I was never bullied at school, but I was never one of the popular kids either, I was in that happy medium that required the least effort - I could just go by unnoticed if I wanted to. I was right where I wanted to be. No matter what position you held in the shitstorm of a school social-rank though, there was one question in January you could never avoid: "What did you get for Christmas?".
A bit of history...
We were never a well-off family. We weren't exactly recycling our teabags, but we never had much disposable income. To an extent I think this has made me grow up to be appreciative of things, and I'm grateful for that. I just wish it didn't carry with it a load of guilt on my mum's part.
Yes mum, I know you still feel it - please stop it!
Dad is too laid back to still feel it now. And he's distracted with grandkids pestering him for things these days.
Anyway, Christmas as a child was something my older sister and I always looked forward to. It was more about the feel of Christmas though rather than the gifts. The school break, the late nights, the films, the lie ins. Crawling round the side of the couch to swig my dad's beer before nearly being sick at the taste of it. Good times.
Also, I don't think I've mentioned this here before, but my mum is from Mauritius. Her entire family has always been over there with no means to come and visit, Christmas was only ever with half of the family. So with all the above in mind...
Back to school
Listen - I was grateful for the things I got at Christmas. I understood, even at an early age, that sacrifices had been made to get what we had. It made me sad to think about that at times. Starting school for that January term always made me panic though. The first question on everyone's smug lips would be "what did you get for Christmas?". They seemed to say it with a hunger for the extreme - they could either celebrate or mock and they weren't happy with the middle ground.
I remember one year in particular that makes my chest implode with hurt every time I think about it.
Little shit: "What did you get for Christmas?"
Me: "Clothes, money (always a good ambiguous one), games and a remote controlled car"
LS: "Which car? I got the one that does flips. It goes 40mph. It's got a built in fax-modem and my mum even rides it to her escorting job". (Ok, paraphrasing there).
Me (still proud of my car): "The silver Porsche one with the working headlights"
LS: "It's not some £20 one from down the road is it?"
Me: "heh, no!".
It was the £20 from down the road. He had it right, but I loved that bloody car. I didn't care about his, and fuck him for making me think less of the one I'd got!
A lesson learned
In the years that followed I just lied. I added hundreds on to the money I said I'd received. I picked the latest console and threw that on the list with a guitar and a load of other shit I really didn't care much for. The lies always came with a sense of guilt - not because I was lying - but because I felt I had to. If my parents had've found out I had to lie they would be heartbroken at their gifts.
As a father these memories are recalled with a renewed sting, like a crack of a whip that strikes right behind my ribcage. Only now can I understand what my own parents must have felt. If I imagine Evelyn in my position back then it crushes me. I only hope that she has the strength of character to realise that they're being cruel. Kate and I want Evelyn to learn the value of things, to not be materialistic and to understand that everyone has a story - everyone. I hope we're successful at that.
They say hindsight is a wonderful thing but it's a bitch. It plays at being your friend but then colludes with its ugly cousin, Regret.
I wish I had it in me as a kid to just say to my classmates "I'm really not bothered about any of this" or "I'm pleased you got all those things, but we both know your parents resent you for coming along too early in their relationship". I wish I'd hardened to this one thing that bothered me as a child.
But then again, if this is the only thing that bothered me about childhood to the extent that I'd write a thousand words on it, then I'm a very lucky guy.
School's a strange thing - if you show any signs of having a moral compass whatsoever then you're a sitting duck. If you show reasoning, a compelling argument or compassion towards someone who isn't popular then you're downgraded instantly. It's shit. It's unavoidable. You have to learn to play the system and just get through, and that's just what I did.
To my parents
I've said this a million times to your face, but I want to take the opportunity to say it on a public platform, despite it possibly effecting my google ranking!
Thank you. Thank you for smiling through the hard times and not cracking under the pressure. I have nothing but happy memories of childhood. This must have taken immense effort on your part to hide all the adult crap we deal with, I know this now.
It's only since becoming a dad I realise where the strength must have come from. You've told me countless times "you'll know what it's like when you have your own", and you were right.
I know I will never truly understand the extent of what it was like, but I guess that's how you want it. That's certainly how I'd want it for Evelyn. I get it. I love you both.
All pictures are my own.