Sunday, 5 January 2014

Epiphany notes to self

It has become something of an Epiphany tradition, as we pack up the decorations, to leave little notes among them for us to find next year.  The notes we found as we unpacked the boxes this year included a copy of the new song we'd learned for the Advent wreath, a card by Abigail with a description of how she had made it and a note from me to future me which simply said, "Roll up your sleeves - the madness is about to begin!"  Finding them was special and we will definitely be doing the same again this year; in a similar spirit, I've decided to write a blog post addressed to my future self, just rolling up her sleeves for Advent 2014.

Dear Amy,
You may remember 2013 as the year when presents were remarkably organised. This is because you went online in October and ordered most of Amazon. You also went to jumble sales from the summer onwards and had a hiding place for potential stocking presents. I applaud you - do that again.  One way you could improve on 2013's performance is to use the extra time that your stunning gift prowess gives you to send some cards before the final posting date.
You may also remember Christmas 2013 as a somewhat frustrating one.  The first Christmas after Abi's diagnosis of autism, you tried to do everything "normal" despite having long since abandoned "normal" in your everyday life, and then despaired when it didn't work.  There were some extra lovely moments too, though, and I hope you remember those: her word-perfect knowledge of all the Christmas songs she did at nursery (even though she didn't sing them on the stage), her serious face as she decorated the tree almost single-handed, the way that Baby Jesus was always 'poorly' for some unknown reason and that the stable was a 'farm' for the first few weeks of Advent, but did eventually become a stable when "Mary and Jophiss and the poorly poorly baby" moved in.
For this 6th January, I've written 6 tips to get you through next year more smoothly. I hope you don't mind.  Of course, knowing Abi and the way that she learns, you're probably not going to need a single one of these tips next year - she'll have the whole Christmas thing in her stride by then, I'm sure.  Here they are just in case.  You've found blogs by people on similar journeys very useful over the past year; if you don't need this list, perhaps somebody else will.

1) I know you're Mrs Advent and you've been waiting several decades to inflict 586 different traditions on your children.  It's unmanageable and overwhelming for any small child.  Get a grip.  Until they are older, pick one Advent tradition - Jesse tree, calendar or figures in the stable - and stick to it.  Put it somewhere out of reach and make time to do it at the same time every day.  This way you may actually end up with an enjoyable, meaningful routine which they remember.  Also, you will stay sane and avoid spending your evenings replacing 22 little figures behind fiddly doors.

2) At the time of writing, Abi has not yet grasped that between saying "Juice please" and drinking juice, there must be a time when Mummy goes to fetch the juice.  Waiting is hard.  24 days of waiting is not even comprehensible.  But 24 days of waiting when you have no idea what you're waiting for?!  Everything you tried to talk about this year resulted in her either wanting or not wanting it, vehemently and IMMEDIATELY.  Leave the Christmas talk until the last few days of Advent, because it risks building up into anxiety rather than anticipation.  She'll go through it all in school anyway.  Once the holidays have begun, why not prepare for Christmas 2014 by watching home videos of Christmas 2013?  They're probably more realistic and informative than Charlie and Lola.

3) Leave any family festive outings until after the 25th.  Poor Abi, in the week before Christmas, went through two birthday parties, her first nativity play, her nursery Christmas party, a school fair and managed to meet Santa through sheer accident three times. She really didn't need your trip to the garden centre to see the pretty lights.

4) For heaven's sake don't give the children chocolate, not even in their stockings.  They are going to get far more of the sweet stuff than they could ever healthily eat, even if you try to ration it out over the whole year as an enticement to every meal, and you will end up scoffing it furtively and feeling guilty because it was meant for them.

5) Sing.  It's the thing Abi picks up quickest.  I expect that next year, Jeremy will too.  John Hardwick's songs mean that Abi already knows what angels say.  How many carols tell the whole nativity story?

6) Don't panic.  When Abi wakes up at 6am screaming and sobbing that she doesn't want any presents, just go with it.  Snuggle up in bed and talk about something else, and be grateful for an extra year that won't be ruled by materialism.  Similarly, when Jeremy develops a fear of gifts and runs screaming whenever you try to give him one, just unwrap them all and hand over the toys.  It may not feel quite right, but then neither does chasing a sobbing toddler around the house with a parcel.  The day is never going to look the way it does in your head, whether you were anticipating schmaltz or catastrophe.  If you relax about it, they'll enjoy it, whatever it looks like - and so will you.


Fran said...

That's a great idea, leaving yourself a note/letter for next year. Love it.

Sarah said...

I remember one year in the July, or some other random date in the middle of the year, I had a revelation not to stress about birthdays and making perfect birthday cakes for the boys. Both their birthday's are in December when stress levels are already though the roof thinking about getting Christmas right too!
Anyway for the most part I heed my own advice and the boys have never been bothered whether I make them a cake or not. Sometimes I still feel like a rotten mother (my mum made me a fruit cake and sponge cake every year for my birthday parties!) but it's impossible to make every birthday and Christmas as perfect as we'd like them to be.
Your note to self is a wonderful reminder to concentrate on the really important stuff - just being together as a family IS the MOST IMPORTANT STUFF at Christmas...

...oh and JESUS obviously ;-) xx

Mdivgirl said...

Love the present bit. We woke Jonathan and Vivienne up earlier than usual because people were there, and they totally ignored the tree, presents, and stockings, just playing iPad and being rather anti social. Later in the day, they worked it out and got into it, but still, I think the idea of a whole stocking worth of presents just didn't matter to them at all. Stephen, though, was the worst. I got him to help with Jonathan's stocking and he tried to blow through it so quickly that even Jonathan was telling him to slow down. As for advent? I still have chocolate Advent calendars that are mostly full. Christmas songs? They don't have Sunday school or an English nursery school, and every time I try singing -- well, basically anything, with Vivienne she demands Twinkle, Twinkle. (I'm trying to convince her that Away in the manger also is about stars and the sky, the only two words she gets right in Twinkle, Twinkle anyway.) I'm guessing that all the fun, make Christmas magical for the children bits come when they're a bit bigger -- at least I hope they do. I need someone to like Chirstmas-y things, and Stephen's never going to. (As for me, it's Epiphany and my Christmas cards aren't yet send and I am pretty sure my tree's getting packed up during Chinese New Year. So you're doing great!)

Anonymous said...

It is good advice for eveyone to focus on what really is important and not to get so stressed about 'stuff' we put upon ourselves. Well written, made me cry the second time of reading too...well done brave lady. Lynn (

Jess said...

[Life] is never going to look the way it does in your head, whether you were anticipating schmaltz or catastrophe. If you relax about it, they'll enjoy it, whatever it looks like - and so will you.

Amen. ;)

Jess said...

[Life] is never going to look the way it does in your head, whether you were anticipating schmaltz or catastrophe. If you relax about it, they'll enjoy it, whatever it looks like - and so will you.

Amen. ;)