I love Christmas. I love the preparations, the meals, the company and, most of all, the mad unwrapping of presents. Since the addition of the latest generation of our family, present wrapping has become more exciting and, at times, somewhat manic.
It begins before all the adults have found their place to sit. Little kids wander past the tree, run at the tree, skip by the tree, run to their parents and back towards the tree. They lean towards the presents, skim their fingers across the presents. The truly excited pick up the presents. A chorus of wait, wait is heard from the lips of the adults near by. Sit, sit. Hang on a sec.
And then, as a formal strategy of present distribution is discussed, a child will take matters into their own hands and start distributing the presents. Enter the closest adult who quickly reads the tags and directs the presents to the right person. There is always running. There is always mess. There is always a frantic photographer (me) trying to capture the essence of the chaos. There are no thank you cards written. Some times you may be lucky to score a hug or a quick kiss. The older kids may even read the tag and send you a smile of thanks. The joy in the room is palpable.
The one thing missing from this years festivities was the edge of tension that I usually feel. The joy I felt at my children’s excitement was always laced with a small of level of panic as the same monotonous chant filled my head. I skilfully avoided my husband’s eyes, his raised eyebrows, the definite shake of his head. I tried hard to suffocate the “How will I fit that in” chant with “It’ll fit” instead.
For those who travel far for Christmas each year, the drama starts after the presents are unwrapped. As you sift the family’s gifts from the piles of unwrapped paper and ribbons to form a neat orderly pile. As the pile grows, you mentally calculate the room in the suitcases attempting to determine whether it will fit. You try hard to suppress the groan as your mother hands you another gift that, for some inexplicable reason, was across the other side of the room. “I don’t think that’s ours.”
It always is.
We were overseas for twelve years. Our families were always very aware of the limited space with which we worked. There is only so many things that you can pack into four or five suitcases. There is only so much weight you can evenly distribute. The airlines have limits that they like to enforce. And yet … some of the gifts that we have managed to cart back across the world !! I should list packing as a skill on my resume.
There was the year my daughter turned one and we were in Melbourne for her birthday. We managed to pack the rocking eyore my mum bought her. We were heading to the US for a three month stint and Mum had also bought her an elephant beanbag. I filled it in the US and then we had to get back a rocking eyore AND an elephant beanbag. Fortunately the complex wranglings between husband and wife were never recorded.
I do vividly recall the conversation I had with my Dad as I pulled my credit card out of my wallet at the checkin counter. He offered to take some of our stuff home with him. I replied, “There will be more next year, Dad. Are you really prepared to give us your spare room for storage?”
Then there was the year my in-laws bought my daughter a plastic shopping trolley and my husband and I heavy glass wine glasses. They were beautiful. They were heavy!! While the shopping trolley did come to pieces, it was a feat to try and shove some of those pieces into the confines of a rectangular suitcase whose bottom is not level. Thankfully lego is easy to pack. It is. Except in the vast quantities we received another year.
And let’s not even begin to discuss the years where your husband went home before you taking half the baggage allowance with him!
The sense of relief this year was tangible. I watched the present unwrapping with one thought on continuous loop through my mind. I did not try to stifle it. I struggled not to shout it out. “I don’t have to pack that!” Even now, a week later, I wake up every morning thinking, I don’t have to pack.
I don’t have to pack … I don’t have to pack … hallelujah! … I don’t have to pack.