December 18, 2014
by Tricia
3 Comments

Holiday Calm & Fatigue

holiday hair

We’re close. Can you feel it? One week. And, of course, two weeks. I’ve always loved how Christmas Day and New Years Day are exactly a week a part. When I was young it spoke to the part of me that loves things neat and orderly and perfectly arranged. Still does.

We’ve started to feel the holiday fatigue here a bit. This morning my girl dragged herself down the stairs and bee lined for me, as much as one can beeline while moving at a glacial pace. She wrapped her arms around me and stood there and I couldn’t quite tell if she just needed cuddles or if she was using me to prop her up. Probably a bit of both. We made our way to the couch where we snuggled for a bit and I felt her forehead and tried to dig deeper into what might be bothering her. As I stroked her hair she glanced around and saw our elf sitting on a shelf (yeah I know, so original) and her voice lifted just a bit to say, “I found Charlie” an almost undetectable smile slightly pulling up the corners of her mouth. “You want to go take a look?” I asked, hoping that Charlie would, as he often does, help bring a little sparkle back. “No,” she replied, “I can see him from here.”

Ouch.

It’s been one of the best holiday seasons I can remember. Most years, as the calendar flips to December and then time, predictably, begins to switch into warp speed mode, I vow that next year, next year I’ll really get a handle on this and I’ll plan ahead and I won’t stare longingly at the perfect gift that will never be engraved and delivered in time because I’ll have clicked and shipped back when anything was possible. And then the next year arrives and I’m once again behind, feeling the pressure to rush and do all the things and make all the things. But this year, I really did it. I got it together and I planned and I filled our advent calendar with little activities to do almost everyday and thanks to that, we made a gingerbread house as a family for the first time. We’ve had hot cocoa and baked cookies and gone to see holiday lights. And I haven’t felt rushed or as overwhelmed as I usually feel and it’s been the kind of magical I always hope it will be. (I have, however, stared longingly at the perfect gift lamenting that it will never be engraved and delivered in time which, at this point, seems to be a keystone holiday tradition for me).

There’s been a certain peace this year, for me at least, in our holiday season. When 2014 dawned, I chose ‘calm’ as my word for the year and I’ve accomplished it to varying degrees of success. But now, when I’d least expect to feel anything close to calm, here it is. I’m counting that as success.

Thanks to that calm, I’ve been able to enjoy this time with its magic that won’t last forever. I’ve been able to take the unique sparkle in her eyes and fold it into my heart, there to be called up years from now when I’m longing for today. On Saturday when I hit a low point in my holiday spirit, she begged to listen to Christmas songs on our way to go ice skating and thanks to that calm I was able to breathe and say yes and be swept away on jingle bells. And this morning, when we lifted her spirits by slipping a perfectly fancy, perfectly pouffy, perfectly festive dress over her head before she went off to school, I was able to think back to my own childhood and my own festive dresses and remember that this is it for her. These are the moments she’ll look back on someday as she creates magic for her own little girl. Thanks to that calm, I’ve been able to remember that what I do today matters so much for her.

Next week brings it’s own different buzz of excitement. Holiday break will start, we’ll party at the North Pole, and then we’ll be almost there. Our advent calendar almost completely transformed into a winter scene, gifts beginning to accumulate under the tree. The mood always shifts when you can count the number of remaining days on one hand. Christmas Eve will arrive and I’ll hum the Christmas song to myself as I wait the requisite hour or more for her to fall asleep. Little tots with their eyes all aglow… I have no doubt she’ll rally and Christmas morning will find her bounding down the steps once more, barely sparing a moment to blow a kiss to me on her way.

Until then, we’ll do what we all want to do this time of year. Take it easy and relax and be together. And search for that elf from the comfort of the couch.

December 16, 2014
by Tricia
1 Comment

Diyas, Dreidels, and Baby Jesus

She fell in love with Baby Jesus around this time last year.

nativity

We hadn’t talked about him much. But stumbling upon him is inevitable this time of year. She’d picked up a book about the nativity during a rainy afternoon at the bookstore. The book had a button you could press to hear a tiny version of Silent Night that sounded like it had been played on a tin can and, at first, this was the draw. She and her brother took turns pressing it for the instant gratification. But then she curled up next to me on the small bookstore bench and peppered me with questions. So I told her about Baby Jesus. His modest Christmas birth. His Mother, Mary. And then I stopped, having stumbled enough and not wanting to ruin the story.

It’s not that I don’t know this story. I know it by heart. I once fell in love with Baby Jesus too. I sought out nativity scenes and gazed upon them. Read all I could about the story and wrapped myself in the mystery of it all. I daydreamed about what it must have been like. To be young and alone and visited by angels. To carry such an important and special little baby and give birth in a stable. As Christmas Eve dawned each year, I spent more time wondering about a miracle birth than I did dreaming of reindeer landing on my roof.

And I’ve felt something about not introducing this to her sooner. It’s the one element of my childhood holidays that I haven’t fit into our Decembers. It’s not guilt. It’s not even so much the idea that something is missing. This is her sixth Christmas and it’s been nearly three times that long since Baby Jesus took the stage for me. His absence isn’t particularly noticeable. At least, not during the hustle and bustle and busy of this month. But during the morsels of quiet time that sneak into the crevices, I wonder. I wonder things like why? Why haven’t I shared this with her? And how? How do I introduce her to the story and the mystery? And what will it mean to her?

holiday hair

The first question is easy to answer. Why? Because I’m shaky here. Not in my faith, necessarily, though I’m not rock solid there either. But I’m shaky in how I want to raise them when it comes to questions of faith and religion and belief. It’s not so clear here, where cultures blend. Our Divali lights and Christmas candles are one and the same. Our children’s Bible rests against the Ramayana on her bookshelf. We pray to God at night but haven’t fully fleshed out His character or discussed how He is different from Ganesh and Lakshmi and, now, Baby Jesus. For her, religion is more mosaic of characters and story lines than it is a set of tenets or beliefs. And, so far, that is all well and good. She believes and not just in magic elves, she believes in gods and goddesses and babies born in stables. And she doesn’t question. She’s not at the place yet where she will try to resolve these disparate pieces. So we’ve been living in a world where God is everywhere and Ganesh rests above our door (and Buddha sits outside it). We pray and we give thanks and we work hard, all of us, to grow better at compassion and kindness and love.

As it turns out, answering the ‘how’ is pretty easy too. Encouraged by her questions, this year we set up a nativity in our home for the first time. I bought a book of advent stories and we read one each morning. Next week, we’ll take a hiatus from the excitement and anticipation and mind-numbing countdown of hours and we’ll go to Mass on Christmas Eve. As it turns out, I worry about the ‘how’ far more often than I should because the truth is, she’ll always show me how.

There are gaps and someday, she will need more. He will too. We’ll have to give them more or help them find it on their own. But as I’ve watched her this year, making diyas and asking me for a dreidel and gazing up at our nativity, I’ve begun to feel better about it all. In fact, I’ve started to love this wild faith we’re creating. Don’t tell ten-year-old me, who knew only Sunday mornings bowing to Jesus on a cross, but I love weaving the vibrant fabric of dozens of deities into the cloth of my own faith. I think it’s coming along quite nicely.

As for the what—what will it mean to her—well, this year I’ve come to remember that that one is up to her.

December 10, 2014
by Tricia
3 Comments

This House Needs a Mouse (a book review. my house does not need a mouse)

We heard it during a pause in our conversation. A pause that grew as we waited to hear it again.

“What was that?” he asked.

“I heard it too. It’s probably just the heat.” I replied. I’m a firm believer that something cannot be true unless you say it out loud. So, whatever you do, don’t say the thing you don’t want to be true. Just pretend it’s the heat. We’re all a lot happier that way.

“It sounded like a mouse.” He does this to me every time.

From there we alternated being silent, to hear more of the squeaking, and talking about where we heard it. I curled my feet up under me and pulled the edges of my blanket up off of the floor. By the time we went to bed, we had concluded that the squeaker likely wasn’t in the house but might be in the crawlspace below or, worse, in the walls.

It was difficult to sleep that night.

This is the story of a house that does not need a mouse. A house that has more than enough going on as it is. A house that, with it’s four humans, two frequently hungry cats, and one starving fish (not to mention a half dozen wilting plants), doesn’t have space for one more living thing.

My kids, on the other hand, are currently fascinated by a story about a house that does need a mouse. Appropriately titled: This House Needs A Mouse by C. Jeffery Nunnally

House-Mouse-book-cover

This House Needs a Mouse is the story of one house and three families. The tale begins when the mother of the first family seeks a mouse to solve the problem of her crumb-covered floors. They find the perfect mouse, an extraordinary one, who performs his job with pride. But when the family has to move, the mouse is left behind and a whole new adventure begins.

I’ve been known to enjoy reading a book to my kids over and over and over again if that book is fun to read. I get just as lost as my kids do in the rhythm and lyric of rhyming, repetition, and alliteration that the best kids’ books seemed to get right. And this book gets it right. Of course, the playfulness is not just for fun. The writing introduces young readers (and writers!) to language, vocabulary, and writing craft.

In addition to fun to read, I also look for books with a smile at the end. If you’ve read enough kids’ books, you know what I’m talking about. The smile you couldn’t stop if you tried that stretches across your face after you read a really good children’s book. The smile you feel happening as you reach the last page and you know the ending is going to be oh so sweet and perfect, just the way you wish all good books ended. I won’t spoil it for you here but this book has a big ‘ol smile at the end.

Both kids loved the book. My son conveyed how much he loved it by actually sitting still through the entire reading. My daughter share that she liked how the family knew the mouse was the crumb-hunting kind when they first picked him out and I sorta love how she was drawn to that part — the part where the mother sees the mouse’s true potential and helps him fulfill his dream. (Yes, perhaps a bit dramatic, but I’m stickin with it).

As for our house? We called an exterminator who came and thoroughly examined our home for a mouse with the goal of removing him, be he the crumb-hunting kind or not (and lord knows we have crumbs). The day before he arrived we heard the squeaking noise again and, this time, managed to identify its source. It was the cat.

catnap

This House Needs a Mouse is available now on the book’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Big Tent Books.

~~~~~

I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own (about both the book and the idea of a mouse in my house).

December 8, 2014
by Tricia
6 Comments

She still believes

Yes, she still believes.

treetrimming

She really, really believes. Without a doubt. She’s waking up an hour early these days. Borrowing against her dreams to start the day early. To find the elf. To open the advent calendar. To continue the celebration. She is all holiday, all festivity, all the time. She’s been on an emotional, tinsel-fueled high for more than a week.

And this surprises me.

You, sitting there, a bit farther up the road, you are smiling and shaking your head at me. “Oh mama,” you say, “Of course she still believes. She is five. She’s just a baby! You still have time.”

And maybe you’re right. Maybe we have time.

sharing sprinkles

But I feel like we’ve been riding the roller coaster up since her first months of life. Up, up, up, building to this peak of holiday magic and spirit. First were the years when she didn’t understand but we went through all of the motions anyway, celebrating every little piece, because that is what you do when you haven’t really had to parent yet. You fill the crevices with tradition and sentimentality. Someday, you believe, you’ll want to tell her that you’ve been doing things this way since her very first Christmas.

Then were the years when she started to get it. By the time the day arrived, she understood what was happening. But it was all so ephemeral. Her understanding lasted only a season. By the following year, we’d start all over again.

Then came last year. The year when she remembered. She remembered the ornaments and the way the advent calendar counts us down to the day. She remembered decorating and buying gifts and her eyes truly began to sparkle with the awe of it all. We locked in some traditions last year, because now she carries them along with us. The holidays her own making as much as they are what we try to make for her.

adventcalendar

Last year, I felt sure we were safe. Four is young. Four is barely beyond toddlerhood.You can still see the babyfat on four if you look hard enough (and I did). Four is small enough to be lifted up by the magic but big enough to create a little too. I felt safe with four.

But five? Well I wasn’t so sure. I wondered, as I hung our elf in his normal opening night spot last Sunday night. Would this be the year? Surely it couldn’t be. Surely I’ll know when we’re on the cusp. Surely I’ll see it coming down the road carried on the backs of questions about how? And when? And really? But she surprises me all the time and so, as I place the elf, I wondered.

That same night, emails swirled among the group of us and one mother shared the woes of her seven-year-old’s questions. Still a believer but asking questions. Such a shaky place, a place I’m not at all ready for. I don’t have my answers yet. The ones that will be honest and forthcoming but still leave a little mystery. The ones that will encourage her to, just this once, abandon her love of reason and logic and just believe… Or not.

We’ve been riding the roller coaster up. And I don’t want to miss the peak. I don’t want to only know it by looking back. Remember that year? That was it. The peak of her belief. The peak of the magic. The last year when they both believed without question or doubt, both so in it that you couldn’t help getting lost in the sparkles in their eyes.

cookies and sprinkles

That’s the part of all of this that I just haven’t quite grasped yet. How do you do it? How do you let thoughts of the future and all that you’ll miss keep you firmly planted in today without mourning today before it’s gone? How do you recognize the inevitability of the end only to the point where it’s useful? How do you just enjoy today for what it is, still magical, still steeped in belief in elves and fairies and magical flying reindeer, and ignore that we’re probably at or near the peak now and will soon begin the swift coast down?

This is on my mind a lot these days. Because oh she’s in it. And I’m loving it. I’m loving this place where I live with two little people who say good morning and goodnight to a doll made of felt and plastic as if he were real. I’m loving the moments when I overhear them as they play, calling Santa and talking about reindeer. I’m loving making gingerbread houses (even if they fall apart) and wrapping gifts together (even if the names get misspelled) and preparing for a magical evening of friends and hot cocoa and reindeer food cocktails. I’m loving it and I don’t want it to end.

But maybe you’re right. Maybe we have time. After all, she is five and, right now, she still believes.

elf

December 3, 2014
by Tricia
6 Comments

Memory-creatin

The truth?

Our Thanksgiving was ok.

kids decorating tree

Yes, that’s it. Just ok.

We had our roast beef and everyone ate. We had a lovely meal and, as planned, we didn’t spend time urging bites. Eating together was, as predicted, quite lovely. We had lovely pre-dinner moments, curled up on the couch watching the parade. Baking with my girl in the quiet moments of the afternoon and witnessing the her excitement as we unwrapped ornaments to hang on our tree. “Look at this one! And this one! And this!” She remembers, now, how each ornament has some significance. Many of them come from far away places that we’ve visited. Many arrived before she did. Some new ones were gifts, added to our collection by relatives who love, as I do, the sweetness of gifting ornaments each year. She remembers some of the stories. She dives into the box just as I used to, delighted to rediscover memories and turn delicate figures over in her hands.

girl decorating tree

But the rest of the day? There were tantrums. And there was whining. There were tempers flaring and adults tossing up hands, feeling pushed to the limits of patience and calm. There were siblings arguing and children demanding time. There was even, I’m embarrassed to admit, an early morning trip to the store because our tree lights were half burnt out. There was the realization that the holiday I had planned in my head, relaxing and memorable and sweet, wasn’t exactly coming true. We didn’t list things we were thankful for. We gave it a cursory chat over dinner. We decorated the tree but at least one time-out (and a whole lot of yelling and screaming) happened concurrently and when all was said and done, M looked at me and said something to the affect of: “Well that’s a lovely tradition.” with quite a bit of sarcasm and all I could do was sigh and nod in agreement.

Typically this is where I’d talk about two. He was feeling particularly two that day. The tantrums and the screaming. A peak in development clashes with yet another holiday. Of course, if I were to really believe that then I’d have to start questioning why development peaks so often clash with holidays. This isn’t the first time in my young children’s lives that a holiday has not risen to the standards I dreamed it would but, instead, has devolved into exploding emotions and frayed nerves.

boy decorating tree

There’s danger in the build up. Not for them, so much, as for me.

I build it up. I design it all in my head. What we’ll do, yes, but more what we’ll feel. How it will be. How it will look. I ignore the trappings of reality, the reality that while she is five and capable and ready for all my memory-creatin heart has to offer, he is still two. He thinks he is ready but then he yanks an ornament out of her hands and hurls it at the ground and suddenly we’re dividing and conquering to dry tears and shuttle him to a time-out and trying to salvage what’s left of the morning and the memory I had pre-packaged in my head. In the end every ornament has made it on the tree and I didn’t see half of them get there and they are all not so coincidentally grouped on the lower third of the branches.

I wanted to just be with them. That’s all I really wanted from the day. But I got caught up in the things I wanted to do with them. And that, with small children anyway, is always where it all falls apart.

The truth?

The rest of our weekend was lovely.

Yes, so lovely. Kids played in pajamas well into the afternoon. I read more than I have in such a long time. We watched holiday movies and danced to Christmas music all weekend long. We spent Black Friday morning at the museum and rung in the season with an early Nutcracker viewing. We enjoyed a healthy three-day weekend of afternoon tea time, where M makes himself some chai and little hands take turns dipping tea biscuits into it. Memory-creatin without the pressure. Just being. Not so much worried about the doing.

And now, here we are, the holiday season in full swing. And I’m no longer pre-packaging the memories. I’m just making them.

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