Since I’ve been with my gorgeous partner Janet I’ve spent each Christmas away from home at her parents’ house.
There are many things to say that reflect the good of this arrangement. Free food, almost free drink, getting away from home, good fun, etc.
However, as the years have gone on (four of them now) Christmas has become more of a chore. There are a number of reasons for this.
Every year we’ve had Kizzy, our cat. We had Kai, our dog, for one Christmas and this year we took Milo our new dog. For the last two years, Jean and Ken (Janet’s mum and stepdad) have had their cat Myrtle (yep – Myrtle).
Taking Kizzy was no problem. Put her in the cat basket and take her over. For the first two years, she simply stayed at the house. But then, in the third year, Jean and Ken had got Myrtle and, well, Kizzy has never been welcoming of other cats and Myrtle is, let’s say, feisty.
So, last year, Kizzy stayed for her first year at the home of Jordan’s (Janet’s youngest son) girlfriend, Marianne. A simple solution… except that Kizzy also struggles with new people. And last year she got herself under the kitchen… twice.
I made it very clear that she wouldn’t be going there again this year unless the gap between the cupboard and the floor was dealt with. It was so no real problem this year.
In year two we had Kai. She was still only a puppy then. Not a problem again… well, Jean was constantly commenting about her being taken for a walk again, which was irritating, but you could get over that.
In year three, because Kai had finally succumbed to the illness she’d had all her tragically short life, there was only Kizzy. But I’ve mentioned that issue above.
This year there was Milo. Just over a year old, much more boisterous than Kai ever was and infinitely more vocal! And he loves winding cats up, as Kizzy would tell you.
Now Myrtle was sensible enough to stay out of the way when Milo was around but that just prompted complaints. Jean was forever wanting Myrtle to come out from behind Ken’s chair, or come downstairs, or hoping she was OK. Wearing.
So the pets – or combination of pets – is a pain but manageable. Getting them over there with two bags on the bus is the biggest challenge, especially as Milo – typical springer that he is – thinks everyone loves him as much as he wants to be fussed by them!
First, there is the noise. Ken has been hard of hearing for as long as I’ve known him. Recently – and noticeably this year – Jean is going the same way. I’m convinced it’s the volume of the television that is doing for her.
Ken loves his telly. Any noise or distraction gets a rumble of discontent. But with him being almost deaf (sometimes selectively) he has the volume up at speech-obliterating levels. As I say, Jean is going the same way. It’s ear-aching.
Ken is also a grumbly old sod. He’s usually fine with me but he’s beginning to get worse with Jean. Apparently, while they were sitting “quietly” watching TV the other night (before we went across) he turned to Jean and – out of the blue – called her a cunt. She hates the word. Her response was to throw the remote at him which hit him.
Jean was upset by that when she was telling Janet. Janet likes Ken but she’s growing more and more frustrated at the way he acts and how he treats Jean, as well as at his increasing anti-social attitude.
Ken is ill. He has diabetes, is taking warfarin, and eats very little. He’s almost chair-bound, possibly self-imposed. There’s not much can be done for most of that. But it’s either making him even more grumpy and intolerant or he is also beginning to suffer from Alzheimers.
The thing is, for me, what Jean says has to be taken with a pinch of salt. She’s one of these people who is always – always – right in her opinions. She almost goes out of her way sometimes to impose her opinions on people and look for a fight. And, judgemental doesn’t really cover it.
So, just how “out-of-the-blue” Ken’s outburst had been is, for me, questionable.
The worst thing is that they are constantly bellowing at each other. One will say something, the other won’t hear it – because neither will take into account the other’s deafness – and that is when they lost patience. The result is that they repeat things – sometimes twice – and the frustration takes over. Hence the yelling.
And, of course, there’s the frustration of not hearing what the other is saying.
OK, you can’t have Christmas without a drink, I guess. Unless you’re puritanical or tee-total, I suppose. But for most people, alcohol has some impact.
With Ken the alcohol seems to mellow him out a little. With Jean and Janet, it’s the opposite.
I find it increasingly difficult to hear Janet and Jean having a go at each other when they’re pissed. Janet is constantly telling me that she knows what Jean’s like, that she sees how Phil (Janet’s brother) reacts angrily to Jean’s opinions. And she’s right. She often takes this into account.
But she and Jean are too alike. They both get louder when they’re drunk. This means that they’re raising the volume from the start.
Then they’re both repetitive. Listening to a conversation is like listening to records stuck in a groove sometimes. This is just my intolerance of this more than anything else.
What I dislike is hearing Jean badmouth Janet. There’s no doubt that Janet has made big mistakes in her life. She’s had bad depression and it is now under control in a way but it’s still there. Jean simply doesn’t see it, although she acknowledges it. To Jean it is all of Janet’s choosing.
Two things from this year annoyed me. The first was Jean talking about Janet’s smoking. Janet knows she smokes too much. She’d tell anyone that. She knows she needs to stop. But saying and doing are different things in this case. And Janet has lots of big plans without really thinking them out enough.
But Jean was like a bulldog. She kept repeating how disgusted she was at how many cigs Janet might smoke in a day. What was worse was her repeating two or three times that Janet disgusted her. Made me coil my anger inside.
Then there was her reaction to Janet’s past mistakes. She wouldn’t even say that she loved Janet. She’s her mother, for fuck’s sake! I’m not sure how Janet will react to this if it ever makes it way into her consciousness. Thankfully, they were both pissed enough that I’m not sure it has yet. With Janet, though, you never know.
The thing is, if I said anything Janet would be so defensive of her mum. So I’m keeping this inside for now. If it comes out with Janet, I’ll tell her what I feel.
I think it has taken a toll on Janet this year. We got home yesterday (that was another issue: we were struggling to find a lift back – no public transport – until Christmas night) and Janet simply said, at one point: “I think we stay at home next year. Just me and you. What do you think?”
My response was: “Whatever. We’ll see.”
Honestly, I’d love it. I’m not big on socialising myself but I am prepared to do it, especially if it makes Janet happy. So I wouldn’t mind staying at home for a quiet Christmas.
But I know that is something that will change. Ken won’t leave his house. Jean probably won’t come here without him. Janet won’t want to be away from Jean for Christmas, if only because she won’t want to leave Jean on her own with Ken.
How long I can keep biting my tongue is debatable. Janet can be frustrating when she’s drunk but behind it she loves me. Jean is impossible to like when she’s like that. And, I don’t care who she is, she doesn’t have the right to be as nasty as she is to Janet sometimes.
I don’t want a stressful Christmas. I hate that. For me it’s a time to relax. But sometimes the relaxation has to come afterwards.
How relaxing is taking frustration and anger, and putting them aside, though?