Do you think it's possible to have an uncomplicated Christmas? One with no family friction, no guilt, no drama, no stress? I so want someone to say yes, but in my experience it's rarely straightforward and never guilt-free... still hopeful though. Always hopeful.
It is a time for family, which is such a wonderful, joyful part of Christmas - but it's also the very thing that can throw a big old spanner in the works. How do you keep everyone happy? I mean HOW DO YOU? We usually end up juggling - and juggling isn't good, because it's exhausting and far too easy to mess up.
It was bad enough when my parents got divorced and we had to take it in turns each year. Then things got a whole lot more tricky with in-laws on the scene, as I know they do for everyone. Another family's expectations to deal with.
Now, my mother-in-law is a force to be reckoned with. She has many great qualities - if you want something done asap, she's your woman - tenacious as a terrier. But as far as she's concerned there's only one way to do family. And that's her way. My mother-in-law won't directly say she's disappointed we're not spending Christmas with them, yet she'll leave us in absolutely no doubt that's what she's thinking.
My parents, in-laws, 2 sisters and most of my relations live in Northern Ireland. You'd think this would make life easier. It really doesn't. We're in the car a lot, different beds most nights and time spent with both families has to be carefully calculated so it's as equal as possible - because if it's not, we'll hear about it....Oh yes we will...And this is bad, because we've become a little economical with the truth to keep the peace. Worth it though.
A few years ago we were living on an army base in Northern Ireland and in a moment of madness invited everyone over to ours for Christmas. All of them. We even had my step-mother's parents. Trouble is my parents really don't get on with each other's partners - so there had to be two different sittings for Christmas dinner and a kind of strange, discreetly managed shift system to avoid any awkwardness. It ended up being like an Alan Ayckbourn play.
Last Christmas my husband had just gone to Afghanistan and I took the kids over the Northern Ireland. It went pretty well, all things considered. We stayed at my sister's because it felt like a sensible, diplomatic solution. Neutral territory. Sort of.
So onto this year, and as he's just back from his 12 month tour, we really do have the best ever excuse to stay at home this Christmas, just the 5 of us. And that was the plan....
But my dad hasn't been too well and my mother-in-law hasn't been great either - and my youngest sister is about to move to Australia. I'm still in complete denial about that. So straight after school finishes, we're driving up to Scotland to catch the ferry, to spend a day with the in-laws and a day split between my parents. Then we head home on the 24th, so we will have Christmas day at home. It is a crazy, whirlwind trip, mainly because the kids break up late this term, but also because we want to get back for the 25th. Hopefully a quiet, relaxed Christmas day...and the perfect way to avoid the usual tug of war. Aren't we chickens.
Anyway it'll be fine. I'm looking forward to the next mad few days because we'll be doing it together, as a family, and I'm so incredibly thankful for that - thankful that he's home safe and sound. It's been a long year, one I never want to repeat - and I'm determined to grab hold of this Christmas, to celebrate being back together, and to enjoy every minute of it - even the complicated bits. And there are bound to be a few of those...