It is the feast day of Mary, Mother of God. It is also New Year’s Day. Mum and Dad and the children have just returned from early
It is the very first day of a brand new year. Everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. Dad is the only member of the Nickleby family who has made some resolutions.
“I have decided I have got to lose some weight,” says Dad patting his tummy. “I ate far too much Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and mince pies... All my clothes are feeling tight around the middle. And,” he continues, “I am going to get more exercise. I have spent far too much time, this summer, sitting on the sofa watching cricket.”
Everyone is glad it is Dad and not them who has made some New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight and exercising don’t sound like fun.
“Well, how are you going to start?” asks Mum.
Dad looks at his empty plate. He licks his lips to get a last taste of maple syrup. “From now on,” he says “There will be no more pancakes for me. I’m going to eat less fattening food like grapefruit.”
Kate thinks about the sharp taste of grapefruit and pulls a face. “I’d rather have pancakes,” she says.
“And I’m going to start running again.” Dad turns to Mum and asks, “Do you remember when I used to be able to run for miles?”
Mum looks a bit doubtful. “You were a lot younger then. And anyway, you haven’t got time to run for miles.”
But Dad is not listening. He is miles away. He is dreaming. “Perhaps,” he says, “I could even enter a marathon.”
Breakfast is finished. Celeste and Lizzie start to clear the breakfast table. Edward fills the sink to wash the dishes. Kate hunts for a tea towel and Joe grabs a broom. Annie is sent outside to shake the table mats.
Mum is helping too but Dad has disappeared. A few minutes later he is back. He is dressed in a pair of shorts and a T shirt. He has running shoes on his feet.
“There is no time like the present,” Dad says. “The sooner I start exercising, the faster I will get fit.” Dad pulls on his cap and with a big smile he heads out the door.
Mum shouts, “Be careful. Take it easy.” Shaking her head, she goes in search of her book. She has a much more restful day planned.
About ten minutes later, Dad is home again. He is looking green in the face and he is clutching his stomach. “I forgot something important,” says Dad. “Never run just after eating. Oh! I feel so sick!” Dad lurches off to the bedroom to lie down.
Dad is soon feeling better but fortunately, he decides he’s had enough exercise for one day. Perhaps he will have just a quick peek at the cricket on TV. Surely he’s earnt a bit of a rest? Edward and Joe join Dad on the sofa. Everyone enjoys a very relaxing New Year’s Day, even Dad.
It is time to prepare the dinner. Mum is going to roast a chicken and some vegetables. Kate is making a special dessert, chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is Dad’s favourite dessert. Delicious smells pour out the kitchen door and everyone’s mouths water at the thought of dinner. Dad’s mouth is watering too.
“I think I will just chop myself a bit of salad,” says Dad when it comes time to serve up dinner.
“But what about my special meal?” Mum asks. “I’ve spent a long time cooking it. Don’t you want any?”
“And there’s your favourite dessert too, Dad,” adds Kate.
Dad thinks about the crisp, brown, moist chicken and the ooey-gooey mousse. “No,” he says firmly. “I have made a resolution. I have to stick to it. I can’t give up on the very first day.”
“But it’s a feast day,” persuades Mum. “You have to celebrate. Have you forgotten it’s the feast of Mary, Mother of God?”
“Well…” says Dad thinking about it. “Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day for dieting.”
Mum serves out the delicious meal and everyone enjoys it immensely, especially Dad.
Mum is woken up very early next morning. It is still dark when she hears Dad thumping and bumping around the bedroom. “What are you doing?” she whispers.
“I’m going running,” replies Dad. “It’s the best time of the day for exercise. Later it will get much too hot.”
“But it’s dark,” says Mum. “What if you stumble and hurt yourself?”
But Dad is not listening so Mum snuggles back down in the bed and drifts off back to sleep.
Some time later Mum is woken up again. There is a strange noise in the bedroom. It’s a puffing, panting, wheezing noise. Dad has returned. He is lying flat on his back on the bedroom floor, gulping for air.
“Are you all right?” asks Mum. She is very concerned.
“I’ll be fine in a minute,” reassures Dad. “No pain, no gain.”
Dad is feeling much better by breakfast time. In fact all that early morning exercise has made him incredibly hungry. As he enters the kitchen he is thinking, “Toast and honey and perhaps some porridge with brown sugar.”
Mum is spooning out the porridge but she doesn’t hand a bowl to Dad. Instead she points to his place at the table. Waiting for him is half a grapefruit, a nice healthy grapefruit. There is not even a sprinkling of sugar on it.
“I’ve been thinking,” says Mum. “I am really proud of you trying to lose weight and attempting to get fit. It can’t be easy when we keep offering you delicious things like roast chicken. From now on I will serve you exactly what you want.”
Dad digs his spoon into the grapefruit. He is thinking that what he really wants is a big bowl of porridge.
Dad works hard at his New Year’s resolution. He gets up early every morning. Sometimes he just wants to stay snuggled up next to Mum but he struggles out of bed, pulls on his running gear and heads out the door.
And every morning, he ignores the porridge pan and tucks into his grapefruit. Mum is making him lots of salads and Kate never asks him if he’d like some cake when she is cutting up slices for everyone else.
Mum and the children soon notice a few changes in Dad. His face is looking a little thinner, his belt no longer bites into his tummy and when he comes in from his running, he no longer pants like a bellows. But they have also noticed another change. This change is not so good. Dad no longer smiles and jokes, especially at meal times. In fact, he has become a bit of a bear with a sore head.
“Are you feeling OK?” asks Mum. Dad is very irritable. He doesn’t seem to enjoy anything any more. Mum decides she will have to do something to fix the problem.
That evening everyone gathers in the lounge. Dad notices all the strange looks and wonders what is going on. “We’d like to congratulate you,” says Mum. “You have really stuck to your New Year’s resolution. You have shown so much perseverance and self-discipline. You are an example to all of us.”
“We couldn’t do what you’re doing Dad,” says Kate.
“No, you’ve been terrific,” adds Joe.
“Think of all the cake you’ve missed out on,” says Celeste.
“But we’d like our old dad back, please!” begs Lizzie.
“Your old dad?” asks Dad puzzled.
“Yes, the fun dad,” explains Edward. “The one who jokes and laughs and enjoys life.”
“You’ve got a bit grumpy lately,” says Mum gently. “You’ve had a lot to deal with. It can’t be easy exercising and watching what you eat. You’ve done it all on your own.”
“You want me to go back to normal?” asks Dad. “You want me to undo all that hard work?”
“No,” says Mum. “We have another plan.” Mum sends Dad off to the scales to weigh himself. He comes back with a grin on his face.
“I’m back to my normal weight,” he says.
“Then you don’t need to diet any more,” says Mum. “All you need to do is eat balanced, healthy meals. We all need to eat balanced, healthy meals. Everyone eats far too much rubbish. I am going to try out some new healthy family recipes. It could be fun.”
“That sounds great,” says Dad. Already he is feeling much more cheerful. But then he remembers his running. “If I give up running, I’ll never run a marathon,” he says.
“Do you really want to run a marathon?” asks Mum. “You did all that years ago. Perhaps it’s time for something new. You can still exercise but in ways that are more fun.”
“We could go swimming together, Dad,” suggests Edward.
“And bushwalking,” adds Joe.
“You could push me on the swing,” says Lizzie.
Dad is thinking. “I have an announcement to make,” he says. “I have decided to change my New Year’s resolution.”
“Is that allowed?” asks Celeste.
“Of course,” says Mum quickly.
“This year I resolve to spend more time with my family. We are going to do lots of things together. We are going to go camping and bushwalking, swimming, maybe even fishing. We are all going to be fit and healthy. Most important of all we are going to have lots of fun and enjoy being a family.”
Dad is feeling very happy, much happier than he has felt for a long time. He thinks about how fortunate he is. He has a beautiful family: Mum, Edward, Kate, Joe, Celeste, Lizzie and Annie. He has a family that cares very much about him. He just knows they are going to have a wonderful year together.
This story is the first chapter of my children's fiction book, The Nicklebys.