This week I forced the reluctant children to close their bloody computers and go for a swim. They complained bitterly. "You are the worst mum ever!" But of course once they were in the pool they turned into prunes and didn't want to get out. Me: "C'mon, time to go." Again: "You are the worst mum ever!" My point: all transitions are hard. Even good ones.
I'm trying to help the children to be able to expand their psyches to embrace change. But I'm a fraud, because I too find it extremely challenging. All change is some kind of loss. Or is it all loss is just change? Tomato, tomahtoe. Whatever you want to call your existential crisis, it seems we are continually saying goodbye to something.
This year – what with "the predator advent calendar" set off by Harvey Weinstein - we have started having some difficult but necessary conversations – about consent, sex, power. But there is still one brave thing that we don't talk much about: the ultimate transition, death.
I wonder if that might be changing. A bill legalising voluntary euthanasia passed its first hurdle this week after Parliament voted 76 to 44 to send it to a select committee. It is important. Parliament has twice voted down bills to legalise euthanasia. This despite broad public support: in 2015 a 3 News/Reid Research poll showed 71 per cent of people wanted the law on euthanasia changed. Has this not happened before now because we still find it too uncomfortable to talk about death?
I know Christmas is supposed to be about joy and tinsel, but it is also a wistful, melancholy sort of time, when it is hard not to think about people you have lost and fractures and grief. Even the sunny weather seems to make me feel a bit counter-intuitively gothic. (Oops, somehow I doubt this column is going to be promo-d on the front page with a breezy headline).
At Christmas I think about people who are lonely or disconnected, especially those who have families who misunderstand them, maybe a seasonal variation of what Martin Amis called "tramp dread".
And this year I still have the usual ennui but something has changed. It's not so terrifying: I've started to wonder whether it even has a sort of noble goodness. This is the first Yuletide season in years and years when I have not got all wobbly and had to go rushing to my psychiatrist for a prescription. I'm also hoping that this year I won't over-compensate for my usual lack of Christmas cheer by spending a whole lot of money on more broken-in-a-day crap that we don't need in a desperate attempt to purchase insta-jollity for the household.
It helps that I am not having any major crisis at the moment. It turns out being at peace is not the boring muesli-eating feathery-stroker Birkenstock-wearing consolation prize I'd thought it would be when I was hooked on racy glamour. It has an excitement of its own. There will be another bucket of shit along before too long, no doubt, but in the meantime you have to bask in these inconsequential, gentle moments when - woohoo - nothing really bad is happening. Trying to contain both, the light and the dark, together is our hero's journey.
The writer Elizabeth Gilbert quotes this poem by Jack Gilbert (no relation) : "We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world." I like Gilbert's idea of striving to be the kind of person who tries to hold on to "stubborn gladness" even when getting scorched by life. Maybe this is the real consolation prize of getting older: a mature, sincere sort of quiet joy in the face of all life's horror.
"You weigh the sorrows against tiny moments of grace and decide on the balance it is still worth it to be a human being," as Gilbert concludes.
Maybe the more we can feel comfortable with death, the more we can take real, authentic delight in the small pleasures of being alive.
If not exactly "C'mon in, the water is fine", an acknowledgement that death is a natural transition we can face with curiosity and wonder. As Steve Jobs said in his last words "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." So, c'mon kids, do you feel like going for another swim? "No."