THE GLASS HALF-FULL
Christmas is a time of the year when I count my blessings – good health, loving stable family, limited financial stress, and being able to have a summer holiday.
My special day standouts were seeing the joy in my nephew dancing to Christmas music eating a marshmallow Santa, my niece stoked with her gift of new undies, one son playing non-stop with a bouncing ball on a string while the other son was thrilled with a reindeer Pez dispenser, and my boyfriend excited about getting his motorised paper plane to fly well.
I don't have to look too far to see it's the little things that matter. Dr Seuss' How the Grinch stole Christmas sums it up: "What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
For me, it's about being with family – and playing cards. We play non-stop. These days, there are so many fantastic card and board games that keep us focused, sharing mild insults with a pinch of mockery, all in good humour.
This year we had the bonus of my cousin's beautiful 6-month-old baby daughter bringing giggles and gurgles with a good amount of putting everything in her mouth.
I hosted everyone at my house this year, which meant no travel for us – such a relief to not have to pack up and drive for hours. I'm also grateful for a spacious house that fitted everyone in easily. Space makes a difference to the family dynamics.
US spiritual teacher and psychologist Ram Dass, who died just before Christmas, wrote: "If you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family." It is a test, even in a pretty fantastic family like mine.
Don't get caught up in the social media competition or needing everything to be perfect to be successful. You can't see in my photo of our Christmas spread that the white tablecloth is in fact an old sheet, with faded flowers. Remember most of us don't post about the tired tantrums or food failures.
For some, however, Christmas is not an easy time. There are people who feel lonely or unsupported, and who struggle with the costs of feeding extra people and finding funds for gifts. Those who are grieving a loss of a beloved family member or their own mental health. And those who care for others or are working shifts, keeping our communities ticking.
Unfortunately, for more than one family in Whanganui, their Christmas will have been affected by violence. The recent conviction of the man who threw an 8-month-old baby girl to the ground, causing her death three years ago, is one. He had 10 previous convictions for family violence and had been using meth.
I keep thinking of little Bella while holding my cousin's baby and wondering how someone ends up doing such a thing. It's hard to understand – the consequences of lashing out, being rough or not controlling your anger and frustration with a small child are significant. It's not rocket science – babies' heads are still soft; their protective skulls are still fusing together.
It's not only children though. I've recently learnt that a friend has left a violent relationship. It's not okay to hurt other people. I'm still teaching my boys that – using your strength to physically dominate another person is not acceptable. Emotional control and threats are not ok either.
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If you know what that means, make the year 2020 a time to help another. If someone is struggling, let them know it's okay to ask for help. It's not easy to change but it starts with an acknowledgement that if your family is scared of you, something is wrong.
The Family Violence Information Line (0800 456 450) provides self-help information and connects people to services seven days a week, 9am-11pm.
I hope 2020 brings people a life free of fear – a life with moments of joy and appreciation.
•Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, leads Thrive Whanganui, a social enterprise hub, is a Green Party member and has a science degree. A mum of two boys, this fortnightly column is her personal opinion.