Every year, just before Christmas Eve Mass, my parish puts on a little children’s nativity play. And this year, Harry was old enough to join in. I watched him with pride at the rehearsal as he sat on the altar steps next to his big brother, solemnly clutching his assigned wooden sheep and singing carols very dutifully. I could already see how it was going to be. On Christmas Eve, all the otherwise stern-faced parishioners would be nodding at each other indulgently and pointing to the altar. There sat the quiet and obedient little three-year-old with the mop of golden hair and enormous brown eyes as he performed Away in a Manger in Australian Sign Language. “That boy has come good,” they would mutter to each other, “he used to turn up to Mass late and without shoes on and shriek abuse at Father during the consecration, but no more! Just look at him sitting so still! I call that fine parenting!”. My heart swelled.
The rehearsal was a long one. Annie was getting tired of being strapped in her pusher. When I unclipped her, she promptly trotted over to the altar steps and sat down amongst the other children. It was all very cute and she looked very proud of herself. I let her stay there for a little while, but I soon began to sense her presence was making the co-ordinator rather anxious, so I coaxed her back to my seat with toy cars and kept her there. I could tell from the smile of approval and relief the co-ordinator sent my way that I’d done the right thing. It’s true: I do value other people’s approval far more than I ought. Annie, realising she’d been duped, began to howl piteously.
When the rehearsal ended, it was time to fit the children for their costumes. Being one of the smallest, Harry was last to be fitted. As we approached, I could hear him murmuring to himself: “but I don’t need a clothes. I don’t want one. I just don’t need a clothes”. The kindly parish lady held up a small brown robe. Harry’s eyes widened: “No. No. No, I don’t need it. No! No! Take it off! Take it off!”. I didn’t want to make a big thing of it or – for that matter – tear a hole in the lovingly handmade costume. Harry can have a bit of a thing where clothing is involved. In the end, we held the robe against Harry’s wriggling form to measure it. “Never mind,” said the kindly parish lady as she pinned a label with Harry’s name on the costume’s coat hanger, “it’s been a long morning. He’ll be fine on the night.”
Christmas Eve was a day that went by in a bit of a desperate whirl. A couple of days earlier, my mum and I decided we would move the family Christmas to my house (Mum and Dad are getting their kitchen renovated and, whilst the builder had given them many reassurances that the kitchen would be ready by Christmas, it would seem he had not specified which Christmas). I was feeling quietly jubilant by this prospect. I still feel the novelty of having a home of my own and now I would have the chance to get it all dressed up for Christmas. Surely this was some sort of housewives’ rite of passage? My head spun with the possibilities. What about this?
Image credit: Mollie Makes, http://www.molliemakes.com
Image credit: Craft & Creativity, http://craftandcreativity.com
Image credit: http://www.welke.nl
My home would be so beautiful and charming. Everybody would exclaim over all of the sweet details and thoughtful touches. But before I could let loose with the decorations, I needed to tidy up. After all, an artist must always begin with a clean canvas!
By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I had modified my expectations a little. OK, so I probably wasn’t going to get a chance to make beautiful, bespoke decorations and create a Pinterest wonderland here on earth, but at least I could focus on making it fresh and tidy and welcoming. So I wrote a list a mile long and got lost in a frenzy of sweeping and dusting and endless picking-up-and-putting-away (or picking-up-and-scratching-head-over-random-objects-that-seem-beyond-classification).
It soon got to the point where I realised I wasn’t going to get the house tidy in time for Christmas. My delightful children were expertly manufacturing mess at a faster rate than I could possibly dispel it. I decided on a new goal – I would make the kitchen functional. My family had suffered weeks in a house without a working kitchen, it would be a relief for them to work in a shiny-clean and clutter-free space. I might even clean the oven (hey: there’s a first time for everything!).
But as we hurtled towards the end of the day, I realised forlornly that I was not going to accomplish any of my goals and now had to focus on force-feeding dinner to my children before getting them to the church by 6:15-no-later. I had sort of hoped to coax Mr Knightley into taking the children so that I might have some child-free time to get some stuff done and – hang on! – get dressed for church. But, as Mr Knightley ruefully pointed out, he had been working in the garden all afternoon and was covered in dirt and grass clippings. He would need the time to have a shower.
We were already late. There was no time to discuss matters. It was possible that I fumed a little as I strapped Annie into her car seat (she was looking very sweet in a bright green fairy dress Matilda had found for her) and muttered to myself about my husband’s tendency to find urgent things to do in the safety of the garden whenever I go into stressed-out-cleaning-banshee-mode, but this is not the place to document such grumblings.
As we raced towards the room with all the costumes, I took note of the pretty dresses and floaty blouses all the other mums were wearing. The earrings and the makeup and the high-heeled shoes. I was wearing a faded peasant top that makes me look a little pregnant and my jeans with the frayed bit at the bottom. The co-ordinator (looking spectacular in a black lacy number with red lipstick) made an elaborate display of relief when we burst in the door (eleven minutes late) and ushered us to the dressing room where the kindly parish ladies were waiting. I shared a brief look of solidarity with the KPLs and gamely girded my underdressed loins. Harry had already started to shake his head.
As I cheerfully approached him with the robe all gathered up and ready to pull over his head, Harry shot one look of disgust and pure loathing at the proffered garment and bolted. I somehow managed to rugby-tackle the miniature maelstrom as he ran laps of the room shouting “No-no-no-no-no-no! Help! HELP MEEE!” and began to wrestle arms and legs and heads into sleeves and neckholes and skirts. It was just as I stopped applying the costume and picked up the tea towel headdress that Harry managed to fling the small brown cloak off in one swift movement and resumed his protest march around the room.
By now, everyone else had departed for photos-on-the-basketball-court. So, with one arm dragging Harry and the other pushing the stroller (which contained both Annie and the wretched costume), I proceeded outside to resume negotiations.
Harry and I sat facing each other on the asphalt. I had managed to poke Harry’s head through the costume, but that was as far as I’d got. I gestured helplessly at the other little shepherd boys as they posed together for a photo.
“Look, Harry,” I coaxed, “all the big boys are wearing their costumes. Don’t you want to be like a big boy?”
Harry glared at me mutinously. I tried again.
“Do you want to sit with me and Annie like a baby?”
“Then you must wear your costume”
“Then you won’t be able to be in the play”
“Are you a big boy or a baby?”
“Just try it”
And he ran away.
I sat, bereft, on the bitumen. Two of the dads were regarding me from on high (they were tall and standing up, I mean).
“Nobody would say you didn’t give it a good go.” said one consolingly.
“There’s always next year,” said the other.
I sighed and climbed to my feet. Mr Knightley appeared by my elbow. “There’s still time if you want to run home and get dressed up.” he said, “Go now! Hurry!”
So I raced home, pulled my favourite summer dress off the line, flung it over my head, poked my feet into some pretty sandals and raced back to the church.
I fell in the door just moments after the play had started. As I stumbled to my seat, I took in the scene before me. Christopher Robin and Harry sat beside each other. And Harry was in full costume, with only one arm poking defiantly out of his neck hole.
It was a Christmas miracle.
I looked across to the angels. There sat Matilda, a halo of silver tinsel on her dark hair, singing her eight-year-old heart out. And there, sitting amongst the Heavenly Host all in white, was a small green fairy. Annie shot me a warning look that said don’t ruin this for me, Mother. Mr Knightley smiled indulgently. The co-ordinator smiled nervously.
I flopped down into my seat. Meh. Three out of four ain’t bad.