Christmas 2003 will always live in my memory as Christmas, which forever turns me off for Christmas. Almost.
We lived in Paris, as now, and decided to go on a 14-week tour of the UK at the moment of madness and present our recently recorded top hits, namely our son, then almost three, and our daughter, then seven months.
I think we imagined we would relax from the daily routine of premature growth, biplane sprint – of course in opposite directions – to crèche (daughter) and kindergarten (son), office, reverse sprint, night fight, wine, pack and repeat.
Of course it wasn’t. We set out on a clear Saturday 10 days before Christmas in a car piled high with suitcases, the necessary equipment for young children, poorly wrapped gifts from France and a lot of good cheer. We returned to our knees two weeks later.
The tour took place in Bristol, Dorset, West London, South London, North London, Coventry and Kent, where they stayed with old friends and family. We spent a maximum of two nights in one place. It was nuts.
The children lost their sense very quickly when it was night and when it was day, and they woke up at six, then five, then four, then three in the morning. The boy, who had been out of diapers for some time, began secretly urinating behind people’s sofas.
We have not neglected the stress of maintaining a sunny disposition with a sequence of individually beautiful but collectively exhausting hosts and remembering all those things that may not be lost or forgotten on any account: washed but only half dry linen and inseparable items for children – a teddy bear / cow / rabbit – without which a few hours would be unimaginable.
After a week we all developed a stinking cold and a piercing cough, the boy quickly developed into bronchiolite. (It is not known for British medicine, it is a French infant disease that can only be cured by prolonged strike from kinésithérapeute, AKA physiotherapist.)
By the time we reached our sister on Christmas Eve, it looked good.
Mom and dad were also, and we stayed upstairs long enough to eat some cheese and cookies, and drink more sherry than it was good for us before we headed to bed, knowing we woke up at 4:00 in the morning. the little boy wondered, between coughing attacks, when he could open his presents.
Just like us. Somehow – ask me how – we managed to entertain him and his sister, who woke up for about an hour, until 8:00, when the rest of the family appeared. I remember breakfast. And then the gifts came.
It was at this point what happened that made Christmas almost Christmas that interrupted me all Christmas. The boy was given a toy, a red-blue plastic helicopter with a Spider-Man attached, which he was extremely pleased with and which immediately fell and broke.
Everyone turned to me and asked the Ark where exactly I thought my son might have learned this particular expression
Now I should say that at this stage of his young life he was much more French than English: his mother was (still is, in fact) French, all in French kindergarten. He spoke a lot, but despite my best Anglophone efforts, never in English.
For a long second, I watched his brain work, his small forehead crawling as he struggled with what he should say. The process was as follows: OK, now I’m very, very cross. Ah, but I’m in England where my father came from. I have to say what the English say when they are very, very hybrids.
So he did. Before my mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather and cousins, my not quite three-year-old son proudly said, “Fuck the computer.”
Well, it brought my Christmas.
Of course, everyone turned to me and the ark asked where exactly I thought my son might have learned this particular expression and whether it was appropriate for his age. But I was too busy thinking: the boy would be really bilingual. Not only that, but actually can be quite ridiculous.
He and his sister are both now. And if they are good teenagers, I would like to think that this is at least partly because their entire lives are long. They knew that there were always two different words describing everything – two different ways of looking at the world.
Is it difficult to be narrow-minded, biased and intolerant if you know it? This is an idea that I still respect.
However, it took us weeks to recover. The day after we got home to Paris, we put the children away from the crèche and kindergarten, went straight back to bed, and slept until two in the afternoon. There were doctor visits, antibiotics, the dreaded kiné.
But Christmas, which in almost all other respects was an unmanaged disaster, was saved forever.