The Kiwi grinch that stole Christmas

The excitement, the anticipation, the festivities and feasting – I’ve always loved Christmas. The Little Mister is going to love it too, because we will make a fuss, and I won’t be able to stop myself. But that might be in the years to come, years, that is, in the Northern hemisphere.

Because this year, on baby’s first Christmas, I’m struggling and I’m going to have to keep my excitement in check. Christmas will consist of just our little family being together on the day. The Little Mister, his mama, and his dada. For me, Christmas at home was always a big family get together, so it’s hard to think that this little boy won’t have that. But then, to make the blow easier, it’s also true that he won’t remember a second of it anyway.

And do we spoil him? Well of course I will. But, with a removal company coming two weeks later to ship our boxes to London – do we really need to buy more toys just to send them half way across the world? (Where he will of course be ridiculously spoilt on arrival.) The Little Mister’s favourite toys right now are cardboard boxes. Is it mean to wrap a couple up for him? I know he won’t remember, but there will be photos. Fast forward ten years time to Milin looking at photos of his first Christmas. He’s alone with his parents, there’s no tree, but he’s opening big presents, beautifully wrapped, and perfectly box-shaped. “Mama,” he will say, “what was in those presents you gave me for my first Christmas?” What will I do? Lie? Or tell the truth – “We didn’t get you presents darling because we were leaving town soon, so those were just empty boxes. But you really did have fun with them, promise.”

The not-getting-a-tree-thing is something I’m still undecided about. Part of it is because my Little Mister is so adventurous these days that it would need to be somewhere up high and well out of reach. The lights would NEVER be on while he was awake, courtesy of these southern hemisphere long daylight hours at this time of year, and there might not be many presents under it. So do we get one? Just for the three of us?

I have brief pangs of worry that Godzone has turned me into a Christmas grinch, with its lack of all things festive. There are no roasting chestnuts, few lights, fewer window displays, and no Christmas markets. Instead, there are barbecues, camping trips (not for us), and a distinct lack of Christmas-themed festivities.

My reasons for loving Christmas are of course not religious, but they have a lot to do with history. As a little person, it was always a time when the whole family got together. Everyone was on holiday. It was an excuse to spoil each other, to be extra good to each other, a time to be grateful for each other and forget about our worries. So what if I’ve bought into the commercialism of it? I have no apologies for using a few public holidays each year to be happy and try and make others feel the same.

But this first Christmas for Milin will be different. It will be a little quieter, a little less extravagant, and perhaps a little less festive. We will still sing to him, spoil him, make sure no work is done, laugh with him all day, and of course dress him up in his Christmas best. But it will be a very southern hemisphere Christmas.

(I got my first chance to dress him up yesterday, by the way. He missed the Santa parade as it unhelpfully clashed with nap time, but we made it, briefly, to the Christmas party at Waitangi Park. The music was a bit too loud for him, and the tree wasn’t lit up, but he liked crawling on the grass.)

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Getting ready for the Christmas party with Aunty Julia

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Christmas parties in the sunshine, not particularly Christmassy.

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Our first family Christmas is a-coming

Happy Eleven Months

HANGING out the washing, I could hear your laughter through the open windows. It was more than a giggle, it was a whole-body, from the depths of your belly, almost uncontrollable, wide-open-mouth and scrunched-up-eyes laugh. You were playing with your Dada.

At eleven months now, life is all about fun. Today’s favourite game was throwing socks at Dada. I came in from the garden and found you both engrossed in the almost hysteria-inducing activity. It was a high-energy ending to a day which had already been filled with delighted squeals.

Little Mister, this is the last month of your first year, and you are loving it. You love playing toys, you love crawling, you love climbing, you love being tickled, you love cuddles, you love when I pick you up high after you tug at my trousers. You love playing peek-a-boo, covering your face with fabric and then suddenly pulling it away. “Where’s Milin? …. Boo!” I must play it a hundred times a day. You love spinning the wheels on your cars, and you love pushing them along the floor, crawling behind them. You love standing against the sofa and reaching for things which aren’t toys – like the tv remote. You are trying to walk by pushing your little car/walker around the lounge, but maybe it’s not weighty enough.

You love the garden and being outside. Weeding is one of your favourite games, as is watching the birds. “Birrr!” Is still your most-used word, used frequently when we chase sparrows in the buggy, your finger pointing to every bird we see. You are getting braver amongst other children, my little hero who has so much courage.

You climb face first off the fireplace and over the middle beam of our dining chairs, before turning around and doing it again. You love new people, you charm them of course with your words and – if they are lucky and funny enough – your smile. You love books and being read to. Every night after bath Dada reads you a few, you know them well. Through the day, we read others together, or you sit down yourself and talk to them. Your favourite these last few weeks is Mr Croc. “Mr Croc, how do you feel?” Tony reads it every night.

Little Mister, every day with you is a joy. Your smile, your laugh, your words, your pointing finger, your arms around my neck – you have made me and Tony the luckiest, happiest people in the world. Happy eleven months, Milin Charlie, you are so grown up! X

standing elfmrcrocfireplace jump

With each new second

THE COUNTDOWN is on. In two months today, we will leave Wellington. First stop, a week catching up with family in Thailand. Final stop, London.

It’s so hard to imagine what the Little Mister will be like when we get on that plane. Two months ago, he had just mastered crawling. Now, he shoots around the house so fast on his hands and knees that he wins every race. Two months ago, he was still bringing up even the tiniest lumps in food. Now, he will eat a bit of a Cruskit – and he seems to enjoy it. Two months ago, the thought of him standing up was so abstract I couldn’t picture it, let alone wonder when it would be. Now, he pulls himself up against walls, doors, the oven, the sofas, and, still holding on tight, takes a few testing steps sideways before deftly sitting back down.

Time changed when the Little Mister arrived. It started passing so incredibly quickly, and it keeps speeding up. At the end of each month, it’s amazing to look back at the progress he has made in just four, short weeks. But looking forward is harder. Will he be walking when we go? Saying some more words which sound more like real words? But, I don’t want to wish away the time between now and then, so will put those questions aside.

What the Little Mister has done has given me a new appreciation for time. It’s fine to look forward now, it’s exciting. But it’s also exciting to make the most of every second we spend together. He grows so much each day, so yes, the days pass quickly, but they are filled with discoveries too. Today, he laughed at the baboons at Wellington Zoo. They were playing at the front of their enclosure. He’s never noticed them before. Tonight, he put his big toe in his mouth. He’s never managed to reach it that far before. In the last few days, he has started tapping on the first page of his Mr Croc book. It’s because the book starts with a knock on the door and Tony always taps the book when he reads it. The Little Mister knows not to tap on any other page.

Yes, I wish time wouldn’t pass so fast. But while it speeds by, it is also filled with a richness that wasn’t there before. And as long as I’m watching for every new discovery, and treasuring the laughs or babbles or expressions that new seconds bring, it’s still a time I wouldn’t change for the world.

Adventures in Oz

FOR what felt like an hour, and probably longer for the strangers around us, the Little Mister screamed. Our first family holiday had been a success, but now it was home time. He wasn’t happy. He was tired out, cooped up, over-awed by all that was going on around him, his ears probably hurt, and he just wouldn’t stop screaming. It was everything I’d been afraid of. The flightmare was underway.

Tony and I kept looking at each other with the same hopeful look in our eyes, desperate for the air to swallow us all up. I kept telling him we’d never see any of these people again. The Little Mister kept screaming. Once we realised he wasn’t going to stop, we acted fast. And, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, he slept all the way through to border control. Success, again.

It was the only blip, and really it was a small, short one, on an otherwise wonderful practice run for our big journey next year. The Little Mister was a super traveller. Everything was new and exciting and the six days were one very big adventure.

He loved meeting his aunties, uncles and cousins. He impressed me with his easy-going attitude. As long as Tony and I were close and he wasn’t too tired, he was happy to be passed around, held, cuddled, spoiled, treated, and generally made a fuss of. He played ball. He charmed, grinned, babbled, and generally made everyone fall in love with him.

The fancy apartment was perfect – sparse and therefore very baby proof. The airport was a big, empty space ideal for crawling around and exploring. But the highlight without question was the beach. He ate bucketloads of sand. He picked it up and watched it fall back down as he opened his fists. He spied seagulls and crawled after them, making a beeline for the shoreline. He splashed his toes while we dipped him in the waves. He sucked the salt off his fingers all the way home. He crawled so far on his beach adventures he got sandburn on his little baby-soft knees. That evening, our tired Little Mister was too sore to crawl anymore.

Sadly for us, he woke at 4am each morning, still on Wellington time. But though he lacked sleep, he didn’t moan or grizzle. Everything was too much fun.

In six days, I feel like he grew up so much. He spent so much time pulling himself up, now home, he is standing up against whatever he can. Buckets that move, the back of the sofa that has no grip, the foot rest on the bar stool. And he wants to be outside all the time to keep the adventure going.

We didn’t only learn what a great explorer he was on the trip though, we learnt lessons too. We learnt that he loves other people, so why not hand him over and take a rest. Eating a meal is so much easier without the Little Mister on my lap. We learnt to take it in turns to get up with a jetlagged baby. We learnt how much the beach and the pool will tire him out. We learnt to keep the buggy with us to the gate. And, perhaps most importantly, we learnt that Calpol is magic.

Election Night Hopes

SITTING on my lap, rubbing his eyes and clasping his beloved bunny, the Little Mister stayed up late to watch tv. He watched as thousands of people waved little flags in jubilation. He watched them singing, chanting, smiling, crying, and clapping. When the just-elected president walked on that big stage, he watched.

The thousands of people clapped their hands in celebration. The Little Mister, somehow aware this was the moment we had waited for, clapped his hands too. (Well, it was his version of clapping.)

It was his first election. He knew something was up because me and Tony had the tv on during the day. He sees the news occasionally, but this was different. It wasn’t just on for the headlines. And we were quiet, waiting, watching, transfixed by the screen in the corner. He crawled to sit beneath it. He looked up, eyes wide, and waved his hands towards it but couldn’t reach the newsreaders and experts and statisticians.

Hours after we had sighed with relief, he wasn’t quite ready for bed so he sat up and waited. A little superstar, up an hour past bedtime, he listened to the entire breath-taking speech. He knew we were listening, and he wanted in on it too. What did he hear? Perhaps he heard a brave man whose voice was filled with hope. A man whose voice was in those moments inspiring millions of people in every country in the world.

What did you hear Little Mister? Did you hear the desire for something better? For a world less divided and more stable? Did you also hear your Mama and Dada hoping for some of those very same things?

It wasn’t our election, but it didn’t stop us wanting so very much the better world we heard about. We want it for you, Little Mister. Because you, with your wide open eyes and whole-face smile, and grasping hands and precious cuddles and delighted squeals deserve the very best world we can make for you. We hope it is one which sees less of the destructive wrath of mother nature – one which is stable and calm. We hope it is one where you can have whatever you wish and work for – one which is open with opportunity. We hope it is everything your innocent heart hopes it will be. We hope it is filled with love and peace and joy. We hope it is safe.

 

Flightmares, time differences, and a little holiday

The flight-mares have begun. In fact, they begun quite some time ago. Taking a 13-month old to the other side of the world in a plane filled with other people who probably just want to get some sleep fills me with dread. So we’re having a practice run next week.

Well, we’re not going all the way to England, and we’re not getting on a plane just to experience the sheer hell of travelling with a mobile baby, but we are having a bit of a holiday-trial.

Earlier this year, in a moment of careless disregard for our financial situation, I booked us a ridiculously over-priced holiday. There were lots of reasons to do this, and apart from the idea of putting the Little Mister on a plane, the only reason against booking the trip was that neither of us really have much of an income at the moment. (But, look, I’m doing a little work like this here.)

So, we’re off to Australia. Despite living here in Godzone for seven years, I’ve never been, and I thought it was probably time to get there before we return to England in January. Tony has three sisters on the Gold Coast, and so what better place to take ourselves? The Little Mister will get to meet his aunties, uncles and cousins, and we will get to have a good old-fashioned family catch up. We’re staying in luxury (or so it appears from the brochure) and I can satisfy my craving for genuinely warm weather, a splash about in the sea and a very nice hotel pool (with cute separate kiddy pool) to make up for arriving in London in the dark depths of winter.

The holiday too was a surprise father’s day “gift” from the Little Mister to his dad, so of course, there didn’t really need to be any other justification for it. (Not only was it Tony’s first father’s day, but the present also takes care of a rather large birthday in a couple of weeks time.)

So, super holiday in the sun, here we come. But wait, it’s not like it used to be. Throw beach dresses and hat in suitcase, drink some wines on the plane, and spend five days behaving like there’s nothing in the world to trouble the soul. That kind of holiday, I fear, is long gone.

The only trip we’ve done with the Little Mister was up to Auckland when he was not even four months old. Of course he was a dream on the plane – any hint of a grimace and I fed him. It’s different now. This boy has places to go. How on earth is he going to sit on my lap for four hours?

It’s not only the confined space that worries me. It’s the timing of it all. Our flight is at 7am. Way to start the day, then, by waking up my sleeping child, bundling him into a taxi before dawn breaks, driving for less than ten minutes, and then expecting him to fall back to sleep at the airport for a bit. That’s before we even board. I have worries too about take off and landing. Will giving him a bottle help his ears? What if he doesn’t want one?

Then there’s the time difference. Should I start trying to make him go to bed later each night now – we still have ten days to go? And once we are there, will he sleep anyway given it’ll be a strange place? Recently he’s not been so keen on new, unfamiliar places….

At least its only a few hours on the plane, the time difference isn’t too bad, and we’re only away for five days. I’m sure he’ll be a trooper. It’ll be ¬†our first overseas holiday as a family of three, and we might not relax in the way that we used to while abroad, but I’m sure we will have an extra special time because this is how life is now. We’ll just try to forget the plane journey very quickly. And after all, it is only the practice run.

Leaving Godzone

THE BALANCE has been paid, the tickets are ours, and we’re off to England. Not yet, because of course we are no-way-near ready, but in a month not far away.

So, we will leave Godzone, for six months, six years, forever – we don’t know. We will go to a place where children don’t walk to school. Where parents must pass through security and metal detectors to get into their child’s classroom. Where teachers can’t hug their pupils. We will go to a place where the Little Mister will be surrounded by cousins, great aunties and uncles, family. Europe will be a hop skip and jump away, with its castles, ruins, history and stories. We will leave our big house and garden from where we can walk to the shops, the swings, the city, the sea, the zoo. We will leave this place as the barbecues of summer still sizzle, and we will wrap the Little Mister in merino and down jackets and shield his face from the biting cold that is the English winter. We will, next year, decorate a tree while the ground outside is frosty, the nights come early, and the fairy lights twinkle from late afternoon. We will visit Christmas markets, go to see the windows and lights in town, and later make a snowman with a big orange carrot for a nose.

We will spend the next few months running around trying to get ready to say goodbye. We will cry when we hug and kiss those we love here. We will pack boxes while he sleeps, scrub window panes while he plays, and call packing companies and letting agents when he is distracted. We will worry about money, about jobs, about our new life. We will worry whether we are doing the right thing. We are doing it all for the Little Mister.

Who, by the way, had his passport photo taken. This, my darling Little Mister, looks more to me like a photo of you about to start school at four. When did you get so grown up?