‘Twas the season

Christmas treeOn the 12th day of Christmas … I went back to work. (Doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it? Oh well.)

Having finished the Friday before Christmas, I had spent 11 days away from work so today was effectively day 12 for me. It’s the longest single break I’ve had since Toby was born nearly three years ago – I worked through half my paternity leave with Kara – during which my laptop remained resolutely unopened and I checked my phone for emails and messages maybe five times, no more.

Not that my ‘holiday’ was a quiet affair, mind you. With three children aged five and under in the house, how could it be? Coming back into a not even half-full office this morning felt like slipping down a couple of gears. It has given me the chance to reflect back on our first Christmas as a family of five and think about what I will most remember this year’s festive period for.

In no particular order, here are the ten things at the forefront of my mind when I look back on Christmas 2012.

A Liew family Christmas – the dinner table is starting to get rather crowded now …

1. The crawling menace. Timing is everything. Kara chose Christmas Eve to start crawling, and she was soon zooming around the house like a hands-and-knees version of a Formula 1 car. As a result our Christmas tree, which the boys had decorated beautifully, soon found itself shorn of decorations on its lower levels. Tick off another milestone in our daughter’s development, but one which would have been more welcome had it occurred two weeks later once the tree was down!

2. It’s all about the kids. I’ve written previously how Christmas revolves almost exclusively around our children – this year even more so. You only had to look at the large pile of presents both boys had – each larger than for the combined five adults in our house on Christmas Day – to realise that. And that’s as it should be, as both boys reached peak Christmas frenzy this year with an excitement and innocence which was touching. Whether Isaac – who will be six next time around – still believes in the magic of Santa Claus by then, who knows? If he doesn’t, Christmas will feel very different.

3. The diplomat and the anarchist. Christmas morning provided a perfect example of how different our two boys are in character. Having shown surprising restraint in not invading our bedroom until 5.45am – that counts as a late morning for Isaac – the boys were allowed to open a pack of chocolate coins each and told they could eat three of them. Zac (aged five) immediately wolfed down three and then opened negotiations to be allowed to consume some more. On the other hand, Toby (nearly three) quietly turned his back and ate a fourth, fifth and sixth regardless. The diplomat and the anarchist. Having said that, we’re fortunate that they play together really well (for the most part), in spite – or perhaps because – of their differences.

Zac Toby ice cream factory
A quiet morning at the ice cream factory

4. Captain OCD. Isaac is either Captain OCD or he’s destined to work in a sorting office. For the second year running on Christmas morning, he insisted on supervising the handing out of presents by first organising all the gifts into separate and orderly piles by person. All he has to do now is learn to bash the corners of every packet and deliver a few presents to the wrong people and a future career with Royal Mail beckons.

Destined to work in a mail sorting office
Destined to work in a mail sorting office

5. Christmas films. Christmas films may not be the huge audience draw they once were, but they are beginning to take on a holiday-defining quality in our house. Last year was the Year of the Rat, with the kids’ film of choice being Ratatouille – the first time either of our sons had ever shown the patience to sit through an entire film. This year it was the Year of the Cowboy: it was all about the Toy Story trilogy. Both boys have been watching them – in particular the latter two – all holiday, and we’ve rapidly acquired Woody and Jessie figures and the DVD boxset too.

6. Sensitive Zac. It never ceases to amaze me how much a five-year old is capable of comprehending. On first viewing, Isaac sat through the final ten minutes of Toy Story 3 with tears flooding down his cheeks – of course, that then started me going too – and when asked why was able to articulate in great detail what he found sad about it. I don’t dare let him watch the news – it would be the end of him.

7. Games. Isaac is a fairly academic child, so we made an effort this year to buy him plenty of age-appropriate games. So what has been his favourite game this Christmas? My new version of Trivial Pursuit. I’m not joking.

8. He’s behind you! I took Isaac to see his first pantomime this year: Beauty and the Beast in Reading, starring CBeebies’ Justin Fletcher (you know, Mr Tumble). At two hours, it was a bit on the long side for both parents and kids alike, but he really enjoyed it and grasped the audience participation aspect of it immediately. We’ll definitely be doing it again next year, hopefully with Toby too.

9. Christmas traditions. The festive season is all about those strange little family traditions and routines – we all have them, don’t we? As we have grown from being childless to having three kids over the past five years we have started to install some of our own: some based on habits handed down from our parents, others developed ourselves. So Christmas breakfast always involves a mountain of bite-size sausage rolls and panettone, and post-lunch we turn off all the lights, break out the glow-sticks and let the boys do their thing to Christmas Top of the Pops.

Glow sticks, Gangnam style
Glow sticks, Gangnam style

10. New Year’s Eve. And just as Christmas Day has its own particular traditions, so too does New Year’s Eve. These days we see in the New Year at home, but over the past 14 years or so we have watched Big Ben chime with a couple of old friends – we now have four young kids between us – at least every other year. This year brought the added excitement of a sleepover – Daniel is almost midway in age between our two – and the traditional adult pastime of wine, dinner, more wine, games, a bit more wine, champagne and providing a suitably scathing commentary to Jools’ Annual Hootenanny. (Yes, I know, we’re so middle-aged.) This year provided its fair share of sitting ducks, not least an appearance by a vastly aged Dexys Midnight Runners:

And that’s it for Christmas 2012. Let’s see what 2013 has in store for us all. A little belatedly, Happy New Year everyone!