When Traditions Are New

It started nearly ten years ago with my husband's family, this tradition that we now affectionately call Thanksmas.  Since we don't get to visit each other in December, we devote the Friday after Thanksgiving to celebrating Christmas.

Essentially, we segue from turkey and fixings on Thursday to leftover turkey and fixings on Friday, plus our gift exchange.   It's seamless.  It's festive.  It's fun.  It's convenient.  It's a true holiday mash-up.

And it completely messes with my internal calendar.  I return to work after Thanksgiving wearing a new sweater, receive a compliment, and want to say, "Thanks, I got it for Christmas," forgetting that Christmas was eleven months ago to everyone else.  I'm ready to wish people a happy New Year. 

I've been thrown for a holiday loop.

I've wondered what effect Thanksmas would have on our kids.  I once broached the subject with Joel, asking whether he thought they'd find it strange that we celebrate Christmas twice.  He looked at me as if I had grown another head.  Strange?  What kid wouldn't love two Christmases?

He had a good point.

But what about waiting eagerly for Christmas morning?  What about the anticipation when you went to bed on Christmas Eve as a child, knowing that Christmas was just one night's sleep away?  What about sneaking downstairs and hiding behind the couch while your parents, who knew you were there all along, went along with the game?  What about the tradition of rushing into your sibling's room the morning of Christmas, running down the steps together, and then dashing back upstairs to dive into your parents' bed while they burrowed under the covers just a moment longer and mumbled something about needing coffee? 

What about all that?

My friend once noted, "Your kids won't have your holiday traditions.  They'll have their own."

She's right.  All my recollections of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning -- how my brother and I collided down the narrow stairs of our Pittsburgh home every Christmas morning, how my father started the coffee, how my mom curled up on the side of the couch in her fuzzy robe -- make up the backdrop of my childhood holiday memories. 

In the same fashion, Reese, Brooke, and Kerrington are developing memories from the traditions that we're setting up now.  They're different memories from how I experienced Christmas, but ones that are just as special, ones that are uniquely theirs.

Many years from now when my girls are grown and have husbands and kids of their own, it's quite likely that they'll revert to celebrating only one Christmas.  They might call each other and ask, "Do you think our kids will find it strange that we just have one Christmas?"

Hopefully, one of them will supply the others with the same good insight I was given.  Just because it's different, doesn't make it any less significant.

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Thanksgiving Post

It seems obligatory, this post on Thanksgiving Day about thankfulness, but it's anything but trite.  In fact, I'm so thankful for so many things -- for these three tangle-haired kids who woke up a half hour before I dragged my way out of bed this morning, for my husband who slept beside me last night, for my other family members -- both near and far -- who are constant in my life.  For my friends, for my freedoms, for the food on my table, for my health, for my comforts.

I'm thankful for it all.  And now I'm going to sign off, spend the day with my family, and eat regrettable amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie.  And apple pie.  And cherry pie.

What can I say?  I got carried away with baking last night.

Wishing you a wonderful day with your loved ones!

Image compliments of Madison Faith (flickr.com)

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Book Review: Mother of All Meltdowns

It's called a meltdown because you can actually watch your kids melt.  They start out upright and solid, then something happens (like juice in the wrong color cup) and they melt; sometimes in slow motion, until they are a puddle on the floor.  All wet from screaming and crying, totally immovable.
- MOAM introduction

If you're a mother, you've seen this happen to your kids -- the unfurling process where once normal children become entirely unglued and morph into irrational feral creatures, leaving everyone in their wake to pick up the broken pieces, figuratively and literally.

If you're an honest mother, you'll probably realize that meltdowns aren't just child's play.  We moms can melt, too -- all wet from screaming and crying, unfolding in slow motion and epic proportions -- and, just like our kids, we face our own assortment of broken pieces in the aftermath. 

The Mother of All Meltdowns, a newly-released compilation of essays from 30 diverse mom bloggers, holds this as its key premise: moms (good moms!) all have breaking points. Sometimes that breaking point is when you discover that your daughter has cut off her own bangs, or when a stranger asks when you're due to have your baby three months after you've delivered that baby, or when you suspect that your toddler has flushed your wedding ring down the toilet, or when your entire family succumbs to the stomach flu the night before Christmas. 

Through the transparent presentation of these authors' worst moments -- the outburst, the tears, the self-doubts, the botched attempt at moving a child's finished Lego construction -- we, as readers, are quietly invited to recall our own rough patches where we behaved less-than-ideally.  Most importantly, we're reminded that we're not alone.

The book's forward notes that each contributor brings her own writing style, acknowledging that "if you're a word nerd, the grammar police, or anything in between, a good dose of Prozak might be in order for you to read this book."  Instead, the preface explains that the book's focus is honesty, not perfection.  In other words, drop the red pens and grab a relaxing cup of coffee or tea instead.

Typical of compiled anthologies, I gravitated toward a few entries more strongly than others due to the individual writer's way with words or how her experiences and perspectives dovetailed with my own, which is to be expected. 

Overall, I finished the book with affirmation that I'm not the only mom who's been there, done that, regretted it, moved on, and -- here's the best part -- lived to mother another day.  And what mom couldn't use a bit of that?

The Mother of All Meltdowns is available in both Kindle and paperback editions.

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Upgraded Seats + Figure Skating = awesome

A few weekends ago my husband bought tickets for our family to attend an ice skating show that premiered in our town and was aired on television this afternoon.  (By chance, were you watching NBC between 4-6 pm EST?)

Our back-row seats provided an aerial view of the rink and an up-close glimpse of the rafters.  As soon as we mounted the steps, our oldest daughter slumped into her seat and shut her eyes, her way of overcoming height-induced vertigo.

Moments before the show began, an event staff member climbed the steps and approached us.  "We have a few open seats in the front if you'd like to move closer," he said as he gestured below toward the front rows directly behind the announcers and the television cameras.

Of course, in my mind this invitation to upgrade was a direct result of my family's extraordinarily photogenic qualities, even though my kids were now horizontally sprawled out on the bleacher seats to prevent themselves from falling forward and I was rocking a long sleeve tee shirt and one of those last minute, up-do knots where you don't pull your hair entirely through that final loop and end up with a noncommittal cross between an actual ponytail and an unfinished bun. 

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, this invitation had nothing to do with the fact that the event planners had been asked to strategically pack the crowd for television.  No, clearly, they saw star quality in us, and we cashed in on it.  Carpe diem!  Seize the upgraded seats!

All that being said, if I had any foresight, I would have posted about this adventure earlier and you could have watched the show to catch brief glimpses of my family in the crowd, an activity that kept my daughters seriously entertained this afternoon, like some epic, moving game of Where's Waldo, minus the stripes and glasses. 

Because, really, who needs to focus on a skater's triple salchow or impressive backflips when you might catch a fraction of a second's worth of your own blurry silhouette in the background?  Or, as my daughter grandly announced to dinner guests who arrived during the final minutes of the program, "We're in this show, you know."

Yep.  We're there, all right.  Front and center.

Image compliments of Patrick Mayon (flickr.com)

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The Value of a Shoebox: Operation Christmas Child

I once read an article about a young boy on Christmas morning after he opened his first present. When his parents offered his next gift, he looked at them and said, "Why would I need another present when I already have this one?"

Ah, the sweet contentment of a heart unpolluted by the trappings of materialism.

For the record, I cannot imagine any of my children, lovely as they are, uttering that statement. 

Not that they're greedy or spoiled, but my kids are more likely to tear through the wrappings of their presents in delirious excitement and then pause, look around, and double-check to make sure that they haven't missed any packages in the initial frenzy.  They're more likely to want three gifts, not two.  Seven gifts, not six.  If you're giving them more of anything -- stuffed animals, helpings of dessert, an extra ten minutes of watching TV -- they'll gladly accept it.

It's a pretty typical kid reaction.  In fact, it's a pretty typical human reaction.  It's exciting to receive a gift, after all.

This is why I'm eager to partner with Operation Christmas Child, a non-profit organization that tangibly shares the love of Christ by providing children -- over 100 million children thus far, in fact -- with a shoebox full of Christmas gifts.

Every year, my daughters and I head to the store to buy the items for our shoeboxes: crayons, markers, notebooks, stickers, small stuffed animals, soap, toothpaste, hair clips, or other compact toys like bouncy balls or a jump rope. For many of these children, these shoeboxes will be the only gift that they receive all year.

In a small way, this experience not only encourages my children to realize how blessed we are, but also to consider how we can practically meet the needs of others.  It's a learning process.  If we gauge it by my three-year-old's reaction of clinging to the stuffed sock monkey while crying "my monkey" instead of putting it into her designated shoebox, it's one that we're still learning.

But if I gauge it by my eight-year-old, who corrected me when I temporarily halted our Operation Christmas Child shopping trek at Target to admire a scarf with a nudging "Come on, mom.  Don't think about yourself right now," I'd say that it's a lesson that's starting to sink in.

Would you like to participate?  You can learn how to pack a shoebox and find drop-off locations near you for this year's collection week, which runs until Monday, November 25.  A shoebox has never been so valuable!

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When (Your, You're) Homework Helper is (No, Know) Help

Dear readers, how has your week been?  I didn't intend to be absent from the blog for a week, but life got ahead of me, as life is sometimes known to do.  While I'm accustomed to balancing the demands of teaching four college classes and parenting, I've found myself tired lately. 

Thankfully, respite is on the horizon.  I have spectacular plans to get caught up on sleep, work, and a dozen odds-and-ends around the house during next week's Thanksgiving break.  (I also plan to eat regrettable amounts of turkey, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon sugar pie crust cookie, but that almost goes without saying.)

But I didn't start this blog post to tell you about my work or the Thanksgiving delectables I've been dreaming about.  Instead, I wanted to tell you about my eight-year-old's homework assignment that I recently found crammed in her backpack.

She's a really smart kid who occasionally rushes through assignments.  Case in point with this exercise on identifying homophones:

Later that night, I saw my husband at the counter with the worksheet in his hand and a smile on his face.  He shook his head, looked at me, and laughed, "The really bad thing is that I checked this for her."

Sometimes, it turns out, {your, you're} homework helper is {no, know} help at all.

Obviously, we need to issue a fair warning to our children regarding our skill sets.  If it involves math, go to dad.  If it involves language, go to mom.

(As a shout-out to any fellow language geeks out there, here's a homonym game for you.  It's always the other one!)

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Never Underestimate a Spirited Kid

Spirited. That's the word I chose to describe my kids this past weekend while talking with a friend.  It has a more positive connotation than small agents of anarchy who happen to be cute, after all.

Spirited children assess that a pumpkin isn't orange enough and decide paint it -- and sections of the front porch -- with orange paint.

Spirited children accidentally drop a Dixie cup in the toilet and decide to flush the cup instead of plucking it out, which means that parents of spirited children -- or, more accurately, the father of spirited children -- spends his Saturday morning repairing a toilet.

(Did you have any idea that one Dixie cup could take down a toilet?  I'll spare you the details, but I will share that I'm still scratching my head about this one.)

Spirited children issue a 6:35 a.m. shriek that makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise, and they follow this shriek with a triumphant shout proclaiming, "I've been waiting for this moment!" while pointing to the dusting of snow that fell throughout the night and lightly blanketed the back yard.

Spirited kids keep on your toes, and they keep you on your knees.  Spirited kids keep you smiling, and they keep you shaking your head.  They keep you counting to three and counting your blessings.

Never underestimate a the power of spirited kid.  Or a Dixie cup, for that matter.

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If You Give a Mother an Open Afternoon

If you give a mother an open afternoon with a three-year-old, she's going to want to fill it with a fun activity.  She'll open the hall closet to survey the games and crafts.  When she opens the hall closet, she'll see the vacuum and be tempted by the thought of having aesthetically pleasing vacuum lines along her family room carpeting.

When she pulls out the vacuum, the three-year-old will let it be known that vacuuming is not an enjoyable activity.  When the mother reluctantly accepts this, she'll roll the vacuum back into the closet and select a game.  When the child sees this game, she will want a different game, one with smaller pieces and more complicated directions.

So the mother will strategically negotiate and select another option that still has small pieces but a more straightforward goal, like Sticky Mosaics.

When a mother selects Sticky Mosaics, she'll lie down on her unvacuumed floor and work side-by-side with her child, knowing that manual dexterity is an essential developmental skill.  When a skill is developmental, the end result will be that the mother and daughter in the mosaic look like jaundiced Muppets.

When mosaic characters look like jaundiced Muppets, the mother will smile fondly each time she notices the mosaic during an open afternoon. 

And, chances are, if you give a mother an open afternoon with a three-year-old, they're going to want a sticky mosaic to go with it.


Here's To Another Month Ahead

Blogging daily for one straight month reinforced some of my tendencies.  One, I was reminded that accountability works for me.  Because I said that I was going to blog every day for a month, I did.  Two, as soon as the month was over, I was able to drop the daily blogging, cold turkey, to the point that now -- just six days later --  I can't entirely figure how I ever managed to keep that pace for 31 days. 

I mean, in these past six days, I've barely written a grocery list, much less a week's worth of blog posts. 

But, on the bright side, I have accomplished many other things.  I plowed through another stack of student essays and nearly completed another speech round, I attended my daughters' final soccer games of the season, I squeezed in a long run on Saturday morning, I managed another house rental weekend, and I discovered that the Sheetz gas station down the street from my house sells milkshakes -- good ones -- which is a dangerous discovery.  (Easy accessibility to milkshakes?  Hello!)

One thing that I didn't do this week was capitalize on the "extra" hour of sleep afforded to us with the clock change.  (Does anyone manage this?)  The next morning I woke up bleary-eyed and tired, mourning the lost opportunity.  After all, no sleep is quite as sweet as the sleep that you're currently experiencing when your alarm -- or your child -- goes off. 

So, here's to another month ahead.  May it be full of many opportunities for blogging, sleep, and milkshakes.  Definitely milkshakes.

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