Monday, 27 December 2010

Another Year Over...

‘A new one just begun’* as the song goes. 

There is nothing quite like New Year to make us aware of the passing of time and just how precious it is.

This is particularly so for the older generation and it is a sad fact that my own family has had to say goodbye to many  loved ones in recent years. New Year is a time for remembering and I know that my mother feels the loss of my father and her sister, brothers and friends acutely. I am at an age when I see my cousins more often at funerals than any other family celebration. An even more cruel blow last year was losing one of my cousins to cancer. 

It has to be said that I look at my own mother and realise how important it is to value her and to create happy family memories for myself and for my children. She can grumpy, difficult, bad tempered and, at times, more impossible to deal with than my teenagers (and that is saying something!) but she is my mum and we (I) can’t bear to think of life without her.

We had a scare at the beginning of the year when my mum was in hospital for several months. It reminded me of when my father suddenly became ill and went into hospital four years ago.  It very soon became obvious that he wasn’t going to come home again. But my mother has always been a fighter and she did slowly get better. She has now returned to her own home, which I never thought would have been possible, although that still causes concern on a daily basis. That same stubbornness and determination that allowed her, at the age of 85, to conquer illness also keeps her clinging on to a house that is far too big and difficult for her to manage (but that is another story!).

Time is precious and as get older we come to realise that and I often wish that I had made the effort to see more of my grandparents when I was younger. I now try to make sure that my own children see their grandmothers as often as possible but they are growing up and have other priorities. Even on occasions when you can drag them round to see granny, they are plugged into iPods or mobile phones. And such is the way of things. It is only as we get older ourselves that we realise how quickly time slips away and opportunities are lost.

And sometimes if we listen we discover that the older generation have wonderful stories to tell. It was only this year at the funeral of a relative that we discovered that she had left home at 14 to go into service as a maid in a country home. When I think of all those family occasions spent in her company and I never knew about her early life – just think of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey – what fascinating tales she must have had to tell.

So this year when the clock chimes 12 to herald the arrival of 2011, I will raise my glass to all those who have gone before and vow to make the most of every minute spent with those who remain.

Happy New Year!

*Lyrics by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Christmas is coming and so are the relatives!

"What are you doing for Christmas?"

The question was innocent enough but coming from my mother meant ‘Can I spend it with you’?

"Would you like to come to us?"
"Ohh, that would be lovely, thank you so much dear."

She didn’t really need to ask. For as far back as I can remember I have had my mum and mother-in-law (MIL) to stay over the festive season.

This was our choice. With family spread over the country, and much of my husband’s in the far north, we have spent many Christmas holidays traversing the country. One year we clocked up over 1,000 miles in three days. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had meant that everyone was happy and felt that they had been treated fairly but our families all complained that we hadn’t stayed for long enough, come on the right day etc.

When our eldest was born, having spent 12 gruelling hours in the car with a snuffly baby, in freezing conditions, trying to appease the grandparents, we decided that enough was enough.

"Next year we are staying put," we announced. "You can do what you want, we won’t be offended, come to us if you like."

And so they did, and have done every year for the past 15 years.

It would be lovely to have a Christmas day to ourselves. Just us and the kids, opening presents, eating what we want, when we want to. Instead, it will be the usual pantomime of my mother insisting on spending the day in the kitchen ‘helping’ whilst MIL takes up residence on the couch expecting everyone to wait on her.

And that is without the brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces that will all come and go at intervals throughout the festive season.

This year, there is the added complication of my daughter’s long term boyfriend (LTB). Of course they want to spend time together but at whose house and with which family?

I know it would be churlish to deny grandparents seeing the children at Christmas (if only they would behave a bit better (the grandparents, not the kids!). And I have no doubt that in years to come, we will cherish the times we all spent together as one big extended family.

But come 1 January, my husband and I find ourselves exhausted as we face the return to work, wondering where our ‘holiday’ went.

And in years to come, I wonder if my own children will ask me to stay with them for Christmas and what my reply might be?

"Sorry, darling, hope you don’t mind but we’re off to the Caribbean?

I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

I am much more likely to say: "I thought you’d never ask."

Christmas is, after all, a time for families.