Opinion with Matthew Munson: Preparing for Christmas

Bryan enjoying time with his grandparents

Planning for Christmas is always a busy time – and I speak as someone who doesn’t have to worry about the Christmas lunch (my mum, thank heavens, is the host – it wouldn’t be quite the same if I were asked to prepare the food; I don’t think my stress levels could take it).

I like Christmas to have a family feel to it, because that’s what I would very much like Bryan to associate the festive season with. When I asked him what words came to mind that related to Christmas, his top three choices were, “Presents, chocolate, and family”. Family was in the top three, so I’ll take that as a success.

Trying to decide what to get Bryan for Christmas is always a challenge; I don’t want to spoil him with too many things, as he’ll be overwhelmed, but also want him to enjoy the ripping open of paper and having some fun new things. My treacherous mind occasionally wonders what life could have been like for my boy, and it sharpens my resolve to make sure he has brighter celebrations for as long as I have any say over it.

Adoption is a proud word in our home; it’s how we arrived in each others’ lives, so why wouldn’t we be proud of that? Before we started the search for a secondary school for Bryan a couple of months ago, I assumed each school had its own criteria for selecting students – based on geography, inevitably, and any other local standards it wanted to set.

But it turns out that even I’m wrong from time to time … Oh, who am I kidding, I’m the father to a 10-year-old boy; I’m wrong most of the time. I discovered that the selection criteria does have a standardised element across the schools as well – and the first criteria across all schools (notwithstanding the Kent test) is for children who are currently in care, or who have previously been in care. That puts Bryan firmly in that top category.

I am very thankful for that, and also very conscious that it puts him ahead of other children of the same age in terms of school selection. For my family, I am grateful. It did mean, this last week, that I needed to speak to the council further up the country where Bryan had originally come from; they had some evidence that I needed to give to Kent County Council.

It was a real blast from the past when I heard the accents; Bryan had come down with the same accent, and the only other time I’ve heard it has been when I’ve spoken to his foster carers. It really took me back in time three years to when he was in foster care and I was mingling a lot with people who all had that accent – it was nice, in a strange way, to be taken back in time to that era, and to be reminded of how much has changed since … including his own accent, which is now as southern as mine.

Family, which I started this column talking about, is important. As I grew up, my grandparents were incredibly important to me; I loved all of them so very much, and it was important to me that Bryan had the opportunity to figure out his relationship with his grandparents. That wasn’t a relationship he was used to having before, and so I wanted to help him understand what grandparents could mean to him.

It turns out that I didn’t need to guide him very much; he very quickly figured it out by himself, and it turned out that he very quickly formed a very close bond with them. He sees them every Wednesday after school, and at least once at the weekend – and he is very close to them. It’s important for him to have that relationship, even more so given that I’m a single parent; he needs other good role models around him that’s not just me.

To be the dad of a child who has such a capacity for love is a privilege; what a lucky man I am.