I’m sitting at my computer watching my children play in the snow. They’re having a ball building an igloo. I’m not sure how successful they’re going to be – the roof keeps falling in. It’s the first proper snow we’ve had in their lifetime though, and they’re revelling in it.
I remember when we had a light snowfall five years ago. It was the first Christmas after my wife and I had separated and I was dreading it. I didn’t know how I was going to wake up on Christmas morning without small children bouncing through the door waving bulging stockings at me. I didn’t know how I would make myself get out of bed without their little hands tugging at mine. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the morning without the sound of their voices and the sight of their faces. Christmas was never going to be the same again.
Our own personal white Christmas
I did get to spend some time with the children that Christmas Day. I had to drag myself out of bed and in the afternoon I went and collected them from their mum’s house and brought them back to mine. I had a surprise in store.
I knew it wasn’t just me that was having a weird Christmas, and although I couldn’t make it normal for the kids, I could make it special. I had hired a snow machine and covered the garden in snow, so that when they arrived we had our own personal white Christmas. Their faces were a picture, and even presents were forgotten as we built a snowman. It was magical, and something we still look back on and remember.
One of the hardest things about separation is the snatched time that we spend with our children.
One of the hardest things about separation is the snatched time that we spend with our children. It sometimes seems that just as we are relaxing together and starting to have fun, it’s time to pack up their kit and take them back to their mum.
I don’t want us to just ‘pass the time’ when we’re together, so I have made a real effort to create some memories with them. It doesn’t have to be expensive: we’ve taken a disposable barbecue down to the beach and made hotdogs after learning to skim stones; I’ve learned to cook, with my daughter teaching me how to make a cake; and we’ve had many a pop corn-fuelled X Factor show time in the lounge.
When our world has turned upside down, it’s hard to know how anything can ever be right again, but a little creativity can make a world of difference. Magical memories can sustain us and our kids when we’re apart, but it is part of a bigger package.
I have become almost obsessive about punctuality – my teenage daughter would say there is no ‘almost’ about it! I am always early to collect them – from school, from their mum’s house, from clubs. If I say we are going to do something, we do it and I try to make sure that I give them the time they need for the everyday stuff such as listening to Maddie read, helping Amber with her Maths homework, and helping Emmie to load music on her I-pod.
Special moments are all the more precious when they are embedded in everyday security. Our children love the surprises, but they thrive on the certain knowledge that they can rely on our love and our word. If we can give them all of that, then though things will never be the same again, things will always be OK.
Children don’t remember days; they remember moments. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go … I promised to build another snowman.