A boy and a girl stand in front of a Christmas tree, holding hands, smiles beaming. They are dressed smartly, in tartan and check. The boy is in blue and the girl in red. Behind them, the lights of the tree twinkle and glow. Red and gold baubles glint against the green. A perfect scene.
But the picture shows just a moment. The picture hides a million things. The picture does not tell you –
Christmas was hard.
The picture does not show the carol service, where the little boy could not be calmed, clamping his hands to his ears and screaming that it was too loud. It does not show his mother taking him away, away from the vaulted ceilings, away from the stained glass, leaving his father, leaving his grandparents, leaving his little sister. A lady in a fluorescent vest in the door blocks the door to the Abbey, asking if there is a problem.
“No problem. I just need to take him out.”
They leave the candlelight and the raised voices and the shrill organ and go out into the damp, dark, quiet streets. On their walk to get hot chocolate, the boy tells his mother that he is scared of Christmas morning. He is scared he might be on the naughty list.
It does not show
The picture does not show you the family board game. It does not show the moment when the little boy was convinced that an answer was something else, something not on the card. It does not show him screaming that the game must be lying, distress etched across his face.
But it also does not show the mother and son snuggled in a corner of a nearly empty coffee shop on Christmas Eve, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows. It does not show the moment when she promises he is not on the naughty
It does not show mother and son, curled on his bed in the darkness, playing silly word games and telling stories until he is calm. The next day, they find him a cracker with a slinky spring inside and he is fascinated, holding it up to his eyes.
The picture does not show the boy explaining how scared he is to get a question wrong, to not be correct. It does not show his mother hugging him close, telling him that he does not have to be afraid, he does not have to do anything that makes him feel bad.
Christmas was hard. It was full of anxiety and heartbreak. It was full of a million little moments of joy.
A boy and his sister tending to a unicorn’s poorly hoof, lost in their own world. A set of magic tricks that made the boy jump and flap with delight. The smell of baking cookies and the delighted smiles as the boy and girl eat them, still warm from the oven.
Christmas was so, so hard, and so, so cherished and so, so exhausting.
But the picture does not show it.
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