Christmas was a mixed blessing this year.
Christmas was a blessing, because I was surrounded by people who love me and whom I love back. There was plenty of food and drink, and lots of laughter and tradition.
But it sucked, because my kids were not with me - though I will see them soon.
Bittersweet - watching other children leave a drink and snacks for Santa and the reindeer when yours are not there. Mind you, mine are too old for that now!
Being the only one in a group to be 'on your own' can be lonely. In fact, it's the worst. Even harder, when you are separated from your children, and there is only a short window of time when you are allowed to contact them.
You grieve as you watch others share what you cannot. But - it's life, and it can also be a useful time to reflect. That's what I did this year.
And I found parts of my life flickering by in memories, a little like a slide show.
My childhood church
As it often does, my mind wandered, struggling to stay with the logic of the Christmas 'sermon' and the joy of the season. And this time, instead of my siblings, (and assorted partners over the years) crammed into the pew, it was just my elderly parents and I. And the memories turned on and off, like someone was flicking a switch.
There was the time I took a first boyfriend to church, feeling so self-conscious, awkward and shy. The times when I took my own children along to church, and I tried not to laugh at their antics. The changes, as members of the congregation came and went, grew up, had families of their own.
As my ailing Mum scratched distractedly at her skin on her arms and legs and made them bleed, my Dad grabbed her hands and held them. I wanted to photograph that moment, a close-up of their hands, though I can picture it vividly in my mind's eye.
I rarely saw Dad holding Mum's hand back when we were kids. Now he does it all the time. There was something special about that moment. I know he did it to stop her from scratching, but she was also letting him. She wouldn't have done that once. There was something beautiful about that mutual act of love, but I thought it would be bad form to take a photo in church. (Perfectly okay to talk about the sexual activities of a gorilla on Christmas Day though ...)
Morning tea at Mum and Dad's cottage later
Tears when 'Santa' appeared to be overly generous to some and not others. Momentarily hurt feelings when a present from adult children - Meals on Wheels deliveries - to elderly parents, meant an admission that it made a patriach feel old. But grateful all the same.
This pair... and friends
The exhilarating moment when my 85-year-old Dad rode in a bush buggy, that I was too scared to ride in. (I promised to do it if Mum would ...)
One of the other grandparents, bravely taking on the bush-bashing buggy ride ...
I thought about Christmasses past. Some spent in places like England and New Zealand.
There were times when I was a kid, an innocent teenager, a full-of-myself adventurer. When I was married, pregnant, a mother, divorced. Times of going without, and times of being okay. Times of unbearable pain, but hiding it. Think Emma Thompson in Love Actually.(There are reasons that movie resonates with so many of us ...)
Into my memories flew a time when, one of my best presents, was a Christmas stocking full of dolls' clothes, that my mother had sewn herself, from scraps of fabric which were left over from making our clothes. I only realised, much later, that we were probably broke at the time, and that was actually a labour of love.
There was another year, spent in the English countryside, when my then husband and I put the turkey and fixings on in our rented holiday cottage, and went out to find a pay phone - there were no mobiles then - to ring home. We came back to discover we were supposed to put pound coins in a special 'box' to make the oven work, and the cooking had never started. A rookie Aussie mistake. Christmas was late that year, but it was bloody awesome, even if it was just the two of us. That was all we ever needed.
A hot Brisbane Christmas, heavily pregnant with my first child and as uncomfortable as hell, but full of hope for the future. Another one, where overseas relatives visited and joined in our strange Aussie traditions.
Christmas is so many things for so many people.
When the festivities were over, I returned home, and people asked me whether I received any good presents.
Well, as a single adult, I don't really receive presents. And yes, I miss the days when Christmas meant pampering, with gifts of jewellery, lingerie, lovingly hand-made and chosen gifts. (Though I would have swapped it all for a cuddle from my kids...)
I was spoiled a week or so before the 25th, when my sister arranged a surprise visit to her hairdresser, to get my long-neglected locks into shape. That was so thoughtful and needed! It was the best gift I have received in many years.
A hairdressing salon on a farm
After the cut, without make-up, because - surprise!
And in the days leading up to Christmas, a good friend organised a much-needed few days away to relax and de-stress on the Sunshine Coast.
The destination also happened to be one where I'd spent a lot of time as a child, and there's probably a whole other blog post in that. Importantly, I think it's one of the most beautiful destinations in Queensland - and that's a huge call - and just being back by the sea, in nature, with great food, quirky shops, friendly people and good company, healed a part of my soul.
Back home, Lucy was being well taken care of by my wonderful neighbours - there are always my neighbours or friends and family who take her in and visit regularly - so I only had to put my feet up and relax.As for presents on Christmas day, it was special enough, just to be included in family celebrations.
It was present enough, to hear my kids say: 'I love you.' Even though it was on the phone, and not in person.
It was lovely that, when I stayed with my sister and her family, Lucy could come too, even though she was a little bit naughty at times and thought it was fun to visit the neighbours whenever she had a chance!
Lucy in her Christmas finery
It sounds corny but it was present enough to be present.
On Boxing Day, it was fun to watch movies on fold-out chairs and armchairs on the big-screens in my sister and brother-in-law's eco-friendly, smart-home with family and friends. Lucy by my side, food and drinks and company at hand.And when I returned to my own place, to have other friends and family, reach out. 'Do you want to come over for coffee?' "Do you want to meet for a chat?"
As simple as that.
They knew instinctively that I would be struggling coming back to an empty home, and they fixed it with a cup of tea and a chat. (Okay and maybe a few hugs).
And I have friends and family in Brisbane and beyond, who offer me a bed when I am picking up the kids when they can, or a place for respite. Not to mention those throughout Australia and the world. The internet and skype has made connecting and staying in touch so easy. I never know when I'll get a skype call from someone on the other side of the world, just when I need it the most. (JH you are amazing at this!)
You know I am so lucky!
So often I get bogged down in what I don't have, what I can't do, what I've stuffed up, what I can't provide...
But my friends and family - and my kids - remind me I'm okay.
Throughout the year, I've had so much support from them, I've had help in the form of home-cooked meals; a hand putting furniture together (okay I basically just watched, felt guilty, and provided drinks); lawns being mowed; Lucy being taken in; ME being taken in - sometimes with just 30 minutes' notice (long story); and so much more.
So my friends and family who really care are the best presents of all.
And if you need a lift, I love this display from the 2015 South Burnett Hancock Prospecting Christmas Lights Competition. Says it all really ...Let It Go