Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reaping and Sowing

It can be so cute. When kids say and do the things we say. Just the other day my 4 year old daughter, S., said with the slightest of sighs “I haven’t done that in years!”. Since I very much doubt she has much recollection of anything 2 years ago, she must have picked that up from one of us.

I remember the first time I witnessed this in our family. My son was a little over 2 and he was a late talker and spoke in only very short sentences. J. had developed a habit of throwing toys, not so much in anger or frustration, but perhaps more experimentally, either see how far they would fly or how loud I would scream. When he persisted in this activity, he earned a short ‘timeout’ in his room. One day he was playing with his Winnie the Pooh Duplo on his own (which was in itself a small miracle as to this day he doesn’t play on hi own much). He put the Winnie the Pooh on the duplo bed and covered him with a cloth and said “NO FROWING TOYS!!”

A more heartwarming example occurred about a year later when his sister was around 1. We were on our bed, no doubt trying to get them calmed down for bedtime. In the midst of the usual bed-gymnastics J. gave a very instinctive hug and kiss to his sister. Now he had given lots of kisses to her by then, but in this case, it reminded me of what we did with the kids when we were playing or reading stories and we’d be overcome by love (or by how adorable they look in those new overalls that I got on sale) and we’d swoop one or both of them up for some impromptu hugs and kisses.

Over the years we’ve heard our words and even gestures echoed in both our kids. Our 4 year old asks for her morning “coffee”. We had many discussions with our 6 year old about how “whatever” is almost never a respectful response to a question - - until I sheepishly realized I said it frequently.

Last night, my son stood on top of our brand-new-long-awaited-expensive-only-used-once vacuum and it tipped over. I said in a voice far too severe: “Don’t do that you’ll break it!!”

The response was a tearful and angry: “YOU JUST LOST YOUR MORNING CUDDLES AND IF YOU'RE NOT CAREFUL YOU'LL LOSE YOUR GOOD NIGHT KISS ” .We reap what we sow. And the kid learned about leverage.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Santa Conspiracy

As our kids (now 6 and 4) got to the age of understanding the Santa thing, we struggled how to deal with it. My husband and I certainly agreed that we want to teach our kids that Christmas is about Jesus’ birth and from there flows celebration and generosity that is the rest of Christmas. But how does Santa fit in?

We very briefly considered nixing Santa but that seemed cruel in light of the hype that the kids experience at preschool and even public school, never mind TV, billboards and even our local fire station. We just weren’t prepared to be killjoys and by extension let our kids be the pariah on the school ground as they shared their “knowledge” about Santa.

I was somewhat tormented by how to do it all and how the kids believe in the face of how different Santa is in every home. Santa leaves big gifts or small gifts or all the gifts or only a stocking or gifts and a stocking or no stocking. Do Santa gifts get special wrapping? What is the kids asked for an Xbox or something we didn’t want them to have?

We decided ultimately to do “Santa light”. Santa comes at night and leaves a fun gift for each kid plus a joint gift (those are unwrapped). Santa also leaves a stocking with mostly practical things (electric toothbrush, cups) and these are wrapped in tinfoil. Santa is stricty for the kids. Mommy and Daddy also leave gifts so Santa doesn’t get all the credit and we make sure that the family gift exchange is an important part of Christmas morning. We don’t generally emphasize that the kids might ask for what they want from Santa, or make lists or write letters. We don’t threaten (very often) that Santa won’t come if the bed isn’t made in December.


This year J, who is 6 and born curious, asked many questions as to how the whole Santa thing worked. His concrete and analytical mind was having a hard time coming to grasp with the concept. Many times he asked if Santa was ‘real’. We tried both the “what do you think?” tact plus the “some people do and some people don’t” approach and neither seemed to satisfy. We finally told him that he had to make up his own mind.

J. seemed to lean against believing when we went to a Christmas party where Santa visited. Notwithstanding that “Santa” was a 24 year old slender, graduate student, this rekindled the magic and made J. a believer. He was firmly committed that Santa was real and made plans to stay up all night on the 24th so he could see him.

As Christmas approached and the kids talked more and more about Santa and gifts, I must admit that I was uncomfortable. Though the kids do know (and will tell us on cue) that Christmas is about Jesus’ birthday that seemed to take second place to the gifts they were excited to receive. As we left my parents’ house on Christmas eve J. was jumping up and down and yelling “SANTA IS COMING SANTA IS COMING AND I’M GOING TO HAVE MILLIONS OF PRESENTS!!!!!” My unease peaked.

So imagine my surprise and certainly relief when J. said only moments later “Mommy and Daddy, you should put your stockings out for Santa too so you’ll get some stuff. You don’t have very many presents under the tree”. Some measure of generosity and thinking of others did survive and however small was enough for me to keep the conspiracy alive for another year (and had us searching throughout the house for toiletries and sundre wrap in tinfoil and put in our stockings.)

Sure enough, the first thing J. said in the morning was “EVEN THE PARENTS’ STOCKINGS ARE FILLED!”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our Christmas Mistake

Some six years ago as my husband and I were preparing for the birth of our first child, I asked myself a lot of questions.

I ask questions about profound things: How much closer will we feel once we have a child together? Do we know enough to care and nurture this child to adulthood?

I asked questions about practical things: How will I survive on so little sleep? Will a venti latte fit in the cup holder in the stroller?

I asked questions about trivial things: How shall I arrange the drawers in the nursery with the unbelievably cute things I had pre-washed in Ivory Snow? By size, by type, by colour? (as it turns out we came up with a fool-proof organizational system: take what you need out of the dryer - preferably – or the dirty laundry basket - more commonly.)

I thought questions about financial matters: When should we start an educational saving plan? Should we buy stock in Pampers? As with most things about parenting, I didn’t know how wrong I could be. Pampers stock? No way!

I say that not because I had my kids potty trained at 12 months, the same time as they could recite the periodic table of elements. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Both of my kids chose (despite my Herculean efforts) to be potty trained at 4 - we used more than our fair share of diapers and pull-ups.

The real hot insider stock tip I pass on to anyone I know: buy stock in Duracel. Even in the first weeks of our son’s life I was going through more double A’s than breast pads. The swing (swing mechanism and music), the bouncy seat (vibrator and music), the monitor, and the mobile all required batteries. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s hard to find a toy that doesn’t take batteries. Almost any toys for small kids made music and flashed lights and required batteries. The toys that when I grew up were kid-driven now had extra features requiring batteries. Little People zoos have animal that make sounds. Trains on the wooden train tracks move on their own. Dolls say “mama”. Teddy bears read stories. Even blocks light up and flash. Games had sounds effects and music. Old fashion board games like Yahtzee are made in electronic form as are paper and pen games like tic tac toe. I admit I have yet to find a jigsaw puzzle that requires batteries, but that may just be because I don’t shop enough.

It goes beyond toys. Nowadays we replace batteries in books, toothbrushes, greeting cards, and talking flashlights!

Last Christmas, my sixth as a mother, I thought I had covered the bases. We had gifts, food, decorations for the holidays. We even had the jaws of life on hand to cut through the titanium wires that fix toys to the packaging. After the gifts were opened Christmas morning we discovered that we needed close to 30 batteries. Our usual Costco mega-supply of 9 volts, Ds, Cs, AAs, AAAs, and AAAAs, had dipped to a simultaneous six year low. In a search and rescue mission that would make the Coast Guard proud, we found enough batteries to get us through the morning. We raided remote controls for TVs, DVDs, VCRs, stereos. We found batteries in fans, clocks, CD players, alarm clocks, MP3 players, flashlights and power tools.

We learned an important thing that day: we need as many batteries as the kids. (and don’t even think about taking the batteries from the camera on Christmas morning.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Making a Difference

We all seek to leave our mark on the world: to do something that will be appreciated by others, even if we receive no credit. Here is my story.

I shop at the Real Canadian Superstore regularly. It’s where we do our regular family shopping as well as mid-week occasional trips. Now the Czar of Superstore, or at least the VP in charge of aisle naming, organizes the store in so cryptic a fashion that neither I nor my husband (who does his share of the family shopping trips) can discern a pattern (and we’ve tried). Tomato sauce is on a different aisle than tomato paste. Fruit in little cups is in the pudding aisle while fruit in larger jars are in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Don’t get me started on the maze that is the produce section. Even if it were organized by colour I think I’d have a decent chance of making it through that section in one go.

To be efficient in our shopping, we have created pre-printed lists where we list what we ordinarily shop for by aisle, in the order that we traverse the store. Last year we moved from the catchment of one Superstore to another. We discovered that the VP of Aisle-Naming does not have enough to do so he creates a new labyrinth in each Superstore which only resembles any other Superstore in that homo, 2% and skim milk are usually in the same cooler. So we revamped our list. In all honesty it took us about 6 months to get it done, but finally we were prepared.

Within eight minutes of our updating our new list, Superstore decided to re“organize” all their stores to have a similar “pattern”. So our list was out of date. (and still is – but we’re coping).

Some months ago, I was looking for crackers. I had done my usual rounds of every aisle except pet food (can’t stand the smell) and did not come across the crackers. I know I have found them before but I cannot remember where. They are not with cookies, chips (same shape?) or even rice/pasta (carbs are stored together?). Crackers are not listed on any of the overhead signs. Now I would have thought that crackers were a big enough category to merit its own piece of real estate on the overhead signs. It’s not like I was looking for “anchovy flavoured gel candles” to be particularly identified.

As luck would have it, a store manager walks by and I ask him where the crackers are. He tells me the aisle and I look toward that aisle and the overhead sign read “Juice / Drink Crystals”. Of course, I should have immediately known. VP of Aisle-Naming must have known when you eat crackers you get thirsty and you may want juice or a drink made from crystals so that is where they should be.

Seeing the opportunity to have access to VP Aisle-Naming (who must attend at least one meeting with this guy every three years), I say to manager in as pleasant a voice as one can muster after 60 minutes of shopping with a cart with 3 bum wheels “now that’s not entirely intuitive.”

“No it’s not”. He concedes.

“You see” I continue, “if I were looking for drink crystals, I might be able to make the leap that it’s on the juice aisle. But looking for crackers, I did not make the connection.”

He said “we should change the sign. I’m going to look into it.”

This is pretty heady stuff for someone who can’t get her own children to listen to her. No doubt you can see where this is going. When I had all but forgotten my interchange with the seat of power in the juice aisle, and after another half dozen times of having conjure up the memory of where to find crackers, one day I see it in white and green: “CRACKERS”.

Don’t give up the dream people: you too can make a difference.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Joy to the World

Here is the story I told for the kids at Church this morning:

Eight year old Joey and his family lit the advent candles at church one Sunday. They took turns reading about the joy at Christmas of celebrating Jesus' birth. They sang "Joy to the World". Ah, the joy of Christmas.

On Monday, Joey ran to his mother.

"MOMMY, GUESS WHAT? IT'S ONLY NINE MORE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS AND I HAVE ALREADY HAVE NINE PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE. ISN'T THAT AMAZING? DAVE ONLY HAVE 7 PRESENTS UNDER HIS TREE. I BET I'LL GET MORE. AND ONE OF THEM IS SO BIG I BET IS IT THE ELECTRONIC ROBOTIC TRAIN TRANSFORMER iPOD XBOX THAT I WANTED AND MARKED ON PAGE 367 OF THE SEARS CATALOGUE (item J)."

Joey took a breath.

"AND MRS. ABBOTT SAID THAT WE WILL HAVE NO HOMEWORK THIS WEEK AND THAT WE'LL PLAY CHRISTMAS GAMES AND DO CHRISTMAS CRAFTS AND THAT WE'LL HAVE CANDY EVERY DAY AND I BET SHE'LL GIVE US A PRESENT ON THE LAST DAY!!

"AND I KNOW YOU SAID I COULD ONLY HAVE 3 CANDY CANES A DAY BUT IT'S ALMOST BREAKFAST, CAN I PLEASE HAVE ONE MORE?"

Now Joey was lucky that his Mom almost always knew the right thing to say, even if he didn't want to hear it.

Mom took a big breath.

"I DON'T HAVE MY CHRISTMAS LETTERS DONE AND I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE MY ADDRESS BOOK IS AND I CAN'T FIND A PICTURE CUTE ENOUGH TO SEND TO ALL THE PEOPLE WE NEVER TALK TO ALL YEAR.

"AND I'M SUPPOSED TO MAKE 24 ANGEL COOKIES FOR YOUR CLASS TODAY AND I'VE ALREADY MADE 150 BUT THEY EITHER KEEP BREAKING OR I BURN THEM SO I ONLY HAVE 8 AND THE LAST BATCH IS IN THE OVEN AND I'M OUT OF FLOUR.

"AND I HAVE TO MAKE SIX SHEEP COSTUMES FOR THE CHURCH PLAY ON FRIDAY AND I RAN OUT OF MATERIAL.

"AND I HAVE TONS OF SHOPPING LEFT TO DO AND I DOUBT YOUR FATHER HAS BEEN SHOPPING YET FOR MY GIFT AS I'VE CHECKED ALL HIS HIDING PLACES AND CAN'T FIND ANYTHING SO THAT WILL MEAN HE'LL BE SHOPPING ON DECEMBER 24th AT LONDON DRUGS AND I'M GOING TO GET A VACUUM. AGAIN!!"

Mom and Joey were both quiet. Then they smelled burning cookies and Mom began to cry.

Joey, who occasionally also knows just the right thing to say said "what happened to the joy in our Christmas?"

In that moment, Mom knew just what to do.

"Joey, we need to make a list of all the things that we need to do this Christmas."

Together they made a list and as a family they did everything on that list that Christmas season.

First they bake cookies for Mrs. McAllister who lives next door and just lost her husband to cancer. They wrapped them up in special wrapping and delivered them with some hot cocoa. Then, they dropped off food at the food bank for families who wouldn't have enough to eat that Christmas. As a family they went caroling with some neighbours at a nearby seniors home where they started to appreciate the joy of Christmas when they saw tears in the eyes of the residents.

They also had a special family project. Joey said that one of the girls in his class always wore old clothes and didn't bring much for lunch. She had two sisters and he was pretty sure that they weren't going to have much of a Christmas. So together they shopped for toys and decorations and chocolate and even some clothes and new backpacks for the girls. They delivered the surprise and hid across the street and watched the faces of that family as they opened the enoromous boxes.

Then Joey and his family experienced the real joy of Christmas: sharing Christ's love.