It was going to be the best Christmas yet. For the first time, we were hosting Christmas. And Harry was old enough for the nativity play.
At rehearsal, he sat beside his brother carolling dutifully. I could already see it. The otherwise stern-faced parishioners would be nodding at the altar. ‘That boy has come good’, they’d mutter, ‘he used to shriek abuse during the consecration, but no more! I call that fine parenting!’
Annie wriggled in her pusher. When I unclipped her, she promptly trotted over to join the children. She looked ecstatic, but the coordinator looked anxious. Annie wasn’t supposed to be there. I strapped Annie in again. She howled piteously.
At costume time, Harry muttered, ‘I don’t need a clothes’. The kindly parish lady held up a small brown robe. Harry’s eyes widened: ‘NO! Take it off!’
‘Never mind’, said the lady, measuring the robe against Harry’s wriggling form, ‘he’ll be fine on the night.’
By Christmas Eve, I was more worried about the house. Forget ‘Pretty’: my new goal was ‘Tidy’. I plunged into a decluttering frenzy.
But as we hurtled towards the end of the day, I realised forlornly that even this was beyond me. My children were manufacturing mess faster than I could dispel it. I now had to force-feed them dinner before getting to church by 6:15 no later. The kids were ready, Matilda had even put Annie into a green fairy dress. I was still frumpy, but there was no time!
The coordinator made an elaborate display of relief when we burst in the door (late) and ushered us to where the kindly parish ladies were waiting. Harry was already shaking his head.
I held the robe ready. Harry shot one look of pure loathing at the proffered garment and bolted. I somehow rugby-tackled the miniature maelstrom as he ran laps shouting ‘HELP MEEE!’ and began to wrestle arms and legs and heads into sleeves and neck holes and skirts. The minute I stopped applying the costume, Harry flung it off and resumed his protest march around the room.
By now, everyone had departed for photos on the basketball court. So, with one arm dragging Harry and the other pushing the stroller, I proceeded outside to resume negotiations.
Harry and I sat on the asphalt. I gestured helplessly at the other shepherds as they posed together.
‘Look, Harry’, I coaxed, ‘the big boys are wearing costumes. Don’t you want to be big?’
Harry glared at me mutinously. I tried again.
‘Do you want to sit with Annie like a baby?’
‘Then you must wear your costume.’
‘Then you can’t be in the play.’
‘Just try it.’
And he ran away.
I sat, bereft, on the bitumen. Two dads regarded me from on high.
‘Nobody would say you didn’t give it a good go’, said one.
My husband arrived. ‘There’s still time to dress’, he said. ‘Go! Hurry!’
I returned moments after the play had started. As I stumbled to my seat, I took in the scene. Beside Christopher sat Harry, in full costume, solemnly clutching his assigned sheep.
It was a Christmas miracle.
I looked at the angels. Matilda beamed beneath her tinsel halo. And there, sitting amongst the Heavenly Host all in white, was a small green fairy. Annie shot me a warning look that said don’t ruin this for me, Mother. My husband smiled indulgently. The coordinator smiled nervously.
I flopped into my seat. Three out of four ain’t bad.