Maybe it was something they ate. Maybe they got out of bed on the wrong side. Most likely it’s just a sign of the teenage times. All I know is that it came as a shock. Yesterday, for the first time in memory, the Prescott children suddenly declared themselves far too busy to partake in decorating the Christmas tree.
“What the heck,” grunted my fifteen-year-old son, Greg. “I mean, seriously, we won’t even be here for Christmas, we’ll be in Dubai. What’s the point?” His left nostril curled upwards, dragging his upper lip along with it as he shrugged his right shoulder, his body language alone expressing the utter futility of hauling four boxes of holiday paraphernalia out of the bomb shelter (yes, we Swiss are equipped for such charming eventualities) and up the stairs to the living room. My fledgling Christmas cheer vanished in a horrified little gasp. Worse, I think I aged ten years in three seconds.
Aghast, I turned to my seventeen-year-old daughter, Olivia. “No tree! No tree? We’ll be the ultimate Christmas losers!”
Olivia shrugged. To her credit, her attitude was slightly less offhand about project Christmas 2009, but she nevertheless still agreed that Greg had a point. However, Dubai or no Dubai, she couldn’t imagine Christmas without a tree. “Yes, we’ll definitely be losers,” she sighed, trudging off towards her room, looking over her shoulder to give me a regretful little smile that meant, “I’d love to help but I really don’t have time.” Poor Olivia; at the moment her time really is precious. She’s doing her final year at school, gearing up to the International Baccalaureate and is up to the tips of her eyelashes in work.
How about Mr. Prescott? Would he rise to the festive occasion and endure a couple of hours of cheesy Christmas music in my charming company, decking plastic pine-needles?
As soon as he cottoned onto the subject of our conversation, he stuffed his hands in his pockets, glanced up at the ceiling and sauntered downstairs, whistling a tune that doesn’t exist. Minutes later I found him stretched out in front of a James Bond movie.
I stood in the doorway with my hands on my hips. “Joyeux Noël!” I fumed, which is French for “get your cute little derrière into the bomb shelter and help me carry those boxes upstairs.” Well, it isn’t really; Joyeux Noël means Merry Christmas. But isn’t it the fuming thought that counts?
A few minutes later I could have been in (solitary) business. Instead, I sat down with a cup of tea and a Hobnob and pondered the joys of Christmases past. I then listlessly prepared dinner and, once my work was done, promptly went to bed.
It seems hard to believe that only twelve months ago the idea of decorating the tree was greeted with whoops of glee. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating the degree of glee previously expressed; my offspring’s 2008 response was more along the lines of “oh, ok, we’ll help, but only if we can listen to Coldplay instead of Haydn’s Messiah.” Which is fair enough; as it happens, Chris Martin does it for me too.
But here’s what’s troubling me: up until last year, decking the halls was still a joint effort, a family affair. (Not that Mr. Prescott has ever really been creatively involved in the actual decking process; his expertise lies more in the field of dealing with the inevitable collateral damage: putting boxes away, cleaning up broken baubles, and extreme vacuuming.)
When I sat down yesterday evening in our as yet undecorated living room, my mind wandered back to Olivia’s first Christmas. I remembered how she wriggled along the floor blowing bubbles, all blonde and chubby and gorgeous in her navy blue romper suit with the penguin on the front. I remembered Greg’s first Christmas, picturing him so teeny-weeny at two weeks old, deliciously adorable in his red velvet Father Christmas suit that played “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” when you tickled his tummy. I remembered icy, push-chair outings to the local garden-centre where my babies would gaze in wonder at the huge, magical Christmas display. I remembered carefully hanging the wonky kindergarten baubles so lovingly made by their podgy little hands. I remembered going bonkers year after year over terminally tangled Christmas lights, trying to convince the kids that I really didn’t need any help. I remembered it all, and I got all emotional.
Seventeen Christmases, gone in a flash…
Everyone always tells you that children grow up too fast, but it’s not until you wake up one day and discover they’re too grown up to get excited about decorating the Christmas tree that you realize just how mind-boggling “fast” actually is. Not that my kids are utterly blasé about Christmas; they both still love all the seasonal trappings and trimmings. It’s just that they’re beyond prancing around the coffee table, singing along to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.” They have more pressing things to do. The problem is: I liked prancing around the coffee table with them. It was brilliant!
So this morning, all alone, I set my iPod to a cheesy Christmas playlist. I turned up the volume, and then went to work assembling our artificial tree. I strung decorations and thought of all those noisy days when Olivia and Greg were little children. I relived it all like a giant patchwork of mini-movies, but I didn’t get weepy, I embraced it.
In fact, I spent two wonderful hours singing daft Christmas songs to the dogs at the top of my voice. As usual, the fairy-lights were terminally tangled, but this year I didn’t attempt to untangle them for more than a couple of minutes. Instead I chucked them in the rubbish, jumped into the car, headed for the shopping centre and bought new ones. When I got home, I wound them strategically around my tree, making sure they shone on the decorations Greg and Olivia had made as little children. Then I lit a fire, made myself a cup of coffee, and flopped onto the couch to admire my handiwork. On the stereo, Michael Bublé promised to be home for Christmas.
We won’t be home for Christmas this year. But we’ll be back soon afterwards and I know we’ll all be glad to walk into a house with a tree. It doesn’t matter that within a few days we’ll probably be heading up to the mountains for New Year, because we’ll all be pleased to see it when we come down again. Nor does it matter that, before we know it, Christmas will officially be over and we’ll all be moaning about having to take the darn tree down again!
Basically, at the end of the day, I know we’ll all be far happier remembering 2009 as “the year of the pointless Christmas tree” rather than “the year we just couldn’t be bothered!”