Why I love my Christmas tree

xmas tree

I bought my first Christmas tree when I was seven months pregnant and couldn’t bend over. My husband comes from a family which happily decorates two massive 10 feet high artificial Christmas trees every year. For those reasons, I was more than happy to buy a fake Christmas tree, way back in 2011, and thought nothing more about it, apart feeling vaguely smug that I didn’t have to hoover up pine needles every winter.

And then something changed.

It might have been the dementia that gripped a relative this year and the ongoing pain this has caused her family. It might have been the subsequently vindictive neighbour who kickstarted an ongoing legal battle that two loved ones are currently right in the middle of, losing sleep, happiness and sanity. It could have been watching people I love experience separation, anxiety, panic attacks and cancer, not to mention the bombs, airstrikes and generally pointless bigotry, pain and death that fill my newsfeed every day. 

This year, I watched my husband and daughter take a fake tree out of a bin bag and I knew it was time for something more. As my brain pounded with tiredness and panic, we piled into our van and set off on a late afternoon shopping tree spree. We bought our tree from the Arnos Vale Cemetery, a place of peace. It was way too expensive but we got it anyway, found a tree stand, stood our tree in it, decorated it, and switched the lights on.

That was two weeks ago. The tree has exerted its own magic over me. What my mother calls my ‘weltschmerz’ (world-pain) has lifted. I’ve wrapped presents underneath it, drunk red wine close by it, and stretched out on the sofa next to it, a beautiful cat purring on my stomach and read my book, an almost inconceivable luxury. (The tree made me do it.) It’s brought a sense of calm and optimism in the house. I feel it in every room.

The tradition of bringing a tree into the house for Christmas dates back to Germany in the early 1500s, although the Pagans were massive fans of worshipping and celebrating trees. And I can see why. When the rest of the world is dead, rotting and dark, filling your house with green mistletoe, holly and trees is the most audaciously perfect solution. This would never be decided on in a focus group. Who else but the pagans would decide that trees were the solutions to everything?

And I’ll tell you what else is bloody great about Christmas trees. They don’t really work on sunny winter days – they need darkness all around them to shine. And there’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere about how we need pain and darkness to help us find our own happiness, but I need to go and water my tree again so I’ll leave that one with you.

Just get in the water

 

vole-620_1876939b
You can’t make me. Source: Terry Whittaker

 

The argument has been going on for weeks now. Long, tortuous, repetitive weeks. I fear we have reached a political standoff we’ll never recover from.

‘After school today, shall we go to your swimming lesson?’ I’ll begin.

‘Will you get in with me?’

‘No. Parents aren’t allowed in.’

‘I don’t want to go Mummy, please don’t make me.’

 

There’s been a lot of things, in her short life, Polly’s said no to. Trampolining. Ballet. Carrots. Waterproof trousers. Her school jacket (“it’s sleeves are fat.”) Mostly, when it comes to her attending extracurricular activities, I’m pretty open to saying no too.

I’ve written before about not being a huge fan of organised fun. Plus, anything that means one less hour standing about with a bunch of other parents all staring intently at their phones is fine in my book.

If Polly were to decide that between now and her 18th birthday the only thing she wants to do is enjoy the collected works of Roald Dahl and master making a white sauce, I like to think I’d be down with that. Learning what you love to do takes time and sometimes silence.

But when it comes to swimming, I’ve got this weak pulsating Achilles heel, and I hear myself giving her the shittest pep talks ever.

‘You have to learn to swim, so you don’t drown,’ I’ll try. But in reality it’s more than that. It’s definitely a type of one-up-man-ship. I see other kids her age and younger without armbands in the pool, and I worry that she’s falling behind. I’m entering her into a race she doesn’t know about. I’m a (gasp) pushy parent. Gaaaaah!

Plus – I love swimming. I can’t think of anything nicer than doing a perfect tumble turn. In my old blog I once waxed lyrical about them for quite some time – that was a good day.

So, when it comes to upskilling my daughter, I’ve realised that I want her to love what I love. It’s shallow and wrong, yes. But it’s why we returned to the local swimming pool today for her weekly lesson.

It was a crowded time of day. There was a group of parents, all clustered about at one end. There were loads of kids, all a bit older than her, and three teachers that she hadn’t met before. In short, it was bound to freak her. She clung to me like a limpet and stroked my boobs for comfort. I tried not to snatch her hand away. I was hot and flustered and acutely aware of standing out like a sore thumb by the poolside. When the teacher took the register, he took one look at her and said:

“Well you look terrified.”

Then he took one look at me and said: ‘Don’t worry.’

She didn’t want to go in at all. He said she could stand on the side, and then went above and beyond the call of duty in involving her in the lesson anyway. He asked her to throw in the floats, got her moving her arms about like a traffic controller, and told all the girls and boys in his class to lift their arms “if they want Polly to join their class next week.”

(Yep – one of life’s good guys.)

I spent half-an-hour following him and Polly around the pool, feeling self-conscious and sweatily gawky. But at the end, I managed to tell Polly how proud I was that she’d gone to the lesson. The teacher came up to me. “Well done for being a realistic parent,” he said. “You’d be surprised by the number of people who want me to throw their children in if they don’t want to get in.”

That made me feel a bit better. Let’s hope I’m not tempted next week.