Call me a silly old maid, but I do like a traditional Advent Calendar, definitely no chocolates, just little Mary or the donkey (clip-clop!) peeping out of a window to warm the cockles and give a flicker of meaning to this daft and directionless existence…The children, however, are willing to forego time-honoured tradition in favour of a cheap choc with their cornflakes.
Obviously, I don’t get my way, so we end up with both kinds, and sneer vigorously at each others’ calendars:
‘Chocolates first thing! YUK! Look at my lovely Nativity Scene!’
‘Bully for you, Mummy! You are living in the dark ages – everybody has a chocolate advent calendar these days! We don’t just want boring old pictures. Yum yum - this chocolate is delicious!’
Sometimes I break down and ask them for a bit.
This year, though, I had a plan: I’d ask Bonnie to make the Advent Calendar. That’d get her on side, and the others wouldn’t dream of hurting her feelings by buying chocolate calendars (this bit had me edgy, I’ll admit). We’d gather around her lovely home-made calendar each morning; what heart-warming yuletide image would surprise us today?! The Three Kings? The Star of Gabriel? I couldn’t wait!
‘Bonnie’ I said, pulling up a chair conspiratorially, ‘Would you do me a big favour? Would you make our advent calendar this year? Completely secret from the others mind you….’ She bought it hook, line and sinker, and set to with pens and paper behind a cereal packet at the end of the table…
Josie was tense and shouty, in the middle of GCSE mocks: ‘I know nothing at all. I don’t care how many times you say I’m good at maths, I am not. You are just making me more upset. And I need total quiet; how long are you going to be banging about?’
So I went away to offer Maddy some guidance with her crucial science test (GET UP!!). She’d flunked the previous one by being in her flute lesson instead (‘Wh-wh-what? WHAT?? Didn’t you say anything to your teacher?’ ‘You want me to learn the flute don’t you?’). I spoke crossly to the motionless lump in her bed: ‘You are not to leave the house until you have revised all thirteen chapters of the Science Revision Guide!’ Excellent – everybody sorted! Now I was free to go Christmas shopping.
Two hours later, frozen with indecision and full of loathing for Christmas, I returned home, to find a house buzzing with activity: Alan was under the covers with the radio memorising weather forecasts in case I tried to switch our so-called heating off; Alfie was sitting on a blank sheet of homework, googling ’Thirty ways to annoy your little sister’; Josie was weeping in the bath (‘All this work is killing me!’); and all that remained of Maddy was a note explaining that, unfortunately, she’d had to go straight to her sleepover party, otherwise she would have missed kick-off and therefore a tiny fraction of the TV and junk consumption planned for the next twelve hours. She was now uncontactable because her phone was in a bowl of rice(obviously) to draw out the moisture that had got inside it when she dropped it down the loo. But don’t worry - she’ll do all the revision whenever she shows up tomorrow, full of get-go after four hours’ sleep. Only dear Bonnie – never any trouble from her – was engaged in anything remotely constructive, still diligently drawing Advent Calendar pictures behind the cereal packet. I mounted her lovely little pictures, placing the stable scene in the 24th December window with a frisson of excitement.
Best laid plans and all that – sadly, my Advent Calendar scheme was scuppered at the eleventh hour; Bonnie was given a chocolate Advent Calendar at Brownies! (thank you so much, Brown Owl). It was only a matter of time until the rest of the children had chocolate calendars too…
Still, we all gathered round on December 1st for the Grand Opening of the first window of Bonnie’s calendar... and...there it was! MARY HOLDING BABY JESUS!!!
Bonnie screamed: ‘MUMMMMMY!!! THAT’S THE LAST PICTURE!!! NOW EVERYONE’S SEEN BABY JESUS!!! YOU’VE DONE IT ALL WRONG – YOU’VE RUINED THE WHOLE THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
I sat down. Oh dear. ‘Can someone give me a chocolate, please?’