in the last few years, by somewhat fleeting visits to share some cake, and deliver a card and cash.

But no more. A fall last April changed my father-in-law’s life forever, and with that, the lives of everyone in the family. Taken-for-granted traditions and rituals no longer make sense, and come the boy-child’s sixteenth birthday in a few days, we will be trying to find new ways to be a family.

I’m counting down to my son’s sixteenth birthday. Here is what has gone before:

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/shining-through/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/five-days-to-go-heres-where-it-all-gets-manic/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/six-word-saturday-2-oh-oh-sweet-child-of-mine/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/funny-friday-the-things-kids-say/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/down-memory-lane/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/wordless-wednesday-babies-love-books/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/shoe-down-the-river-stories-and-other-backwaters-of-family-history/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/what-sort-of-star-are-you/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/song-for-sunday-the-boy-childs-early-taste-in-music/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/happy-valentines-day/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/yellow-is-the-colour-of-happiness/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/wordless-wednesday-bright-eyes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/10-things-tuesday-hes-ready-to-leave-home-when/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/on-writing-wishes-and-not-re-inventing-the-wheel/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/six-word-saturday-who-said-boys-cant-wear-pink/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/when-two-heads-are-so-much-better-than-one/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/family-photo-friday-kids-no-more/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/three-weeks-out-and-ive-organised-nothing/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/on-the-importance-of-grandparents/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/on-counting-and-gender-stereotypes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/getting-over-the-grumps/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-word-saturday-on-being-allowed-a-weekend-sleep-in/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-raising-children-and-not-getting-enough-sleep/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/back-to-school-for-the-last-time/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/wordless-wednesday-remembering-birthdays-past-and-counting-down-to-a-big-one/

When two heads are so much better than one

The boy-child's naming day, January 1999. All of these people made wishes for him then; now I'm going to ask them to do the same again. Photo: Gary Gray, 1999.

The boy-child’s naming day, January 1999. All of these people made wishes for him then; now I’m going to ask them to do the same again. Photo: Gary Gray, 1999.

The other day I was musing over the boy-child’s reluctance resistance refusal to allow me to organise a celebration for his up-coming 16th birthday (Three weeks out and I’ve organised nothing). Several members of my wise blogging whanau* commented on this, and Meghan at FireBonnet suggested that instead of trying to force the issue I could arrange for friends and family to participate in the birthday though a book of wishes or reminiscences. It was a brilliant suggestion; elegant, simple and achievable.

I did think of a refinement on it in the form of a video compilation, but soon realised that – as with many of my initial enthusiasms – it would just be a whole lot of work. Not to mention a bit like sending coals to Newcastle, since my video-editing skills are way, way less than the boy-child’s.

So a book it is. Thank you Meghan. Now I must start phoning, emailing, FB messaging friends and whanau for their contributions.

In the meantime, here are a few pics of the boy-child with some of the amazing people who have touched his life.

This post was written as part of my countdown to my son’s 16th birthday. Here’s what has gone before:

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/family-photo-friday-kids-no-more/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/three-weeks-out-and-ive-organised-nothing/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/on-the-importance-of-grandparents/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/on-counting-and-gender-stereotypes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/getting-over-the-grumps/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-word-saturday-on-being-allowed-a-weekend-sleep-in/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-raising-children-and-not-getting-enough-sleep/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/back-to-school-for-the-last-time/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/wordless-wednesday-remembering-birthdays-past-and-counting-down-to-a-big-one/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/juxtaposition-on-being-reminded-how-far-we-have-travelled/

* whanau is a Maori word which describes extended family – though necessarily or exclusively in a biological sense. In everyday use it tends to be used to describe those to whom we feel a sense of community or kinship.

Three weeks out … and I’ve organised nothing

Sixth birthday - dinosaur-themed from memory. Photo: Su Leslie 2004

Sixth birthday – dinosaur-themed from memory. Photo: Su Leslie 2004

It’s partly because my son is an only child (and partly because I love celebrations) that I’ve tended to go all out on birthday parties for him.

We’ve had huge parties (around 30 people came to his fourth birthday), themed parties (dinosaurs, medieval knights, pirates, underwater world), multiple parties for the same birthday, costumes, elaborate cakes, games involving balloon swords or polystyrene pterodactyls (which have to be made by doting and dotty parents) … and, well you get the idea.

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for birthday number three. Photo: Su Leslie 2001

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for birthday number three. Photo: Su Leslie 2001

When he was little, birthday planning began in early January (for a late February birthday). I’d have lists, strategy sessions, even spreadsheets. It was exhausting and I generally had at least one totally ridiculous meltdown or screaming tantrum, but the parties always went wonderfully and of course I secretly (or not so secretly) loved the whole messy, expensive, over the top process.

The medieval knights themed party; swords made from modelling balloons, bicycle jousts and a castle cake. Photo: Su Leslie 2005

The medieval knights themed party; swords made from modelling balloons, bicycle jousts and a castle cake. Photo: Su Leslie 2005

Looking back on the birthday photos, the really nice thing is that the kids generally look relaxed and happy – often pulling faces and mugging for the camera.

My sixth birthday; I'm hiding in the middle behind my brother.

My sixth birthday; I’m hiding in the middle behind my brother.

That’s in stark contrast to the only photo I have of one of my birthday parties. Admittedly, it was the late sixties and we were probably all “on our best behaviour”, but really there’s no joy in the shot – no sense that it’s a party or that anyone is having fun.

And the boy-child doesn’t want big celebrations any more; no themes, cakes … not even a party. He has several groups of friends and has realised that they don’t necessarily mix well, so for the last few years he has tended to celebrate with each group separately. And it’s all pretty low-key these days. Like his father, the boy-child actually doesn’t enjoy a fuss. Can he really be my son????

Sixteen feels like a milestone worth celebrating and I’ve raised it with the boy but he’s adamant he wants to mark the occasion his way – without my involvement. He’s resistant to any sort of family occasion beyond dinner with the Big T and I.

I do feel conflicted; it’s my son’s birthday but that event also marks the day I feel we became a family – rather than a couple. By doing so it also tied us more closely to our wider whanau and I’d like to give those people a chance to celebrate something so special too.

Well, I still have three weeks — plenty of time for a miracle!

This post was written as part of my countdown to my son’s sixteenth birthday.

Here’s what’s gone before:

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/on-the-importance-of-grandparents/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/on-counting-and-gender-stereotypes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/getting-over-the-grumps/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-word-saturday-on-being-allowed-a-weekend-sleep-in/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-raising-children-and-not-getting-enough-sleep/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/back-to-school-for-the-last-time/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/wordless-wednesday-remembering-birthdays-past-and-counting-down-to-a-big-one/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/juxtaposition-on-being-reminded-how-far-we-have-travelled/

I don’t want to hate Christmas

Pretty, sparkly things - love em.

Pretty coloured, sparkly things – love em. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

I think deep down I’m Spanish. Quite apart from loving the food (ok, maybe not the pork), the wine, Moorish and Gaudi architecture and flamenco music, I have a sneaking admiration for Latin Catholicism with its architecture, music, rituals, strong community and roll-call of saints, all of whom seem to have a festival or holiday devoted to them. And that’s at the heart of my innard Spaniard – I love festivities. I just adore any opportunity to step outside the everyday and celebrate!

So I should love Christmas, right?

Right. And I want to. I want to do craft things with hot-glue and glitter. I want to bake, host parties, wrap presents, send cards (but NOT those enclosed self-congratulatory form letters), put up lights, decorate a tree.

I want to be the one who always makes the fruit salad for the pre-Christmas barbecue that’s always held at Auntie Whatsit’s, who always gets stuck having to be Secret Santa for drunk Uncle Thingamy.

I want that stuff. I really do.

I’m an atheist it’s true, so the whole Christmas kick-starter is a not really for me. But I am a Presbyterian atheist – brought up in the Church of Scotland – so although I don’t believe in gods, I am sufficiently infused with  the doctrine that I can appreciate the moral and social dimension of Christianity. I just prefer to think of it as socialism.

I don't think I could ever be accused of spending too much. I

I don’t think I could ever be accused of “spending too much” on anything. I give home-made, hand-made, time, energy and love. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

And I’m a socialist, so it’s not the glorification of capitalist excesses that I crave from Christmas. The opposite in fact; I don’t think I could ever be accused of “spending too much” on anything. I give home-made, hand-made; time, energy and love.

My problem with Christmas…

… is that you can’t do it alone, and the people around me are just “not that into it.”

This goes all the way back to childhood. My parents (also Scottish Presbyterians) never really embraced Christmas. I suspect this is partly because – until recently –  Christmas wasn’t that big a deal in Scotland (compared to Hogmanay a week later) so their own Christmas memories were of not much at all; partly because there was never much money for “extravagance”, and partly because we emigrated across the world when I was five and for most of my childhood Christmas was just an acute reminder of how lonely it can be when your entire family consists of five people.

As an adult I’ve tried all sorts of approaches to Christmas, from spending it with boyfriends’ families, to hosting fellow expat “waifs and strays”, to staying in bed with a good book and left-over pizza. Sometimes it’s worked; other times, not so much.

But since the boy-child was born, I’ve tried – really, really tried – to create the kind of Christmases he might remember fondly, instead of the kind I had which are funny in retrospect only because I’ve chosen to laugh about them rather than cry.

In this, I have to say the Big T isn’t much help. Kind and generous to a fault, he has over the years participated in all of the manic Christmas-like activities I’ve tried, but really, his heart’s not in it. While I want to grab every excuse for celebration by the throat, wrestle them to the ground and wring every ounce of potential enjoyment out of them, he’d rather not.

But really, even if the Big T embraced Christmas with the slightly fanatical zeal I manifest, it wouldn’t make that much difference. Without an extended family to participate in festivities with, it is (see above) an acute reminder of how lonely the holiday season can be when your entire family consists of three people.

Since we moved back to New Zealand (so the boy-child could have a Kiwi upbringing) we have tried to “do” a family Christmas with the Big T’s folks. Sometimes it’s been ok. One year we managed to get all the siblings and their kids to my parents-in-law’s house and that was fun, if fraught by the break-up of a marriage and both partners trying really hard to be civil to each other. Last year’s Christmas co-incided with my father in law’s 80th birthday and that was nice. But in general, my in-laws aren’t a particularly close or cohesive family, so trying to get together for Christmas is really not a priority.

And that’s ok. I don’t want to force people to do stuff they’re unwilling to or uncomfortable with. I just feel kind of sad.

The boy-child's advent caledar; made by a cousin and given to him when he was four. Still in use 12 years later!

The boy-child’s advent calendar; made by a cousin and given to him when he was four. Still in use 12 years later!

In the meantime, the boy-child is growing up. This year the “what shall we do for Christmas” talk centred around the bits of our home-grown tradition we’d keep and what we’d abandon.

 Still in:

  • The boy-child’s Advent Calendar. Who wouldn’t want chocolates, cash and gifts every day until Xmas?
  • The cornucopia filled with Cadbury’s Favourites. I don’t remember how this started, but it’s fun
  • Christmas lights (though not outside)
  • Our “posh” Christmas Eve dinner (if I can find a good restaurant still open on Christmas Eve)
  • Making a batch of Scottish tablet (not yet made)
  • Making a donation to the City Mission
  • “Santa” gifts (the little tokens we buy each other to prove we haven’t completely lost interest)
  • Midnight carol service (for me). The devil may have the best tunes, but the Church lets everybody sing theirs

Out:

  • Our traditional pine Christmas tree. We’re all allergic to it (especially the Big-T whose job it’s been to go buy it) and I hate vacuuming up pine needles every day. It’s been replaced with a very cool, post-modern “light-tree”
  • Baking Christmas cakes
  • Christmas whanau brunch (but only because our brunch-mates have more pressing family commitments this year)
  • Mystery presents – we all have something expensive we really, really want so we’re using the bulk of the Christmas budget to subsidize these items
  • Christmas Day. Why try and create an event when really, there’s nothing to create it out of? And of course …
  • Christmas Dinner (no menu planning, last minute dash to supermarket, trying to be creative with left-overs). Budget for that added to Mission Donation.
The "light tree".

The “light tree”. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

So part of me is sad (the Spanish part that craves ritual and festivity), but in truth I’m a bit relieved that the pressure of trying to make something out of nothing has disappeared. I won’t be creating warm wonderful Christmas memories for the boy-child to cherish, but on the other hand without expectation there’s no disappointment.

Aand this way we might just get through the day without any of the huge fights that have accompanied my attempts at seasonal cheer in the past. So perhaps no good memories, but no horrible ones either.

And on balance I think I’m ok with that.

For this year at least.