I'll let you in on a small secret.
I don't really hate Christmas.
As a rule, I really don't like that much. I do think it's a big pile of commercial wank which leaves people stressed out and feeling under appreciated and overwhelmed, but I don't hate it with a passion. The true meaning of Christmas, that of love and renewal and hope seems to get missed along with the plastic crap and tinsel that adorns the place. Christmas just doesn't float my boat at all and I work on a principle of minimal participation - going to the things that I want to go do, not drinking too much, try and get a lot of time by myself and by doing all of this, I tend to cope.
Making things better, I have places to go now.
Christmas has left me scarred, I'll admit to this too.
I remember years where I've been on my own. One Christmas in particular, where I didn't speak to another living soul from Christmas afternoon until five days later when I went back to work. London is not a good place to be when you're on your own at Christmas time. There have been times where I've been with other people's families. That's never a great thing unless you know the people well - that situation feels like your this spare body that nobody knows what to do with. I'm not good at being nice to people I don't know in these times. My immediate family aren't big into Christmas. I'd rather go back to Adelaide when the flights aren't as expensive and there's less stress about the place.
A lot of me disliking Christmas is managing my own expectations. I don't expect presents. I'm not into all the trimmings, though I know I preferred Christmas when I was in England and a large roast meal with a suet pudding went down well, much better than it does on a 35 degree day. The telly on Christmas Day is better in England too.
Spending Christmas with friends is always the best option for me. The best Christmases I've had have been when I've been hanging around with friends, often with young kids about the place. Last year's one with Blarney, Barney and the boys was great. Ended up doing a lot of cooking along with spending time with friends. I'm doing the same this year as I'm working through until the end of January at the moment (contract extension hopefully pending).
My other beef with Christmas is that I'd really like the infrastructure to have Christmas at home, with my own family. A Christmas where I do my own cooking and set my own table and not have to leave the house. If I do that now, I spend the day alone - not something I do willingly on Christmas Day.
I'd also like to know what it's like to wake up next to somebody at Christmas. It's happened once, but that was a very, very long time ago.
Concentrating on what I don't have is a destructive behaviour. Looking at what I do have is far more positive.
All this is fine, until something comes and trips you up. Like today. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. You think everything is under control, locked up in its compartments and tidied away. Nope.
This afternoon, Blarney and I took the boys to the local science museum. As Barney was off with the boys playing golf, we took my car.
It was the sight of the car seats in the back seat of the Mazda.
Logical me saw the funny side. I don't have to put up with the mashed banana in the upholstery, having to retrieve toys at the traffic lights, the endless fights, the ferrying to sports and music lessons, the kid's music on the CD player... the trappings of a child-tethered existence. (Another friend of mine had the exact opposite happen, when she walking into my flat and asked where my "wheelie moo" and "kanga jumper" were. We got in my car and she immediately asked if The Pixies were appropriate listening - until she remembered that her son was home with her husband.)
In the seconds it took to get Chance and Lance out of the back seat, my alternative reality came through.
A life with a child. The managing day care runs, the juggling money, the endless fights over getting off the computer or what is on television or when it's right to go to bed. The sacrifices made for time, career, money, friends all for this other human being that came out of you. Then there's the travel with a child back to Adelaide, the visits from the grandparents, the wondering what you do with kids for Christmas....
All of this flashed before my eyes.
But this is not my reality. Knowing that this could have been my reality makes it all the more strange and slightly upsetting.
Christmas is the only time that I get to think and feel about this stuff, even if it's only for a few seconds.
It hits me like a cricket bat to the head every time I fall over these small cracks in the ether that show my alternatives, highlighting my past decisions. There are no "what-ifs" or "maybes". My life is what it is. In another reality, there is a me with a child, with the rotting food mashed into the back seat of the car which smells of sour milk, the music lessons, the fighting over money... as grateful as I am for my life as it is, there is a tiny part of me that wonders.