“Mum,” I said bravely.
“This year I will be taking the boys to Learner Dad’s family for Christmas Day lunch.”
I rushed on.
“But we’ll come down Christmas morning and stay for as long as we can and we’ll try and see you Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, I’m sorry, I know how much Christmas means to you, especially with Li’l Fatty here now too…”
“Al, it’s ok,” she interrupted, completely unfussed. “I fully expected this to happen this year.”
Ever wondered who the woman is behind St Nick?
The real Mrs Claus?
Well, it’s my mother.
Think Christmas and, anyone who knows her, thinks of my mum.
For a start, she collects Santas, has hundreds of them.
Friends and relatives bring their kids every year to see Rossie’s Santas.
She was once nearly on The Collectors program with them, but chickened out at the last minute.
Although, as littlies, we’d spent Christmas Day at both my grandparents’ houses, for probably two decades we’d had it at my mother’s house.
Of course news never sleeps so I’d worked my share, covering anything from homeless lunches to drunken sieges.
But I’d bowed out of Christmas Day shifts when I became a mum.
And being a single mother to Master Seven meant I didn’t have to share it with anyone.
Then our family of two became one of four and our Christmas Day options doubled.
With three new babies in the mix on Learner Dad’s side, this year his family was determined to get everyone together.
And with my brother spending Christmas at his in-laws too, it worked out perfectly.
“What will you do when we all leave before lunch though?” I asked Mum, imagining her and Dad, he in his Santa suit and her as the elf, pulling bon-bons and swaying to John Lennon’s Happy Xmas, alone.
“Eat our lunch?” she said, clearly not as fazed as I’d imagined.
We’re lucky living in Hobart that it’s not logistically difficult to make more than one stop on Christmas Day.
I have friends who don’t live near one set of parents, let alone both.
I remember, as a child, loving seeing both sides of the family on Christmas Day.
Once the food ran out, presents dried up and you’d begun fighting with your cousins, you’d be bundled into the car to do it all over again.
Master Seven and Li’l Fatty will now get to experience that too.
And so long as I focus on that, rather than remembering the stressed look on the faces of my exhausted parents as they shuffled us around, then I should be ok.
Spending my first Christmas lunch away from the family home isn’t a case of all good things coming to an end.
My in-law’s house has felt like home for a long time.
It’s simply a case of having too much of a good thing.
For Learner Dad, it’s spending the day with people he’s known and loved all his life.
For Master Seven, well, it’s double the presents, isn’t it?
And for Li’l Fatty?
Well, let’s face it.
It’s really just another day.
Merry Christmas to all and I’ll be back on deck in the new year.
“Mum, can we also get a Mario toy to put in each one?” Master Seven asked, pouring the lollies out on the table.
“We most certainly cannot,” I answered. “One lolly per card per person. That’s plenty.”
What happened to just giving plain old Christmas cards in envelopes?
I’d only caved in to the lollies when I realised every card Master Seven was bringing home contained a little something extra.
Usually it was a small lolly that, like ours, had Shiploads written all over it.
A handful of kids had included candy canes or Freddo Frogs (which usually came home as an envelope full of hot chocolate).
Then, just when I thought I’d seen it all, one of his classmates went and upped the ante by putting a toy in Master Seven’s card.
That’s right – a small Transformers toy.
I know, I know, I hear you.
Suddenly the humble boiled lolly didn’t look all that great.
While kids have upped the game on Christmas cards, adults seem to be playing it down on presents.
“What? We’re just getting one voucher each this year?” my brother asked recently, when told of our new Secret Santa plan.
Once my generation started spawning children, us adults had stopped buying for each other.
That is except for one Secret Santa present, which we’d draw out of a hat in the weeks before the big day.
This year, we’d made it even more simple.
Instead of a present, we’d each get a $50 gift voucher.
I’d stolen the idea from Learner Dad’s family, who were trialling it themselves this year.
The plan was to find something original yet practical.
“I’ve got the best idea ever,” Learner Dad said excitedly, unveiling his voucher plan to me.
Only it turned out not to be so original when, doing our grocery shop, we noticed his very voucher on display at the supermarket.
In fact, there were dozens of varieties, meaning we clearly weren’t the only family simplifying things this year.
Bright and colourful, the vouchers were alluring.
Easy to buy, easy to use.
Easy to pop in an envelope.
‘In fact,’ I thought, ‘perfect to put in Master Seven’s Christmas cards next year.’
Won’t that put me ahead of the pack?
‘What about the kids?’ I heard a man whisper.
I turned around to the back of the cinema to see a group of foreign-looking young men stand up and quickly rush out.
I was with Master Seven, watching Madagascar 3.
I turned back to the screen but I couldn’t concentrate.
The movie was only about 20 minutes in.
Why had the men rushed out?
And, more importantly, what were they doing there in the first place?
I kept trying to engross myself in the film but it just wasn’t working.
“I’m going to the toilet,” I whispered to Master Seven.
He nodded distractedly.
I walked up the aisle and took a long look at where the men had been sitting.
I couldn’t see a thing.
But I was nervous.
Yep, I was thinking about tear gas, bombs, guns, ridiculous things.
It wasn’t so long after the Dark Knight shooting in America and, in my head, I let terror reign.
Have you ever done that?
Been at a concert or footy match and let it pass through your mind: ‘What if this place suddenly went up?’
And then gone cold?
I’m sure lots of us did in the years immediately after 9/11.
I know it still crosses my mind all these years later, like when Learner Dad went to the AFL grand final at the MCG this year.
I didn’t obsess over it, but it briefly crossed my mind.
‘You’re being totally ludicrous,’ I told myself that day at the cinema.
But I ‘went to the toilet’ twice more during that movie to conduct surveillance.
And I came close to going to see one of the ushers.
Thank god I didn’t because, when the credits rolled, and the lights went up, I looked again.
And saw the floor where the men had been sitting was knee deep with popcorn.
“What about the MESS?” was likely what he’d actually whispered, not ‘what about the kids?’
I felt foolish.
And sorry that I’d missed most of the film.
I know some of you will think I sound ridiculous.
But I am just as certain some of you will relate.
So I ask the question: has society always been so paranoid?
Out walking with Li’l Fatty recently, on a central yet still fairly isolated Hobart track, I glanced behind me to see a man in a pink T-shirt a hundred or so metres away.
Thoughts of Jill Meagher flashed through my head.
The man suddenly seemed sinister.
So I did what I haven’t done for at least a year.
Pushing a pram and wearing a maternity bra, I finished the track in a strange loping run.
When the man in pink emerged about five minutes after me, he looked perfectly harmless.
This time I didn’t feel foolish though.
And I vowed to tread a more public path next time.
“Now don’t wake him up,” I cautioned Learner Dad as I went into the shower.
“I mean it.”
Li’l Fatty was having his first real sleep in.
And it was killing his father.
As the minutes ticked by until he had to leave for work, Learner Dad had begun pacing impatiently.
Sure enough, five seconds, literally SECONDS, after I got in the shower, he popped his head in to tell me our baby was awake.
“What? He was sound asleep a second ago!” I said.
“He’s moving now,” Learner Dad answered, quickly disappearing again.
I figured he was telling the truth, that Li’l Fatty WAS moving…. IN HIS SLEEP!
Either way he was, of course, out of his cot when I got out of the bathroom.
It made me think of the things new dads do in their innocent excitement at being just that – new dads.
Like another time, much earlier in the piece, when Learner Dad came home to find Li’l Fatty lying on the floor, squealing happily at the TV.
Excited, he rushed to get out the video camera, setting it up on the tripod between his son and the TV.
“Don’t turn it off…” I tried to warn him.
The telly went black.
Li’l Fatty’s squeals of delight quickly turned into screams of despair.
“Aw c’mon li’l man,” Learner Dad said.
“You were fine just a minute ago.”
‘Yes, Learner Dad,’ I thought, ‘and you were instrumental in that minute.’
Then there was the time he came home to find Li’l Fatty playing happily on his back, without a nappy on.
“Careful picking him up,” I cautioned.
He didn’t listen and was promptly wee’d on.
He cursed, put him back down to wipe it off, then picked him up again.
“Why do you keep weeing on me?” he muttered at Li’l Fatty.
I really shouldn’t tease.
I mean, I too got my L plates seven years ago and learned many things the hard way.
In fact, if someone had been writing a blog about my parenting, there’d be tons of great material.
I was wee’d on, vomited on, even pooed on a couple of times.
I too hovered with a video camera almost 24/7 and was often screamed at for my trouble.
But one thing I never did…
Never ever even thought about doing…
Was wake the baby.
I sat up in a panic and lifted the covers.
Where was Li’l Fatty?
I shook Learner Dad.
“I can’t find Li’l Fatty!” I whispered.
He raced up the stairs toward the nursery, me hot on his tail, and stopped halfway.
“He’s not here,” he said, turning around, now awake.
“The boys are at Mum and Dad’s remember?”
Then I started to wake up too.
We’d been out to a wedding, had a few drinks, and passed out when we got home.
Neither of us was used to Li’l Fatty not being there.
And I’d woken in a haze of habit and too much champagne.
Why I’d thought he was in our bed though, I don’t know.
He’s never spent a minute, let alone a night, asleep in our bed.
Actually that’s not true.
There were a handful of mornings I’d feed him and leave him asleep ON the bed while I went about my day.
To be honest – and completely non-PC – I love the idea of bed sharing with your child.
Now, pipe down, I don’t do it.
This is: a) because I’m a (almost notorious) light sleeper: and b) because I’ve been to a coroner’s inquest that related to a baby sleeping with her mother.
I know the rules.
I don’t do it.
But sleeping beside your children, even as babies, seems to me the most natural thing in the world.
I mean, when you think about it, yes your baby could suffocate.
But aren’t we always hearing about cot death too?
Either way, it’s something Master Seven and Li’l Fatty will never know.
The fear campaign around co-sleeping has done its job on me.
I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep with either of them beside me.
In some cultures, co-sleeping is indeed the norm.
Filipino friends of mine shared their bed with their first baby; attached a bed to theirs for her when their second child came along; then moved their first into her own room and shuffled number two down when number three came along.
A single mummy friend still sleeps with her four-year-old daughter.
She tells me about it almost apologetically, with a rush of reasons.
But the thought of mummy and daughter breathing side by side every night before they wake to face the world together always makes me smile.
Master Seven tried and failed with me on many occasions.
I tried too.
I’d agree to have him in my bed and then, after an hour lying awake, I’d carry him back to his own.
As he grew older, he would sense my restlessness and eventually out of the darkness I’d hear: “Mummy I think I’ll go back to my bed now.”
For all the advantages and disadvantages of co-sleeping, I wonder if I would be any different now if I’d shared my own parents’ bed as a baby.
Would I be more caring?
Feel more cared for?
Would I be less independent?
I don’t think I could be any closer to my parents than I already am.
For me, the best I can do is sometimes let Li’l Fatty have a nap in my arms.
When there’s nothing else on, or even when there is, I just hold him, gazing at his sprouting eyelashes and moist little mouth as he slumbers.
And occasionally I’ll doze off too.
But that’s the closest to co-sleeping I’m ever going to get.
Sorry to put a downer on your Tuesday but these kinds of stories need to be shared.
So, even though your own experience might be something you never want to tell people about, you know you’re not alone.