The perfect Christmas present

When I was 7 years old, I, like every little girl in the world (and probably a lot of boys), wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. It was the one and only thing on every kid’s Christmas list. It was non-negotiable. My sister Suzanne and I hoped and prayed we would be the lucky ones to get one.

In the wee hours of Christmas morning, I snuck into the living room and saw a huge stack of presents. At least 10 boxes! But none were short and fat like the Cabbage Patch box.

I still held out hope.

I waited for the rest of my siblings to awake and by 7:30 we were tearing into our bounty. Present by present was ripped open and thrown aside in search of the elusive Cabbage Patch Kid. I got sweaters and dresses and a glitter-filled baton and Chinese Checkers and Mouse Trap. Finally, I was down to the last box. I reluctantly opened the box, knowing it was not the shape I coveted. Inside the box was a pink haired “Lettuce Patch Doll” (it wasn’t really called that, but just go with me). It looked like a Cabbage Patch, except it wasn’t. It didn’t have the Xavier Roberts signature on the butt. It didn’t have the belly button. But it did have a birth certificate and according to it, I was now the proud Mommy of a pink haired Jeffrey doll.

Anyone who lived in 1983 knew of the Cabbage Patch shortage. Parents were scratching and clawing to get their hands on the dolls. My parents, after several attempts to obtain the coveted doll in the States, bought the next best thing in Germany. Literally. They were on a trip to Germany. And something about the fact that Jeffrey was carefully packed into their luggage and flown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean just to find his place under my Christmas tree made me love him more than anything mass-produced on an assembly line. It didn’t matter to me that other kids in my class had gotten 1, 2 or even 3 genuine Cabbage Patch Dolls that year. And, surprisingly, no one teased me for carrying around this pink haired charlatan.

To me, Jeffrey was real. I loved him because I knew that my Mom and Dad picked him out just for me. It truly was the thought that counted.

The following Christmas I did get a genuine Cabbage Patch, but Jeffrey was always my first.

Now, 30 years later, with kids of my own and I find myself trying to create a Christmas where it’s the thought that counts. I’ve told you before how we only give each child 3 presents and over the years, it’s become such a saving grace. It allows me to be very purposeful with what I buy and the kids to be very purposeful with what they ask for. I don’t have to buy presents just to “have things for them to open.” And they don’t ask for the sun, moon and stars. They don’t have piles of presents to weed through hoping to find that sought-after present. When my kids make their lists, they ask for 3 things. And that’s it.

Christmas isn’t about overindulgence in our house. I don’t want the focus to be all about the presents. I’m hoping that as my kids grow up they attach a feeling to Christmas, not a monetary value.

When I look back on my favorite memories about my childhood Christmases, most have nothing to do with tangible things. It’s the hiss and pop of the fireplace on Christmas morning. It’s the crackle of the needle on the record player after my Dad put on Johnny Mathis’s record (you know the one? With Johnny standing on a mountain with skis in his hand?) It’s my grandparents watching us open our presents. It’s getting a pollyanna gift from my brother (who I thought hated me) that actually showed he knew what I liked (and for the record, it was a rainbow colored cascading heart mobile. I wish I still had it. It was awesome, and so totally 80s!) It’s my Dad singing his silly “neh, neh, neh, neh” song while my Mom opened her gifts. My point is, very little of these memories are tied to specific presents. They are tied to feelings.

That’s what I want to recreate for my kids. So, this year, Joe and I are implementing a “Bucket Filler” Pollyanna. It’s a pollyanna with one rule: you can’t spend any money. They can write a letter or draw a picture or make a craft, but they can’t spend a dime. Their goal is to make their pollyanna’s heart smile.

In the past, the kids’ school used to do a “Kids Kastle Shopping Day” where the kids would “shop” with our money and buy little junky trinkets for each member of our family. And while the sentiment was nice, we all wound up with little junky trinkets (or, as in my case last year, large junky trinkets… I got an oversized pen with the word “Mom” on it. It broke shortly after eating our Christmas cinnamon buns). I liked instilling the idea of “giving,” but I didn’t like the idea of just giving anything. And I certainly don’t like the idea of wasting money on junk.

I’m hoping this new tradition will help the kids see that giving isnt always something you can wrap up with a bow. Giving of yourself and your time is sometimes the most perfect present of all. Making someone feel good doesn’t have to cost money and it certainly doesn’t only have to happen at Christmas. I’m hoping they will learn that, in the words of the Grinch, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.”

blog xmas 14


Happy birthday… to me

Today is my birthday. It’s always a bit melancholy for me.

Reflecting over the past year as a stay at home Mom can seem uneventful. My accomplishments are my kids’ accomplishments. I don’t have projects at work or deadlines to meet. My successes are measured in milestones and they rarely have deadlines. I don’t have drinks with friends after work. I have Crock Pot meals and a glass of wine after everyone is tucked in tight. I don’t have work clothes or even clothes that are fashionably relevant. Most days, “getting dressed” involves changing from my pajama pants to my yoga pants.

The days all seem to blur together. The routines are so steadfast and, well, predictable.

It’s not glamorous, but really, whose life is? I wouldn’t change a curve or straightaway on this road. Staying at home with the kids was always a dream of mine (one in which, after 6 years of higher education, my parents must be supremely proud of). But, deep down on those days when I was buried in research writing my thesis, I was pining away for the day I would throw it all away to change diapers and watch Sesame Street all day.

And here I am at 37 with everything I always dreamed of. I am not a mover and a shaker in the business world; not too many people in the real world know my name. But when it comes to raising kids, I’ve got this down.

Yes, I’m 37 today. I don’t mind admitting it; I’ve earned every one of these years. Every worry line on my face and every gray hair are exactly where they are meant to be. I am proud of this journey and the four precious souls who are my life’s most important work. They are my greatest accomplishments. Just as they are. Not tomorrow or in 20 years.  Not once Charlie masters his times tables or Finn is finally released from physical therapy. Not when Tallulah is out of diapers or Henry is finally all caught up to his peers (which he is, by the way. I can brag on my birthday, right?) But, right now. Today. Not when they grow up and make something of themselves. Right now. While they are still mine. For everything they are… Sticky fingers and dirty faces. Tantrums in the supermarket and hiding in the clothing racks at TJ Maxx. Arched backs while I try to strap them in their car seats. Spilled milk EVERY morning. Runny noses and toilets never flushed.

This is the stuff of life. These are the real accomplishments. The thankless work. Six people’s clothing all folded and put away just where they all need it to be. The cereal bowls ready every morning. Being here when they bound off the bus every day. Filling and refilling juice cups. Signing tests and agenda books. Pinning artwork to the bulletin board. Knowing what is being served in the cafeteria for lunch. Writing notes in lunch boxes. Reading them Harry Potter at night. Wiping little butts and sniffly noses. This is the grit and the joy.

Loving them is what I want to remember most. Feeling loved is what I hope they will remember most.

This is motherhood. And I’m right in the thick of it.

Exactly where I want to be.

Tallulah dug her fork directly into the cake right after this shot was taken.

Tallulah dug her fork directly into the cake right after this shot was taken.

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Christmas Magic

I need to wean myself and my kids off of Christmas.

We woke up this morning and the radio stations were back to playing their usual garbage. ABC Family went back to playing “How I Met Your Mother” all day.

It’s like everyone pretends yesterday never happened.

But it’s all just too fast for me. I prefer Christmas to fade out in a slow burn.

I always let the kids leave their presents under the tree for a few days. I like to watch them play with their things before they just become more stuff I have to pick up and put away. Before all the pieces get lost in the abyss of the playroom. Before they are simply trampled under the stampede of little feet running around this house.

I still like to snuggle with the kids on the couch, watch Christmas specials on DVR and gorge ourselves with Christmas cookies.

I’m still secretly hoping it will snow.

I’m not ready for it all to be over.

As I wrote the Elf on the Shelf’s goodbye letter this year, I cried just like I do every year. Not because I would miss having to move that Godforsaken thing, but because it symbolized another year under our belts. Next year is another chance that we will have a non-believer in the house. And that just hurts my heart.

I love that the kids race down the stairs to find the elf in the morning. I love that Henry and Tallulah ask all day, “Where’s Runny?” and then giggle when they rediscover his (extremely unimaginative) location. I love the boys’ questions about the logistical probability of Santa. I love when they open the present that they really, really wanted and squeal, “thank you, Santa!”

When parenthood came with a Santa suit, I immediately started dreading the day the truth would unravel his threads. Being Santa is one of the greatest joys of parenthood. Keeping his secret is one of the hardest, but most rewarding lies I’ve ever told. Charlie, who is in third grade, seemed on the fence this year. A fifth grade neighbor planted the seed on the way to the bus stop one day, but Charlie never said anything about it. I’ve been dreading the conversation. I’ve been preparing for it; worried about how to let him in on the secret without making him feel duped.

I don’t remember how old I was when I found out, but I remember having trouble accepting it. I thought Santa still came for other kids, just not for me. For me, Santa was my parents, but he still came for other kids. Because I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around his utter nonexistence.

I was heartbroken.

I’m just not ready for that heartbreak for them.

Santa doesn’t overindulge my kids. He is not about fulfilling their every wish. His spirit is more than that. His spirit is more than just one day.

As I walked around to check on each child on Christmas eve, their usual sweet faces looked especially angelic. I knew they were dreaming of magic. And you just can’t replace that feeling. I’m not ready for Christmas’ magic to be over.

For them or me.