Sunday 15 September 2019

Home for the holidays

After years of moving house, Sarah Caden has finally settled, as has the pressure to make the season bright

A Christmas in your own house is many people's ideal. Photo posed
A Christmas in your own house is many people's ideal. Photo posed
Sarah Caden

Six years ago this month, during what we now all call 'The Snow of 2010', we sold our house. We had to, so we were going to rent and work out what to do next. It was supposed to be a six-month period of planning and house-hunting.

In retrospect, it was a bit mad, because we weren't really ideally fixed to decide anything. The bigger picture was that we had a new baby daughter with an extra chromosome, and my husband had a new job in a capricious industry.

The smaller picture was that it was snowing and it was Christmas. These are not times to make big moves. But we had to and we did. And six months turned into five years.

We moved several times, to houses all within a one-mile radius, all within walking distance of where both daughters eventually started school, and close to where we have ended up. One year ago tomorrow, we moved into our own house, the mortgaged kind.

We had five Christmases in those houses, all of which I thought of as stopgap seasons of goodwill. No way to think, I know. Then, last year, we moved in to our own house, six days before Christmas.

This year, we're settled. It feels strange. Strange in a good way, but still strange. Grown up. It was a long time coming, but this Christmas feels like the first truly grown-up one. And grown-ups are supposed to know what they're doing, at all times, in all seasons.

We were only one year married when we bought our first house, just as this century began. This time around, we are in our 40s, with two children. That first house was a cottage where we had lots of parties, lots of lie-ins and few responsibilities. This house has a drive. And a lawn, albeit artificial. And here, we're not the kids playing at being grown-ups, we're the adults.

It was the summer that cemented that settled feeling. The evenings of me leaning out the side door of the house at 8pm, calling the older daughter in from playing on the road. The afternoons of handing out togs to a gaggle of under-10s who would splash in the (weak moment in Smyth's) 2.5m paddling pool, until the sun was gone down and their lips were blue. The days that not just the older daughter, but the younger one too, with her disability and my fear that no one would ask her to play, were invited across the road to bounce on the neighbours' trampoline.

Nothing, not marriage, not pregnancy, not having babies and rearing babies had quite made me feel so settled before. And, even in the height of summer, there were moments when I wondered what Christmas would be like. I've never felt so in charge of the memory-making. And the Christmas memories matter more than most. Good, bad, sad, even angry ones.

I want the children's memories of this year to be different. I can't help myself. I want it to be one they remember as here, in this house, settled. It's a big demand to make of the festive season; a big demand to make of myself. There is a danger in equating settled with sorted and sorted with perfect. I know it's just a house and it's only Christmas, but still. I feel a temptation to go mad at the making of it amazing.

There is a chimney for Santa and the children will be able to go out and make merry with their presents on the road with their friends, for the first time ever. And we have unpacked (mostly), we are bedded in and going nowhere and it feels like for keeps, for now.

When you move around a lot, you get used to thinking always about the next house, the move, the next potentially ideal set-up. And the Christmas in our "own" house was always the ideal. But it won't be ideal, because it can't be, but it can be good enough. That's all you can ask from Christmas.

Santa, we're home.

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