‘Twas the night before Christmas, it was 28 degrees and the sky was light and blue.
I have experienced a total of 6 Christmases in Australia. Two from my travelling days (2001 and 2006), and four since we made the move here in 2011. No matter how hard I try, I still find it strange Christmas shopping in the sunshine and donning a bikini and Santa hat on Christmas day.
This year we deviated from a bbq and opted for turkey with all the trimmings (even sourcing bread sauce from the UK). Our children are now two and three so are beginning to get into the Christmas spirit (well they liked the fact they got a chocolate for 24 days and that some man was bringing them presents). I, like many parents, have exploited the fact that Father Christmas was coming using it daily as a form of bribery on the lead up. Sadly, as with last year, they totally freaked when I took them to meet the big fella in person at the David Jones Santa’s grotto – #nofilter #nophoto.
They were a little happier waving to him from afar as he flew by our house in a helicopter two days before – something I have yet to witness in the 30 UK Christmases I’ve experienced.
Occasionally there are days when I have a moment of madness, throwing caution to the wind, ditching the girls’ sleep routines and attempt to ‘go with the flow’.
Today, was one of these days.
After 5 days of food poisoning and feeling a bit flat, it suddenly hit me that it was December already and I didn’t feel the least bit Christmassy. To be honest, I very rarely do living in Australia.
The pre-Christmas build-up doesn’t seem to be as full on as in the UK. Living in the Eastern suburbs, the decorations are few and far between and the bright blue sky and often 30+ degree temperature make it hard to associate with the cold and dark Christmases I have grown up with.
In a desperate bid to get myself and the girls into the festive spirit I decided it was time to take a trip into the city again, this time to meet Father Christmas. This was my first attempt at handling our two toddlers in the city on my own, what could possibly go wrong?
I began building the suspense and anticipation as best I could,
“Guess who we are going to meet this morning?”
“Do you think he will have a present for you?”
“What do you think his grotto will be like?”
All suitably excited (my 15 month old daughter not really understanding but eagerly joining in with our enthusiasm), we got ready in record time and jumped into the car with my husband, who gave us a lift on his way into work.
I’d hoped our walk through the city would kick start the festive feeling. Usually there are lots of trees, lights and Christmas songs blaring out of the shops. Unfortunately, this year it all seemed a little sparse and half-hearted. Maybe I’m too early, I wondered? I pointed out the odd Christmas tree or star in the shop windows and sang jingle bells in an effort to ignite the Christmas spark in all of us. Feeling a little disappointed, I tried to remain positive. We were en-route to see Father Christmas, what could be more Christmassy than that?
For a few weeks I’ve been employing the Father Christmas model of child behaviour management, “you do realise he is ALWAYS watching you don’t you?”, my particular favourite. She sort of gets it – sometimes. Today she was definitely eager to meet this person who is apparently going to be bringing her a fluffy bunny rabbit (teddy) and her very own pillow (her only 2 requests so far). I was quick to add the word ‘teddy’ to the end of fluffy bunny rabbit.
We arrived at the Sydney Tower Eye at 9.30am, no queues in sight. Perfect. I had a little niggle, this morning was going far too well. “We are here to see Father Christmas” I beamed at the girl on reception. She reciprocated my Cheshire grin with one of her own and enthusiastically responded with, “how lovely, he’s not here until 4pm but you can use the same ticket later so don’t worry, you don’t have to queue again”.
As lovely as this girl was, she clearly did not have kids. How the hell am I going to amuse two under three year olds in the city until then? That’s five and a half hours. I only had the single pram and both toddlers turn into demons if they miss their day sleeps. My excitement evaporated and the smile drained from my face. I glanced down at my eldest daughter. She was looking up at me, her head cocked to one side, a knowing look on her face that all was not as it should be.
Ok, time to explain to my nearly three year old that Father Christmas (who I’d just spent the last 2.5 hours saying was waiting to see her), was otherwise engaged.
“Apparently Father Christmas is having a rest today sweetheart, but that’s ok we can make the big trip back into the city again another day soon – I promise”. To be fair she took it much better than I did, happy to carry on into the tower to see what else was in store for her there.
We waited in the queue for the 3D cinema screening. I called my husband to let him know that Father Christmas is a lazy sod and couldn’t be bothered to get here on time today (this basically translates to, “are you sure you looked properly at the website to check when he was here and you didn’t miss the part that says he isn’t here at the time we are actually intending to be?”).
Whilst on the phone, my youngest wanted to get out of the pram and join her sister who was running around in delight, pushing and prodding everything within her reach. When my eldest began pushing her baby sister and sitting on her head, I lost my cool for a second. Hanging up on my husband and grabbing the eldest to instruct her to stop. It was at this moment, it would appear, that I misplaced my phone.
We went into the cinema and watched the show, which my eldest loved. Unfortunately her younger sister didn’t share her affection for it. Freaked out by the noise and not keen to partake in wearing 3D glasses, she screamed her head off! Cutting it short, I pulled my devastated eldest towards the exit, promising her there was heaps more fun to be had outside. It was here I performed the usual check that I had everything with me (a ritual I perform circa 500 times a day):
2 children- tick
One pram – tick
On carrier – tick
Change bag – tick
Look under pram to check nothing fallen out – tick
Mobile phone and wallet still in situ………S**t! No mobile phone.
I always put it in the outside change bag pocket. Not there. Ok, sometimes I might put it in the end pocket. Not there either. Ok, I have been known – when in a hurry, to stick it on the top of the pram. Not there. Frantically, I began to empty the entire contents of the change bag onto the floor. Nappies, children’s knickers, packed lunch strewn across the floor as I rummaged through the bag. Meanwhile my children were having a fabulous time, running around squealing, pulling at me and the pram and hanging from various railings. I Proceeded to empty entire contents of the pram. Not there. Dejectedly, I put everything back. Various passers-by offered their assistance and the attendant lent me his mobile phone. I tried to ring my phone. Straight to voicemail.
My head was bursting with every swear word you can imagine, I was forced to accept the inevitable – I’d lost it forever!
“It’s been handed in at reception” the attendant suddenly informs me.
The Cheshire grin reappeared on my face, I could have kissed him! I rushed to the reception desk, the girls there already aware I was not having the best of days due to Father Christmas’s absence, passed me the phone with a pitying smile.
Right. Start again. Back waiting for the cinema, this time when the doors opened, we skipped the screening much to my eldest disappointment but certainly better for her baby sister’s and everyone else’s ears.
My eldest loved the eye tower. Not too bothered about the view more the fact you can walk the entire perimeter on a nice narrow ledge. At least she was getting some exercise in a contained space so I could relax for a while – I had 2.5 hours to kill until meeting Daddy for lunch and then heading home.
To add insult to injury, Santa’s grotto was there on full display for us to see with a sign saying he would be there later. My daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw his little home. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and do some breaking and entering – in the name of Christmas of course. Determined we would at least get a photo on his chair if we weren’t going to get one with him in it, we bent down and crawled under the barrier. Her happiness at rummaging around in his house was short-lived and she was keen to resume her position of ledge walking.
We left the tower and headed for David Jones to see their usually amazing window display, guaranteed to make us feel Christmassy. My daughter was finally old enough to appreciate it, or so I thought. For some reason this year David Jones just aren’t hitting the mark. I don’t get it. It’s a bit bland and boring. Or Maybe I’m just not creative enough to understand the artistic expression?
My daughter certainly wasn’t impressed, yanking at my arm in a bid to get into the store where she could see the glittering baubles, sparkling lights and pretty trees on display. I remembered that Father Christmas was meant to visit here too. Off we went, to the sixth floor.
As the elevator doors parted my daughters eyes lit up in awe as we entered the children’s toy floor. Toy cars, baby dolls, games, everything a kid could dream of, paved her way. Grabbing her little hand, I hurried her through the aisles to the grotto.
No queue – tick
You have to book – s**t!
It’s ok, we can fit you in – tick
If you want to see Father Christmas you have to pay for a photography package – s**t! (Happy to pay for an awesome photo however from friend’s experiences my understanding is most young kids are petrified when they meet Father Christmas for the first time. Plus it’s now 11.30am and both girls are looking very tired- this doesn’t bode well for a perfect $50 picture)
It’s ok – if you don’t like the photo you don’t have to pay – RESULT!
We were in. The grotto was great.
A few minutes later our name was called. My daughter legged it, just as a huge queue of people had built up behind me.
“Please can I have your confirmation?”
“Confirmation?” I replied- frantically trying to get eyes on my daughter who was at the back of the room trying to untie her balloon from the pram, equally determined not to lose our place in the queue.
“Yes the piece of paper you were given when you entered?”
“Oh, that piece of paper?” I rummaged around in my bag. “No idea where it is, sorry”. Maybe we weren’t going to meet Father Christmas after all.
She must have taken pity on me as she gave in and said, “Its ok- I’ll just pop out and get you another one”.
I smiled at her gratefully.“Thank you!”
So, in we went. It was 11.30am now, after a fun morning running around, taking in the new surroundings my daughters both looked shattered.
We walked into Santa’s room, both girls clinging to me for dear life.
They clearly had absolutely no idea what to make of this strange looking man with giant white gloved hands and a huge white beard, staring at them. It’s fair to say that I was the most excited person in the room.
“Hellooooooo, Father Christmas! It’s so wonderful to meet you, we’ve been soooooooooo excited to see you” I gushed.
I planted my bum down next to him on the big red chair and attempted to get the girls to smile for the photo. The photographer took a few, mostly of the back of the girls’ heads. Each time Father Christmas tried to go near them with his eerily large white gloved hand the girls freaked, cowering closer behind me.
We left. With no photographic evidence but having met Father Christmas and the proud owners of two balloons.
I set off to meet my husband at Darling Harbour with two suitably exhausted toddlers. One in the pram, one finally asleep in the carrier. The balloons tied to the pram, blowing in the wind around my neck, bashing me (and the odd passer-by) over the head at regular intervals.