That line has been running round my head for a couple of days and started yet another reflection. I can’t remember a time when I lay awake with no worry or dread about things that I can’t control. It’s a horrible treadmill of existence if we let it take over.
Mum was lying on the sofa with the scissor handles dangling off her fingers. Three wrapped presents lay on the carpet like slain soldiers. Another four sat, still in their naked state, not bothered about being covered in very temporary paper and ribbon. It’ll all end up on the floor anyway. But Matthew wouldn’t tell mum that. He knew how she wanted to do Christmas right.
He took the scissors off her and got down on his knees, pointing to one of the baskets of soap,
“So who’s this one for?”
Mum pushed herself up and tousled his hair,
“Ugh. She gets a present for being horrible?!”
“It’s what one does.”
“It’s a grown-up thing. No-one asks why.”
Matthew straightened his shoulders,
“Maybe they should.”
Mum frowned at the remaining presents and suppressed a sigh.
He had to say it.
“If you want someone to help with the rest, I’ll do it. We both know Santa is made up anyway.”
Mum stood up,
“Matthew, he’s not! You’re Santa every time you give me your hand. I’ll be Santa when I manage to wrap these presents. Santa is real. He’s alive every time we give somebody else a gift, whatever that might turn out to be.”
Mum was crazy but he’d let her have that. She hauled her laptop over her knees and started typing furiously. Her face got all flushed and her lips moved as she typed. Matthew loved that her work made her happy and kept her here, close by. He vaguely remembered the time when she’d gone out to the office. That was when she had been able to take him to the park, or sit on the swing beside him. He shook the thoughts of that out of his head. No point in re-playing things that could not be done now. The counsellor had told them both that.
There was a knock at the door and he ran over to open it.
“Trick or treat?”
It was Judy, laughing.
“Wrong holiday! But I have treats if you want to come in?”
Judy pushed past him, already putting her nose in the air, trying to sniff out the chocolate. She stopped dead, her arms straight by her side when she saw the presents.
She looked at the wrapping paper and mum’s head bent over her work. She glanced over at Matthew and then his mum. She pointed,
“Want me to wrap those?!”
Matthew looked at her badly buttoned cardigan and wonky parting and wondered how he could diplomatically refuse.
“Hi Judy! Yes, please do! I’m sick of sticky tape and shiny paper.”
Judy narrowed her eyes at Matthew,
“You don’t want me to? Just watch me!”
Mum closed her laptop and did what she was told.
It turned out Judy was a whizz at wrapping. She even made curls to put on the top. As she deftly folded over the paper she told them,
“Mum is too much of a control freak to let me or dad do it so this is awesome!”
Matthew watched her, open-mouthed. She had never mentioned her dad before. Did she ever wonder where his was?
She thrust something into his hand,
“Happy Christmas stupid.”
He looked down at the springing ribbon she had just made and grinned,
“Wow! Thank-you!” He held the ribbon up and pulled on one end, watching it spring back,
“I love wobbly things.”
Judy grinned and tugged at her lop-sided skirt.
Matthew caught mum’s eye and smiled.
It was going to be a very happy, wobbly Christmas after all.
I can still remember words used to describe me that made me stand a little taller. Sadly I can tell you about other labels I wanted to shrug off. We need to be so very careful when we assign a word to others. It can affirm them or stick like ill-placed chewing gum.
Looking back, I was more like my mum; always cleaning, cooking, moving. Back then, I cleaned the inside of the microwave and the fridge every week. I always mopped after I hoovered. If I saw something out of place, I moved it back. The quilt on the bed was always smooth. You could run your finger over any surface and it would come back clean.
There is a character in Dickens’ Bleak House that I can never forget. It’s Jo, the street sweeper. He has no education, no home. He just sweeps the roads every day. Any time he tries to sit down to rest he’s told to ‘move on’.
It was so noisy, cold and smelly there. I sat high up, hoping that while the others were clamouring for attention, someone might see me first. My brothers were just showing off but those other two? Frantic.