Despite the government Grinches cancelling Christmas at the last moment, the festive spirit is still hanging on in there. Tomorrow, for the first time in three months, I will finally be allowed to hug my daughter as she steps foot inside our house. No more huddling under umbrellas in the park – at least for this one-day amnesty. Who knows what will happen after that?
So, for now, we’re keeping up the tradition of watching a seasonal film. Just, this year, it’s in virtual-togetherness. The Nearly-Beloved has put down his choices on the family WhatsApp but he’s outnumbered as usual. Girl power is in the ascendance here, Super Son-in-law has been well-trained to agree with his wife, and Grunting Teen’s vote has been discounted as not serious since he’s permanently got one eye on his phone. So, Love Actually is the movie of choice yet again, despite mutterings from the Nearly-Beloved that Hugh Grant’s Prime-Minister role is totally ridiculous. Although, personally, I think he makes a very welcome change…
‘Oh, I’m feeling so Christmassy now,’ Darling Daughter texts, ‘and looking out of the window, the houses round here have really gone to town on the decorations. I love to see all those outdoor lights.’
I look daggers at the Nearly-Beloved. He believes Christmas should remain firmly inside and a wreath on the front door is as far as festive fun is allowed to go. No fairy lights in the trees for us. But thankfully Super Son-in-law’s passed the rigorous pre-marriage test of essential lighting etiquette and their garden is ablaze with winter wonderland magic.
I console myself by dipping my hands simultaneously into the boxes of Roses and Quality Street before texting back. ‘You’re right. People have made a real effort this year. There’s not been much to look forward to, so it’s a welcome distraction. It gives me a lot of pleasure seeing their fancy displays.’ I throw another evil look at the Nearly Beloved who tries to deflect the criticism by mounting an attack on his son for not paying close enough attention to the film.
‘We watch this every year dad,’ counters Grunting Teen, ‘can’t I go and play on the PS4 instead.’
There is a shocked silence at this break in family tradition until his face reddens and he stutters by way of explanation, ‘it’s just that ‘you know who’ has finished working now and can hang out with me…’
The silence deepens and I can feel a lump rising in my throat. ‘This film always makes me cry,’ I mumble. The Nearly-Beloved uncharacteristically reaches out and gives my hand a squeeze as I wipe away a tear. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. ‘I’ll make a cup of tea, shall I?’ he says in his hurry to leave the room.
‘Mum?’ Grunting Teen asks again, this time with more urgency.
I put on a brave smile. ‘Yes, well, off you go love,’ I tell my teen, ‘and let him know we’ll speak to him in the morning.’
For this is my Lost Boy, my older son who we haven’t seen for over a year now. Working abroad and quarantine restrictions have made it impossible to meet up. And I rarely mention him because it makes my heart hurt too much. So, like many other families this Christmas, our turkey dinner will be noticeable for its absences. Last year there were eleven of us round the table. This year there will be just five.
For a moment I’m overwhelmed by sadness. But hearing the ping of another message and the laughter coming down the stairs as my two boys connect over the internet, I’m so grateful that, despite being apart, we can still find ways to be together. We can focus on what we are missing or we can focus on what we have. And as I imagine giving my daughter the umpteenth hug of Christmas Day, I realise that I’m very lucky. There’s an awful lot of love actually