Monday, December 22, 2008

These are the moments we'll remember, Christmas edition

A week has passed since my last post, and I'm pleased to say, I've got my holiday mojo back. How can I not be bubbling over with Christmas cheer, with a 3-and-a-half-year-old running around the house singing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and We "Miss" You a Merry Christmas? Christmas with a child is like nothing I'd ever imagined -- as is everything, really. The world just looks better when you look through your child's eyes, period. (And let me tell you, I am squeezing my son even tighter this week.)

There's a great little commentary piece in this week's Time magazine -- which happens to be the Person of the Year issue, and one of my favorite reads every year -- about the importance of traditions, old and new. The word tradition typically means rites or rituals that families carry out year after year for generations. Traditions are anchors -- they keep us grounded and fill our memory banks. But sometimes traditions get stale -- or worse, we feel sad when we cannot carry them out. I learned this years ago when my mom died and our family changed rapidly -- sometimes holding on to old traditions is more painful than positive. I'm a firm believer in knowing when to let go of a tradition, and when to start a new one.

Of course this is a prime-time tradition-starting year for me and my family. We have a little guy who's just starting to understand Christmas and Baby Jesus and Santa and all the things that December holds. I carry many traditions from childhood, and so does Big Daddy, and I like to think we've melded them rather nicely into our own home -- and we've started some really great new traditions (not the least of which is the annual tree-and-Pizza-Hut evening!). In the last couple years, especially, thanks to Sweet Boy, Big Daddy, and my dear friends, I've discovered some new traditions that I hope to carry forward:

1) Baking cookies -- You've never experienced kitchen fun until you've given a 3-year-old a hand mixer and said "Hold on tight!" then watched the flour fly. This past month we've measured and dumped, we've gasped, we've giggled, we've mixed 'til our arms ached -- and we've "tested" a lot of dough. And Sweet Boy has been especially proud to give away the treats we baked to teachers and neighbors and friends and relatives. (We even baked a special batch of oatmeal cookies for Aunt Kathie and a special batch of chocolate chip cookies for Big Daddy for Christmas morning.)

The past few years I've gotten together with my two best girlfriends, too -- my sister-friends, whom I've known now for 2/3 of my life. We devote an entire Saturday each December to baking cookies...and drinking wine. Again, we measure, we giggle, we mix til our arms ache, and we drink til our heads ache. We come away with some yummy cookies, but even better, we come away with the love and support that gets us through the blech parts of the season.

2) Decorating the tree...for a week -- Little boys have little attention spans. So decorating an entire tree and home in one evening doesn't go so well. Instead of getting frustrated this year, though, we embraced this short attention span thing and stretched out the tree trimming over the course of a week. It happened by accident, really, but we had such a fun time adding ornaments to the tree each evening that I think we'll do this every year.

3) Creating an advent wreath -- When I was a kid, we had a lovely advent wreath. It was a wooden circle with a mirrored base, and I've been searching for something similar for years. However, this year a friend gave me a great idea: Make a wreath with found treasures and natural elements. How perfect! Sweet Boy and I went treasure hunting in the woods behind our house and collected pine boughs, holly branches, pine cones, dried hydrangea, and "monster's fur" (aka, pine needles), and we arranged it on a tray in the center of our dining table. We've lit a candle at dinner time each Sunday, and we will light the Christ candle Christmas Eve (while we eat our first annual homemade Christmas Eve stromboli!). Every week, as I sat at the table with my boys, I have felt the same calm that I remember feeling as a child when we lit each candle. In the midst of such a hectic season, the candles bring me back to center.

4) Power shopping with a friend -- I am not really a mall person. I don't really like to shop, especially as Christmas day gets closer and the stores and roads get harrier. But there are two shopping days that I really enjoy: Black Friday with my sister in law, when we hit the Cherry Hill Mall in the afternoon, after all the crazies have gone home to nap; and the evening I go with my friend CT a week or so before Christmas. Hitting the mall with a friend makes the crowds seem less grouchy, the stress level slightly lower, and the deals somehow even better.

5) Building a gingerbread house -- A friend gave me a gingerbread house kit last week, and Sweet Boy and I had a blast assembling and decorating it. I've never seen him get so excited about a crafty type thing, and I've never seen him work with such concentration and diligence. And he's so proud of his house! (Truth be told, I'm really proud of it too...I'm no great crafter, but this turned out not bad at all for our first attempt!)

6) Enjoying a date day -- Big Daddy and I took vacation time for the next two weeks. Can you believe it? Two full weeks together? We haven't had this much time together, I'm thinking, since our honeymoon in May 2000 -- and we will surely drive each other bonkers before January 5th rolls around. But we decided to start it out right by devoting the entire first day to one another: We dropped Sweet Boy off at school at 8:30 this morning, then went to breakfast, finished our shopping, caught a movie, did a little more shopping, then relaxed at a coffee shop until it was time to pick up the boy. It was one of the best days we've had together, ever. (So good, in fact, that we're planning another date day next Monday, too!)

Traditions -- sharing old, creating new -- are the best part of Christmas. These are the moments we will remember forever, and tonight, as I gear up for the mania that will overtake us these next few days (wrapping gifts, last-minute errands, cooking, loading everything into the car for trips to Philadelphia and New Jersey, chasing a rambunctious, sugar-loaded child around relatives' homes), I'm happy. I'm really happy, in fact, and I'm storing away all these good little Christmasy moments in my heart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Christmas blahs

I had great intentions for this blog this month. Really upbeat and positive intentions: I'd planned on writing about all my favorite holiday things -- baking cookies with my little one, picking out and trimming the perfect Christmas tree, wrapping gifts with a bottle of wine in front of the fire -- but so far the month has gotten away from me. (As I'm sure it has for you, so you probably haven't even had time to stop here and notice the lack of posting going on.) I love Christmas, especially now that I have a small child to share the wonder with. But it's a difficult time for me, as it is for most of us I'm sure, because every now and then I'm just knocked down by a wave of melancholy -- I think of my mom or my grandparents or the Christmases of my childhood, and even though they're all good memories, there are holes there now.

I've been trying hard, really hard, to keep the melancholy at bay this year. After all, I want Christmas to be as fun and exciting for my son as it always was for me as a child. We've been enjoying the season, and I was feeling all sorts of Christmasy a couple weeks ago -- poppy Christmas songs on the radio, cookies baking in the oven, lights twinkling all over the house. But then I got bad news about a friend, a dear woman I worked with, who died on December 4. I attended the funeral on December 10, and even though it was a really upbeat funeral, relatively speaking, the melancholy has crept in and I haven't been able to shake it. The rational side of me knows that I should not be so deeply affected by this loss, but I worked with June for 10 years, and I guess I took it for granted that she'd always be there in the office, popping in to tell me about a silly article she'd read or something she saw in the news that reminded her of me. And I'm sorry that I never got to tell her in person how much I cared for her, how much I appreciated the friendship she showed when I first met her at that crazy time in my life, how much I learned from her about being a good editor, or how much her mere presence in the world filled it up. I'll miss her, for sure.

Then today, just as I had started to get through these feelings over losing June, I got word that a friend's baby son died this past weekend. He had just turned 1 in September, and I had just met him a few weeks ago. I was on my way to pick up my own son at preschool when I took the call, and when I walked into the preschool -- when I saw all those beautiful, healthy kids running and playing without a care in the world -- I was overwhelmed. I stood like an oaf in the middle of the preschool gym and I cried. My heart is broken for my friend and her family. But at the same time, I realize how blessed I am, how fortunate I am that my son is here in front of me. How unfair life is.

So here I am, a week before Christmas, not feeling so jolly, despite every effort to keep smiling and singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1001 times with Sweet Boy. I haven't done much shopping at all, haven't wrapped any gifts, haven't sent a single card. And tonight I don't really care if I do. I'm just not feeling it. My Top 10 Favorite Christmasy Things post can wait until next week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Plan B is the president

OK, so as you know, I've been trying hard to avoid watching the news. But I do occasionally listen to the radio (local Delaware news stations hardly count as news, though) and I get my daily skim-dose of Yahoo news and CNN.com. So I know a little bit about what's going on in the world, even though it's still all pretty bleak.

Here's a little something that caught me up this morning, from an AP story about the Senate's rejection of the "Big 3" bailout:

"Due to this colossal failure by the U.S. Senate, now it's up to the president and the Treasury secretary," Bernero said Friday on CBS' "Early Show." "Working Americans will appreciate the president stepping in — and pull us back from the precipice, pull us back from the economic cliff."

Lawmakers, who aren't scheduled to return to legislative work until early January, were looking to the president, as well.

"Plan B is the president," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said action by President George W. Bush was the "only viable option."


Sweet Jesus, does this strike fear in your heart, as it does mine? President Chimp-Face is our only hope, our Obi-Wan Kenobe, in the face of certain economic doom and the collapse of our cushy little lifestyles? Pull us back from the precipice? Only viable option? Are you serious?

I admit, for the last few weeks, especially as I watched the last 5 minutes of Charlie Gibson's interview with the Bushes, I felt a teeny-tiny itty-bit of pity for this man, who once stood so proudly at Ground Zero or on the deck of that aircraft carrier, thumping his chest and demonstrating so much cowboy American bravado. He's cowed and hunched now, and I believe I even saw his eyes tear up in that interview. He's facing the last days of one of the worst presidencies on record, and I think he's finally seeing how royally he effed it all up. Can't we just let him stew in it a while? Why now ask him to make some kind of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't decision?

Oh, I know why. Because he's still the PRESIDENT, God help us.

Too bad he's already thrown the economic trump card of "let's go to war." Twice. Whatcha got left, Bushie?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Today's fabulous website

I just discovered a really great website for you to browse when you need a break: 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son.

I especially love the following:
Rule #293 Don't shout out requests at rock shows. (Please, no more "Watchtower!" from the cheap seats.)

Rule #282 Never swing at the first pitch. But don't be afraid to strike out. No man bats 1,000. (Great advice I received from my own dad, and it can be applied to pretty much every life situation.)

Rule #249 Identify your most commonly used word or phrase, and eliminate it. (Where do I start?)

Rule #239 Never post a photo online you wouldn't feel comfortable showing your mother, your boss, or the dean of admissions. (Amen!)

Rule #213 Go barefoot. It toughens the feet.

Rule #206 Never turn down a girl's invitation to dance. (Hear that, all your 8th-grade boys?)

Rule #189 Learn to drive a stick shift. (I still put my foot on the imaginary clutch.)

Rule #148 When handling a frog, be gentle.

Rule #120 Spend time with your mother. She's cooler than you think.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Contemplating Santa Claus


Sweet Boy sat on Santa's lap in the mall on Friday. For the first time. Willingly. And with a smile on his face. This is pretty big, when we consider that when he was 1 he screamed bloody murder at the sight of Santa, and when he was 2, he stepped just close enough to snatch the candy cane from Santa's hand then run back between my legs. (Even bigger is the sad fact that I missed his first chat with Santa because I was standing in line at Starbucks, waiting for my SIL's fancy coffee concoction while she wandered over and introduced my child to Santa without either of his parents nearby. But I probably shouldn't go there...at least I have the souvenir photo, right?)

This may be the first year that Sweet Boy is truly aware of Santa. He still hasn't quite grasped the whole Santa-brings-me-toys concept yet -- which is great, don't get me wrong -- and every time we ask him what he wants from Santa, he tells us something different. (And he told Santa on Friday that he wants Spiderman stuff. I have never heard him mention Spiderman. Ever. Go figure.) I know this is the year when the Santa tradition will take root, so we need to play it close. For instance, this week Mommy will help Sweet Boy write his letter to Santa, and we will list three things that he would like. However, we're going to try to make it clear that ASKING for three things doesn't necessarily mean he will RECEIVE all three things. Santa always brings at least one present, and other presents come from Mommy and Daddy and all our family members. Sometimes Santa may bring a surprise or two, also.

You hear and read so much about the Santa Myth and how damaging it is for children. In fact, I have a friend who is a pastor and psychologist/counselor, and she is adamant that enforcing a child's belief in Santa Claus is psychologically AND spiritually damaging, that it erodes their trust in their parents, leads to a lifetime of materialism and attachment issues, etc. Heavy, right? So while I do want to follow some Santa traditions, I'd like to avoid, if at all possible, damaging my son's trust, priorities, or psyche. I don't intend to lie to him when the day comes that he asks me about Santa, but for now, I don't see any harm in giving him something to get excited about.

I remember exactly the day that I realized that Santa wasn't a real live human who squeezed down the chimney on Christmas Eve. And I remember exactly what my mom told me when I asked her about Santa:
Santa is the spirit of Christmas---the joy of giving to others, the love of your family around you, the happiness you feel during the season. Above all, Santa is generous and sees the good in all people. As long as you believe in this spirit, then yes, Santa Claus is real.

I was 6 years old when I started reciting "Santa is the spirit of Christmas" because I really didn't want to let go of the magic. And every year I watch my own father, now age 59, turn into a living breathing Santa Claus right around this time -- he still believes in the magic, and because of him, his adult children all believe too.

Of course this "spirit of Christmas" thing is a pretty abstract concept for a three-year-old, so we'll probably go with the "Santa brings you presents" approach this year. We won't dwell on the reward bit of the lore, though, because I don't think Santa Claus should be used as a disciplinary tactic. I'm thinking the trick will be laying the right foundation this year so that Sweet Boy understands that while Santa brings him presents, Santa is not the be-all and end-all of Christmas. I want to be sure that Sweet Boy understands that there's a lot more to Christmas than just asking for and receiving toys. I will certainly not get all intellectual about it with him -- and I will never, ever tell my child that people who believe in Santa Claus are stupid or gullible. But I want to be sure that in a few years, when he realizes that Santa is not a jolly old elf dressed all in red who rides through the sky behind a team of reindeer that there is still magic in Christmas, that there is still joy in generosity -- and that there will still be gifts for him under the tree Christmas morning.

However, right this minute, I'm not exactly certain how to strike that balance, especially when everyone around him is talking about Santa -- school, TV, radio, relatives -- "What do you want from Santa Claus?" is the question of the month. How do you present and explain Santa Claus to your kids without heaping too many untruths on them? All suggestions and family traditions are welcome!