The most wonderful time of the year

As I said in a recent post, there are certain things which I am intensely dreading having to relive through my children. I’ve suffered more than my fair share of high stakes Singaporean schooling thank you very much, and I am totally throwing a tantrum about having to do all it again. (Provokingly, today I stumbled across yet another store selling past year papers. A full wall of them. Out of curiosity I reached for one of the inch-thick stacks and noted with horror that it was for Primary One. Primary One. Who is buying Raffles Girls’ School/Maris Stella High School/ACS Primary examination papers for their seven year old kid? If you are, please stop. You’re totally stressing me out.)

And then there are the other things to be relived, thank God.

baby eating ornament 3

When I was a kid, Christmas was single-handedly orchestrated by my mother. For the longest time, I thought the presents labeled “from So-and-so” were really from So-and-so, until one unforgettable awkward moment when I thanked my scary, hater-of-children Cantonese grandmother for her gift to me and got a blank stare in return. I thought she hadn’t understood my substandard Mandarin and switched to Cantonese: You bought this for me? In an epic drop-the-ball move, scary Cantonese Grandmother shook her head and gave me a look which plainly said “Why would I do such a bizarre thing? Buy you a present? Ha ha ha! The absurdity.”

My poor mother, flustered, attempted to quickly distract me but it was too late. The game was up.

baby eating ornament 4

It didn’t matter though, who the presents came from, or even who they were for. They were little packaged mysteries – intrinsically alluring and exciting. Christmas was the best.

Each year, I would hit the toy store with my meagre savings and ostensibly pick out a gift for my little sister. In fact, I was picking out something for us. She is five years younger than me but we have always played together – my games were her games. There was no play without her. I only remember one of these gifts – a Polly Pocket. And I remember one of her gifts – to my father? – was a pair of shoes she had constructed out of paper. (Six year olds don’t get allowances.)

After we all grew up and my mother rightfully grew tired of entertaining teenagers, we stopped giving each other gifts and some years there wouldn’t be a tree. Which was fine – I became a terrible gifter in my older age, and it was kind of nice not having the burden of doing anything for Christmas.

baby reaching for ornament

Michael has adopted a game, called Spot the Christmas Decorations on the Ceiling of the Shopping Mall. We go out, and I hear him cooing and there he is, totally freaking out over a plastic snowflake dangling from the ceiling of the grocery store. Dancing on his little legs, swiping at the air. Cheap and ugly decor has never had such an appreciative audience. I marvel at him, marveling at all the shiny stuff. It’s so easy to impress a 9 month old.

Of course, he couldn’t care less about presents under the tree, at this stage. But I find myself purchasing, wrapping things up and placing them under the tree with the kind of industry and quiet glee that I can only imagine my mother experienced twenty years ago. I am constructing and creating and planning and seriously considering DIY-ing Christmas cushions. (Like so. Update if I do.) The tree is decorated, albeit with mildly clashing, cheap decorations from Daiso and various supermarkets. In a moment of inspiration, I even stuck on a little $1.90 fake snow-dusted branch of holly on my front door, with festive red and green washi tape.

Christmas is back. And fun.

“It’s your first Christmas,” I whispered to Michael yesterday, as we stood under a particularly impressive tree in Scotts Square. “That’s crazy, to have a first Christmas. Auntie Lyn and I have lived through thirty-one Christmases. Thirty-one.” Lyn and I exchanged glances. What a crazy idea, to have lived through thirty-one Christmases. It’s exhausting and terrifying to think of. And exhilarating to think that I get to orchestrate the next ten, twenty, thirty, that are coming. It’s going to be the best.

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