It was good to have him home. We were back together as a family again, and for three weeks we didn't have to worry about daily Skyping, plans for picking-up, or arrangements for dropping-off. We didn't have to brace ourselves for the weekly severance, or anticipate the pixilated tears. Brother and sister could once again enjoy the luxury of time spent together. I have often wondered what Christmas is good for - it used to seem like a load of unnecessary stress. But now I know. It just gets us all in the room together.
Apart from presents, food and television specials, the joy of Christmas this year was watching our eleven-year-old son slowly come back to us. His physical return was immediate, but the 'other' - whatever that might be - came back to us more slowly. To begin with, he seemed reluctant to settle. His immediate relief at being home changed into a kind of incredulity. He needed to tell us stories over and over - a replaying of memory experienced after a shock. We took all pressure away. If he wanted to sit on the sofa playing Sonic Racing, or read crappy children's stories, or less crappy graphic novels, he did. When he asked for some 'time out', we all left him alone. He was happy to be home, but the joy seemed somewhat misplaced; sitting next to him rather than inside him. He often paced the room - a new habit; a tiger caged in his own disbelief.
After a couple of days, these symptoms eased. Once again we had an eleven-year-old child around the house. There were the customary fights between siblings. Sometimes trivial: 'don't touch that it's mine'. Some times more grave. The five-year-old maintained in all seriousness that her brother had attempted to murder her in the bath. This serious allegation was repeated over several days. (Owing to a compelling lack of evidence, the investigation sadly stalled.)
Lego was built, trumpet was practised, movies were watched, and discussions about superpowers were held - Batman vs. Spider-Man, nothing to do with America, Russia or China. Best of all was the time siblings spent between murder allegations. Jointly they defeated Skelly Butts on Minecraft, had pillow fights, re-enacted the X-factor final, and discussed the minutiae of Father Christmas' time management: how was he able to deliver to so many, and how does he spend Boxing Day? We went to a panto. They met Santa at a grotto set up in a Cotswold deer park. There was practically no mention of ballet. We tried to pretend that it had never existed.
I again had use for my almost dormant talent for interpreting the laughter coming from upstairs:
-The amused giggling of sibling complicity
-The thrilling howls of fear - an imaginary monster unleashed
-Cackles of outrage when a taboo is broken - someone probably farted
-Forceful shrieks of someone overstepping that proverbial line in the sand
Apart from the last one, which eventually requires some parental input, these are among my favourite sounds in all the world. Never mind waves lapping, trees rusting or coins descending endlessly from a slot machine in a casino; I just want to hear my children laughing, all the time.
Even though there was no mention of ballet, it was still somehow present. Our son did his Pilates most days in order to lessen the strain when the regime begins again. But more treacherously, thoughts of ballet still skulked in our minds. We knew that this precious time together would be over soon.
This is the gift that the ballet school has given me. Only one of my children is unexpectedly away at boarding school, but I have a new appreciation of time spent with both of them; together or apart. We try - even if we don't always succeed - to switch our television off, and put our iPads down. Time spent chatting, or playing Ludo, or telling stories about elves in woods, has a new urgency. I now realise its value, because, just like the Christmas holiday, it is going to end.