Home again in one piece. We could say “best Christmas ever”. The children behaved well – some things really do get easier with time. There were a series of firsts:
1. First time they packed their own overnight bags. Jo’s ‘bag’ consisted of a duvet with ‘bunbun’ (very worn, grubby, once-white rabbit who has been a transitional objects since she was a baby), a ‘dodo’ (dummy/pacifier – yes, at 14, sorry about that but we can’t wean her off it), a nighty and maybe some other clothes but definitely no toothbrush. Billy did have a change of clothes but didn’t actually change them. Never mind. It’s progress.
2. First time they both arrived at my sister-in-law’s fully dressed. Jo used to travel in a nightdress wrapped up in the duvet. It may have been that living as a boy she couldn’t stand wearing boy-clothes. She had begged for some of my old nighties when I stopped buying her nightdresses of her own. She is now back in girl’s clothes. To be fair she has never worn boy clothes if she had any choice. When the only dress she had was a nightdress she would wear that as soon as she removed her school uniform, day and night, and refuse to be seen in public.
3. First time they both sat at table for Christmas dinner for an hour or more. It didn’t matter that they didn’t make it to the pudding stage without leaving the room. Jo did play with the candles and insist on pulling crackers while we were eating, but as she does not like eating with people watching her and finds it hard to sit still, she rose admirably to the challenge.
4. First time the children put themselves to bed without help. There was no fighting about who went where, no calls for a referee, no hours trying to get Jo settled, no pleas to go home, no tears or tantrums. Just as well as Tony had hurt his hip and was on painkillers and plentiful quantities of alcohol, which seemed to do the trick, but it would have been up to me to sort out the kids. As it was, I was hardly needed. Having been up so early they were both asleep by 8pm.
5. First time they were up, dressed, packed (sort of) and patiently waiting to go home without anyone arguing or fighting. They were ready to leave by 9am but waited more or less patiently until after 1pm. Billy managed to hold a conversation, and Jo didn’t feel the need to interrupt whenever my attention wasn’t on her. They waited with some anxiety while the five adults had a good family political argument, as Jo would have it, or discussion as we would say, for a couple of hours – all in good nature. The world is a scary place for Billy and Jo, and we need to spend time reassuring them that most people are good and that the world is basically a safe place. They don’t seem to have much grasp of when people are exchanging opinions and when it’s a personal attack and aggressive. Hopefully we can model that its OK to have different opinions without disliking people or falling out. Unfortunately the world isn’t really safe for everyone, but thankfully that is our reality, at the moment at least.
6. First time that, even though tired, they made it to bedtime without having a bust-up. Jo left Billy’s room when Tony asked her to – at Billy’s request. The emphasis on not fighting may seem overdone, but inter-sibling violence has been a major source of stress in our lives for many years, and its absence something to celebrate. Billy will generally wind Jo up, verbally at first, and she will react. The whole point, as Billy would tell us frequently, was to make her behave so badly that we would send her away and he would have us to himself. He could never believe that we had enough love for Jo as well as for him. As Jo learns not to react to his taunts, the incentive for Billy to provoke her declines. As adults they can choose to have nothing to do with one other, but while they live under the same roof it is great not to have to constantly intervene. We spend much of our time and energy anticipating trouble, and picking up the pieces afterwards.
Its 8pm on Boxing Day and we have had 48 hours of exemplary behaviour. Long may it last.