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Torfaen Tales

Our Best Christmas

I sighed happily as I folded the tea towel and hung it on the oven door to dry.

“Thanks, kids. You’ve been a great help today.”

“Now can I go and play with my Nintendo?” said Jay impatiently.

“Of course you can,” I replied, turning to Belinda as her brother scampered upstairs.

“What would you like to do now, Bel?”

“I don’t mind, Mum. I think there’s another chick flick on the TV shortly.”

“Sounds like a good idea, love. I’ll make us a cup of tea.”

As I waited for the kettle to boil I felt a warm glow of satisfaction. It had been the best Christmas for a long time. Not bad going, considering my husband of 15 years had left us only a few months before.

“I’m sorry, Kate,” he’d said, hurriedly throwing his things into cases and boxes. “I think we both know it’s not working out.”

Of course he’d flatly denied there was anyone else. But I knew better. My friend Jade who worked at the Coach and Horses had seen them together.

The worst bit had been telling the kids. Rob hadn’t stayed around for that bit. I’d done my best, explaining that their dad still loved them, it was me he had a problem with. Belinda at 14 considered herself a woman of the world, she’d taken it surprisingly well. I think she almost thought it was cool to belong to a single parent family like many of her classmates. Jay had taken longer to adjust. He considered himself streetwise but at the end of the day he was only eleven, in the limbo land of puberty with emotions on a helter-skelter and a voice that couldn’t yet be trusted to sound manly. He was still having the occasional sleepless night fretting about his dad.

My main problem was money. I’d approached my boss for more hours at work. As takings were down on the previous year he didn’t have any extra money to spend on wages, but he said he’d keep me in mind if there was any overtime going. I’d done everything I could to cut costs, but at the end of the day I had a house to run on a low wage. Rob was paying a little towards the children’s keep, but whether that was enough only time would tell. And first I had to get through the winter with high costs of heating and a growing son who ate like there was no tomorrow. Luckily I’d already bought the kids a few Christmas presents before Rob had gone.

I’d lain awake night after night trying to figure out how we would manage financially. It occurred to me with a flash of revelation that it was not Rob I missed but the lifestyle his income afforded. I had to agree with him, our relationship was definitely over. I’d just been too busy being a wife and mother and holding down a job to realise it.

Tears had slid into my pillow regretting that there would be no more exotic holidays. I’d probably have to sell my new car and trade down to an old banger. No more designer clothes. I’d probably end up shopping in the charity shops. I envisaged turning into a nagging harridan, keeping on at Rob for money to clothe and feed the children. Like many 21st century families we had very little in savings, choosing to live for the moment.

I’d explained to the kids that we’d have to make economies, only for Jay to ask the very next day for new trainers. What part of NO MONEY had he failed to understand?

Belinda, bless her, found a Saturday job in the local hairdressers. She’d presented this as a fait accompli the night before she was due to start. My first reaction had been anger that this was what we’d come to, feeling that it was little short of sending my daughter up chimneys with a brush. But I’d bitten my tongue. She enjoyed it, even though she was only sweeping the floor and making coffee. It wasn’t doing her any harm finding out about the world of work. And I hoped it would make Rob guilty for what he’d done, casting us off like last year’s clothing. Her earnings were sufficient to pay for school dinners for herself and her brother, something I was thankful for.

I dreaded Sunday afternoons. Rob would turn up around midday to take the kids out for the afternoon. I don’t think the kids really enjoyed it. Jay said it was a bit boring. Usually all they did was go to MacDonalds and then hang about in their dad’s flat until it was time to come home. I think they found the divided loyalty situation difficult to deal with. Gone were the Sundays of the past, a leisurely midday meal and often a family outing afterwards. The beach, the skate park, bowling, or perhaps the cinema. Or a visit to one of the vast shopping centres. Yes, we’d been raising our offspring as proper little consumers accustomed to the best that money could buy.

And now the well had run dry and in the run up to Christmas I had waited with bated breath for the kids to start protesting in earnest.

At the beginning of December we’d dug out the boxes of Christmas decorations and decorated our tree. Fortunately no purchases were required. I’d bought a few bits and pieces towards Christmas each week at the supermarket, but nothing like the excesses of previous years. I compared the cost of making my own cake and pudding with buying ready-made, and was relieved that it was more economical to buy inexpensive ready-made. We wouldn’t be entertaining this year, that was for sure. No party for friends and neighbours. At least I wouldn’t have to suffer Rob’s pompous father. His mother was sweet, and had phoned a few times since Rob left to make sure we were all right. Goodness only knew what she saw in her boorish husband. My own parents had passed away in quick succession several years before and I had no other family nearby.

So on Christmas morning I’d made the best of things. I’d put on a CD of Christmas songs while we opened our presents. Jay and Belinda hadn’t seemed that bothered that they didn’t have the usual piles of gifts to open. Rob had got Jay the Nintendo he wanted, and that seemed enough for him. He’d given Belinda money to buy clothes. She’d spent some on an expensive bottle of perfume for me.

“Oh, Bel!” I said, momentarily lost for words. “How wonderful!” I blinked away tears of joy at her thoughtfulness. And she’d given Jay money to get me a Scissor Sisters CD. Music and perfume. What more could a woman want at Christmas, apart from precious memories of time with her children. Which I had, and which didn’t cost anything.

I’d cooked our dinner, a simple chicken with cranberry sauce from a jar instead of the usual massive turkey with all the trimmings. I served the chicken with potato waffles as requested by Jay, and didn’t insist that he ate his sprouts. Belinda being fourteen only picked at her food, afraid of gaining an ounce. So the amount her brother ate was cancelled out by what she didn’t, and he was quite happy with simple fare as long as there was plenty of it.

“Mum, that was the greatest!” he said as we cleared away the plates. He gave me a hug and his cranberry-smeared face left its mark on my jumper. I didn’t mind in the slightest.

While Jay was out of the room, Belinda opened up to me as we put the kitchen back in order.

“It’s better now Dad’s not here. This Christmas has been much better than last year‘s. I felt like I was like waiting for a bomb to drop. I could see things were going wrong between you and Dad but I couldn’t do anything about it. I love Dad, but he’s not right for you, Mum. We’ll have to check out the internet, see if we can find you someone better. What about a toy boy?”

“Oh, Bel!” I protested, hugging my daughter. “We can’t surf the internet, your Dad took the computer. And anyway, I don’t need a man.”

“No, you don’t, do you, Mum? I’m never going to get married. Us women, we just don’t need men. I’ll go and put the telly on while you make the tea. And please don’t put any sugar in mine.”

Yes, it had been a lovely Christmas with plenty of special memories to file away for future reference. Belinda was turning into a splendid young woman, and Jay wasn’t far behind her in the wisdom and maturity stakes. I reached for the box of chocolates hidden on the top shelf. Belinda may not wish to indulge, but with no man in my life I had no need to worry about my weight.

by Karenne Griffin


Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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