Do you remember the excitement of being a child and wearing your pyjamas out of the house? Being snuffled in to a car and on to a midnight ferry or to pick up a parent from the train station? I do. Vividly. And today I got to relive it because we had tickets for The Polar Express.
We left the house all in Pjs and dressing gowns- ready for an adventure that was either going to be like a bad anxiety dream or a magical experience.
Polar Express runs deep in their veins. So much so they watch it all year round- height of summer or snuggling winter’s day. Whenever. They adore this film. Alex’s first long sentence was ‘shall we go home and cuddle up and watch Polar Express?’
We boarded the train from the misty (dry ice) platform and found our seats and the carriage filled with characters from the film: the chefs, the elves, the conductor. William, who is usually rather cool and aloof, was spellbound and grabbed hold of my phone to capture a picture of the conductor.
He then went bright red and all flustered-like how I would if I ever met Dolly Parton.
He even made me ask the conductor for a photo- this is unheard of.
Then we had a dance and a hot chocolate from the chefs and games and chats with the characters.
And then the carriage lights went off and outside the train window were lights and signs for the North Pole and Santa and his sleigh and our boys were beside themselves and I wept. It was utterly magical.
AND THEN SANTA CAME ON TO THE TRAIN! And Alex went wild and then shy and then bright red too. And Father Christmas gave them a bell each and it was beautiful.
As we chugged back, the conductor came and clipped their tickets and put a B and E for believe for Alex (‘just like the film!’) a W on William’s who lost his shizzle (‘how did he know my name?!’).
On the drive home William said ‘I loved the Polar Express’ and I teared up all over again because sometimes I forget he’s only six and we can still make his life magical.
At some point at Christmas you will have to drive somewhere. There are certain recognisable stages to every day of travel.
Stage one: planning
‘We should probably get going by lunchtime/after breakfast/before bedtime’. The hours prior to departure must be spent not-quite-relaxing. Advise moving listlessly around ‘doing jobs’.
Stage two: packing
A clear division of labour is important: one of you may want to pack both children’s clothes, all the medicine and bathroom bits and snacks for the journey. Another of you may want to use all your teenage Tetris training to fit it in the boot.
Stage three: exit
A rousing chorus of ‘can you just get your shoes on?!’ accompanies all major exits from the house- a cliche all parents enjoy. A pound for every time you say one of the following;
‘Did you pack the kids’ coats?’
‘Did you put the alarm on?’
‘ Why is this Sat Nav so f***ing slow?!’
Stage four: journey
Spirits may start high with Disney soundtracks and liberal distribution of snacks. Things usually deteriorate about mile 25. Bickering starts. Injustices happen. Snacks run dry. Spirits dampen. The footwell of your seat is up to your knees in wrapper, bribes, and maps and your right bum cheek has gone to sleep.
Stage five: arrival
Relief. Then dread. You have to unpack the car. Unpacking is the absolute pits. Try and provoke as hissing disagreement by being in opposite camps- ‘Let’s have a cuppa and unpack once the kids are settled’ versus the ‘Let’s just get it done and get a wash on’. Always fun.
Unpacking Christmas is always fun and may provoke a need to ‘have a sort out’ on a major scaleand you may make wild promises to streamline, organise and reject capitalism. It will be short lived. You will do this all again next year.
Hot morning breath whispers ‘mummy, shall we go downstairs and open some presents?’
Feel like expectations need readjusting…
I’m in charge of ‘using up the turkey’ today so pop out in the car to get puff pastry to make a pie.
Chap on till: ‘Have a nice Christmas?’
Me: ‘This is the first time I’ve been on my own for what feels like months! I’m going to drive home very slowly!’
Clutching my two-pack of puff pastry, I feel a bit silly for my outburst until I see a man in his car in the Co-Op car park – there are kids’ presents all over the backseat and he’s sitting behind the steering wheel listlessly cleaning it with a wet wipe and staring off in to the distance. I feel a deep sense of understanding.
Back home, the kids and in-laws have gone to the park so I listen to Desert Island Discs and make a turkey pie. It’s lovely.
The days between Christmas and New Year – fondly called Twixtmas by some or the Merrynium by others- are beloved days where your only deadlines are dictated by The Radio Times. The hubbub has reduced to a hum and it’s like all the good bits of an apocalypse.
Here are some more reasons why these days are the best.
The kids will still be up at 6am but they have a surplus of new, lusted-for toys to play with so you can snooze on the sofa and occasionally break open an eye to throw batteries at them. Basically a lie in.
Quality Streets and trifle.
Having spent the last fortnight in a frenzy of social events and school nativities, you can luxuriate in endless empty hours.
‘What shall we do today?’
‘Watch a film?’
Pressure Is Off
The emotional labour is done and the weight of expectations have lifted. You’ve opened your presents and they’re actually quite nice/useful/thoughtful. The kids are lolling or building Lego sets or nosing through books. The hype has peaked. The relief is palpable.
Bubble and Squeak. Cold bread sauce. Pork pies. Slabs of cheese everyone was too full to eat on Christmas Day. Popping cold pigs in blankets like they’re grapes. So darn good.
The ‘Bit of Fresh Air’
A nice round walk. The last outing for the Christmas jumpers. A hearty ‘Good afternoon’ to fellow survivors with the last wafts of goodwill.
They are indulged and funny and surprisingly good at Charades and look endearing in novelty jumpers and wonky paper crowns and curl up on your lap and cover your face with chocolate kisses and breathy disbelief that ‘Santa’s been’.
If Christmas Day is for them, these days are for you.