Merriment Managed

Ah, Christmas! We are at the height of the fun and joyful years with our kids. The Christmas Eve service was excellent. Thane clutched a Christmas card from my aunt and uncle with a scene of the nativity in his hands, periodically lifting it to give “cute baby Jesus” a kiss as he wide-eyed and wiggly watched the tableau of unfold before him, punctuated by familiar carols. After the service, the boys laid out cookies for Santa (soo…. many… cookies!!!!) and put on their brand new Scooby Doo pajamas and soft-footed ascended the stairs. Although Grey had expressed his scientific intention to run some double-blind studies around the existence of Santa, he was out light.

Morning dawned bright, joyful, and not unreasonably early. 7 am is a perfectly fine time for Christmas. A vast ocean of glittering gifts was laid out under the festive fir. And oh joy unbounded! Santa had come! The stockings were resplendent and overflowing. He even put three Hershey’s kisses in the tiny little knit stocking for Puppy. He left a note thanking the boys for their excellent behavior over the course of the year. Then the great unwrapping began.

Thane’s most-played with gifts were an astronaut helmet, a sword and shield and a light saber. He also got a bunch of games, books, some puzzles (which have made a resurgence in popularity) and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember.

Grey got the sword, shield and light saber too. What fun is it to get a sword if you have no one to battle, I ask you? He also got a camera, a DS game, a bunch of board games, books, and crafts.

Adam got an XBox 360 with Kinect, which may require us to do some home renovation in order to get enough room to actually play it. Grey’s really enjoyed it so far. Adam is deep into Arkham City. I’m sure you’re all glad to hear that he’s out there protecting civilization from evil and complaining about how he’s not nearly as good with an XBox controller as with a PC.

I got a book about Peculiar Kids (from Grey), some new pajamas, two new cookbooks, a book on learning German (now slightly less relevant than when I asked for it), and a DROID X phone. Heh. Heh heh. I have joined the digital revolution folks! I’m like the last member of the technorati who doesn’t get email on their phone. I was so ready for this. So now I’m in the long process of configuring, personalizing, etc. I’m PSYCHED.

It was a great Christmas, and everyone was cheerful and no one melted down and it was neither too many nor too few gifties and there was joy and love and coffee and pancakes.

Then we went to church (hey! Did you know that when Christmas falls on a Sunday church is open?! True story!) and the kids sang with us and looked cute and didn’t complain about being there even a little bit.

It was a happy time and will be a happy memory. These are the true richnesses in life. And now I have a week to shovel out the accumulated tasks piling up since I had surgery in September. If I’m far overdue on something for you, watch your inbox.

One sad note amid the cheer, however. On Christmas Eve, I was talking with my mother-in-law about how much we were looking forward to having her here. Half an hour later, my husband tells me that she’s on her way to the ER. She snapped her upper right arm. It’s a clean break – a best case – but a conversation with her orthopedist says she can’t risk her 3 year old grandson until like MARCH. I really like my MIL and her visits are heaven for us, so this is a royal bummer for me, and obviously an even bigger one for her.

One humbug in an otherwise great season.

So… how about you? What great loot did you get? Was it a warm and joyful season? What was the best part?

The Warmth of Winter

Christmas Eve was really lovely. I left work at about 1 (with blessings to go). I picked up my sons. Grey and I wrapped presents and made cookies. Thane bopped around as Thane is wont to do. My husband came home early.

Making cookies for Santa
Making cookies for Santa

But when Thane woke up from his nap, he was shivering. Cheerful. Eating and drinking. But shivering. Curious, I took his temperature. 102.8. WHOA. I proceeded to try to figure out what could possibly be up. Obviously, he couldn’t go to our Christmas Eve service like that. So reluctantly I left my husband behind and took Grey.

Now, when Grey is angry or upset he’ll say, “I don’t want ____” where ____ is his heart’s desire. So for example a regular day will have me saying, “Grey, you need to get into the car right now and stop goofing off.” If he actually HEARS me, which doesn’t happen until about the 80th time, he’ll sometimes get mad and say, “I can never never never play my DS again.” You can almost bet that he’s thinking about his favorite thing: his DS. Well, yesterday he made a small mistake (didn’t listen to an instruction) and when I called him on it, do you know what that child said on Christmas Eve? Not “I’m not going to get any presents!” which was what I expected. No, instead it was, “You’re not going to let me go to church tonight.” On Christmas Eve, the thing my four year old was most excited about was our church service.

It warms the cockles of my heart that my son wanted to go to church so much. And it was really a lovely service. The children *I* remember as the Angel Gabriel back when were home from college and looking terribly grownup and flatteringly happy to see me. The church looked lovely. My friends were there — young and old. And there was the pageant with the angels and the holy family and the gathered crowds. I played my trumpet for the hymns. Grey sang along, loudly and correctly. He sat beautifully for the entire service (abetted by the old school Pokemon cards he’d gotten as a gift). And then afterwards he and one of his cohorts in crime chased each other around the sanctuary while I chatted. He was in no hurry to get home and get with the loot parts of Christmas. It was just beautiful.

An angel's eye view of the manger in Bethleham
An angel's eye view of the manger in Bethleham

Eventually we did get home, and he carefully laid out four cookies for Santa and some milk. We played a game while waiting for him to fall asleep, thinking this would take a while. We were wrong. He was out like a light. And Santa came and gifts appeared and joy filled the house, except for the feverish baby (who is a very cheerful sick kid).
The joy of Christmas morning
The joy of Christmas morning

The boys are still young enough to sleep until their regular time on Christmas morning. But I heard excited exclamations as Grey discovered the scene below. He’s always so satisfied by the end of his stocking I wonder why I ever think I might not have enough for him to open. His interest in opening gifts lasted until the end of our gifts — he still has to open all his grandmother’s tomorrow, but since she flies in tomorrow morning, that seems appropriate.
I caught Grey helping Robby play with Robby's present
I caught Grey helping Robby play with Robby's present

Then we all rotted our brains out on the various digital anesthesias. (Well, except for Mr. Slightly More Clingy Than Usual Thane) Grey got two DS games and two Wii games and the usual parental rules regarding them were suspended. He got an astronaut set (including two space monkies!), real Legos, blocks, a science experiment kit, books, and a glow-sword. And oh did he have fun with it all (right until the sugar-crash-fueled complete meltdown). Thane’s favorite toys were his new bunny Mr. Bun (Grey snitched his snuggly new moose) and the colander and spatula Santa brought for Grey’s stuffed bunny Robby. My husband got a Kindle, which is really, really awesome looking. I got a number of really nice things, including a fantastic apron (really!), a Wii fit from my brother, and a new recipe book. (Ok, maybe I’m easy to please.) But mostly, it was all filled with joy and togetherness.

Grey brought up the idea of sending a thank you note to Santa. I wonder how many kids who write Santa letters also write him thank you notes?

I'm not too sick to play with blocks!
I'm not too sick to play with blocks!

As for Thane, well, he was down to 101.2 tonight. Tylenol seems to help immensely. Was ever there such a bad 4 day patch to get sick? I’m pretty sure it’s a really nasty persistent ear infection. He just stopped a course of antibiotics like 3 days ago. I’m guessing it held off but didn’t cure an infection. I’m also guessing that since this is his fourth infection in as many months, tubes are in his future. This isn’t so bad, though. It doesn’t seem to bother him that much. It’s not infectious (so I don’t have it to “look forward to”). It’s not going to be dangerous even if we have to wait until Monday to treat it. I haven’t decided whether it is terrible timing (sick for Christmas!) or fantastic timing (we were going to be staying home anyway!).
Mr. Bun Gives sick Thane a kiss
Mr. Bun Gives sick Thane a kiss

The grownups have topped off our day further rotting our own cerebellums with more video games. My husband appears to be in a very tense ground battle with the Russians on one of the floating bridges in Seattle. I think that, after a nice 2 year hiatus, I might actually beat Fable. And my mother-in-law flies in tomorrow! Yay!

So how was your Christmas? What was most meaningful in it for you? And, the real question, what loot did you get?

What Santa is packing in his sleigh

Grey's letter to Santa
Grey's letter to Santa

My son is four years old this Christmas. If you are old enough to find your way to this blog, you’re probably old enough to be told the truth. I was four the year I found out that Santa isn’t quite as corporeally real as we pretend. When I was three, many years prior, I had a desk that had gotten left behind when my parents packed us into a station wagon and drove from Atlanta to California by way of Canada. Mom and dad were never too keen on that “Fastest way between two points” stuff. I digress. I yearned for this desk. (Full disclosure: I STILL yearn for that desk in some tiny part of me and am working very hard not to buy Grey a desk-like-object because the four-year-old in me wants that desk.)

Anyway, it was made abundantly clear to Santa (and daddy) that I wanted a desk for Christmas. My sister and I shared a room in our small house with the walnut trees outside. Christmas Eve came, and two very excited young girls gabbled and bounced sleepless in their beds. I had nodded off when my sister woke me up. A sound of thumping was heard through the wall. “He’s here. Let’s sneak a peek.” And so with infinite subtlety, we snuck open the door and poked rumpled blonde heads out to see the Man Himself.

And there was my poor father, nursing a stubbed toe from placing my desk under the tree. We understood immediately. The door was quietly closed, and we retreated to discuss strategy. We agreed on a pact of silence.

I don’t know how old I was when my PARENTS figured out that I had figured out what the game was. It never made it any less fun to play, but I’m glad they didn’t pretend any harder than they did. I would’ve known the lie. Because I wasn’t really looking for inconsistencies, I hope my parents didn’t have to work too hard. (No buying special “Santa” wrapping paper, for example.)

I’m thinking of it this year, of course. Grey wanted to know if he was sitting on the REAL Santa’s lap. I assured him without hesitation that he was. He announced to me the other day that he’s figured out his goal career. He wants to be one of Santa’s Elves and make presents. He’s ok with the uniform constraints, but admits that he might miss me every once in a while. (All humor aside: it was surprisingly well thought out with the data he had. He had considered quite a few consequences and outcomes of this decision!) We are at the very height of Santa-joy: old enough to make cookies, young enough to not consider the physics of Christmas eve flight.

I’m also doing the last minute planning for the presents. I probably need to do a present-review and see if I’m sadly lacking in any category. You know, are there books, crafts, obnoxiously noisy plastic toys, stocking stuffers, and most of the items on his and Robby’s Christmas lists? In future years, I’ll need to make sure I have present-parity between the boys.

One of the things I’m doing for both boys this year is new-to-them toys. Thane will be getting, wrapped up, some of the toys I set aside years ago from Grey’s room. Why not? The only difference between those and a new toy is packaging. Grey will be getting his first real Legos. We have roughly 30 – 40 POUNDS of Legos from my husband’s childhood. Seriously. A huge duffel bag and a big plastic garbage bag FULL of teeny tiny Legos. At current market prices, that quantity of Legos would cost thousands of dollars. (Seriously, have you SEEN Lego prices lately?) I got overwhelmed by them, and just picked out a nice pile for him.

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to give the boys all their presents without packaging. In our culture, packaging marks the difference between “New Presents I Bought For You” and “Presents Of Unknown Provenance”. When my mother-in-law scores a real find for me in thrift stores, she’ll often say, “And it still has the tags!” since that proves that it’s new. When we give gifts we use that packaging as a marker of newness. It actually gets in the way of the gift experience, though. “Wow, a truck! OK, now give mommy 20 minutes with wire clippers and you can play with it!”. It also conditions our kids to think that proper gifts come with original packaging and proper gifts are new.

I don’t want that. If my son was holding out for new Legos, he’d get about 15 of them for $30 bucks. (Seriously, this set has under 300 pieces for $150 bucks and is not that unusual pricing-wise.) By being ok with pre-loved Legos, he’ll get a big bag for, um, free. I would like that to hold true as my sons get older, too.

I think I’ll make it a point for things that are unlikely to be returned (no sizing issues) to remove the packaging before wrapping it. Yes, it means my sons won’t know when the toy they’re getting is new. But hopefully it means that they’ll evaluate their toys on whether or not it’s fun to play with, and not whether anyone’s ever played with it before. In some tiny way, perhaps that will help dial back the commercialism of Christmas.

What do you think? Do you always keep new toys in their new packages? How hard to you work to maintain the Santa mythos? How old were you when you found out? How did you take it?
Grey's letter to Santa

Dear Santa

When I was singing that I wanted a white Christmas, I meant six or seven inches of fluffy white snow that feel after all expected guests had arrived.

Right now it’s so cold here on Boston I’m not willing to go out without good cause — not with the baby. It’s only December 22nd and my parents are warning that they may not be able to make it out of Seattle on Christmas. Worse, I fear they’re right. I want my mommy and daddy!!!! Waaaaaa!!!!!

Also, I’m getting cabin fever. This never ends well.