You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try,
Sometimes you get what you need…

– The Rolling Stones

I know I’m stating the obvious here, but Christmas is coming. That’s enough to send chills through the hearts of many, but It has always been my most favourite of holiday occasions, ever since I had children of my own.

Growing up, my mother didn’t care much for Christmas, possibly because she found it to be a financial drain but more so because she found it to be emotionally draining. She wasn’t into anything she perceived to be a bit too picket-fence-family orientated. It was all too Leave it to Beaver in her mind.

I didn’t grow up with lots of Christmas tree trimmings or yearly pictures sitting on Santa’s lap, dreaming of sugar plum fairies…I remember seeing the Myer Christmas windows one year when my mum was prepared to wait in a huge crowd. By then I knew certain truths about the jolly fat man…but I was still mesmerised. Of course we had presents but we were far from spoilt.

So when I had my first child I quite consciously embraced Christmas. My son’s first Christmas saw me buying a real Christmas tree which I painstakingly decorated. I lovingly bought and wrapped his presents in elaborate paper, complete with bows which I placed under the tree on Christmas Eve when he was asleep. He was only 10 months old, so it’s not lost on me that this may have been more about me than my dear little man but I was determined Christmas would be a happy and wonderful occasion for my kids.

And I’m pleased to say it has been. We’ve had a lot of happy Christmas memories. With all the stuff…decorating trees, hanging stockings, egg nog, Dinner sets with Christmas motifs, and cheesy Christmas films.

When my ex left the marriage, and I found out I was flat broke, a lot of things in my life changed. I’d had a comfortable life previously. My children never went without nor wanted for anything. They enjoyed a life of after school activities and received shiny new things on a regular basis.

Suddenly I was a single parent. I had lost my family home (and with it my sense of security and belonging), I lost my business, and found myself in debt. The most awful part was I have always worked incredibly hard. I’ve been a working mum my entire parental life. It was sobering and incredibly frightening. Actually it really sucked.

While I’m still in debt, and I no longer enjoy the luxury of buying things simply because I like them, I’ve learnt a lot about myself. I live with a tight budget and sometimes that’s really tough but living without all the trimmings has actually given me a lot, and I remind myself of this fact often as Christmas approaches.

I can honestly say that I’ve learnt (as my kids have) in the past 4 years to appreciate all that I have. Not just the physical possessions but the things you can’t always see. I’m so grateful every day for the bond I have with my kids.

There is no doubt that my kids do it tougher than some of their friends in terms of ready cash, and all it can buy, although they also have a life which is much easier than a lot of kids out there.

They have empathy for others. They get that not everything in life is always easy for anyone, regardless of their situations – rich, poor or in between. We have always bought presents for charity wishing trees. Even with less, I
do it. There are families out there doing it way tougher than I ever have and I’m acutely aware of that.

My kids ask me for very little, and I have moments (quite a few) where I wish I could give them so much more in this consumer driven world in which we live. But they also value all that they do get. They share with one another and they are all generous people.

They are madly loved by their crazy-Christmas lady mum. We share a lot of love and laughter and of course I get that this is more valuable than “things”.

I’m grateful that my amazing friends never gave a rats arse about my bank balance. Having all of the same friends before and after financial collapse reinforces that I’m not the sum total of things I own. Losing money did not equate to losing friends. The people in your life who are meant to be there will be there. My gorgeous gal pals never treated me differently.

I am stronger than I think. This was such a valuable lesson. Having hit rock bottom at some point you realise you can only move up…or sideways, but you can’t get lower. I found out what I was made of. In the grip of falling apart, I packed up my belongings, (and those of my ex) and I moved my children to a rental property they had chosen. House hunting was tough, but I made it an adventure for them. I let them choose the place.

I made that house our home. I remained house proud, and in doing so, I hope I taught my children that self respect and pride are valuable assets. A lack of funds didn’t let me stop caring about our immediate environment.

My kids were still dressed well (even if the labels were less expensive) and somehow I’ve kept them in the same school. Fees are hard and I pay half of them but my daughter’s anxiety at the thought of changing schools was palpable. It isn’t an option.

So I make sacrifices in other areas. I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to stretch my budget. Some months of course are easier than others. I don’t think I’m alone there!

I’ve learnt that sharing meals and having plenty of food is a priority. Meal times are great for staying emotionally connected in really stressful times. Its important for me and gives me (and my kids) a sense of routine and connectivity. It’s easy to lose site of every day things when you are stressing about the big picture, but I’ve gotten much better at not sweating the small stuff.

I’ve learnt that stress doesn’t change a thing! The outcomes are often the same if you stress or not. So why bother? Of course I stress still – I’m not super woman – but I stress a lot less than I used to. I’m actually far more laid back now than ever before.

I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s actually okay to have a life rather than have money in the bank. It used to scare the crap out of me to not have any savings. Now I realise so many people live pay cheque to pay cheque. Of course usually they have a house of their own at my age, but if I stopped to think about that, the enormity of it might crush me. So I don’t dwell on it too much.

I’m grateful that I have a job that allows me to feed, clothe and educate my kids.

I’m grateful that in all the chaos I still believe in love, and that I was as worthy of it as the next person because it would have been easy to cave in to my insecurities and fears. In the end, I met and fell in love with the Producer…and it was a roller coaster of highs, lows and more highs that sees us now living together in a lovely home with the gorgeous ones, and the dog.

I don’t mind that we rent. I’m so happy to be here, in this location but also in this emotional space. I maintain that I never wanted “easy” in my life, but I wanted “real”. I certainly have that.

I’m grateful that the Producer fell in love with me in spite of my life and the realities of it. A penniless single mother who was living in the western suburbs, with a credit rating shot to hell and encumbered debt. I think on paper I am more of a liability than an asset. In the end he saw me for who I am. Not what I possessed (or didn’t). Which says so much about who he really is.

My kids write detailed Christmas lists every year – and continue to do so. Christmas is still a big deal for me. It embraces all the things I yearned for as a child. I continue to move heaven and earth to buy the presents they wish for, because they don’t always get a lot throughout the year (except on birthdays which are also a big deal!).

A colleague asked me the other day what I was hoping for at Christmas. I’ve stopped writing lists. I went from always buying what I wanted (making me hard to buy for) to rarely buying myself things (making the list of things I needed or wanted so big, I feel overwhelmed to ever write one!). Which leaves me saying “nothing”. Honestly I’ve always been much better at gift giving than receiving.

In truth I can’t say I go without. The kids and I have all that we need, and quite a number of things we simply want. Every now and then I see an amazing pair of shoes, or whatever and yearn just a little. Champagne taste on a beer budget as my grandmother used to say.

I do buy things obviously. I’ve become much better at sourcing bargains. I work in the CBD surrounded by beautiful shops filled with tempting goodies. I’m so much better at window shopping. For the longest time I just avoided all stores.

I’m hardly miserable. I’m an eternal optimist. I can’t hold a grudge to save myself, and I can’t stay miserable for long either. It’s not in my nature – nor is it in any way beneficial.

I work hard. My debt never seems to decrease but I have a life I’m really proud of. Happy kids and a happy dog…and a new life shared with a great man. Money can’t buy you happiness. Yes, it can buy you a better grade of unhappiness….I kid.

If I could wriggle my nose bewitched style and suddenly be financially secure with a home of my own and money in the bank, would I do it?

Yes, in a heart beat! (Being made redundant this year was a total clusterfuck of emotions driven by the fear of no financial means…ugh. It was very tough). In the end, as Christmas approaches. I’m choosing to embrace all the good in my life. There’s so much of it.

I’m looking forward to the first Christmas the Producer will spend with my kids. It’s pretty exciting and although he’s all “bah humbug” about Christmas, and was a bit aghast that I insisted he have a Christmas stocking with his name on it like the rest of us…I’m sure he’s going to enjoy it as much as we do.

The greatest thing I gained out of losing everything was actually finding myself and my true worth. There isn’t a Grinch big enough to steal that from me.

May Christmas bring you all you are hoping for this year, be it shiny new things or peace to your fellow man, or a kiss under the mistletoe! You deserve it!