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Christmas 2010 and Alex’s Birthday

Christmas morning on Flora Lane.

During dinner last night, Charlie asked when there would be new photos posted up here, reminding me that it has indeed been a while.

It’s Easter Sunday today, and Alex and Charlie are staying with me this weekend. At 10 in the morning, they have yet to make an appearance downstairs. The time is right to look back on other special days, and the two most recent were Christmas last year and Alex’s birthday in January.

It was my first Christmas in the new place. Tom had accepted an invitation to cross the Atlantic to visit the rest of us, even if he had too many commitments in Paris to come for more than a week or so. That was enough for me! Charlie and Alex were spending half the vacation with their mother and half with me. That was enough for me too! I’m not greedy. Then there were the remainder of the formerly named “big kids” (now our young adults) to be brought together: Nick, Daphné and Alban.

Nick, Tom, Gino (Daphné's beau) and Daphné on the balcony for, you guessed it, a smoke. Ouch!

In short, my first Christmas task was herding cats! Christmas is above all a family time. When the next generation is aged 12 (almost 13) to 24, it is harder to convince them of the importance of spending time with their family!

They all enjoy Christmas, though, and so it wasn’t actually that hard to bring them all together for Christmas morning. There was the additional incentive of Christmas presents, of course, but I like to think that they would all have joined me on Christmas morning in any event!

(Fathers delude themselves: it’s an occupational hazard!)

Alex with one of his presents, which he designed himself.

Having managed to bring them all together for Christmas morning, I then did not manage to take one photo of them all together! Too much going on, with the present opening and snacks and drinks all around. Not a lot of photos of the presents either, although they all did pretty well. Nick, Daphné and Alban have started giving presents themselves, which made me feel very good, and added to the stack for the no-longer-so-little guys. I used to call them the “little guys,” but at almost 13 and well and truly 15, the phrase is no longer apt.

Charlie opening a large tube of Smarties, brought all the way from England, with Gino and Daphné watching. Each of the children received his or her large tube of Smarties!

Alex designed himself a skateboard during the fall, and with a little help from Cosmic Design Group here in Santa Cruz and Zazzle, we turned it into a Christmas present for him. Writing that down reminded me: this was perhaps our first (maybe the second or third?) Christmas without any real mention of Santa Claus offering the gifts: those years are gone now, even for Alex. He definitely liked the skateboard, and agreed to pose with it. But I should point out that when he first posed spontaneously and without thinking about it, the arrow pointed up. His siblings suggested that he turn the board upside down, to improve the picture: you can count on them!!

Tom on my balcony again.

The final Christmas photo, on the left, features Tom again, smoking again, on Christmas morning. Having smoked for 25 years, I am not the best placed to berate my young adults for smoking. So I try not to, or at least try to keep my complaints down. But I sure hope that they figure out the down side of smoking faster than I did. Tom especially risks his lovely singing voice when he smokes, and I look forward to him realizing that in the near future, thus confirming his father’s inferiority in the domain!

Tom was back in Paris long before Alex’s birthday. Nick was also in Paris for most of January, taking a well-deserved vacation after his company launched its product on an unsuspecting world right before Christmas. His major Christmas present was a Eurailpass. His present for Tom was so vulgar that there is unanimous agreement that it should not be shown in this post!

Alex on his 13th birthday with Isaac and Brendan.

Tom and Nick’s absence meant that the best that I could hope for at Alex’s birthday dinner was three of his siblings, Daphné, Alban and Charlie. I arranged the dinner at Chili’s, Alex’s favorite restaurant for the last few years, and that helped bring out the crowds (rhetorically speaking!).

Two of Alex’s friends came along for the ride, Isaac and Brendan. Isaac is the son of one of Alex’s soccer coaches, and Brendan is Russ and Annie’s son. (Russ was my closest friend at law school, and we still regularly hang out together). Both boys are on the same soccer team as Alex. As you can see from the photo, both enjoy making faces in front of the camera! As does Alex, when he actually permits himself to be photographed. Preserving memories of the children for posterity has a surprising number of obstacles.

Charles, Alex and Alban in Chili's.

Another obstacle is visible in the next photo, on the left. Alban is normally kind enough to joing his younger siblings for their special days, despite being 21 years old, not the ideal age for hanging out with the family. We appreciate that he joins in, as well as the regularity with which he shows up. But, Alban, could you please join in the spirit of the thing every so often, with a smile or a silly face or even a rude gesture, anything but that grim glare! There were two other photos of Alban taken during the same birthday dinner, and for each his expression was pretty much the same. Sigh!

Daphné and Gino at Alex's birthday dinner.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m prone to manipulate, but it is certainly true that I do want to bring the children together regularly.  This is particularly the case at birthdays, Christmas and the like. It is also particularly the case since Marie-Hélène and I formally moved apart. We had been living apart under the same roof for years, but the formality of the step may well have provoked reactions on the part of the children. It’s hard to tell. They don’t really want to get involved in the parental issues surrounding the separation, which is wise, but who knows if they can really immunize themselves against its consequences?

Birthday boy with cake: candles lit.

My relationship with all of Marie-Hélène’s and my six children is very important, and is not less or more important because of the presence or absence of biological ties. We raised our own two joint efforts, Charlie and Alex, from birth. I raised Nick and Tom from birth, and Marie-Hélène and I spent 16 years together raising four children who each had one parent elsewhere. It upsets me a great deal when any one of my six children seems more distant. The reason for the distance doesn’t matter, even if it does make sense on some level. I suspect that it will continue to be upsetting.

The ties that bind us all have been formed and tightened for their entire lives for Charlie and Alex, and for over 16 years for our four young adults. None of these ties are going to unravel now: I intend to make sure of that.

Birthday boy with cake: candles out! I think that I can see a little glimmer of pride here.

One of the ways that I bring Daphné to these special days despite her undeniable and primary allegiance to her mother, is by also inviting her boyfriend. Actually, it’s my preference to meet her boyfriends and get to know them in any event, and so I would normally invite them and be happy to see them. But I have noticed that Daphné appreciates it when Gino is invited, making me more likely to invite him.

It was a good birthday dinner. It had been a good Christmas. Our family continues. In a way, we have become two different families, one with Marie-Hélène as the parent or step-parent, and one with me as the parent or step-parent. That may have its disadvantages for the children at times, but it also has its advantages: the children all had a second Christmas with Marie-Hélène, and Alex had a birthday party with his maman as well as his little dinner party at Chili’s with me. Double the pleasure, double the fun!