We put our tree up this weekend. It’s always a big deal, never a chore. In the pursuit of family traditions, I’ve always made sure that Christmas tree weekend is special. So no, you can pass on those Chelsea tickets, welcome the cancelled football match, and even – just this once – skip swimming lessons. Put on the Christmas playlist, overboil the mulled wine, and warm up some mince pies, because Christmas tree weekend has to happen in a certain way every year.
I apologise if I’m a little prescriptive, slightly bossy, and rather a neat freak, but this weekend matters to me. It’s when we start our perfect Christmas, delight in the anticipation of what we hope is to come, and indulge in full-on sentimentality. The kids (and me, if I’m honest) get over-excited and daft, fishing out forgotten musical animal toys, remembering solar-powered wobbly Rudolph (the best gift I ever received from my son), and demanding Tic-Tacs for Pooey (tip: never buy a plastic reindeer that poos Tic-Tacs).
The tree this year was probably the prettiest yet. We always get it from Pines and Needles, and it comes with the added bonus of being delivered to your door, cutting out probably one of the most anticipated, but least enjoyed chores of the season – dragging a tree home from the garden centre. Ours is just the perfect shape, and the smell of it is making me contemplate chucking out the extra fake tree we have in the kitchen. Only I can’t, I bought new baubles for it in the sale last year, just as turquoise was going out of fashion…
It was the same the year my daughter turned 10, the perfect Christmas, the perfect weekend of decorating the tree. Only it wasn’t quite. Because diabetes gifted itself to my child. That year, my quest for perfection was punctuated by stress. I allowed baubles to adorn the wrong branches as I got distracted by how many carbs were in a Heston mince pie. I allowed the treat, on the understanding that there would be no hot chocolate with marshmallows to further complicate the insulin dosing procedures. I agonised over the size of the chocolates in the homemade advent calendar. And I insisted on a nice, sensible tea once the tree was up, to avoid further anxiety. Diabetes got in the way of everything.
I remember trying to ration the roast potatoes that year at Christmas dinner; that last-minute panic of getting everything to the table on schedule made worse by the need to calculate the insulin injections and time them to perfection. I had to allow for the chipolatas, the cranberry sauce, and the cheese (yes cheese will raise your blood sugar if you eat enough of it). She wanted extra gravy, and I nearly lost my cool over the maths for this extra 5 grams, whilst trying to smile through a cold sweat at the prospect of Christmas pudding . I remember when my biggest stress at Christmas was making sure the two coins in the pudding made it into the correct dishes. I can’t even recall putting them in there that year.
As I rearranged the slightly ‘mis-placed’ tinsel on the tree the following year, I sipped my wine and smiled indulgently at my children wolfing mince pies, and singing terrible cover songs. I decided it was too late to cook, and ordered a Chinese. The excitement in their eyes at the prospect of this rare treat (Chinese is absolutely the worst thing you can eat as a diabetic – candy floss is much easier to deal with) made the hours of night checking I was in for totally worth it.
I took a moment to delight in my young son’s expression as he sat at the top of the stairs, reading himself the story of little mouse in the snow out loud. He’d be great on Jackanory. I snapped an image of my daughter, never without a Santa hat at this time of year, and smiled at how well she’d done that morning dealing with a hypo, and changing the settings on her insulin pump by herself. And as I offered her the last mince pie, and polished off the prawn crackers, I started to look forward to Christmas. Because after a year – though there are always moments of stress with diabetes – I knew what I was doing. And instead of panicking on Christmas morning at the prospect of chocolate in her stocking, I go back to sleep and leave her to eat it. Because so does she.
There’s only one thing left to ruin my perfect Christmas: who put this guy there?!