It was Sunday afternoon and I was stressed out. I was overwhelmed, and Leo was crying. He was looking at me like I had utterly betrayed him. I cuddled him and told him I was sorry, I was just trying to help him, but I had got it wrong. How had this dramatic scene come about? I had taken him to a baby swimming class.
Leo had not been swimming this year until we went to the hotel pool last month. He had been ill, and we had been busy at weekends. He hadn’t enjoyed the hotel pool – it was cold and noisy. I knew swimming was very good for him – the water would support him, and he would enjoy greater physical freedom than he is used to. I was determined that we would get back into swimming with him.
A visit to our local leisure pool went better and I was looking forward to the swimming class. It takes place in a hydrotherapy pool which is great for his muscle tone and there would be no older kids jumping around and shrieking. I had a vision of a lovely mother and son bonding moment in a cosy pool while Leo grew confident in the water.
The reality was 30 minutes of fast-paced activities, feeling like I didn’t have enough hands and a very upset Leo. I felt quite stressed trying to keep up and I felt very guilty that Leo was having such a rotten time. At the end of the class, the stress subsided, and I felt very upset. First of all, I felt very bad that I had put Leo through such a miserable time. Then I felt disappointed that I had failed to find the right class for him. Finally, I felt demoralised. I had acted with the best of intentions and I had upset my son.
I am what you might call a ‘summer person’. I love light nights and going out without a coat. I used to feel dragged into autumn kicking and screaming. Wishing for one more day dashing about in flip-flops. But not this year. While autumn always felt like the end, this year it feels like a new start. Like a new term, but for family life. While I used to crave excitement, now I like order, routine and knowing my plan from one week to the next.
Our transition from spring to summer was sheer relief. Leo spent eight weeks of spring in hospital and he was discharged in May. He had been gravely ill – more so than I would allow myself to reconcile with at the time – and were just so grateful that he was well enough to go home. I looked up and noticed that the trees were full and green, the sun was higher in the sky and the grass was regularly overgrown.
It occurred to me while watching the ‘wrong’ Scrooge. That is the one from 1970 with Albert Finney. The 1951 film with Alistair Sim is the ‘right’ one. Obviously, The Muppets’ Christmas Carol is the best of the genre. Some things about Christmas can be disappointing. Maybe the Dickens book that pertains most to Christmas is actually Great Expectations.
For the week before Christmas I get excited. Child-like excited. I get butterflies in my stomach. I enjoy the ‘to do’ list of festive things. I want to make it all perfect. Then I start to think about the supermarket ad version of Christmas. The big, bustling family. Games. Champagne in a big ice bucket. A perfectly fitting velvet dress. A handsome husband – OK I get that one, but no chance he’s wearing a suit. Snow falling. A puppy with a red bow around its neck. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s a work of fiction. It’s a nonsense spreading to make us feel like somehow we are failing so we buy stuff and feel like we are winning.