In preparation for the British Mummy Bloggers Christmas Party next week, we've all been asked to write a blog about our Christmas memories. I must admit, I'm finding this one a little difficult. Trawling through my memories I find that many years seem to have disappeared completely, and those that are left behind are at best melancholy, if not altogether traumatic. Christmas should be a time of joy, though, so I want to write about something positive.
So I won't tell you about the Christmas we spent in a women's shelter, sharing a bunk-bed filled dorm with a brave but frail young woman called Lucy, who had been repeatedly gang raped by her boyfriend and his friends. Or about her three year old son whose behaviour frightened me, whose eyes were like those of a panicked horse, and whose tiny chubby arms were covered in cigarette burn marks. I won't write about how much pain it causes me to think about that now that I have a three year old of my own. Or about the anger I feel towards Lucy, even now, knowing she went back to her boyfriend again.
I won't tell you about the excitement of finding out that my mum had saved up for the first Christmas presents we had had in years, because I don't want to write about the crashing shock and pain of seeing the wrapping paper strewn around the room, and all our presents gone, stolen and pawned.
Or about the Christmas I spent at Shawbridge Boys Farm, a youth detention centre in Quebec, visiting someone very special to me. Or about wandering outside in the snow with a lost boy whose family hadn't bothered to visit.
Those memories, and many more like them, are all too painful to reflect upon, now that I have children of my own.
But the surprising thing is that there was a truly wonderful memory tucked up in there too.
It's of a warm, happy house in a tiny town in Ontario, up near Muskoka. Snow coming down thick and fast, the driveway painstakingly shoveled clean by my husband moments before the snowplow turned up - he was so proud of his work, we didn't have the heart to tell him. My little brother is outside smoking, watching the snow, his fingers curled against the cold. My sister in law is chasing my adorable little baby nephew around, as he in turn chases a giant turnip that has rolled across the floor. My mum and my aunt are side by side on the piano bench, both tone deaf but cheerfully trying their best to make music. My aunt, a moroccan jew with an infectious laugh, is happily pounding out (wrong) notes in a bizarre adaptation of traditional Christmas carols. My big brother and I playing Crokinole with such fervour my fingers are bruised and sore, and my uncle acting as commentator while he opens another beer.
It sounds so mundane, so simple. But for me, with a lifetime of trauma behind me, I think perhaps I've always longed for the mundane. For the simple pleasure of being together as a family, smiling, laughing, and at ease.
That's what I want my children to have, every Christmas.