In the midst of a mitten

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The fridge is stuffed, the house is full, the annual thanks are dropped casually into the column (thank you ODT, thank you features editor Tom, thank you readers, I know this opportunity is a privilege) and the car parks in town are considerably more crowded than the mitten in that Ukrainian folk tale.

In that version, a boy drops a single mitten, a mole snuggles into it, then a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a foxy fox and a bear. But it's the mouse who creeps in last of all that makes the mitten explode at the seams. In the Wanaka equivalent, I'm quietly determined that my tiny car won't be the catalyst (the mousalyst?) that sets all that stress and road rage bubbling over.

Singing along to my in-car Christmas carol CD on repeat, I've been waving cheerily at the people wilfully reinterpreting everything they were ever taught about white lines and give way signs as they power their huge AWD vehicles into their rightful places. And sitting writing this column under a tree by the skate park, there have been three bleepable and beepable near misses on the lakeside road. In the space of one paragraph.

I think about that mitten story often at this time of year, in the same way as I wonder about the texture of the straw that broke the camel's back. It would not be wise to try to fit a camel into the mitten though I'm pretty sure someone once tried to shove one through the eye of a needle. Maybe these are the new nativity stories we're telling ourselves. If I had to pick two words to characterise the mood of town, they would be excess and stress. That weird feeling in the air isn't just unseasonal humidity, it's the smell of frazzled money.

The word excess has Latin roots. Go out. Go beyond. Exceed! Exceed! Exceed! Which sounds frighteningly similar to the ring of the treadmill of societal success, not just at Christmas but through the year.

If you're not constantly busy, you're not doing it right. If your fridge, your town and your under-tree-efforts aren't bursting at the seams, you're not doing it right. If you're not stuffing and self-flagellating, you're not doing it right. If you're ignoring the hype and stretching out with a book, you're not doing it hard and suffering and right. No wonder everyone is stressed. No wonder we're straining at the seams.

The only, only time I can see excess being of any use is in extreme creativity, and then it's almost mandatory: taking an idea and seeing how far you can force it into the mitten or through the eye of a needle. You need excess to break new ground, and you pay for it by teetering on the edge of what passes for wellness. Obviously not a healthy blueprint, then, for safe parking, Christmas shopping and decking the halls.

It's beginning to look a lot like joylessness. It's beginning to look a lot like time for the kids to roll their eyes as I launch into my "kindness would be my superpower of choice" monologue.

In my mitten, I will say to them, I would fit gratitude, to trickle through the gaps like sand. And they will look at me like I am old and weird and have spent the best part of the week being the arse of a pantomime cow. And they will be right. And there definitely wasn't any room for the cow in the Christmas mitten, but I managed to just about stuff it in by paying a smidgeon less attention to commercialism and complicated plans.

Perhaps I will spend all the time I could have spent standing in supermarket lines this Christmas writing a groundbreaking poetic epic about a pantomime cow and a mitten. But probably I'll just stretch out with a book.



The fridge really is stuffed. Thermostat jammed, it doesn't chill, but freezes everything.

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