There is a lot about Christmas-time that I don’t like. I don’t like the being ill. It’s a rare year when one of us hasn’t got some sort of hideous virus; before I gave up carol services, it was a tradition that, having learned all the parts, I wasn’t able to sing them. And the dark, dark mornings. I actually hate those. I hate having to drag my still sleeping body out of the warm cocoon of my bed, force feed it some breakfast and then drive to work. It’s torture. And I don’t like doing it to my kids, either. The everything on top of everything else you usually do. That said, there are many things about Christmas that I do like, not enough to make it my favourite time of the year, but certainly enough to have it up in the top ten. The lights, the decorations, the ultimate in thumbing your nose at the darkness as we gather together and make our own light. The topsy-turveyness of the whole thing. I like that.
There is an inevitability about Christmas that I have come to respect. I don’t really have time to write this (I should be wrapping the final presents, ensuring that the number of gifts is equal for each child, I should be delivering parcels to beloved family members, washing my hair), even though I have taken some steps this year in an attempt to avoid overwhelm. Last year I limped my way to the Big Day, chucking out anything that wasn’t essential (gingerbread houses – gone! Red cabbage a la Nigella – nowhere to be seen! Cards? What are they?); this year, by doing some things ridiculously early (the lady in the Post office actually rolled her eyes at me during half term) and refusing to do some others, I have managed to carve myself some time to think and – strangely – today, I have given myself permission to write them (some of them down).
So, without stopping to think too much (if I do that, I won’t write anything because of Fear of Repercussions), here goes:
- Working full time with three kids, one of whom is disabled, is very, very hard, and there is an extent to which I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t caught in an economic trap along with the rest of the world. There isn’t much time for anything else and every day feels like a treadmill and every weekend is not long enough. It impacts on my ability to maintain ANY social connection beyond working relationships, which, in turn, means that every day feels like a knife edge with no backup plan. Thank goodness no-one has been properly ill (yet).
- When an acquaintance of mine who works in school improvement for a local authority told me one hot afternoon the summer before last that it would take two years before I saw change in my workplace after taking on the role of leader, and that those two years would be not unlike climbing an excessively high mountain the most difficult way imaginable, she wasn’t wrong.
- When a wise woman said, ‘don’t try to change anything!’, she wasn’t wrong either. It takes a while for trust to build. People have to see you work, and work well. You have to learn your job. This takes time. Turning up every day can be enough.
- Leadership is lonely. Disability parenting is isolating. There’s a reason so many people use social media.
- There’s a difference between being a leader and being a manager. You can be a leader without being a manager; you can get people thinking and change their minds from behind the protection of a computer screen, but doing it up close and personal while checking that everyone has logged their sick leave correctly is entirely different.
- You cannot allow work to take over your life. There has to be something else other than work. Yes, it’s good for my kids to see that I work too, that I do not exist to service their needs – but I do need to be there for them at the end of the day. It is I who should dry their tears, not they mine.
And so I am back to the inevitability of Christmas, the forced stop and do something else, something that isn’t work, that isn’t dreaming about work, thinking about it, writing about it. This year I am grateful for it.