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Edyth Bulbring

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Festive Season Comes to an End

My nine-year-old son confesses to feeling sad this festive season. He says he doesn’t know why. The sadness creeps up on him without warning. Like a sneeze.

His cousins say he has two very good reasons to feel sad – his sisters. He is abused and kicked around by the two mean teens twenty-four-seven. Poor kid. His mother should do something.

I instruct the two ugly sisters to desist in the use of all words like idiot, fool, retard, imbecile and smelly when addressing their brother. And they should let him win at Monopoly and stop making him cry by hiding the television remote.

It’s not only the boy child who is getting the sadness this merry season. His granny is attacked by loud weeping one night when she’s told to get back into the kitchen and wash the dishes and stop dodging the pots. It’s a joke but Granny doesn’t laugh. Is this all she’s good for? I tell her no, she can also mop the floor when she’s finished the pots. I add ha-ha just in case she has sense of humour bypass twice in five minutes.

The 14-year-old sister gets the sobs when she trips over a tent peg chasing a boy and breaks her clavicle four days before Christmas. She refuses to lie flat on her back for two weeks to let it heal properly. She plays cricket and goes surfing. I tell her she’s going to end up with a knobbly clavicle to match the knob on her nose from when she came short on her bicycle. She says she gives figs. I pretend not to care either.

The children’s father has a bout of the griefs when the television set conks out and he can’t watch Manchester United beat Wigan five nil. I tell him to grow up and read a book. He tells me to write one that pays the mortgage.

I too have reasons to get sad. One of them is that I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses and I know I’ll never be able to write like him. Ever. Even if I rode bareback with John Grady Cole from Texas to Mexico and home. Another reason is that even when his sisters don’t beat him up for drinking milk straight from the bottle, the boy child’s sadness persists. This makes me very blue.

He complains that his head feels heavy with these sad attacks. So heavy that he struggles to open his eyes. And he has an ache in the left side of his chest. He believes it must be his heart. It is terribly sore.

I start to panic. He’s too young for crazy pills and shrinks. I monitor the environment, trying to detect the incidents that are giving him the morbs.

We find an injured dove in the garden being eaten alive by ants. The blood is bright-red. We walk around a squashed frog on the road. The blood is dark-black. We find an unhatched egg on the lawn that contains a half formed bird. It is stinky-grey.

I tell the boy’s father that I suspect our son has realised that he’s mortal. Every second since the day of his birth he’s been slowly dying. He now knows that he’s a small cog in the circle of life. It’s making him sad.

I weep when I say this. The burden of knowledge upon such young shoulders must be intensely painful. I weep some more.

The boy’s father says I’m talking complete crap. The reason for the child’s sadness is a simple one – he’s finally figured out that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

I’m not convinced. Evidence that he’s keeping the faith hangs in a letter to Father Christmas by the fireplace. Daer Santa I howp you have a mery crismas. I wood like .

One of the gift requests should be a dictionary. But no, it’s a rosary. I ask my mother where in hell am I going to find a rosary? She begs me to hold off for another year and save the child from Rome by taking him to an Anglican church for the next 52 Sundays. He can get a PlayStation game instead.

I analyse all the conversations between my son and me. Probing them for cynicism or doubt. Conversations about whether Father Christmas prefers crackers and beer to cookies and milk? And how Father Christmas will know where to bring his presents if we aren’t having Christmas at home this year. I detect no Doubting Thomas.

But it is the question: what are all those presents doing in the back of your cupboard? that hits the alarm button. There’s a kernel of truth to his father’s diagnosis. The boy has doubts.

I discuss how to deal with the Father Christmas issue with the teen sisters. The 14-year-old says it’s about bloody time the boy genius finally caught on to the con. She was beginning to think he was seriously slow. He should keep his sadness to himself and do what she did when she twigged at the age of five: keep pretending to believe. You end up getting lots more presents.

I tell her she’s not allowed to call her brother a boy genius in that tone of voice. Or in any of the 11 official languages. Else I’ll break her other clavicle.

The 17-year-old believes we should have a frank and open discussion about the whole Father Christmas issue. She’s going through a truth and transparency phase. I tell her she’s got the job. She says no ways, you’re mad (and fat and boring and all the other sad truths she’s shared with me during this full disclosure phase). We decide to leave it and rotate the suicide watch.

After Christmas has taken its course, and the boy has been allowed to hug his sisters (a twice a year occurrence – birthdays and Christmas) he and I are lying in bed chatting before sleeptime.

I carefully broach the Father Christmas issue. So, what are your thoughts on Father Christmas? I ask.

He says that he understands things were different this year. He knows we bought his presents and his father put them by the tree. He heard him stumbling about and scoffing the crackers. But next year we’ll do Christmas at home. Father Christmas won’t be confused and will know where to come. Things can go back to normal.

I put my arms around him and his skin feels gritty from the beach and he smells like sunscreen. And like a boy who tries never to bath or wash his hair. I breathe in that smelly boy smell and hold him tight.

He tells me to geddoff. Let go.

Fat chance, I tell him. And hold him tighter.

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 12th, 2010 @21:09 #
     
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    Best snarky retort of the fresh new year: "I tell him to grow up and read a book. He tells me to write one that pays the mortgage." Bwahahaha!

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