Whenever I talk about the Bim and me, sooner or later I end up hearing myself say We're like chalk and cheese!
It's true: we are. In most things. But it has dawned on me these few weeks past, in those late-night, blurry moments of reflection in front of the Christmas tree, that there's one way in which the cheese, in spite of itself, is getting chalkier. Or perhaps that's the other way round. That way is about Christmas:
I do have some happy childhood Christmas memories, I do. I remember the door to the sitting-room being locked by my parents, Christmas Eve night, and the driving necessity to find the key and get it open and find the presents - at all costs! - shared by me and my siblings. I remember the manic excitement, the thrill, the longing for morning. I remember the colours, the magic, the feasts whipped up by my mother - and feeling sometimes near to happy tears, so heightened were my young feelings by the festivities.
Then my father left. What I remember most of Christmas after that is the terrible trying - the three of us for my mother, and my mother for the three of us - to make the irrepairable good again.
It never did come good, how could it? All times without him were sad, but Christmas really was the saddest of all. We were all the cliches, we lived them then, and we went on living them for many years, right into adulthood. Which is why, when the Bim met me, I was none too keen on the festive season. I weathered it, with a fixed smile and an aching heart.
Ah, how was I to know I'd married a Christmas freak?
This knowledge dawned on me, slowly but surely, not the first December-time we spent together, but earlier, much earlier that year, sometime in July, when I would catch him singing Jingle Bells in the shower; and a blackboard went up in the kitchen around September which announced (with daily, chalked updates) how many days left there were to Christmas.
I was horrified. I asked him to keep me out of it. I asked him to keep his singing to himself. I melted only a very little when he appeared in full Santa suit with six-month-old Little Helper in arms on Christmas morning. I was thrilled when it was all over. His exuberance embarrassed me.
Then, last year, we had a repeat performance of the Santa visit, only this time Santa's beard was alot longer, and his boots shinier, and a great deal more effort had gone into the whole affair. Sleigh bells had been ordered, for God's sake, and Santa's Helper - somewhat bad-temperedly, it has to be said - was now able to walk and carry her own tiny sack. I was a little bit impressed in spite of myself.
And so here we are again. And I find myself strangely lacking in the waves of melancholy I am so used to feeling at this time of year. Indeed, I was confusingly disappointed when the Bim took me at my word and the little chalk blackboard didn't go up until 1st December. Likewise, he really did stick to his promise and kept his bathroom sing-song to various sundry Irish ditties which couldn't possibly be construed as Christmassy. Now that we're nearly at the big day itself, I am delighted to note that his enthusiasm and joy are as unbridled as before.
But the big news is that I'm even more delighted to note that for the first year in - oh, I couldn't begin to know how long! - I too have back some of that joy. Yes, of course I have my own child now, and want to make it special for her. But it's not just that. Somehow, by ways both sledgehammer and subtle, my beloved Bim has done something for me no amount of time has been able to do. He has given me the best present ever.
Against all the odds, through his love and generosity and acceptance of me however I am, he has given me back Christmas.
May yours be merry. xxxx