‘This is really crazy because I love Christmas so much,’ I say to Reservoir Mum, as Lewis and I aim for the Christmas tree and fling streamers over the heads of his three ornament-scrambling brothers. ‘But I can’t remember any of my childhood Christmases until I was like… twelve years old. Can you?’
After a moments thought she says. ‘I can remember some of the presents I got. But our Christmases were exactly the same every year. We’d watch the carols Christmas Eve, open presents Christmas morning, help Mum get ready for Christmas lunch so I don’t know if I can remember one year or…’ She stops as Maki drops a purple Christmas ball to the floor and smashes it into a million shards.
‘Escape!’ I scream, as I run for the vacuum. ‘I mean… don’t go near the shards with your bare feet. RM! Stop them.’
When I get back Reservoir Mum is shepparding the children into a corner as they hunger after the very thing they were told not to touch but within minutes the vacuum has cleared the way for their delicate footises.
As Archie reaches high to thread a bundle of the tree’s fingers through the loop of a pair of silver Christmas bells I say to the boys, ‘So I’ve decided I need to write a lot more Christmas stories about you guys from now on because you won’t remember anything that’s happening right now when you’re my age either.’
‘Yes we will Dadd-oy,’ Lewis says, with seven year old certainty.
When Maki drops another ball to the floor – a blue one this time – I scream, ‘For the love of God, flee! RM make them flee’ but RM is already corralling them to the safety of the couch and within seconds I have sucked up every foot-slicing particle.
Tyson drapes himself in streamers and so I abandon my task of untangling Christmas lights and reach for the camera. ‘When’s Santa coming?’ he says.
‘Not long now,’ I say, as I abandon the untangling of the Christmas lights and reach for the camera.
His face smooths of expression and his eyes widen as he goes inward for a moment and when he returns he’s feverish with the kind of excitement that I recognise but struggle to describe. I want to call it unpolluted.
‘Gunna bring me presents?’ he asks, and when I nod and say, ‘yep!’ he flings the streamers off and turns circles, screaming yeah! and dancing like he runs on rocket-fuel, and when I look over at RM I see that, just like me, she’s smiling without restraint.
‘Look, I forgot all about this,’ Archie says, lifting a bell-shaped Christmas ornament with a picture of him in the middle of it. ‘I made it in Prep.’
‘Wow,’ Lewis says, after snatching it away and reading the inscription on the back. ‘It’s from 2010!’
I’m reaching for the vacuum again a second later before the third Maki-flung Christmas ball even hits the ground and while RM knee-nudges the younger boys against the couch, Archie and Lewis tiptoe around the tree following my instructions to move all the balls to a Maki-denying height.
With the area cleared of danger we continue to stumble towards a fully decorated tree and as RM and I exchange glances and laugh at the frenetic charge of the boys and I’m amazed at the way we feed from our children’s Christmasy joy at the same time that I’m curious – desperately curious – as to why it refloats a cruise-ship of longing and emotion from deep inside me, every time.
It’s almost midnight and I’ve been sitting on the couch with the laptop for two hours but I still don’t have a chronological list of Christmas memories from my early childhood years and nothing specific to attach my syrupy longing to except for the awareness that it somehow hinges on the smell of freshly-slaughtered pine that’s odorising our home right now and the pulsing of those colored lights.
I remember riding a new bike into a backyard tree at our home in Corio, building a car model with my Dad at Pop’s farm in Simpson and finding a twenty cent piece in one of Nana’s Christmas puddings. There’s my Mother’s silhouette at my door in there somewhere and the feeling that I just can’t get to sleep and also, strangely, a recurring background beat that sounds like the song Tired Of Toein’ The Line by Rocky Burnette but there are no strings of memories that I can attribute to one year in particular, and it makes me wonder why I am so emotionally affected by Christmas, its stories and rituals, and my kid’s experience of it.
The lights continue to pulse around the living room, combining with the midnight quiet and solitude to evoke a sense of the magical and because it makes me want to dive deeper I close my eyes and dip my chin a little, like a monk or a yogi.
There’s the fresh kick of summer pyjamas, the spin and leap towards the tree, the carpet burned knees, presents bursting from their wrappings and then, after a period of deep meditation, or near sleep, comes the image of my Mum and Dad sitting on their heels to my left and right and they’re laughing because I’m under the spell of Christmas, and so frenetic about it all that I’m tearing the wrapping from someone else’s gift!
I can see myself holding a fishing rod that just about touches the roof and Dad’s reaching for it, still laughing, and even though I turn back to the tree within a split second of him taking it there’s something right there, in what we’ve given to each other, that holds the answer and it is such a surprise that my eyes are forced open.
I’m a forty year old man again with the lights and the smell of pine triggering my emotions in such a powerful way that I want to believe in magic again, desperately, but what I want even more is to pass that magic on to my children, and to keep them spellbound for as long as possible, because the real thrill in my memory came from the gift I hadn’t even realised I’d been given.
While Mum and Dad were directing my focus to the half drunk glass of milk on the kitchen table, the kicked over bucket of grass and carrots on the back porch and the collection of presents under the tree, their focus was always, entirely, on me.