Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas tree time

I dug the Christmas decorations out of the loft and we spent last night putting the tree up. I'm not sure whether this is a bit early - there are surprisingly few homes in our neck of Colchester with decorations yet. In Hackney they used to appear from mid-November.

Still, I'm thoroughly Christmas seasoned already. I've had three encounters with Father Christmas, been to two kids parties, and been on the Thomas Santa special at the nearby East Anglian Railway Museum. It's all kicking off.

Putting up the tree is one of those things that we're trying to turn into a bit of a tradition. I can't remember ever really helping put up the tree when I was a kid. Maybe I just wasn't interested. Mind you, we had a fairly uninspiring small, silvery fake tree that was wheeled out once a year.

Ever since I've had a place of my own, we've always opted for a real tree. Most years I find myself wondering why I bother. Transporting them in pre-car London was always a pain. You either had to carry it on your shoulder for a couple of miles, or risk the wrath of bus-users as you scratched past them. At least with a walk there was always the option of stopping for a livener at the local - I wonder how many trees are orphaned in pubs by over-festive owners.

Getting them home is only the start of things though as the annual fight to get it in the house, remove the netting and get the damn thing to fit into the holder and stand upright. Cue saw, lots of sweating and bad language at unaccustomed labour as you trim the trunk to fit.

Anyway, that done, said tree - £35 of Homebase Norwegian spruce, thanks for asking - wobbled atop a coffee table in our bay window.

The kids love dressing the tree, although their exuberance does tend to leave it looking a bit like the box of decorations has been thrown at it. Elder brother is also notoriously bossy, so within minutes the veto that no one would be decorating the tree if behaviour didn't improve, was brandished. This seemed to have the desired effect, and our tree was garishly clad. The promise of a tree party picnic of many 'bad' treats, also helped speed us along.

The final result - after mummy has redistributed some of the tinsel, baubles and bells - is surprisingly tasteful. Our accumulated decorations are anything but coordinated, but somehow it works. My wife tells me that she now understands how her mum was driven to distraction by not being allowed to throw away any of the old decorations by her and her siblings. But I think that's better than a designer, colour coordinated offering which lacks the personal touch.

Family life is all about small, and not so small compromises. Every year I want to sling out our old decorations and start afresh, but I know I never will. Some day I will pass on the baubles bearing the teeth marks made by younger son, along with the threadbare tinsel and distressed fairy. And then they can throw them out!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Parental bonding second time round

We've been in Colchester for almost exactly a year now. In many ways we've settled in really well. We all like the town. Our neighbours have been really welcoming. And we've met lots of new people. More than I anticipated we would actually.

Coming from London where everyone is a lot more insular, it has been a breath of fresh air how open Colchester folk seem to be.

However in recent weeks I've felt myself a bit of an outsider again. I've been looking after our second born for a day a week now that Mrs Holiday is working a couple of days a week. As such, I've been back on the parenting circuit. Having looked after Number One Son for a good part of his early days, it's not an unusual experience, but it is definitely different this time around.

With our eldest I really threw myself into the whole 'stay at home dad' role. (This is actually a bit of a misnomer as most of the stay at home dads I knew were anything but. There was a well beaten track around Children Centres, stay and plays, singing clubs and child friendly cafes, so we were mostly everywhere but at home). As most of the people I met were first time parents like me, there was a puppyish level of enthusiasm and a sense of all being in it together.

What I'm finding with my second time as a caring dad is that it's a bit harder to break into the established groups and cliques. As soon as people have more than one child, they are a bit more set in their ways, and I plead guilty to this myself.

At any rate in recent weeks, I've noticed a bit more that everybody seems to know everybody else, and I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself as Billy No Mates. Well, not quite no mates, but very few, so that when they disappear to chat to one of their other acquaintances, there is that an awkward sense of being alone in a crowd.

Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough. Maybe I'm not around enough - one day a week isn't really enough to get yourself known. Maybe I'm going to the wrong places in the first place. Maybe I'm imagining the whole thing.

Whatever it is, I think I need a plan B to try and get over this feeling that I'm missing out. As J gets nearer to school age, there is a mild, yet creeping panic concerning the power of the school gate Mafia. We're already damned by geography to be banished from the sharp-elbowed parent's local school of choice. And with that I fear a whole round of birthday parties, play dates, and Masonic preferential treatment from the Colchestratti. (Not to mention dad's nights out - yeah, what about me!)

I'd hate to think that I've blighted the lives of our two young innocents by not getting my A into G. One thing is for sure, it's only going to get tougher from here onwards.