Michael Meets Advent

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Santa 084By the time the fourth child passes milestones, they often slip past without much fanfare. Not that they don’t get noticed at all, but it is a little more muted.

Still, in the first nine days of Advent it’s been fun to watch Michael really connect with this season for the first time. I realized that the concentration of spring birthdays in our household means my other children have been pushing three before they had their first real Advent experience. So with Michael I’m seeing Advent in a whole new way.

First, a portrait of Michael. He wants to do everything, and he gets very bent out of shape if he’s passed over. He’s beginning, finally, to attempt to talk a little bit. Not spontaneous words, but increasing willingness to repeat (or attempt to repeat) words. Some spontaneous signing. He’s also toilet trained, as long as you don’t put any clothes on his lower half–even to the point where he’ll tell me he needs to go. I’ve never toilet trained in the dead of winter and it makes me wince, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. I’ve targeted the week after Christmas for knuckling down and making the transition to toilet-trained-while-clothed. And he’s singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” sans words, with enough pitch/rhythm accuracy that we can identify it. (“Is that normal for a two year old?” Christian asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “That’s not one of those skills they put on developmental charts.”)

Lately people who know Michael’s propensity for destruction through exploration have been pointing me to that U. of Iowa study about messy kids being smarter. It was really about babies smashing food, but it sounds good, and I made the leap as quickly as everyone else. The kid is impossible to keep out of anything: the iPad, the Advent calendar, the refrigerator, the pantry where the graham crackers are kept (on the up side, since he can get into anything now, maybe I can move them back to their old location on the lazy susan and free up that pantry space at last). You can see the intelligence in his eyes, just before he pounces. He’s a whirlwind, into everything. He knows how to turn on the computer speaking voice from the “unlock” screen,” and twice we’ve caught him almost purchasing something from iTunes via the iPad. The difference between him and Julianna, who has always, from age two to age almost-seven, been content to sit quietly and rifle through books and cards, is quite profound. She just never did get into things the way he does.

Santa 078So it’s been really, really fun to watch him make Advent connections. I kept him (and Julianna) home while Christian took the big boys to get the Christmas tree on Saturday, because it was just so brutally cold. But when it was finally time to put ornaments on, he was so excited. He had to do it himself, and he had to point every one of them out to me afterward. Making cookies was Heaven. I get to measure spices, snitch batter, AND spread icing and sprinkles? And last night, when we bundled up and rang the Salvation Army Bell at Bass Pro, he was the cutest thing, walking up to people and ringing the bell at them, grunting for attention.

I’ve enjoyed every Advent since we started using Advent calendar activities to keep us organized and able to make time for service in December, but it’s different this year. I thought it was because I’d finally mastered the appropriate balance of activities, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but I think it has at least as much to do with watching Michael process it all for the first time.

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Cute Quick Takes

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You know you’re in a breastfeeding home when your three-year-old BOY says, “Mommy I gonna nuss da baby.” And you turn around to see this: Nicholas nursing small

(Notice the pulled-up shirt. Naked doll mandatory.)

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Things to warm a Catholic mama’s heart: the boys dressing up in Indian clothes, going on a hunt-and-fish expedition, and setting an imaginary Thanksgiving feast in front of the couch, which they preface with the sign of the cross and “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts…”

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Nicholas came wailing down stairs one morning while Julianna was playing with SonoFlex (a communication app). “I can’t find any long pants!” he said. (End of the world, you know.) Julianna, at this precise moment, hit a button on the iPad and the electronic voice said dryly, “Are you kidding?”

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Sunday night, we made Christmas cookies. We finished dipping peanut butter balls in chocolate, and I told the boys they could use spoons to clean out the bowl of paraffin and chocolate. Ten minutes later they came into the living room, where I was rocking Michael, with very red mouths lined with very black chocolate. Nicholas had chocolate all over him. “Nicholas, you have chocolate on your arm,” I said.

Alex piped up, “Yeah, he fell.”

“He fell in the chocolate?”

“Yeah.”

Okay, then.

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Nicholas has not learned the fine art of secret keeping. I should have known this, but I thought I started including Alex about this age. We went shopping and had a pointed conversation about keeping it secret so it would be a surprise for Daddy. He came home and helped me wrap the present and put it under the tree.

And when Christian came home? “Daddy we got you TIES!”

When we all stopped laughing, I said, “That’s it, Nicholas, you’re fired from Christmas shopping!” Good thing that’s not his only gift.

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I wrote a post for Catholic Mothers Online about celebrating saints’ days in Advent–the easy way. Here’s what we did as an Advent Calendar activity for St. Nicholas’ feast day yesterday:

St. Nicholas bread. Like his miter? (Mitre?)

St. Nicholas bread. Like his miter? (Mitre?)

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And I have a fiction piece up today, in which Dystopia might not be all bad. I’m happy with this one; I think it has potential.

Oh yes–bonus if you read the whole post: what my boys do while Christmas tree shopping:

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7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 199)

Advent Wednesdays: So You Want A Creative Calendar?

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Well, here you go. If you’re a make-it-yourself kind of person, you can try one of these lovely ideas:

First up, from my ever-awesome long-time friend and fan Shelley:

Second, from the lovely Elizabeth at That Married Couple comes this (click the picture to read her post on what she’s chosen to do as an Advent countdown! If you think a daily activity is too much, this might be right up your alley):

The website Inspirations For Home has several to offer, including this:

This one is adaptable to all kinds of ideas–I’ve seen this done using stars of david, for instance, instead of tags

and this:

Another perennial favorite is the mitten garland calendar (this one is paper, but you can do it with real mittens too; see here for an example):

 
Photo by Anders Ruff Custom Designs, via Flickr

Do you have a crafty or creative take on the Advent calendar? Please share!

Friday Advent Adventures: The Advent calendar

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Welcome to Friday Advent Adventures! For the next three Fridays, we’re going to break open a topic and compare notes from our experiences in reclaiming Advent. (The fourth Friday is Christmas Eve, and even I’m not bigheaded enough to think you all want to talk Advent with me on Christmas Eve.)

This week, let’s talk…Advent calendars!

As I’ve been talking with people the last few weeks, I’ve sensed a theme: most everyone agrees without hestitation that using the Jesse Tree and Advent wreath at night, and the manger throughout the day, will help to bring the Advent season into focus. But the calendar? An activity every day? People’s resistance rattles the air between us–and I understand it. I do. How can you possibly add any more to the to-do list in this busy season?

The thing is, the to-do list is going to be stressful no matter how you approach it. Planning out the parts of the list that you want to share as a family (and I use the term to include married couples without children, either before children or empty nesters, or whose children are too small to participate) really does ease the stress. It breaks down an overwhelming list into manageable chunks.

Planning is key. You have to start by putting in the big suckers–the ones that are going to drain you most. For me, that is cookie baking. It all has to be done early, because we have our studio recital for our piano, flute and voice students next weekend, and I provide the treats. So the c0okies have to be ready ahead of that. So when I start planning, I start by figuring out which two days I can set aside for that job. Once the biggies are in place–and spread out appropriately–then I start filling in with littler things. It takes some moving things around to get everything in place, but I’ve found that it’s well worth the effort. Because once the “have to” or “need to” tasks are organized, I’ve found that we have room to do things we wouldn’t commit to without knowing when everything else is going to get done.

Of course, it’s still going to be busy, and a lot to do. December 1st was the day we shopped for gifts for a person in need for our parish Giving Tree, and that day was beyond busy, between a radio interview, four lessons, and choir practice. But one of the gifts had to be ready to turn in on the 2nd, so what’s the alternative? I go shopping by myself and wrap gifts while little ones are napping? How does that teach my children anything? It’s the experience of helping someone in need that tunes my kids in to the suffering in the world, and teaches them that we have a responsibility to address it in some small way.

Here are a few of the many options for Advent calendars:

Wooden Advent calendars

I’ve seen these at Target and Hobby Lobby this season, and the offerings online have exploded since we bought ours three years ago.

Homemade alternatives:

Part Two:

Here’s your chance to share! Tell us about your Week One. What worked this week? What challenges did you face? What activities did your family share? Are the kids excited? Talk to us! Let’s help each other reclaim Advent!

Some scenes from our first week of Advent (coming later this a.m., but I have to get my kids off to school first, and I wanted to get the post up first thing!