Tangible Memories

As we’ve met up with friends and acquaintances through the course of our return to normal life this week, one of the common questions that we’ve asked to each other is ‘how were your holidays?’ Whilst replying in the affirmative, I suddenly realised that this year we had taken absolutely no photos on Christmas Day or New Years Eve. This realisation was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, I was happy that we were obviously having such a lovely time that we forgot to record it all for posterity’s sake but on the other hand, I was a little sad that I won’t be able to look back at photo’s from this Christmas in years to come.

When I was much younger, I went through a phase of habitually going to the cupboard where my Mum stored all her photo albums and leafing through them all. I loved looking at old photo’s of us all as babies, snapshots of special birthdays and holidays, forever remembered in print. Obviously, this was before the age of digital and developing a film wasn’t cheap so the moments that had been captured were ones that my parents conciously chose to remember. Somehow, this made them even more precious. Now that we can take a thousand photos on our smartphones with ease and online printing services means that you can print them off for pennies, I suspect we are a litlte less discerning with what we choose to snap.

When Sophia was smaller I was a little obsessed with getting pictures of her all the time. I didn’t want to miss the chance to make a record of anything. Then I realised that living life behind the lens wasn’t as rewarding as putting my phone or camera down and living in the moment itself. I’m pretty sure the kids would rather remember me getting involved rather than standing on the sidelines, trying to get the perfect shot.

Consequently, now I’m trying to tread the fine line between making sure I do have pictures for when I’m old and grey and the kids are no longer small bundles of excitable energy, and being glued to my phone for fear of missing a candid moment. At the end of the day, I know that nothing will truly capture the heart meltingly cute gaze of a toddler or the hilarity that older kids often cause with their amazing facial expressions. I’ll have to rely on remembering how those moments felt, even if I can’t relive them.

So whilst I was a little sad about not taking any pictures over the festive period this year, I soon got over it and realised that in 40 years time, all the Christmases will blur into one and it won’t be a big deal if my photo albums are missing the odd one or two. I will certainly make sure I have some tangible memories in the form of pictures and precious saved relics of their childhood but I suspect it will be the intangible memories that are the most special to me in the end.

FOMO

In Exeter at the moment, there is a veritable plethora of opportunities for home educated children. Choir, yoga, athletics, veterinary classes, theatre trips, craft sessions, nature groups, science workshops, Forest School, trampolining…the list goes on and on. Although I am obviously thrilled by the opportunities on offer for the kids, at the same time I’ve been finding myself getting a bit panicked every time a new post goes up advertising another group or activity. After talking to a friend, she suggested I may be suffering from FOMO, a Fear Of Missing Out. Not an acronym I was familiar with but when she said it, I immediately identified with the ‘syndrome’!

Without a time machine and an unlimited supply of funds, it is simply impossible to do everything. But although in my heart of hearts I know this, every time I turn down an opportunity I find myself worrying that I’m doing the kids a disservice. What if there is a future Olympic gymnast in one them and they never realise that potential because I didn’t take them to the relevant classes? What if one of them has an unrecognised passion for singing but they never actualise it? I do know that I’m being a bit ridiculous and that these are extreme examples. But still, that fear (of missing out) remains!

And it doesn’t just stop with their education. I have a tendency to try and make sure that we can accept every party invitation, that every time the sun shines we maximise the opportunity to do something exciting outside, that we fit in as much as possible as a family. However, having pondered the matter somewhat, I had a bit of an epiphany. Namely that actually, the kids (and Dan) aren’t bothered about doing everything. They are all perfectly happy having a day at home, playing board games, hanging out with the guinea pig, building lego spaceships, watching a bit of TV and generally chilling out. In fact, if it follows a busy few days, it is their activity of choice when asked what they fancy doing on a rare free day.

I realised that I’ve been focused on making happy memories for our family that I’ve been getting caught up in doing big, amazing things whereas it doesn’t really matter what the content of the memory is, what we’ll remember is how we felt whilst doing that. So dragging them all onto Dartmoor when they’re tired and just want to chill won’t be a day to treasure, it’s more likely to be something we have to endure before heading home to relax. Likewise, if I want to ensure they have a full, rounded education, that doesn’t necessarily mean dipping superficially into everything physically and financially possible but following their needs and interests to develop their knowledge and skillset to a deeper (and therefore, more useful) level. No need to fear missing out, what we’ve got is pretty good already!

Christmas: Less me, more them

Usually by this point in the year I’ve got Christmas and Sophia’s birthday sorted. This year I haven’t and I’m feeling it. I’m struggling to shift a perpetual dark mood and am stressed by how much there is to buy, organise and prepare in a very short space of time. Last year I had bought everything by the end of October, worked on handmade items in November and had December to do Christmassy activities with the kids, relax and enjoy the festive build up. This year I kind of just want to fast forward to January…

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to the Christmas week itself and spending time with family and dear friends. It’s just the getting there that I’m dreading. There are homemade gifts to be made, Christmas crafts to be done (and baked!), presents to be bought, a party to plan, a Christmas dinner that needs planning (and necessary foods ordered), a newly moved into house that still needs sorting and all this on top of the normal demands of daily life and performed at less than 100% of my maximum capacity due to a small man that has started waking at night again…

I feel like a scrooge just typing this. Sorry for killing the festive buzz guys! I think I just needed to get it out there, to use this as a dumping ground so I can get organised, get over it and not stamp out the Christmas cheer before it has even arrived in our house. It’s also good to have a ‘written’ record so I don’t make the same mistake next year! Next year I’m putting aside a little bit of money each month and starting early.

And actually, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve come to realise how my head is really in the wrong space. Christmas isn’t about the gifts we make, buy and give, it’s not about the gingerbread or the wreath, it’s not about a meal that’ll be eaten in a fraction of the time it took to make. For us, for our family, it’s about remembering the birth of a very special baby, long ago, whose arrival changed everything. As the old saying goes ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’! And if you’re not that way inclined, I’m assuming it’s still not about any of the stuff I mentioned just now. I’m guessing it’s about spending time with your family and friends, it’s about love. We probably won’t remember the calibre of the roasties or gifts given and received in ten years time, but we’ll remember what matters. We’ll remember the smiles, the comfortable ease of being with folk we love, the laughter that brought us all to tears (though probably not what sparked it), the joy of spending quality time with quality people.

And I reckon that as long as I keep that my focus for the next month, I should be able to lighten up, get everything I need to get done finished and have a bloody brilliant December and Christmas. But Christmas for many people and families around the world  this year is going to fall far short of brilliant. So this week my task is to seek out ways of practically making Christmas a little cheerier for those less  fortunate than me and with far bigger worries than me. Our Church works to help support homeless people in Exeter and are collecting small gifts for them and we helped our home ed group with five family Christmas boxes for refugees in Syria so that’s a good place to start. But there must be more I can do than that. If you know of any opportunities please comment and let me know. If not, I will endeavour to find out and update you next week with my plans.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those without homes. If I truly believe he’s the reason for celebrating this festive season then I need to think much less about my own (minor) woes and how I can enjoy the next month and start thinking much more about others. If I achieve nothing else but this, I’ll be content. I’m going to think beyond myself this Christmas, I want to help make it better for those that desperately need and deserve it to be.