The hotel lobby is just as I remember. Dark, dotted with leather chesterfields, chandeliers overhead, framed with walnut stained wood and a dimly lit bar, giving off the feel that you’re part of an old world, somewhere far away. I take the lift up to our room, Georgie in my arms, the other two asleep in the car with Joel. It gives me a few rare, quiet moments to stop and notice, to appreciate the crisply made bed, the heavy block out curtains, the minibar contents — the picture of how it was before clothes become strewn over floors, wet towels gather in heaps, and I stub my feet on discarded bits of lego I told the kids they couldn’t bring.
It’s Christmas eve eve, we’re on an overnighter in the city with friends, an experience last year that quickly became a must-repeat December tradition.
We swim in the hotel pool until sunset, eat dinner out, watch the fireworks, bundle kids into prams to watch the city hall lights display and sip cider under the James Squire umbrellas we notice on our way in.
And it sets the feel of holiday, that things are special, a wonderful way to officially begin Christmas.
We head straight to Joel’s family after check out the next day to celebrate his mother’s birthday, then to my parent’s house for Christmas eve dinner and presents, a German Christmas eve tradition steeped with wonderful childhood memories. We duck home quickly beforehand to prepare for Santa, and try our best to enjoy it without rushing through it.
Billy does, however, fall asleep throughout the whole thing, too tired from his previous night out.
I think to myself that it’s these rituals which create meaning in our life.
We sit on the side of the M1, southbound. Cars whizz by, shaking our stationary car. It’s been close to an hour and still no sign of our tow truck. Kids doze in the backseat, oblivious to the fact that it’s 11pm on Christmas eve. I wonder why this is happening now, of all times, of all nights. We sit and wait. When our tow truck arrives, we bundle car seats and sleeping children into the back carriage. “Let’s get you off this highway,” the driver says, with the kind of smile that reaches the inside of his eyes. We instantly like him. He tells us how many grandchildren he has. What his plans are tomorrow. That he loves his job. I glance at Joel and I know what he’s thinking. Joel loves talking to people who love what they do. “I tell ya the worst part though,” he says, with a thick Aussie accent. “It’s a gamble, findin’ cars sometimes. Sometimes, you turn up to the wrong car. People look at ya all relieved, then ya gotta tell ’em you got it wrong, they gotta wait.” I look out the truck window. I’m tired to my bones. A broken down car and a blown alternator are not what I envisaged on Christmas eve. But I’m grateful for this kind man who tells us the worst part of his job is disappointing people. We finally arrive home, carry kids into beds, Joel runs back out and gives Shane a bottle of bubbles. “For tomorrow,” he says. We spend the next hour making magic for our children, putting together bikes and discarding carrot tops over our driveway. Though I desperately want to be asleep, I take in the scene which is one of my very favourites: standing in my middle of my house on christmas eve, when all is calm, and bright, all the things in their place.
Though I’m lost in the magic, I do realise it’s just another day. Cars still break down. People are still out working. Emergencies still do happen. Life does still carry on.
I think to myself that things in life have as much meaning as we give them.
They wake early. Too early. I hear Joel hushing them, “Wait, guys, wait,” a door opening, a hand on my arm. “Rach, they’re starting.” I open my eyes, I feel as though I’ve been hit by a truck. I peel myself from the bed and join them, telling myself again that it’s not forever. That I will sleep again one day. That she’s still so little and that I’ll forget how tired I once was. “It’s Georgie’s very first Christmas morning,” I say to Joel and the words get stuck in my throat. I’m surprised by my sudden emotion, and then I’m not surprised by it really at all. Soon, discarded wrapping paper fills every inch of our lounge room, eyes dart from one new thing to the next, “Santa knew!” and “Mum! Look what I got!” tumbling out of their mouths, simultaneously, over and over.
Soon, the RACQ man will come with a prognosis for our car, and then after that, we’ll catch an Uber and settle in for the day at Joel’s parent’s house, like we do every year on Christmas day. There will be a frenzy of presents, it will go fast, and we will spend the next two days at home, building garden beds, taking naps, recovering in the slow and quiet. And then I’ll store it all away, the photos and the stories, to be remembered long afterwards as Georgie’s first Christmas. The one where shopkins bags and my little pony scooters, batman figurines and toy swords will one day be replaced by hair straighteners and Taylor Swift concert tickets, surfboards and playstations.
And I sat in the middle of it, grateful for it all.
Thinking to myself that we are the ones who write it, who assign meaning to it, who, really, control so little of it – this life – except our experience of it.
Merry Christmas, friends. Another year folded up and tucked away.