January 19, 2015

My Boys Love Their Toys, Me Not So Much

Santa barely makes it back to the North Pole and already I'm  planning the next big gift occasion? Ahhh! Birthdays.

As the boys were born not quite two years apart, February has become an eventful month for me.  I've yet to decide what to do about parties.  Both boys want separate, special venue parties for their friends.  I would love to just have a family party.  I know I'll never get away with that but I am hoping they will meet me somewhere in the middle.  I really don't want to plan, pay for and attend two ChuckECheese parties.  I'd like to see the boys agree to share a venue like that or have separate parties at the park district.  Either way, I need to a) sit down and discuss this with them, b) book the rooms and c) send out invitations.  Soon.

Liam has been telling me what he wants for his birthday all weekend.  This is very annoying.  Not only is he very specific with his expensive toy taste but he still has Christmas toys in their factory-sealed boxes.  And he doesn't drop the subject either--he brings it up three or four times a day, even going as far as to suggest hiding places if I buy the gifts now.  On the other hand, Henry collected a list of toys he wants, then narrowed it down to just one, asked nicely and then never revisited the topic. Maybe there's hope for this family yet.

I wonder if I would be this perturbed if I had daughters who asked for sweet things like American Girl dolls and clothing, Barbie campers and fashion design software.  Tutus, dance shoes, little ponies and a new comforter set....  I think those things would be much more fun to shop for and I can understand an obsession with getting gifts like that.  

I find myself nostalgic for the days when everything in the under 5 toy aisles was sure to be well-received.  It was difficult to watch them outgrow Thomas the Tank Engine, PlaySkool and Fisher Price but then there was Disney's CARS to fill the void.  Liam loved CARS.  Inevitably he became more interested in Hot Wheels and that was okay too.  But now?  Oh, how I detest shopping for Angry Birds, Hexbugs and Pokemon booster packs.  Of course, he asks for worse and I put my foot down.  When it comes to themed toys, I feel like we're both settling and neither of us are very happy with what ends up in the playroom.

Now I'll grant that this is beginning to sound like a very preoccupied, first world problem post.  And it is--there's no denying it.  I'm complaining that I can no longer make my children smile by bringing home this 
and instead I have to bring home this

We all know that most kids in the world are lucky to have a roof over their heads and one meal a day.  I'm grateful for the abundance and blessings I can share with my children.  I just wish they were as well.*

Let's end on a positive note, shall we?  While I bemoan the loss of their innocent play, I realize it isn't really gone.  Not yet, anyway.  The three of us happily visited our local Build-a-Bear Workshop.  The boys waited patiently in the 30 minute line and enjoyed watching their plush choices come to life.  Of course, I would have preferred that they choose traditional bears or sweet woodland creatures.  But no--their minds were set on a camouflage bear and a Ninja Turtle which they promptly dressed in "skull" pajamas.  I took a deep breath and agreed to the purchase.  

It's okay--they're still soft and cuddly.  (So are their new stuffed animals.)

*Later this year, I plan on handing the boys a more active role in giving to charity--in addition to Toys for Tots and mitten trees.  I want them to see firsthand how the rest of the world lives and what can be done to offer a helping hand.

January 12, 2015

It's All Good

That's how I feel about the past few weeks as I view them in the rearview mirror.  It took three more stay-at-home, don't even think about going out days to arrive, enlightened, at this point.   Schools were closed due to an arctic blast of cold so we stayed home for 72 hours.  I wasn't even sure my car would start when we finally ventured out Friday afternoon.  It did and I was surprised at how relaxed and dare I say it, content, I was after spending so much time alone in a small house with two boys who do nothing little.

I find cabin fever to be a very uncomfortable feeling.  I wasn't gleeful about going back to work after two weeks of holiday "break" but I was glad to return to a world of adults, schedules and students. Even Henry and Liam seemed to welcome the school routine back into their lives.  Then the call came (three days in a row) that schools were closed and we were to stay home. Luckily I had stocked up at the grocery store on Monday.  We had plenty of provisions.  (Who am I kidding, as long as we have coffee and flavored creamer, I don't care what else is in the pantry during a winter storm.  The boys can always have Cheerios for dinner.)

Knitted this scarf just in time for the cold snap!
As one day stretched into another, I wondered why I wasn't feeling the despondency of a week or two earlier.  It was still cold, dark and I had no one to talk to.  I spent hour after hour doing laundry, dishes and vacuuming crumbs from well, everywhere.   But I wasn't blue as I had been during the holidays when I was doing those very same things.  And that's the difference:  the holidays have gone and taken with them their huge expectations and disappointments.

On a cold day in January, I don't expect a gift under the tree or a mug of hot cocoa brought to me as I relax in front of a fire.  I'm not missing absent words of gratitude for the months of shopping and discerning just the right present. There's no more resentment that my relatives don't materialize around the dinner table like a Norman Rockwell cover family.  It's January and I'm perfectly content doting on my own two children on my own.

Since there's nothing special about January, I feel nothing is missing.

My goal is to remember this lesson and eliminate as many holiday expectations I can next December.  One batch of cookies from scratch, the rest storebought.  Many, many meals via carryout, catering and cartons.  And gifts?  Well, the boys will be six and eight.  They'll still want stuff I don't want them to have.  Probably hamsters, Minecraft and iPads again.  I'll attempt to do better meeting them, and their lists, in the middle.

I've got a whole year to make this plan work.  And if it doesn't?  I'll try not to feel so blue in late December.  I'll remember that January is right around the corner.

January 6, 2015

What are you reading?

We just finished Judy Blume's Tale of a Fourth Grade Nothing, SuperFudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge.  I highly recommend these classic chapter books.  They were perfect for my 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 year old boys.  (Note:  Several chapters in SuperFudge need to be skipped over if your child still enjoys Santa Claus.)

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find books that all three of us can agree on.  Liam wants to read about Teenage Ninja Turtles, Henry wants to read Captain Underpants and I still want to read the works of Cynthia Rylant and Doreen Cronin.  Sometimes we open up a Magic Treehouse book (we're on #19) and currently, we are enjoying a Geronimo Stilton tale before bed time.  (For now, the color illustrations and my silly voices keep their interest when the story line is less than riveting.  We're not talking Newberry Award here.)

I continue to search for quality literature that holds all of our interests and yet preserves the innocence of childhood.  As I search our local library, Amazon and Half.com, I sometimes feel like Goldilocks.  This book is too abstract, that one has no illustrations, this one has frightening magical creatures, that one's humor is too crude...

Don't get me wrong, I have no wish to censor what the boys choose to read.  Of course, I want them to read for pleasure--reading for the sake of reading and getting lost in a story.  A big part of that is having free and full choice to pick your own titles.  I let them do that.  Even if it's a cringe-worthy series like Captain Underpants.  But then there's the time we spend together, reading (or listening to) a good story.  What makes a good story?  We have three very different answers to that.

As the boys get older and further along in elementary school, it becomes even more important to me that we share books at bed time as well as during our long, daily commute.  In some ways, books on cd in the car are an easier "sell" because I have a captive audience.  I can get the boys to listen to a thirty year old Beverly Cleary novel that has no pictures.  Within three or four "pages" they are hooked on the story and beg me to turn it on as soon as we get in the car.

Finding the right book to share as a family can be difficult and time-consuming.  Yet when the three of us share an adventure within the chapters of an old classic or newly published story, I know it was well worth my effort to find just the right one.

Which books do you enjoy as a family?

December 30, 2014

The Pressure's Off; Time to Relax

I don't want to leave the holiday season on a sour note.  Although what I wrote yesterday was certainly a true snapshot of life around here, it's not the only picture.  There are plenty of kairos moments and on the whole today was good.  I found myself doing less chores and more reading.  More importantly, the I played alongside both my boys.  Liam and I built freeform with Legos then Henry and I tried our hand at his Zoob Challenge kit.  I was not terribly successful at any of the structures but that's not the point.  All three members of this family sat together quietly and concentrated on something other than a screen.  It doesn't get better than that.

Henry had a long-awaited play date in the afternoon.  The anticipation of that helped alleviate the slight case of cabin fever we've been feeling.  Once he met up with his friend, he was the happy, carefree boy I love to watch.  I'm grateful he has made a good friend at his tiny school.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. We'll be celebrating with balloons and a few fun activities.  On slips of paper, I've printed suggestions like "have a snack", "watch a movie", "take a bubble bath".  I put the slips into balloons that the boys will pop one at a time early in the evening. The activities each have a dollar store component--but no noisemakers. (I have five and seven year old boys, no artificial noise is necessary around here.)   We'll light up the night with glow sticks and our own version of  Hide the Bows in which we choose one dark room, hide twenty Christmas ribbons and search for them using only our headlamps.  (Milton Bradley, look out!)

I began preparing the NYE materials late one night and wouldn't you know, both boys came downstairs and spoiled the surprise.  No matter, now they are even more excited having seen some of the "prizes".  They keep asking me what day it is and how long until our BIG party.

It's much easier to parent when I concentrate on the here and now instead of the pain of the past. Unfortunately, during Christmas the memories are overwhelming and tend to block out almost everything else.  The boys sense my tension, become anxious and their behavior suffers.  The key is to remember this pattern, be aware during the next big holiday and not repeat this year's experiences. So with that lesson (hopefully) learned, things are easing up a bit day by day.  Just in time for a brand new year.

I wish you and yours the very best start to 2015

December 29, 2014

A Mixed Bag

That's how I'd describe the holidays.  On the upside, I followed through with our Christmas traditions and even managed to add a new one:

The boys made a gingerbread house with grandpa on Christmas Eve day
Elves filled their stockings while we were at church that night

After decades searching for the recipe, I made my  favorite cookie from scratch

The boys kept their promise to wait upstairs until 6 am Christmas morning.  Everything was unwrapped by 6:30 am.  By 7:30, they tired of their gifts and  wanted to play Angry Birds on the iPad.  I know they liked their presents, especially this one, but I noticed a lack of enthusiasm that day.  Henry had written "every Lego set" on his Christmas list and received a bunch, yet he didn't seem overly excited.  Maybe that's because the boys had also listed new iPads (one for each) and a kitten, hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit on their lists.  None of these appeared under our tree.  Just old-fashioned building toys, hot wheels, character tees, and jigsaw puzzles.  Oh the boys also asked for Snackeez cups of  tv commercial fame.  I went from store to store and  purchased two at full price just so I could choose their colors.  (If you order online at a discount, they send random colors.)  The cups were used once on Christmas and now sit abandoned under the tree with all the other untouched loot.

Since the big day, the boys have occupied themselves by spending time on our (old) iPad and watching Angry Bird dvds. (Okay, those were in their stockings--I guess there's one gift I got right.)  On weekends and vacations, I only allow a half hour of iPad in the morning and another half hour after dark but it's quite a battle getting the screen out of their hands.  

Mostly, I've felt like a drill sergeant this holiday week.  "Stop eating candy."  "Turn off that game."  "Read a book."  "Your time is up, let your brother have a turn."  "Don't eat on the couch."  "No more snacks before dinner."  Each admonishment is met with a groan and a stomp.  Apparently, I'm so mean.

Of course the holidays are a time when emotions are heightened and the past seems very present.  This holiday marks the end of a year in which I lost two loves of my life.  It was their time.  They are no longer suffering.  But, oh, my world is a sadder place without them.

I felt quite alone as I prepared for this Christmas present.  I would have liked someone to keep my company as I wrapped, decorated, cleaned, baked and cooked.  I think there's a reason women in large families congregate in the kitchen.  Yes, many hands make light work but you can't discount the value of companionship as one goes about holiday tasks.

It's easier to dip into depression when you are tackling all the chores by yourself.  I definitely sank low a couple of times.  Once when, after six straight hours in the kitchen on Christmas Day, I finally had time to sit down and join the boys on the sofa.  They refused to turn off Angry Birds and watch a holiday special with me.  I left the room in tears.  That was minor compared to the buckets I cried yesterday.  I couldn't even finish reading Arthur's Perfect Christmas.  The isolation, power-struggles and lack of appreciation just got to me--I couldn't get over how the boys didn't even make an attempt to give me a Christmas gift.  The tears fell and fell.

I know they are young, so young, but there was nothing from them.  Nothing.  I would have been happy if they wrapped up a can of Pepsi and put it under the tree.  Just something.  Something that said, we want to give you something because you give us so much.  You give us everything.  All your money, all your time, all your energy.  So here's a can of soda.  Enjoy.  But no, there was nothing.  Just stacks of dirty dishes, piles of dirty clothes, mounds of cardboard boxes and wrapping paper, along with trails of crumbs/candy wrappers.  

This too shall pass.  I know there is no material gift to rival the presence of these two children in my life.  It's a miracle in so many ways.  But truth be told, that knowledge does nothing to cut the exhaustion and emotion at this time of year.

A mixed bag indeed.