It’s rained during most of our time in Bordeaux, so yesterday’s sunshine was very welcome. But today the rain jackets were out again — wpexcept for the boy-child who doesn’t seem to notice the weather.
The Big T, the boy-child and I are off on holiday for three weeks, and my ability to blog will be dependent on time, and internet connectivity in the various places we’re visiting.
I guess this means that if you don’t hear from me, we’re having too much fun — or there’s no broadband!
Thank you all for visiting, liking, commenting on and following ZimmerBitch. Your online fellowship is a huge part of why I blog.
See you in a few weeks.
Nga mihi nui (my best wishes)
Holidays are too infrequent these days. The Big T and I are both feeling overworked, and the boy-child is trying to juggle study for his final school exams with friendships, skating and generally being a teenager. I think it’s fair to say there’s not a lot of ‘chillin’ going on in our household.
So I’m choosing to remember some times when we’ve been less wound up and a lot more chilled.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
It’s kind of ironic for me that Sonel’s black & white photo theme this week is family, because in my life, family is certainly not “black and white”.
I grew up an immigrant; half a world away from any extended family. For most of my childhood it was Mum, Dad and the three kids. I had aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, but they were represented in my life by Christmas gifts of The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals and tubes of Smarties that usually arrived in February.
I envied the neighbourhood kids that visited grandparents or got to spend summer holidays with cousins “on the farm”. Although my parents were active in our community and both seemed to have lots of friends, I was a lonely awkward child who probably needed the security of a large family; the sense of people that loved me unthinkingly – because we had shared ancestors.
In my twenties, I moved back to the UK where the majority of my extended family live. I got to know a couple of aunts and my grandmother really well and I’m forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. Over the years, I’ve built tentative relationships with some of my cousins – and more recently their children.
These are loose connections though, and although I’m extremely fond of these men and women who share my ancestry, often my facial features and in some cases my name – they are still half a world away. So too are my mother and brothers, all in England these days. The only blood relative I have in New Zealand (apart from my son) is my father, with whom I’ve long had a difficult relationship.
On a day to day basis, family pretty much means my partner and son.
Yet I do have a sense of belonging to a group that is more than community. It’s made up of my friends, sometimes neighbours and some relatives. These are the people I’m close to; those I call when I feel like shit and need advice or a shoulder to cry on; the people who’ve looked after my son when I’ve needed them to – and more often because he likes being at their house anyway. The people I want to be with when I have something to celebrate and even more when it’s their turn to triumph.
The Maori word for this is whanau – which means family, but not merely or even necessarily in a biological sense. It’s about the communities of care that we construct – whatever their basis. Whanau is the group of friends, second-cousins and god-parents that gathers for dinner sometimes. It sends me out gift shopping for an old friend’s grandchildren, allows me to embrace my partner’s nephew’s half sister as my niece and my son to regard a friend’s young child as a cousin too.
My son is an only child, and in many ways I worry about his lack of family. Yet I’m confident that his whanau – the people we have chosen and who have chosen us – will love and support him. I’m confident too that he will create his own whanau as he grows older.
Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
Spoiler alert: I’m not nostalgic.
I can’t really think of a single thing or time from from my past that I get particularly sentimental about, or yearn to relive or return to.
I admit that I kind of miss the few years in my early twenties when I was slim and promiscuous (these two things are almost certainly connected), but if I’m honest, the sex may have been great but the rest of my life was still a mess.
I don’t miss the past because mostly I don’t remember it with much fondness. That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve felt really happy, but in general I don’t think I ever learned how to turn life over to find the bright side. I’m definitely a “glass half empty person” with an uncanny talent for locating large black clouds to stand under.
I’m particularly not nostalgic for my childhood, so I guess my choice of photo probably counts as an attempt at irony.
I hated being a kid. I was all the “un’s”: un-athletic, unattractive, unpopular and probably pretty un-likeable. I hated school because the only thing I was any good at was the actual schoolwork, and lets face it – that doesn’t really count for squat in kid universe. I think even the teachers didn’t really like me. It’s ok to be brainy, but not nerdy too.
At home I had to contend with parents who were so desperately wrestling their own demons they didn’t have the time or perhaps the sensitivity to notice that I was miserable, stunted, lonely, suffering.
And anyway, none of that really mattered since my main role in the family was to give my parents something to brag to their friends about – preferably a glowing report card at the end of every term with a few sensational exam marks in between. This I did, but no matter how good I was, it was never quite good enough. “Ninety eight percent! What happened to the other two?” Eventually I learned that they coped with my deficiencies by massaging the truth of my achievements a little. I’m not sure if they did Apgar tests when I was born, but if they did my parents would have insisted I got 11 out of 10.
So really there wasn’t much point in trying … Except … Except that I wanted them to love me, and I didn’t know of any other way, so I kept on getting A’s and knowing that without the little plus sign, they might as well have been D’s. For a long time it didn’t even occur to me that there was any other point to education.
So I guess I’ve wandered through vast tracts of my life totally without any sort of navigation device. Which is probably ok, because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going anyway. I still don’t really.
If I was making this up, I’d be able to tell you that at some point I had an epiphany; a moment of clarity when it all started to make sense and I got my life on track, blah, blah, blah.
Sorry. As a narrative, this one doesn’t obey any rules.
I’ve probably had lots of mini-epiphanies — epiphanettes if you like. I’ve probably even tweaked bits of my existence as a result. Whatever.
I’m a different person now. Maybe my present – reasonably happy – existence is the result of lots of dialectical hopscotch, or maybe it’s just what happens when you get older and slower and less willing to give a shit.
What I do know is that although I still find black clouds and get caught in their storms, I can also make my own shelter and dry myself off and carry on. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me.
I can go back to university after 20 years and get A’s because I want to do each assignment as well as I can – not because I think it will make someone love me.
I still don’t have a destination in life, but I have a morality that helps me navigate each day, and at the end of most of them I feel ok.
So right now I feel no nostalgia; and I almost hope I never do because that would mean life and I had stopped getting better. And that would be a shame after how far we’ve come.