Monday, December 31, 2012

A Jinxless Christmas

Sometimes I feel like there is a curse hanging over my home-- one that only showers atrocities during holidays or otherwise happy family gatherings.  There was our first Christmas in our current house when Joel's entire family visited and, one by one, came down with an illness so aggressive that even presents were unappealing.  There was the Mother's Day I spent in bed and the Halloween last year when a dishwasher flood crippled my kitchen and soaked my basement in musty water.  I won't soon forget last year's Christmas Eve gas leak or the many, many, Thanksgivings that were missed due to stomach flu.

We simply seem to be jinxed when it comes to holidays.

This was the thought that kept me up all night on Christmas Eve.  (Well, that and the fear that I might have boxed up the cat while wrapping a few last minute gifts, but around 3am I heard a loud crash and knew everything was normal.)  I tied up all of the loose ends I could conceive of; I washed the dishes in advance of the official "Eat Until You Can't Fit Into Your New Christmas Pajamas" brunch, I cleared the pictures of Graham naked under the tree my children at church from the camera, and I prepared the house for Joel's Dad and brother Seth who would be arriving the day after Christmas.   

I was ready, and nothing would go wrong this year.

When the boys emerged from their room in the morning, I would have sworn they switched bodies.  Graham was jumping up and down, anxious to open presents and totally sure he'd seen Santa meandering about in the backyard with the abandoned baseball bats and snow-covered dog poop.  Cael, in a strange twist, was in no hurry to get to his presents and generously offered for Joel and I to catch a few more holiday winks while he watched an episode of Curious George.  The presents could wait.

But because of my yuletide anxiety, I'd been up since 5:45am and knew I wasn't likely to get any more rest while Graham jabbered on about the neatly wrapped boxes under the tree.  So we dug into our stockings and gifts, the boys delighting in army men, superheroes, books and stuffed animals.  And movies.  And airplanes.  And cars.  And enough other things to make brunch run late and confirm that I overdid it this year.

 But even late, there had been no disasters.  So far, so good. 

As we all gathered 'round the table filled with delicious and not burned, undercooked or otherwise poisonous food, I breathed a sigh of relief.  After Thanksgiving went off without a hitch, I was certain my family was due for a double-dose of seasonal disasters, so I was constantly on the lookout for potential catastrophes.  But with wrapping paper everywhere and bellies full of french toast and pancetta strata, we called Christmas a success.

So for Christmas evening, we reveled in the love of God and the warmth of our family, for which I'm very grateful.  Because the morning of the 26th, Oscar reveled in chocolate coin-induced diarrhea while Cael and Graham reveled in stomach flu.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Pray that the new year won't kill us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ism of the Week - Christmas Edition

"Mommy, Santa must really love me because he brought me so much cool stuff, like my Iron Man and Captain America."

"Hey, that Captain America was from Mommy and Daddy, not Santa.  Although I'm sure Santa really does love you.  How could he not?"

"He does.  And Papa must really love you because he got you that bench, and it's so pretty and nice to sit on."

"I think he does, too.  That was really nice of him."

"And I guess I must love you and Daddy the most of all!"

"Really?  How do you figure that?"

"I must love you the most, most, mostest because I gave you the best thing ever.  Remember, my ornament?  And your candle!  See, Santa just gave me presents and Papa just gave you a bench, but I gave you art."

"Merry Christmas, Cael.  Thank you."

"Merry Christmas, Mommy."

I hope your holiday was full of love and laughter, food and family, and if you're really lucky, a broken red tapered candle and an ornament made of toilet paper tubes. 

My cup runneth over.  Merry Christmas!

(Joel's family is visiting this week, so I will be taking a few days off to relax and catch up.  But check back Monday as we start a new week and I start dreading the end of vacation.)

Merry Christmas!

Although it's been said many times, many ways...

...Merry Christmas to you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ism of the Week

Yesterday's mega-blizzard has come and gone, leaving us with a healthy helping of fluffy white snow and questionable internet service.  But being the native Iowans that we are (well, except Joel, but he's assimilated pretty well) we weren't about to let a little snow and a little wind keep us from living our lives.  So last night, as we piled into the car to traverse the slippery streets to eat dinner at my sister's house, Cael and Graham stared in awe at the white-out conditions and barely visible twinkling Christmas lights.

"Mommy, wouldn't it be cool if the snowflakes were yellow instead of white?  That would be so much prettier."

"No, Cael!  They should be purple!"

"Okay, now, boys.  We need it to be quiet so that Daddy can concentrate on driving.  Plus, Cael, I think the fresh white snow is perfect when it's white."

"Or it could be green!  Or orange!"

"That would look silly falling from the sky."

"You know what would look really crazy?  Blue snow!"

"That would be silly.  But it would be better than orange snow."

"No, blue is the craziest.  That would almost look like water falling from the sky.  But colder!  Like frozen water falling from the sky.  Haha!"

I guess fact really is "crazier" than fiction. 

Stay warm, everyone, and have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Twelve Lies of Christmas

There's always a great deal of debate about the true meaning of Christmas.  Some cite the birth of Christ, while others feel that the holiday is all about the spirit of giving.  But for those of us with small children, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christmas is about lying through your teeth.

When did Christmas get so complicated?  Just last night I pulled out all of the Christmas gifts to organize and wrap but spent nearly ten minutes locating the items that I have strategically stashed around the house in closets, cabinets and under furniture.

"No, Cael, there aren't any presents here.  Santa will bring your gifts on Christmas Eve." 

Lie #1. 

Once Cael was tucked into bed, I compiled all of the presents and started wrapping.  But when I was only three presents in, I could hear the telltale shuffle of feet that were supposed to be in bed but were using a potty break as an excuse to see what I was doing.  I tossed the exposed gifts under a blanket and tried to intercept the hooligan at the top of the stairs.

"What do you need, Cael?"

"I need to go potty."

"Can't you use the bathroom downstairs?"

"I don't want to.  Are those presents for me, Mommy?"

"Um, uh, no.  Those are for Daddy and Ethan and Keaton."  Lie #2.  "I ordered that wrapping paper from Santa's website because I liked it so much, so don't be surprised if you see it on presents from Santa AND presents from Mommy and Daddy."  Lie #3. 

"Santa has a website?  I want to see it!"

 "Oh, I'm sorry.  It's not working right now.  Too many people tried to look at it so close to Christmas and the server went down."  Lie #4.  "You need to go downstairs and get back in bed."

"Okay.  But did you talk to Santa about my Captain America stuff like you said you would?"

"Definitely.  He said he'll think about it."  Lie #5.

I feel like the web of betrayal gets wider each year as I have to cover my tracks to preserve the magic of the season because my son is overly nosy and selectively attentive.  Maybe one of Mommy's Santa's wrapped gifts should contain a forensic crime scene test kit.  I'm sure there are some cold cases around here that the police force would like to have cleared up.

Unfortunately, this lying isn't limited to my sons.  Currently, my husband and I are performing a finely choreographed dance in which we both say we're not purchasing gifts in lieu of a night away from the kids, when in reality we both know our stockings contain items above and beyond regular stocking fare.

 "No, I'm only putting in chocolate and little stuff."  Lie #6.  "What about you, Joel?"

"We're just doing regular stockings.  Remember?"  Lie #7.  (I know it wasn't mine, but we share everything else, so I'm gonna let it slide.)

In fact, it seems that whenever we try to cap spending at Christmas or resolve to have a more modest holiday, we find ourselves searching for deals and end up with an even more extravagant and explosive Christmas than in limitless years. 

"I know.  No more gifts.  I'll rein it in."  Lie #8.

I couldn't help it.  Brand new Buzz Lightyear wings at a second hand store?  $7.99?!?  We simply couldn't have Christmas without those wings.  Lie #9.

And therein lies the rub-- as much as I lie to my children, my family and even my friends ("Yep, I LOVED your Christmas card.  And your grammar was perfect!  Lie #10), I don't lie to anyone as much as I lie to myself. 

"I want another piece of peppermint bark.  Or two.  It would probably be better if I just ate it all up so that it's out of the house.  That's a wise decision."  Lie #11.  "And I won't gain any weight, because I'll eat healthy for the rest of the week and work out everyday."  Lie #12.

So if you're like me, and I secretly hope you are so that I'm not the only one on the naughty list this year, lets take a breath and let it go.  All of the lying and deceit is perpetrated in the name of making this time special for our children, our loved ones and even ourselves, and we shouldn't waste this important time raking ourselves over the proverbial coals for eating another piece of peppermint bark. 

Because, lets face it-- we're going to anyway.  And that's the truth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Sentiments

I got a bit of a late start on my Christmas cards this year.  In fact, I'm still waiting for them to ship to me, and since Shutterfly chose not to use Fedex, I think I can expect to receive them within a week or two after Valentine's Day.

I might not be so frustrated about the timeline if the entire process hadn't started off on the wrong foot, as it almost always does.  It shouldn't have, either, because I thought everything through.  I picked a sunny (but not too sunny) spot in my foyer, hung a sheet to use as a makeshift backdrop, and bribed the kids with everything from candy to new movies before finally settling on a glass of highly-coveted eggnog.

I should have allowed them five minutes to beat each other senseless.  You'd be calling me Anne Geddes by now.

With thoughts of their sweet treat in mind, they actually performed pretty well.  But in almost every photo, something was off-- either the light was too light, or someone wasn't very clear, and before I knew it, I had torn down the white sheet that made them look too washed out and traded it in for a navy duvet cover that wasn't quite as wrinkly.

Surely this would be the answer.

But despite their smiles and unusually sunny disposition (maybe I should be fearful of 12/21/2012), the photos just weren't great.  What would I use for a Christmas card?  I thought back to last year and remembered my diligent effort to create something magical out of nearly nothing, so I opened Adobe and got to work.


Maybe that was too negative, though.  Plus, who uses tinsel anymore?  I pulled one of the photos that featured Oscar, thinking that perhaps he might put a fresh spin on my tired ideas.

PhotobucketPerhaps not.  I think I my cards had officially "jumped the shark" at that point, and nothing, save for a photo of them literally jumping over a shark, could rejuvinate my efforts.  But I had those other photos with the blue backdrop, right?  The lighting was so much better in those shots that they were bound to create a truly magical moment.

PhotobucketI think I need to make a resolution to take some actual photography classes, or at the very least invest in some window coverings for my basement.  Although such a purchase would probably be in vain because vertical blinds would make an appealing weapon for a five and three year old during an eggnog-fueled brawl.

Feeling somewhat defeated, I pulled out a photo that was clear, not obscenely bright, lacking a lazy-eyed dog, and decided that this might just be as good as it gets for 2012.  After all, for a year with hospitalizations, runaway motorhomes and questionable behavior, sometimes a mom needs to take what she can get.

PhotobucketAfter giving serious thought, downing my own glass of eggnog and perusing the photos one more time, one picture caught my eye.  Seeing their smiles reminded me that Christmas is not about the perfect photo, or wrinkle-free backdrops or even glasses of eggnog (although that one is pretty important).  Christmas is about God's love, about giving and about promise.

Yeah, like that.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Speaking in Code

"Hey Joel, do you know where the paper for concealing purchased items might be?"

"No, I don't know.  It isn't with the purchased items in the lowest level of the house?"

"I need to find that.  I have a lot of concealing to do.  I have purchased items disguised all over the place."

"Are we all done gathering purchased items?"

"I think so.  We might need a few more things to put in the dangling footwear, though."

"How much more?"

"Just a few smaller things.  We have a lot of purchased items but I just forgot to acquire more for the dangling footwear."

"What are you guys talking about?  Shoes?"

"Sure.  Shoes, Cael."

"We're not putting many confectionary items in the dangling footwear, right?  I don't think they need any more."

"No, I think we should stick to small trinkets or papers with words."

"Seriously, what are you talking about?"

"Still shoes, Cael."

"We also have to remember to leave out some round, baked edible items for the jolly elderly man who will be visiting.  And we can't forget the long orange vegetables for his traveling companions."

"Ugh, Mom.  I know you're talking about Santa.  And carrots.  And shoes."

"You're too smart for me, Cael.  We can't trick you!"

"No you can't.  And I know about the thing in the house in that place.  And I know where it is and what that thing does.  I put that stuff in that spot, too.  But you'll never find it because I hid it in that room. "

"Wow, you are really tricky."

"Yep, I am.  I am very tricky when I talk about shoes."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts and Prayers

Instead of the pithy story I'd planned to share about my failed attempts at speaking in code around my children, whose ears are finely tuned to hushed tones, I simply want to say that my heart is breaking for the families of the children who were lost in the latest school shooting.

Since we won't ever know "why", nor would any explanation provide justification for something so horrific, the best thing we can do is to hug our own children and find comfort in their warm hugs, sticky smiles and even in their mistakes.  As someone who has devoted my own corner of the internet to documenting the bumps in the road of parenting, I know that even the greatest trials my boys present are blessings that I would give my own life to protect. 

Give an extra hug to your kids tonight-- even if they squirm away. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Parental Learning Curve

They say there's a learning curve to everything, right?  For example, you wouldn't expect a teenager to jump in a car without driver's education and arrive safely at their destination.  You wouldn't expect a pre-med student to perform brain surgery on their first day of classes.  You wouldn't even expect your five year-old son to master the remote control without nearly ordering questionable pay-per-view films.

So why, as parents, do we expect to hands our kids over at age eighteen without having made a single mistake?  It's just not possible, and we shouldn't beat ourselves up.  But I probably didn't have to make the kid cry, either.

If you and I are friends on Facebook, perhaps you saw my status yesterday regarding Cael's unusual school attire.  (And if we're not Facebook friends, what did I do to you?)  But in case you missed it, here's what happened.

Yesterday began as any other day, my son waking me up at 2am, wondering why 1-4 is pronounced "fourteen" and 1-3 is not "threeteen".  After he was coerced into returning to sleep, we began the day at eleventeen minutes after 7am, when I pulled out some clean clothes for Cael and Graham to wear.  I stayed long enough to see that Cael had his clean jeans and underpants on, and figured that he could take care of the rest while I started breakfast.  Our morning was normal, albeit chaotic, and when I dropped Cael off at school, I had no idea that things would take a really bizarre turn.

Well, several weird turns.  But I'm not writing today about finding the cat asleep in the training potty or Graham's realization that the two white buttons on Mickey Mouse's pants are, in fact, buttons and not "really big nipples" as he had previously thought.

It wasn't until Cael had returned home from school and we all sat around the table for lunch that I noticed him repeatedly adjusting his pants and sitting in a contorted position on his chair. 

"What's wrong with your pants, Cael?"

"Nothing.  I just have a scratchy itch."

"Do you need to go potty?"

"Nope, I just need to scratch."

And with that, he dropped his pants to reveal his round cheeks, sans underpants.  Before I let myself question that decision, I could see that the source of the itch was the inside of his pocket, which had rubbed uncomfortably on his bare bottom all morning and left a red spot brighter than Rudolph's nose.  (See, now this is a Christmas story, too!)

After he retrieved some underpants to act as a barrier between his sensitive skin and his insensitive (and insensitively priced!) Gymboree jeans, I simply had to question his motives.

"Cael, were you at school all morning without underpants?"

"Yeah... but it's okay because my nutters stayed warm in my pants."

"That's not the only reason to wear underpants, honey.  You need to wear them everyday, no matter what."

"But you said my cheekers were cute!"

"They are cute, but you still need to wear underpants.  Wait-- you didn't show the other kids your cheekers, did you?"

"No, we were very busy today."

"That's a relief.  Now you need to promise me that you won't show them your private parts, okay?"

"But Mommy--"

"No, I want you to promise me."

"Ugh.  Okay."

Thinking that the issue was settled, I did what any modern mother would do.  I put it on Facebook.  I thought it was funny.  I mean, it is funny, right?  Obviously other people found it funny because before I knew it, I was fielding texts and repeating the story on the phone with a few friends, all the while not noticing how Cael's face was growing redder by the minute.

And this time, I was the culprit, not a scratchy itch.

Without realizing it, I had embarrassed him badly enough that he erupted in a Vesuvious-like fashion and shouted at me to stop.  Honestly, I hadn't considered that his nerves of steel would be penetrated by my teasing, but they had and I felt terrible.  This wasn't like a scraped knee or a paper cut-- this was a bruised ego, and Mommy did the bruising.

I tried to snuggle him extra for the rest of the night, and to make sure he took his mind off of the Bare Bottom Debacle of 2012, but he made sure I would remember.

"Mommy, why did you tell everyone about me not wearing underpants?"

"I'm sorry, honey, I should have asked you.  I just thought it was a funny store and I didn't think it would hurt your feelings."

"No, Mommy, I mean why did you tell them about me not wearing underpants, but you didn't tell them that I have cute cheekers?"

"Oh, Cael..."

Correction:  Cael did not wear underpants to school yesterday, but it's okay because he has really cute cheekers. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ism of the Week

"Mommy, how come Santa doesn't bring you presents?"

"Well, Santa just does those special things for kids.  I guess he decided that grown-ups could get gifts for themselves."

"That's not very nice.  In my school we're not 'sposed to give something to just one boy and not give something to all of the other boys."

"What about the girls?"

"I don't give anything to girls.  Santa can take care of that."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Move Over, Marvel

"Hey Mommy, I drawed you some pictures!"


"See, this is a bad guy and there's a good guy shooting him with this tank because tanks are worser than punching."


"And then I drew Mr. Incredible when he was still fat, so he has big muscles but they're not as big as his huge belly because he's been eating a lot of Christmas candy.  Like you, Mommy!"


"And here is Captain America!!  He's really strong because he was frozen but now he's not frozen and he doesn't know people any more because they were here before he was frozen but then they weren't here after he got not frozen.  He's cool because he was frozen.  And he has an 'A' on his hat!"


"These two guys are fighting because they just like to fight.  They weren't frozen, they're just fighting guys.  This guy has a sword but this one has glasses so that he can see better.  The guy with no glasses can't see good, so he's not hurting the other guy.  Because he can't see, Mommy.  Isn't that funny?"


"This is Violet from the Incredibles.  She has dark hair and I put her in her force field.  I just think it's cool that she can make a force field.  But what if she farts in the force field and it's really stinky and she can't breathe?  Maybe it's not very cool that she makes a force field."


"Oh!  Oh!  I almost forgot that I drew Hawkeye!    He is really good with his bow and arrow, like Daddy.  Except Daddy only got one deer and if Hawkeye was hunting I bet he would get fifty-sixty deers!"


"Iron Man is over here.  He's still my favorite because he has a really cool suit and he's a normal guy inside but he has this funny shiny thing on his stomach.  I thought it was a necklace but now I think it's not a necklace.  Maybe it's a sticker.  Or a reflicktor like on my bike!"


"But the BEST one is the Hulk!  I like him because he gets so big and green and he can smash things and break walls and stuff.  So I drawed you a Hulk."


"And here are the Hulk's nipples, Mommy!"

"Wow, Cael.  Those are some impressive pictures.  And I think I know what your super power is!"


"Drawing superheroes.  I think you're superhuman at drawing these guys."

"Yeah, that's true, I am.  But what is your super power, Mommy?"


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Have Yourself a Blasé Little Christmas

Somehow, against all odds, we made through five years of parenting and Christmases without ever meeting Santa Claus.  He was around, of course, but when Cael was brand new I wasn't keen on the idea of photographing the traditional terror-filled Christmas cry, and as the years went by we had always come up with alternative Christmas activities to get in the spirit.

But this year, with both boys a bit older and really invested in the magic of Santa, I thought it was time.  The coincidental arrival of Kris Kringle in Mt. Vernon was just a bonus.  So last Saturday, we loaded the kids up and headed over to the bank, where St. Nick was taking requests and encouraging delusions of grandeur that parents would never be able to achieve. 

Honestly, I was really excited.  I dressed them in clothing nicer than their usual play attire, charged all of my camera batteries and loaded up the car.  When we arrived at the bank mere moments later, Joel and I let the cat out of the bag.

"It's time for your surprise!  What do you think it could be?"

At that point, there was excitement.  There was maybe a little bit of apprehension, and there was definitely some syrup stuck to Graham's face.  But Santa is a pretty forgiving guy who clearly has a sweet tooth, so we let it slide.

But as soon as we headed down the steps of the bank and into the hall where Santa was waiting, Cael became a wall.  He showed no signs of emotion or anticipation despite my near-manic ramblings of "oh-my-gosh-it's-Santa-Claus-and-he's-here-like-RIGHT-here-in-the-bank..."  Graham was slightly more enthused, offering to chat with Santa first and when prompted for his Christmas requests, asking Mr. Claus for "Christmas toys, presents, gifts and things." 

So much for specificity.


When he was done, Graham took the candy cane given by Santa's "elves" and stepped aside so that Cael could have his turn.  Given his lackluster reaction, I wasn't sure if I could expect an I-want-to-hang-myself-with-these-dysfunctional-Christmas-lights level meltdown, or if he'd give the jolly old elf the cold-shoulder in typical I'm-avoiding-your-in-laws-and-my-family style. 

The latter was closer.

Cael lumbered up onto Santa's lap, and without asking, made sure to clarify that he would be needing a Captain America toy.  And then he shut down.


"Have you been a good boy this year?"

"Mhmm."  (That's debatable.)

"Are you excited for Christmas?"


"Is there anything else you'd like?"


I'll remember that come Christmas morning.


Cael eventually plopped down, retrieved his candy cane, and turned down the opportunity to decorate his own sugar cookie, choosing a pre-made treat requiring less effort and minimal Christmas spirit.  When we returned to the car, I couldn't help but question Cael about his disinterest in the experience.


"Why weren't you more excited?  Didn't you like Santa?"

"He was nice.  It was fine.  Oh, and Mommy?  I know that he was the real Santa because his beard was real."

"You should have told him that."

"He knows he's real, Mommy."

And I guess that's all that matters.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pain in the Head

Do you ever get headaches?  The unfortunate members of my family are prone to headaches, and not the type you get from yanking your hair out from the root when your son emerges from the bathroom with a tampon hanging from the back of his pants like a tail.

No, the headache I'm talking about feels on the inside the way my boys' bedroom looks on the outside.  Disastrous, disheveled and in a state of emergency.

But as a mom, when you are sick or not feeling well, there are no sick days.  No opportunities to lay down and take a nap while someone else picks up the slack.  In fact, if you have a headache in my house, this is what you get.

"Mommy, what's wrong?"

"I'm okay, honey, I just have a really bad headache and need you to make your voice quiet."

"So you don't want me to yell?  LIKE THIS?  AHHHH!"


"Cael!  That is not nice!  You should use a quiet voice anyway because we're not outside."

"But why does your head hurt?"

"I don't know, it just happens.  Sometimes because of the weather, or what I've eaten."

"I think I'm starting to get a footache."


"Your foot aches?"

"Yes.  A footache.  Oh, OH!  It hurts.  It hurts because I ate a muffin this morning."

"I'm sorry your 'foot hurts', but would you please stop shouting?"

"I can't.  It hurts!  IT HURTS!"

"Wow, if your foot hurts that much, I guess you should go lay down in your bed."

"Oh, well, it's not that bad.  It's still worse than your head, though."

"You think so?  I think maybe I should go lay in MY bed."

"I think you should make my lunch instead."


It seems that, along with the health of his foot and his sense of compassion, my son's respect for women has disappeared.  And while I'm hoping that some ibuprofen will cure my pain, I can't help but wonder if a nice, big dose of Benadryl for Cael would achieve the same result...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Public Service Announcement

This is your Christmas tree.


This is your Christmas tree "on children".


This is also your favorite bra.


Any questions?

This public service announcement is brought to you by the Commission to End Parental Embarrassment.