leads to this…
leads to this…
Let’s face it: My house is stuffed with Stuff.
I am engaged in an ongoing war to rid my house of junk (Halloween rings shaped like bats, useless party bag favors, toy airplanes built so shoddily they broke the first day, T shirts, T shirts, T shirts–what is it with the “we must have a T shirt for every possible occasion” thing?), and yet the truth is, a family of six is just going to have a lot of stuff.
We print on the back side of every piece of school communication or homework that has a blank side. (I’m kind of obsessive about that.) We are extremely selective about what schoolwork gets saved. We consider ourselves not big accumulators of kid paraphernalia. Yet we have So.Much.Stuff.
And about this time of year, I start contemplating crazy things to address it.
Because it’s time to shop for Christmas gifts. My husband’s family has always done Christmas big. Mine, not so much. So every year we engage in a (loving) (respectful) battle of tug of war to determine how much is “too much.”
Plus, we have kid birthdays four weeks on either side of Christmas. Julianna’s, in February, isn’t so bad, but Michael’s, which is this week, is a stumper. I mean, what do you give a two year old who doesn’t even get the whole idea of birthdays, and who has two older brothers? Everything he’s interested in playing with we already have! And guess what? We have two occasions to give gifts for!
Then there’s the small matter of how to do the shopping without ruining the surprise for the recipient. Last year, for instance, I thought Nicholas (3 3/4)was old enough to understand the concept of surprise. I thought it would be special for him to get to help me pick his daddy’s gift. I impressed upon him the need to keep it a surprise for Daddy, and we went to Kohl’s and chose two Jerry Garcia ties. That night when Christian got home, Nicholas met him at the door shouting, “Daddy, guess what? We got you TIES!!!!”
Needless to say, Nicholas is not going with me when I shop for gifts this year. And that adds some serious complication to the shopping process. My choices are: go while he’s in school, which is supposed to be my work time; go after the kids are in bed, which guts what little time I have to spend with my husband; or hire a sitter. How much moolah do I have to dish out on babysitting so that I can go spend even more on gifts?
I’m contemplating crazy, people. Here are the ideas I’ve come up with:
What crazy things have you done (or contemplated) at this time of year?
I had this post written and scheduled several days before yesterday’s drama…so read it anyway and I’ll update you at the end,
Last week’s unexpected news from the doctor has us scrambling to prepare last-minute things. So the Sunday after Thanksgiving we came home from church to a house that needed some serious “nesting.” At 37 weeks, I’m supposed to glory in this process, am I not? Well…I’m not!
First, I discovered that the box that said “Boys, generic clothes 0-6 months,” in fact did NOT have the generic clothes in it. So I had to find the box with the girls’ 0-6 month clothes. Which, not having needed them for 4 years, was in the back bottom of the boys’ closet. “Christian, I need an intervention,” I said. “I need an adult who doesn’t have a baby sticking out the front to get the box out.”
“I’m not sure I qualify,” he said.
Incidentally, would you like to know how many generic outfits we have? Three.
Next I pulled out the “coats”–you know, those big fuzzy sleeper-with-hood-like things. One for a boy, one for a girl. “Christian,” I said, “I’m putting these in the closet. When you come pick me up from the hospital, you HAVE TO BRING THE RIGHT ONE.”
“What does it matter?”
“Um, let’s see. We have a navy blue one with a train on it, and a purple one with a flower on it.”
“I don’t care!”
;lkj;lkj;lkj;lkj;lkj;lkj (our longstanding “chat” sign for drumming fingers). “Um,” I said, “I DO.” Seriously. I scrapbook. Can you imagine coming-home pictures with a boy wearing purple, or a girl wearing a steam engine????
Slowly but surely this week, I’m ticking off the preparations. Hospital bag: packed. Outgrown clothing: put away. Sheets: in the crib, if not made. And now, this:
Notice something missing on Stocking #3 of 6?
Well, I suppose that’s enough about reluctant nesting. Coming home from Champaign, Illinois last Friday night, we explored every Christmas station available in the middle of nowhere. Just as we were coming over the last hills back home, this song came on the radio. I began lambasting it for being really stupid. And then Alex started cracking up in the back seat with every new permutation of “rigging up the lights”: One bulb goes out and they ALL go out! BLINKING? WHY ARE THEY BLINKING???? And I discovered that hangover lyric or no hangover lyric, if it makes my son laugh like he did when he was a toddler, I have to like the song.
One more link–perhaps the most important link I’ve ever shared! If you are in the position of buying gifts (Christmas, birthday, just because) for Other People’s Kids, PLEASE READ THIS!
Okay, and now you can look at my new and early cutie here: http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/2011/12/01/because-we-really-are-incapable-of-having-a-baby-withou-drama/#entry
Time for a nap.
So what does a family that puts such a big focus on Advent do when there’s a four-day hospital disruption in the middle of the season? I decided to share our Advent calendar activities list this year as a guest post for Catholic Mothers Online. I hope it might help others see how to make this daily activity thing work, even in the busiest season.
(Now, whether or not it works…well, I’m sure I’ll be posting on that topic shortly before Christmas!)
I know this will come as no surprise to those who know our tendency to plan, plan, plan, but we have already started Christmas shopping. In fact, we’re well into the process.
And you know what? It is awesome.
See, here’s the thing. Every year, Christmas shopping gets more stressful. We can always come up with a long list of things Alex would like, but Julianna’s desires remain very simple: books and music. But we have hundreds of books, and she’s deliriously happy with the music we already have. And Nicholas? Nicholas loves everything, but thanks to Alex we already have everything: Duplos, trains, superhero action figures…
For the last couple of years, we’ve brainstormed, made lists, and hired a babysitter to go shopping. But let me tell you, those shopping trips are anything but fun. We feel under the gun. Nothing ever seems like enough; we feel compelled to have equal amounts of gifts for each child, but the inequality listed above makes it really tough. I spend the whole buying process feeling anxious and under pressure to get it done before the babysitter bill racks up too much. Not enjoyable at all. This is a perfect illustration of why I wrote a book about reclaiming Advent in the first place.
And it was really expensive. (Disclaimer: if you know us at all, you know we are collectively the cheapest people in the universe. I’m sure many people would roll their eyes at me calling it expensive, but as far as I’m concerned, having to pull money from savings instead of covering out of the budget qualifies as EX.PEN.SIVE.)
Plus, there’s this factor. Last year, the kids loved their toys…for a month or two. But they haven’t touched them for the last four months.
It’s time for a change.
So this year, we’re taking a little different tack:
That’s our plan for this year. But I would love to hear from others. How do you deal with planning Christmas gifts your kids will like without a) stressing out, and b) spending money on things they aren’t going to care about?
My yearly Christmas post…because I can’t say it any better than I did two years ago. May your holy day be just that…holy, and blessed.
What did the sky look like the night Jesus was born? On that cold night, two millenia before humanity washed out the stars, what kind of celestial masterpiece must have been on display? When the shepherds lived and worked and slept beneath the stars, did they ever look up and fall silent, struck dumb by the vast, mysterious realm of beauty and mystery above them? Or was it so familiar that its wonder faded into the worn fabric of life–something that hardly warranted a second glance? When the glory of all the host of heaven rent the sky, what was it that these humble pastors feared–the angels, or the disruption of their humdrum backdrop? And after the angels left, did they ever look at the stars in the same way again?
The light of security and traffic safety has washed out the sky now, such that we’ve lost the habit of looking up. In the dark, we stare at our feet, sharp on the lookout for anything that might trip us. Even when we escape the aura of city night, we forget to raise our eyes to the heavens. And yet it is built into our inmost being–this wonder, this desire to know what makes the lights in the sky burn. It is one of the first shapes we identify in childhood; its effect is mirrored in lanterns strung and walkways lined; in tinsel fluttering and jewelry polished to perfection–even in the humble ceiling beneath which I sit, the pattern of the cosmos catches the light of chandelier and tosses it back at me.
If we took the time to stop, on these cold, crystal-clear December nights, to embrace the chill and find a place away from the lights, and look up…what message might we hear whispered in our hearts?
I’m beginning to realize how brief is the period of time in which the kids both understand the magic and believe in it. We spend so much time trying to get kids to grow up–talking responsibility, bigness, and so on–that it’s hard to switch gears and ask them to stay little so that things like Santa Claus and the Advent calendar retain their mystery as long as possible.
At 5 1/2, Alex is in a strange, nebulous place between credulity and canniness. He’s starting to ask questions, he’s starting to put the pieces together, but he hasn’t gotten there yet. Here’s one example (there are many others): My brother-in-law sent us an “elf on a shelf,” along with a book that tells how the elf flies to Santa every night to report on the kids’ behavior. Alex loved the book, but he stopped me before we even reached the end. “But you know, this is just pretend,” he said. “The elf doesn’t go anywhere.”
So Santa has been a small challenge this year. Last year, Alex knew precisely what he wanted, and he told us over and over for three months leading up to Christmas. This year, he didn’t have anything specific in mind until he looked at the Toys R Us catalog and picked out two things that were wildly inappropriate–one piece of (ahem) toy that got terrible reviews for breaking right away, and a Thomas set aimed at three-year-olds, which we knew he wouldn’t play with once he got it. What to do? As parents, we want so badly to give our children exactly what they wish for, as long as it’s not harmful. But then there’s the practical consideration. And yet, if we ignore what he tells Santa Claus, we risk destroying the trust he has in the myth, and that’s a giant leap toward the end of the myth altogether.
So when I got this email from Christian yesterday mid-morning, it warmed my heart:
I talked to Alex about Santa this morning in the truck. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Are you excited about Christmas and Santa coming?
Me: I hope Santa brings you guys a lot of presents.
A: Well, I only asked for two things.
Me: Yes, well, you know, sometimes Santa doesn’t always bring us what we want because he thinks we’ll like something more. Like one time, instead of what I asked for, Santa brought me a HUGE lego castle, that had horses, and knights, and…….
A: OOOOOOOO! Did it have a king and queen?
Me: Yes, and I think that Grandma and Grandpa Basi might still have it.
……. (more conversation about lego castle)
Me: So, sometimes, Santa brings us things that we might like even more!
A: Yeah, that would be OK too.
God bless Alex, and God bless my husband. I just want to give them both big hugs and kisses. With a little chewing on Alex for good measure. But he’s getting too big to be chewed on. He’s told me so.
It’s one of the critical memories of my childhood. No year went by without gingerbread–it was the single indispensable Christmas cookie. And not very many went by without some sort of gingerbread construction.
Well, last Saturday, our daily Advent activity was…making a gingerbread house with Grandma! Sorry you can’t smell it (or taste it. But the internet has its limits, you know.) Enjoy! :)
Linking up with Wordful Wednesday at
and You Capture: Holiday Magic at
One thing about Advent activities: it translates to a lot of “moments” with your children. Moments like feeding goats, camels, and a wildebeest (I kid you not):
Or how about getting to share a brand new baby cousin with them?
Then there are the ubiquitous pictures with Santa…
(Incidentally, Alex’s visit to Santa required a massive rethinking of our finished Christmas shopping. Harumph!)
And as the other kids explored the model train and build-a-bear and remote control cars and shooting galleries all around Santa, Julianna (characteristically) just wanted to walk. Right back to Santa, who got half a dozen cute, giggly waves out of her before the night was over.
How about you? Do you have any motherhood (or fatherhood) moments to share today?
It seems ironic to me that in this season of Advent—the Advent I’ve spent two years preparing for, the one in which I’m doing four radio interviews, four periodical interviews, countless blog entries, and five book signings to help families move toward a less crazed, more relaxing, and holy Advent season—that in this season, it is me who is feeling stressed, crazed, and utterly unable to find the peace and holy hush I have been so relentlessly advocating.
I made a mistake in Advent calendar scheduling this year. It goes like this:
The net result is that by the time we got the house clean, ten short minutes before the first guest arrived for the choir party on Friday night, we were all spent. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. And apparently one recovery day is not enough, after a week like this. Sunday morning overflowed with bullying and threats and privileges revoked and all manner of disciplinary action. Church was a five-way wrestling match, and we all know wrestling matches at church do not foster spiritual growth. In fact, as I wrestled kids into coats and stumbled toward the church doors, everything seemed a little hazy. Somehow, in the past few weeks, I’ve become a spiritual zombie.
My inner critic is having a heyday. If you can’t even keep yourself from short-circuiting during Advent, then everything you’ve written is a big sham. Of course, it’s been coming on longer than Advent; I’ve been living and breathing Advent—the business end—for six months. And I know that’s a big part of the problem.
But it’s also the 20-month-old who doesn’t understand that he can’t eat his dinner till we pray, whose howls of outrage can unhinge me quicker than any other sound in the world (including all those Christmas songs I hate). It’s feeling rushed to get dinner on the table in time to eat before music students arrive…life, in other words.
Yet I believe in the project, because in other years, in other times, it has done for me what I tout on a daily basis. And this year, even amid my own spiritual desolation, I see it on Alex’s face.
Lessons are done now until January. And the crazy week is past. So perhaps by the time we light the last purple candle, I will have regained my equilibrium. I can hope, at least. And in the meantime, I can turn my mind toward the blessings I’ve been overlooking:
…chubby hands, more munchable than the cookies they cut…
Having lots of help to decorate the cookies (I really loathe this job. Yes, I’m weird. But I like my gingerbread plain, thank you very much. Icing=blech!)
…For hayrides through remote, beautiful winter woods…
…for rows of trees marching over the rolling hills…
…for tranquil hills wreathed in mist and cloaked in silence…
….for running children…
…for the magic of watching children transfixed by beauty…
…and of an Advent wreath in the darkness.
The beauty is there. I just have to figure out how to slow down and live in the present.
Counting to a thousand with Ann.