Emily Writes tried to rekindle some of her grandmother’s Christmas magic for her own kids. She ended up covered in vomit and beanbag stuffing.
After my grandmother died Christmas became quite bleak.
I couldn’t work out how Christmas could happen without her. She always started the family water fight after lunch. She would walk gingerly to the door and the grandkids would line up patiently so she could squirt them with her water gun (she used the same one every year – a weird one in the shape of a finger), and then it was all on.
She would sit back in her chair and watch us scream and run around her house and she’d laugh and laugh.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell or an afterlife. But the concept for dogs of the Rainbow Bridge is one I am fond of. This idea that all dogs – because all dogs are good – cross over the bridge and happily play, free from sore paws and arthritic joints, gave me great comfort after my elderly dog died. The thought of my little old dog suddenly bounding away into a field, jumping like he used to when he was a young pup, made me a little less heartbroken.
I like the idea of a Rainbow Bridge for loved ones. My nanna’s hands wouldn’t hurt anymore and she’d knit in her chair. Babies at her feet, tangled in her yarn. Every day is Christmas there.
And in my make-believe, everyone gets their own best day, just lived over and over and over again.
Maybe it was that hope that I’d reach through the void and feel her presence in some way that inspired me to embark on a ridiculous attempt to recreate her Christmas magic in our home.
One of her Christmas traditions was a special gift for my Uncle Peter, her youngest son.
I don’t know when it started but I remember being little. Nanna would bring out a giant present last. It was always enormous to me. There was a huge buzz of excitement amongst us all – the anticipation was always delicious. As soon as he was handed his present, my uncle would theatrically rip it in half. Polystyrene balls would fly all over the room as we shrieked in delight.
We would all play in the polystyrene balls – throwing them at each other, collecting them in cups sticky from red cordial, shoving them down the backs of our cousins’ togs. And always nanna would clap from her chair. All of her grandchildren – there were at least 12 or so of us then – would gather around her and gently pour polystyrene balls into her white hair. We would kiss her on her paper skin and she would pat us gently with her hand, gnarled with arthritis, and she would whisper in our ears. Years and years later, even after she died, I’d hear “nanna loves you” when I felt overwhelmed.
Every year my Uncle Peter would get the same gift, a 100L bag of polystyrene balls.
My husband’s first time attending my family’s Christmas was an eye-opener for him. At one point as the young kids hiffed balls at each other I looked through the frenzy of white and saw him staring mournfully into his beer – which was now full of polystyrene balls.
My son was one when he had his first Christmas with my extended family. It was wonderful to watch the babies playing in the polystyrene balls. I remember being surprised that my aunty had chosen to do it. My uncle wasn’t there and nanna was dead. But I was glad that my children might know what we all had, when nanna was here with us.
We had another baby a year later and travel was just too hard so my second child hasn’t had a big family Christmas. Maybe that’s why I said this Christmas to my husband: “I want to do the polystyrene balls.” He looked at me with his usual “Emily this is a bad idea but I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise” look.
That weekend I opened the closet and found a 100L bag of polystyrene balls my husband had bought.
I began the task of wrapping them on Christmas morning while the kids were occupied with their presents and it went something like this:
FUCK OMG WHY FUCK WHAT WHY IS FUCK THERE ARE BALLS EVERYWHERE HOW DID SHE DO THIS WITHOUT FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.
My husband came down and stared at the scene. “Er, why didn’t you keep them in the bag?” he quite reasonably asked. “NANNA DIDN’T DO THAT!” I hissed at him. “When you open the bag the balls just naturally go everywhere. I don’t know how she did it!” I yelled at nobody in particular.
The balls kept popping out the sides of the wrapping. They stuck to the Sellotape and when I put them down ready to be pulled apart a new lot of balls sprung free.
I was sweaty and irritated but pleased that at the very least it was almost polystyrene ball time. As a compromise, my husband had insisted the balls be confined to one room. At the time I’d thought this was an over-reaction.
The kids came in and stared at the misshapen present on the floor.
“OK KIDS!” I said with an almost hysterical forced cheeriness, “PULL IT APART OK?”
My youngest stared blankly at me. My oldest prodded the present gingerly.
“Like this!” I said as I ripped it apart. The balls rained down on my oldest. He screamed in delight.
He began hurling the balls around the room.
My youngest just screamed.
Into the balls.
He vomited onto me and the balls stuck onto the vomit which stuck on to me.
My oldest grabbed the vomit balls and hurled them at me.
“STOP!” I screamed, as vomit balls stuck to my face.
As I opened my mouth a load of vomit balls landed on my lips and tongue.
The baby screamed as I fished vomit balls out of his mouth.
My oldest laughed hysterically as he lay in the vomit balls and made vomit ball angels.
I spat vomit balls out and handed my vomit ball-covered baby to my husband who was doing a face like:
I said this was a bad idea Emily but I’m not going to say that out loud because you can tell by my face that I’m thinking it.
I tried to get my oldest to stop playing with the vomit balls but he was in heaven. A disgusting vomit ball heaven.
I gagged as I slipped in the vomit and fell forward into the vomit.
How was there so much vomit?
Why did I do this?
My youngest was put in the shower after being stripped of vomit balls.
I tried to load the balls into a tub and with every heave I heaved.
My oldest screeched with laughter and tipped more vomit balls into my hair.
Eventually I managed to convince him a great game would be to stop putting vomit balls on me and instead to put them in the bath tub. It took two hours to get all of the balls into the tub.
My son ran a steady commentary during our shower to rid us of vomit. “WHAT ABOUT WHEN THERE WAS VOMITED MAMA WHAT ABOUT HOW FUNNY WHEN THERE WAS VOMITED ON THEM BALLS MAMA WHAT ABOUT HOW IT WAS IN OUR HAIRS MAMA THAT WAS THE BEST FUN EVER I HAD MAMA WITH THE VOMITED MAMA WHAT ABOUT HOW FUNNY WAS THEM VOMITED MAMA MAMA MAMA WHAT ABOUT THEM VOMITED MAMA WHAT ABOUT VOMIT ON THE SNOW”
As I stepped out of the shower I found more balls. In my room as I dressed I found balls. In my son’s drawer I found balls.
Why did I try to do this? How was it ever done before? Nanna clearly had a way of doing this that worked because nobody ever vomited and I never remember the balls being cleaned up.
And then I realised: the balls were cleaned up after we were asleep. I mean yes, that doesn’t explain the vomit. I’ll put that aside for now and chalk it down to I DON’T FUCKING KNOW.
But how was it that in the evening, exhausted from a day of approximately 20,000 children, a backyard full of them sleeping in tents, my nanna and her seven adult children cleaned it all up? Did it take them long, this sustained effort to keep magic alive for us kids? All I know is that the balls were put away, I guess for the next year, and we were none the wiser.
I climbed into bed that night exhausted. As I lay down on my pillow I picked up a lone polystyrene ball.
I held it in my fingers and thought of my nanna in her chair. Where every day is Christmas. Her white hair hiding polystyrene balls.
I closed my eyes and kissed her on her paper skin and I imagined her hand, gnarled with arthritis, patting me gently.
When a visitor came the day after Christmas my son said:
“Mama made pretend snow and there was vomit in it and it was the best day of all of EVER!”
As I laughed at the expression on my friend’s face, I saw a flash of my nanna in her chair. Hand patting on her knee as she threw her head back laughing.
Tears stung my eyes and I turned away to make coffee.
I heard my grandmother’s voice.
“Nanna loves you.”
And I silently thanked all of the nannas and the parents who create magic for their children – then clean it up afterward. One day they’ll see it.