Whilst my children and I were putting up our Christmas tree yesterday and unpacking the motley assortment of decorations we have collected and made over the years, I felt a tinge of sadness as I thought about how much of parenting is about looking backwards and looking forwards rather than enjoying the current moment. It starts almost from when they are born and continues throughout childhood. We look forwards to the future and talk about how much easier things will be once they start sleeping through the night, and eating proper food, and using the toilet, and walking, and talking. Then once they reach all those stages, we look backwards and think about how much easier it was when you could just put them down somewhere and they would stay there, and they didn’t answer you back, and you didn’t have to worry about what you would feed them, and you didn’t have to have a mad panicky search for the nearest bathroom when they suddenly need to go at the most inopportune moment. The truth is that nothing about parenting is easy. As they grow and develop we are faced with new and unexpected challenges, but also new joys and it is the joys that we should focus on because all too soon they are passed. We scarcely notice it, but every time they grow up a bit more, they become like new people and when we look back at old photographs of them and memorabilia we realise how much we miss all those people they were along the way.
Yesterday, as I looked at the slightly disheveled angel with the crooked smile and foil dress that my daughter had made when she was six, and the pom pom Santa with the missing foot that my son had made at nursery school, I thought about how much our Christmas tree was a catalyst for these poignant memories. The ‘Baby’s first Christmas’ bauble, the Disney character ornaments, the millennium tinsel decoration; every piece brings back a memory of a different time in my children’s lives, a time that I fear I didn’t properly appreciate until it was gone. Woven into all this are also the memories of my own happy childhood Christmases and the longing to feel again that almost unbearable anticipation and magical excitement about Christmas which has now been replaced by grumbling about the cost and work involved in putting a Christmas together.
But hark at me! Looking backwards sadly rather than enjoying the present. Even whilst we were decorating the tree I was thinking about whether we should buy some new lights next year and wondering about how many more years it would be before the children stopped getting excited about decorating the tree. I shall make it my resolution for the rest of December to think about the wonderful memories we are creating this year, rather than those from the past and those that are yet to come. And if you hear me complaining about the mess my children have made in the house, please remind me that in years to come when they have grown up and fled the nest, I shall pine for these days of cleaning mud off the stair carpet, and finding orange peel and dirty socks behind the sofa.
Have yourselves a very Merry Christmas everyone!