Don’t get me wrong, I adore my step-kids. It’s just that I don’t want to call them my step-kids.
There’s something distant about that “step”, something that I really don’t like. That “step” implies that a degree of disconnect, a lessening of love. That “step” says, they’re only my partner’s kids, they’re not mine.
Wading back into the dating world, as a single mum, I realised that most prospective suitors would probably also have children. But I was concerned, remembering stories from acquaintances of how they could barely stand their partner’s kids. What if I wound up in that situation?
And then, a mate and I surprised ourselves by falling in love. I knew he had kids; he’d often shown me pictures of them, told me how great they were, how proud he was of them. I used to look at those pictures, nodding politely; never imaging I’d ever meet them, let alone that I’d love them too one day.
I remember the day I finally met them. Struck by that sweetness, the blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, making them so easy to love. He’s charming like his dad, with his nick of mischief too, and an innate confidence that’s all his own. She’s got her father’s strange, endearing mix of impulse and caution, twisted in her own sense of humour.
Love is a funny thing; there is never quite enough time for everything, but there is always enough love for everyone. Suddenly I didn’t just have a boyfriend, I also had two bonus kids. They weren’t his children anymore, they were ours.
We have an understanding. When we’re out, people often say, “Does your daughter want…?”, “Doesn’t your son like…?” And we don’t correct them. Because it might not be factually accurate, but it’s certainly good enough for us.
I say to them, you know I’m not your mother, I’m not trying to be your mother, you have a wonderful mother already. But I love you like a mother does. I love you like a mother does.
“Mummy, can we play I Spy?”
“You go first, Mummy!”
“OK. I Spy with my little eye, something beginning with…”
“POO POO!” *chortles*
“Ha, very silly. Right, I Spy with my little eye, something beginning with…”
“POO POO!” *hee hee hee*
“Enough now. I Spy with my little eye, something beginning with…”
“POO POO!” *guffaw*
“Sweetheart, we can’t play I Spy if you’re just going to bellow ‘Poo poo’ every time I start talking”.
“OK mummy, I won’t do it again.”
“Thanks. I Spy with my little eye, something beginning with…”
“WEE WEE!” *nearly expires with laughter*
Two years ago, we drove to the shop to pick out a pet. With six of us, it’s sometimes hard to make a decision, but this was easy. Amongst the little scraps of fur sat a giant ball of fluff. With two huge beady eyes and the wuffliest whiskers that you’ve ever seen, there was no doubt about which hamster we all wanted. The sales assistant gave him a quick once over: “Yes, she’s definitely a girl*” and popped him in a carrier for us.
I drove home as carefully as I could, Si holding the little cardboard box. Every bump in the road and pothole seemed enormous, with Si murmuring “She’s* not moving, I think she’s dead” as we drove. But, we got him home safely.
Si is not a lover of instructions, and had missed the part about leaving the hamster for three days to settle in. He plunged his hand in to pick the little guy up, and was rewarded with a pair of needle-sharp incisors sunk deep into his thumb.
It was time for the solemn business of choosing his name. This was more difficult than picking out which hamster we wanted; there are six of us and many opinions. But we put forward our choices (Si proposed “Bitey”) and voted, and Wuffles he was.
Hamsters don’t look like much. It’s hard to explain exactly how a small bundle of fluff can have a personality, or be so adored. But Wuffles was. The simple happiness of watching him waddling around, the tickly joy of him pottering along your hand, the deliciously tactile floofiness of his fur, and the zealousness with which he stashed away peanuts kept us all entertained. Sometimes, in a world that can be harsh and confusing, you need a bit of trivial, uncomplicated happiness, and that’s what Wuffles gave us.
However, while we got a lot of pleasure from Wuffles, he was always—as one would expect from a hamster—entirely indifferent to us. He never gave any suggestion that he was pleased to see us. For the first year of his life, he would even raise himself up on his front legs, direct his bottom along the wire bars, and pee out of the cage onto our wall and carpet. Wuffles, basically, didn’t give a crap about anything but his sunflower treats and his wheel, and I rather respected him for that. He simply sat around, looking simultaneously magnificent and daft. “Look at our stupid hamster”, we’d coo, lovingly. “Look at him.”
We were lucky to have two great years with him. But over the weekend, he lost interest in his food. He suddenly slowed down. I couldn’t even entice him with a favourite sunflower snack. Si fed him drips of water by hand. The last two days passed in a strange sort of daze, with me popping in to check on him every hour. In an echo of his first car journey, I’d murmur to Si, “He’s not moving. But I think he’s still alive.”
His decline was so quick, we weren’t even able to take him to the vet. Last night, he was quiet and so still. And so small, now. I sat on the floor, cradling him in my left hand, listening to the click of his breathing. He didn’t move at all. I could barely get him to drink. We moved his cage into our room so he wouldn’t be alone (not that he would have cared). In the morning, he was curled up peacefully; he was gone.
A pet teaches you a lot about life, of love, of loss. Yes, Wuffles was only a hamster, and a stupid hamster at that, but he was our stupid hamster and we loved him.
Sleep well, little friend.
*A year or so after we got “her”, Wuffles was climbing the bars of the cage when I noticed, with some horror, that “she” had some lumps on “her” undercarriage. It turned out that these were merely fluffy testicles and that he was definitely not a girl.
I like Christmas. Very much. More than most people (which is particularly unusual given that I’m Jewish).
But Christmas has always been my favourite time of year (except for a few years where I fell out of love with it, but more on that later). And it’s never been about the gifts (indeed, as the esteemed Ms. M Carey says: “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree”), it’s always been about the people.
My parents used to own a gift shop and, as you can imagine, they used to be ever so busy in the run-up to Christmas. So, after school had finished, my sister and I would be packed off to my aunt’s to stay while they worked right up until the end of Christmas Eve. We’d be kept busy “helping” my aunt prepare for Christmas, giggling ourselves to sleep each night, tucked up in twin beds with a tiny Christmas tree inbetween us.
Come Christmas morning, our parents would arrive. I was always overjoyed to be reunited with them, then the rest of the day would pass by in a haze of laughter and food. It was a day of traditions—many of which were shared with other families, others were uniquely ours, like the Annual Family Walk (which was much talked about but rarely actually happened), the Annual Family Talent Show (which very much happened and still does)—and I loved every minute of the day.
Things change. They always do, they have to. I grew up, I could look after myself, I didn’t need to stay at my aunt’s any more. I got into a relationship with a man who didn’t celebrate Christmas and my love of it was dimmed. And after my father died, it became harder and harder to celebrate it; the joy of Christmas tempered with the knowledge that someone important was missing, that my happiness had a hole in it. My family shifted.
Things change. They always do, they have to. I moved into a new home, with my girls. New start. And I saw Christmas afresh, through my kids’ eyes, and I started falling in love with it once more; it came to represent all that was joyful and good. I started celebrating it again, more intensely than ever.
A while later, I also fell in love with a friend of mine. He was amused by, and supportive of, my love of Christmas and he came complete with two wonderful bonus children; suddenly I also had a brand-new family to celebrate Christmas with.
My favourite song—not just for Christmas, but for always—is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Specifically the original lyrics*: “Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
2017 has been a really bloody difficult year, and I’ll be glad to see the back it. But, we muddled through it and I celebrated this Christmas with my sister and her delicious family, my mum, my aunt, my boyfriend, our kids (and the little dog). It was loud, it was joyful, it was perfect. I was as happy as that little girl, on Christmas Day, watching her parents’ car pulling up.
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now xxx
*None of this “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” business, that line was rewritten at Frank Sinatra’s request. I prefer the hopefulness and gentle melancholy of the original.
I’m classy me, so I do enjoy a nice Piña Colada once in a while (not so much getting caught in the rain, but I’m getting sidetracked).
Anyway, this came up in conversation the other day and the Smallest Daughter was rather taken with the drink’s name.
So, if you come round ours and wonder why on earth SD keeps cheerfully bellowing “PENIS COLARTA!” and giggling herself stupid, well, that’s why.
During the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys buried some of his most treasured possessions in his garden, to protect them. For homework, Smallest Daughter was asked to write about—and draw herself—burying her most treasured possessions.
I had to send in the following note with her artwork:
“Hi Mrs F.
I did explain that burying is appropriate to save inanimate objects only. However, SD was absolutely insistent that her family is her most treasured possession. So, that’s why she’s drawn this slightly disturbing picture of her burying us all in coffins in the garden, in case you were wondering.