I have made a vow not to write too flagrantly here about extended family. I do find it fascinating however, that the two umbrella families I live under – mine and hubby’s – are sooooo very different.

Case in point: Xmas at hubby’s house is a nourishing New Hampshire affair. Most presents are home-made: lovingly knit woollen socks and carefully crocheted scarves. Or warm and fuzzy sweaters from LL Bean. I’m not sure I ever remember even seeing a tree. But hubby’s mother usually has a beautiful poinsettia blooming in the window. Hubby’s father was a florist and great care is taken with plants in their family. (Side note: I usually manage to kill every plant I ever lay hands on. Never buy me any kind of living thing as a gift. Even flowers seem to rot in their vases on Day 2 under my care.)

My family’s take on Xmas, in London, couldn’t be more different. A perfectly designed tree perches on top of the Yamaha Baby Grand, glimmering with hand-crafted stars and angels, caressed in tasteful white lights. Presents range from cashmere socks to Ralph Lauren sweaters and leather gloves hand-made in Paris.

While New Hampshire Xmases are decidedly simpler, the ritual of present opening is rich. Everyone sits in a circle, opening their home-made gems individually while the group looks on, and “oohs” and “aahs” appropriately. Each gift is treated like a treasure.

In my family, presents are ripped open willy nilly, not without gratitude, but without ceremonial awe. Tabletops overflow with opened stocking stuffers that include unctuous perfumes, specialty chutneys, edible Santas made from finest Belgian chocolate and for my sister and I, face creams that will keep every burgeoning line at bay. It’s a little much, but who am I kidding? I love it. The excess. The luxury of it all.

That’s all I’ll say for now about family. They may read this one day. Hell, I may even have an audience one day.

But the differences in our upbringings and families do sometimes give me pause. Who are we – hubby, boychild, me and Baby B – as a family, amidst all this?

I look at our Xmas tree. Very small this year. A recession Xmas tree, hubby jokes. It’s blasted with baubles from over four decades. Ornaments from hubby’s childhood. Some made by the boychild last year. The requisite, garish colored lights. And this year, a star at the very top, fashioned from cardboard and tin foil by the boychild and I. It’s not elegant, and it’s not country. In fact it’s rather kitsch. But it’s ours.

There’s a part of me that wants to create the kind of beauty in my home that my mother has excelled at – a soothing respite from the chaos of life. How lovely it would be to come home from schlepping on dank subways, pores filled with invisible grit, teeth bared against the brutal wind of Winter –  and enter a perfectly appointed home. Grey sofas, uncreased and unsmeared by hands that have been dipping into jam jars and chocolate cookies. With a perfect tree, speckled with gold dust and hung with matching globes of burnished light.

There’s also the part of me that doesn’t want to care about this stuff,  and just seeks a loving space for family to merge and be with each other, briefly, before parting ways again. Drinks to be spilled and crumbs dropped on the carpet without an instantly produced vacuum cleaner.

On reflection, though I’ve become neurotic about “mess” since becoming a stay at home mother – much to my chagrin – deep down I love the hand prints that show up in strange places – on the wall opposite the banister – on the back of a chair, the side of a kitchen cabinet. I love the toy that I’ll trip over and curse on my way to a good night’s sleep. And I love our tree, with its mismatched decorations that have no common theme in either appearance or era.

Because they signify life. Life in all its unpredictable, maddening, joyful, frustrating glory.  It’s damn hard to lose a sense of control over my environment. I know I drive hubby crazy when I nag him to pick up his dirty socks and suddenly turn into the Energizer Bunny on speed, cleaning up and “organizing.” If I can just let it be, will I find greater peace?

This year, we’re spending Xmas at home. Our home. And as I sit here writing this looking at our jumbled, jangled, tiny tree, I  vow to see beyond what our tree this year looks like, and revel instead in the smell of the pine needles and the care with which the boychild hung each and every trinket.

Oh, and the fact that this is probably the only plant I won’t be killing this year.

Thar she blows