I think its pretty common if you are longing for children that you spend some time imagining special occasions and how they might be when you do have children. Birthday parties, Christmas, family occasions more generally are all very different as a parent of a young child. I know that once we had been approved for adoption, I often spent time thinking about and planning what Christmas would be like, and what I would want to do to make things special when a child finally moved into our home and became part of our family – but then I have always been an inveterate planner.
The thing to be aware of is that the adopted child has being doing the same thing – dreaming of how they wish things could be and how they hope things would be once they have a family of their own.
Of all of the special occasions that I had most thought about, Christmas must come top of the list. It is commonly said that “Christmas is for children”, and it has to be true that the traditions of Christmas of so much more exciting when you’re a child or when you are the parent of younger children. When my nephews were younger, I would always spend Christmas Eve at my sister’s house, so that I could join in the preparations for Christmas morning and be there when my nephews woke up to see what Santa had left and to open their presents.
I have always loved the run-up to Christmas as well. I love all of those schmaltzy Christmas films and the nights drawing in. I have always loved the preparing of Christmas treats – making the pudding and the cake weeks in advance with those familiar warm Christmas spices scenting the air. Then there comes the wonderful Christmas carol concerts and midnight mass, preferably by candlelight, in our beautiful village church.
Swee also loved Christmas – she has always loved decorating the house, shopping for the perfect presents, wrapping them beautifully. And of course, Christmas carols piped around the house at every opportunity.
So you can imagine how excited we were for Mac’s first Christmas. We had already taken him to Lapland UK, and encouraged him to write his Christmas letter to Santa. Our preparations were underway. Well, they had been underway in our heads for years, and we had been starting to buy presents as soon as we knew for sure that Mac would be moving in. We’d thought carefully about what traditions we wanted to start with Mac and how things might work.
The run-up to Christmas was great. My birthday is the same day as my dad’s just a few days before Christmas. As dad’s dinner had been a big affair which Mac had not coped well with, we kept it quiet and just to the three of us when the actual day came round. Mac loved to buy presents for people, so Swee and he had been shopping for me. We also had a wonderful Dalek cake. Mac was now right in the middle of his fluey bug, so was feeling pretty under the weather, but the cake and birthday tea helped to raise his spirits.
As Christmas drew nearer, we started to talk about Santa more. I would love to stop still really quietly and say,
“Can you hear those sleigh bells? Listen really carefully. Santa’s getting ready to come.”
Mac would stop and listen really carefully, a look of wonder on his face, and finally would convince himself that he could hear them. We were careful not to do too much of the good boy / bad boy stuff. Adopted children have such low self-esteem, that you do not want to make them feel bad about themselves.
(As a digression, years later, when Mac had moved on from the Santa myth, I asked him what things had been like before he move to Sue and Mark’s which was his first real Christmas. He said,
“Santa never came. I just assumed I hadn’t been good enough to get any presents and that he would never want to come and visit me.”
I think it was one of the saddest things he ever said.)
Swee and Mac had spent ages decorating the house and the tree. It became their “thing”, something they always did together having a similar taste in all things spangly and fairy lights!
Finally we got to Christmas Eve. Mac got some sherry, a mince pie and a carrot for Rudolph and put it all a special Christmas plate we had and placed it on the top of the wood burner. I always cooked the turkey on Christmas Eve and a ham. We have a picture of Mac looking at that bronzed turkey, looking huge against him – he has a look of disbelief at the size of it. He also found that he loved Christmas ham – it became one of his absolute favourites.
We spent the day watching Santa’s journey on the PC on the NORAD site – so good to see him making progress around the world. We sat down and watched some telly. The there was one last check on NORAD and Mac went to bed. We read “The Night Before Christmas” together and he went off to sleep.
Then it was all systems go as we got his presents together in the various sacks that we had – one that we had made with his name on. We couldn’t believe the number of presents we had for him. It is true that we may have gone overboard.
I went off to Midnight Mass. When I came back, we put all of his presents on the sofa in the sitting room by the tree. We also had some instant snow, so made footprints with it leading to his presents from the patio door. The last thing to do was to hang up a small stocking in his bedroom with a few small surprises. I had never had to do anything like that – I crept into Mac’s room every night to kiss him goodnight when I went to bed and he never woke up. But the stakes this night were so high – I didn’t want him to wake up and for it all to be ruined. Of course, Mac had made things more difficult by falling asleep facing his door! Anyway, Mac had a chest of drawers by the door, and I was able to quietly slip the stocking over the handle and creep out without waking him up.
In fact he slept really well that night. The next morning he woke up about six and came into to see us. We had made sure there were enough things in his stocking to keep him occupied. He brought it through to us.
“Santa’s been!” he said, with complete delight on his face.
“Let’s go and see if he has left anything downstairs,” I replied.
So he led us downstairs (I had that groggy feeling having been to bed late following late church). The door to the sitting room was closed. He opened the door, and as he went in his face lit up completely. He couldn’t decide what to do first. He went to the fire.
“Look, the drink has gone and the mince pie. And Rudolph has eaten half of the carrot. It must be him, I can see the teeth marks!”
Swee had done a great job with the carrot – he was completely convinced.
He went to the footprints and felt the “snow”.
“It’s still cold!”, he said (it wasn’t really, just wet).
He then and went to start opening his presents. The thing I remember most was that he really took his time. He savoured and enjoyed opening every one of his presents. It took ages, and he enjoyed every minute of it. As always he also really enjoyed giving presents to me and Swee as well – his generosity shining through.
The rest of the day went equally well – we always spend Christmas at my sister’s house just five minutes away with her family, Swee’s mum, dad and brother and my mum and dad. My nephew has a daughter just a year or so younger than Mac, so they were able to sit together and have a good time chatting away.
All in all it was a perfect Christmas. Looking back, it could have been so overwhelming. But starting with just the three of us and then being with the family worked (and by then Mac knew all of the family). The other thing we learned very quickly was that sometimes when a lot of us were together, Mac needed to go off on his own for some peace and quiet. He would disappear for a little while and then come back when he was ready. Its easy to forget that he was often dealing with some conflicting emotions – wondering what the people from his past were up to, maybe even feeling guilty that he might be having a better time then them. Those are difficult emotions for an eight year old to process.
We had four Christmases with Mac still believing in all the magic – although it has to be said the last one involved a bit of brinkmanship as to who was going to crack first. I’m sure Mac felt that if he stopped believing, then the presents might stop. Mac never asked for too much, and we did always try to get some sort of surprise. Even when he was fifteen he was grateful. I remember that I finally got him his own iPad – he had no idea. When he opened he looked aghast,
“Is this really for me?”
Of course, in the end we only had eight Christmases together. Even after Mac gave up with Santa, he still enjoyed Christmas. He loved to plan and purchase gifts; he loved the special food; and I think he revelled in the warmth and “familyness” of it all. He also grew to love the church traditions – singing in the choir and serving for me at the altar for Midnight Mass. So Christmas, and the run up to it remain my favourite time of year – tinged with sadness now that Mac and Swee are not here to share it with me – but full of the happiest memories.