Peter Rhodes on sledges, moving house and the best Christmas present of all

And so this is Christmas 2022 which, if you are of mature years, falls about ten minutes after Christmas 2021 but is only five minutes before Christmas 2023. Blink and another year has gone. Days vanish in a nano-moment.

Time with the kids
Time with the kids

But for Ruben, our 34-month-old grandson, time is altogether slower. For him, our briefest of days is an aeon of discoveries. One day he struggles to explain when events happened. The next day, he has mastered the word “earlier”. Snatches of baby talk grow into fully-formed sentences.

A few weeks ago I found him loading his Hot Wheels cars into a shoe box. “I packin' dese for the new house, Grandad” he explained in a little sentence that made me both sad and happy. Sad at the move. It was always the plan that he and his parents would move out of Chateau Rhodes to a new house but when you have had a little boy living with you from birth to two-and-a-half, it is sorrowful no longer to have him under your roof. Yet I was happy to be addressed clearly as Grandad. For several months, unable to grasp the consonants, Ruben called me by a number of names, including Crapbag.

Anyway he loves his new house and we still have plenty of time with him. And what seems a short time to us is, in the best possible way, a long time for him.

I am reminded of Christmas 1956. I was five. There was snow on the ground and Dad made a sledge and hauled me and my brother around the town.

It probably lasted no more than half an hour; in later years my father couldn't even remember it. But for me, more than 65 years on, that sledge ride is still firmly stuck in my mind, because a flickering moment in a grown-up's calendar is time enough for a fully-formed adventure for a tiny child: the pride, the excitement, a father's undivided attention.

We big people agonise about Christmas presents for small people and yet the best present of all, and the one so many kids are denied, is the simple gift of our time.

As St Paul puts it in his Epistle to the Romans (or if he didn't he probably meant to): “For Heaven's sake, spend time with your kids. Verily, even if it means switching off those bloody phones.”

And God bless us, every one.

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