From the Vault: A Christmas Chronology

Originally published December 25, 2008

medium_42145211818 p.m. – Bathe the kids and start getting them ready for bed. Tell my son that he needs to hurry because he has to be in bed before Santa gets to our house, otherwise Santa won’t leave him any presents. My son asks where Santa is now so we pull up the NORAD Santa tracker online. I gasp and tell him that Santa is already in South America and we’ve got to move quickly because North America is next. He runs upstairs to his room and jumps into bed. I follow him and ask what book he’d like to read. (Normally he wants to read five or six each night.) “No books, Mommy. Santa will be here soon.” Okay, I say, then let’s just say prayers. “We gotta pray fast, Mommy.” We race through “Now I lay me down to sleep” and it’s lights out. I don’t hear a peep from him for the rest of the night.

9:30 p.m. – Feed the baby and try to coax her into sleeping.

10:30 p.m. – She’s finally asleep. I put her to bed and crank up the waterfall sounds really loud so that any noise I make won’t disturb her.

11 p.m.  – Turn my attention to Santa duties. Go to the basement to retrieve presents and congratulate myself on picking out such awesome toys. “I am the coolest mom ever!”, I say to myself.

11:15 p.m. – Buy “Fred Claus” to watch from On Demand and set up all the gift wrapping supplies. Decide that gift wrapping will be much more fun with Peppermint Schnapps. Pour myself a shot, thinking, “Schnapps are so festive!”

12:21 a.m. – Gifts are wrapped and under the tree. “Fred Claus” is a funny movie. Schanapps are making me feel great. My husband calls, so I pause the movie to talk to him.

12:30 a.m. – Decide that I might as well make some breakfast casseroles so that I won’t have to cook much in the morning. Assemble the ingredients, mix it all up and put the casseroles in the refrigerator.

1 a.m. – Sit back down to finish watching “Fred Claus”. Decide to have more Schnapps.

2 a.m. – Put the video camera battery on the charger and go to bed. Miraculously, neither child has stirred.

7 a.m. – I am the first one up. I think I’m more excited than my son. I know I’m more excited than the baby. I wake up the baby and feed her.

7:30 a.m. – Make coffee, put the casseroles in the oven and go to wake up my son. I can’t believe he is still sleeping. “He definitely won’t sleep in next year,” I say to myself. I take the video camera and film him as he wakes up, stumbles down the stairs and sees all the presents. His eyes bug out and he is adorable.

7:35 a.m. – The camera stops recording. Apparently I have run out of tape and have no idea if we have any more tapes. I grab my cell phone instead and use it to take pictures. Curse myself for not knowing how to use the video function on the phone.

7:45 a.m. – Gift opening is over. My husband calls and my son tells him all about the toys. Casseroles are cooked and out of the oven. My son won’t eat them. He doesn’t know what a casserole is and pronounces all casseroles “yucky”. Decide to turn on the Yule Log channel for festive holiday background music. For some reason the Yule Log channel isn’t working, so I start trying to assemble the super cool robot Santa brought.

8:30 a.m. – Still trying to assemble the robot that Satan, I mean Santa, brought.

9 a.m. Robot is (finally!) put together. Flip the on switch and realize that it doesn’t have batteries. Have to disassemble it to install the batteries. It requires seven (!) batteries. I don’t have seven new batteries so I take the batteries out of the camera and all the remote controls. Stupid robot still doesn’t work. I am starting to cuss now, quietly.

9:15 a.m. Give up on the robot. Turn my attention to the really cute penguin toy. The penguins are supposed to climb a staircase and then slide down a luge that ends at the bottom of the stairs. The slide is a major pain to put together. Quickly realize that I need a “D” battery. Don’t have a “D” battery. My son is dejected. Kids aren’t supposed to be dejected on Christmas. I remember that the baby swing has “D” batteries. Now where is that stupid tiny screwdriver?

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9:30 a.m. I’m in the basement digging through the toolbox. Finally find the screwdriver. Voila! The penguin toy works. It is adorable! But it makes a continuous chirping noise. Think to myself that that noise might get annoying after awhile.

9:45 a.m. Trying to build a really cool marble race with the awesome (and intelligence enhancing) wood block marble race set.

9:55 a.m. Have built an amazing marble race for my son. Can’t wait for him to try it.

9:56 a.m. Marble race blocks are scattered all over the room and marbles are everywhere. My son thought it would be more fun to destroy the structure I’d built than to race marbles down it. Not sure what this says about his intelligence or if the marble race can help him.

9:59 a.m. I hate the robot. I hate the marble race. And I would really like to go back to the basement to get the hammer so I can smash the penguin toy to make it shut up.

10 a.m. The caffeine from the coffee is wearing off and the sugar from the French Toast casserole is wearing off. I am experiencing a caffeine crash and sugar low at the same time. My son goes to the bathroom and comes back without pants or underwear on. Refuses to put on either for the rest of the morning. Says he wants to “Porky Pig” it – borrowing a phrase his father uses to describe wearing a shirt with no pants. I give up. Who says a kid has to wear bottoms at home, anyway?

10:30 a.m. The house is trashed. There are boxes, zip ties, and torn wrapping paper everywhere. The penguin toy works too well and the robot doesn’t work at all. My son tried to make the robot work and now there are robot pieces everywhere. The baby is (THANK GOD) asleep. Huge casseroles sit mostly untouched in the kitchen. I’m exhausted and really regretting the Schnapps.

10:35 a.m. My son gives me a big hug and a kiss and tells me this is the best Christmas ever. He says, “I’m so happy, Mommy.”

10:40 a.m. Lay on the couch, close my eyes, smile and think to myself that Christmas is awesome. What a great day. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

 

 

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From the vault: Christmas Magic

Originally published, December 2009

 

Wedding planning was a nightmare for me. I wanted the whole shebang and, while my husband wasn’t resistant to the fuss, he had never once attended a wedding. Not one. He didn’t have a clue what was involved. Worse, we had just found out that he would be deploying soon and we wanted to get married before he left. We had six weeks to plan a destination wedding with 75 guests. (Because I refused to budge on having a real wedding.)

At every decision, instead of simply voicing an opinion, he asked a question – even about the things that you wouldn’t think were questionable. When I told him to pick some groomsmen, he asked me why. I explained that I had bridesmaids and they needed groomsmen to balance them out. Then he asked why I had bridesmaids. Up until a few days after the wedding he thought the bridesmaids were supposed to come clean our house. Seriously.

He wanted to know why he had to wear a tuxedo. Then he didn’t think his tux should match the groomsmens’ tuxedos because my dress wasn’t going to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. After that line of questioning I bought him a book called Grooms for Dummies or something like that, and every time he had a stupid question about a time-honored tradition I just referred him back to the book. Too bad Wikipedia wasn’t around then.

All of that’s to say that I’m starting to realize that incessant questioning is probably a genetic trait.

If you should drive by my house now, you’ll notice that it looks awesome. It is bedecked with garland, bows, wreaths and little white lights on the outside. On the inside there’s a fully decorated tree, more garland, stockings, some nativity sets and various other Christmas junk. I’m feeling a little smug, I gotta admit. But the decorating hasn’t been easy because at each step of the way Bo, my five-year-old son, has asked me to explain everything. Ev-ery-thing.This is the first year that he’s really been aware of Christmas and he is maxing it out.

“Why do we have a Christmas tree?”

“Why do we put ornaments on the tree?”

“What are stockings?”

“Why would Santa put gifts in a stocking?” and

“Why are they on the fireplace?”

And so forth and so on.

It has forced me to rethink all of the holiday traditions. I’ve read enough about Christmas history to know some of the back stories but, really, when you think about it, it all is pretty weird.

We chop down a tree, haul it into the house and then hang little figurines and lights on it. We put giant socks that no one could ever actually wear in front of a fire so that a fat bearded guy in a red suit can put presents in them – after he slides down the chimney, oh, because his flying deer are parked on the roof, you know, because that’s the fastest way for him to get to every house in the entire world in one night.

At my house we also have a little elf that comes and goes every night to report back to Santa about Bo’s  behavior and the elf plants himself somewhere different every morning. And we do it all, why? That’s right — because the Messiah was born in a barn in Israel 2,000 years ago.

What do we take these kids for, idiots?

Apparently.

But it’s fun for the kids and the adults, so we keep doing it every year.

This year I gathered all of our Christmas books into a pile and every night before bed I read Bo a different Christmas story – just to hammer all the magic in. Last night I read him The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my all time favorite stories. For those who’ve forgotten the story, a little boy gets a stuffed rabbit doll for Christmas and then he loves it so much that the rabbit becomes real.

On average I’d say I eked out about four words before each new question. I stopped counting the questions at 32. It was a 25-page book. The questions started with “What is ‘velveteen’?” (My answer: “It’s like velvet.” Which was followed, of course, with “What is velvet?”And have you ever tried to explain velvet? A few more months of this and I could write a dictionary.)

Anyway, as the story progressed Bo’s questions increased right along with his horror. (“They’re going to burn the bunny? That’s mean! What would they burn the bunny? What are germs? Why don’t they just put him in the washing machine? Why don’t they have a washing machine? When were washing machines invented? Who invented them?”) So I thought that Bo would be placated and comforted and all would be well when we got to the part where the rabbit becomes real. Bo has at least a dozen stuffed animals in his bed at any given time and he likes to pretend that they’re all real, so I thought he’d really be into the end of the story.

Oh, no, no, no.

To his little mind The Velveteen Rabbit was just a Victorian version of the movie “Child’s Play”. I didn’t pick up on his fright right away and so I stupidly asked him if he would like for his toys to become real some day, thinking that the mere suggestion would throw him into fits of sugar-plum Christmas magic. Instead, it sent him to the sort of place where Haley Joel Osment saw dead people.

“No,” he said, his eyes wide as he slowly shook his head. “Toys are toys, Mommy. They shouldn’t become real.”

“But don’t you want your toys to be real?” I asked.

“No,” he said, definitively. “They outnumber me. They might take over everything and destroy the house. And the teddy bears would turn into real bears and they would growl at me and eat me.”

I had to admit that there was a certain logic to what he was saying.

“Mommy, I don’t want my toys to become real,” he said. “What can I do to make them stay toys?”

“As long as you don’t love them you should be okay,” I said, instantly feeling a little guilty for warping the Christmas magic.

But this new approach to toy ownership might make life much easier for me come spring cleaning/consignment sale time. And I can’t imagine that Bo is going to beg me to drop another $50 in Build A Bear Workshop anytime soon.

Which is magical enough for me.

From the vault: Christmas 2009, Speaking Parts

Originally published December 21, 2009

 

Three Kings

My son was really excited after church Sunday because he said he had been the loudest one in his Sunday School class’ nativity reenactment. His teacher agreed.

“He was the loudest one we’ve ever had,” she said, smiling.

The teachers had assigned roles for each child to play in their lesson about the birth of Jesus. Bo, apparently, had played his part with great enthusiasm.

“Which part did you play,” I asked him, thinking that if he described his role as “loud” maybe he had been the angel with the famous, “And lo, from the east …” line that is something of a rite of passage for every American child. But who was I kidding? As if any teacher would look at Bo, who is always either tormenting some other child or dreaming up new forms of torment, and think, “Angel…he’s perfect for the Angel part.”

“Guess,” he told me, but I couldn’t think of any other speaking parts.

“Were you Joseph?” I asked, hoping he’d say no because Joseph is the usually the most shafted character in the nativity story. Sometimes he is left out completely. I have several nativity sets that didn’t even come with a Joseph. It’s like it was simply Joseph’s job in the Bible to lead the laboring Mary and her donkey to the stable, rearrange the hay in the manger and then just stand off to the side and let history play out, never to be heard from again. Actually, I guess that was exactly Joseph’s job in the Bible. Anyway, I don’t recall Joseph ever saying anything in any Christmas program I’ve ever seen. If Bo had been a “loud” Joseph then the whole scene had probably been a disaster.

“No. Guess again,” Bo said.

I went through all the characters – wise men, shepherds, Mary, Baby Jesus, but Bo said no to all.

Finally I gave up and said, “Bo just tell me which part you played.”

“I was the cow,” he said, with great pride. I cracked up laughing, picturing my little boy being the loudest, most enthusiastic cow to ever witness to the birth of Jesus.

“MOO!!!!” he screamed, demonstrating. As if I needed an example of a loud holy cow. He moo’d the whole way home, reliving his stage debut, I guess. By the time we got back to the house I was sorry that I hadn’t seen it for myself. But (and here comes the sappy part) such is the parenting experience.

We never get to see every little thing our children do. Even those of us who are lucky enough to spend lots of time with our kids still miss huge chunks of their lives. I learned of Bo’s first steps on a daily progress report from the teachers in his mother’s day out class, which he only attended for three hours on one day each week. He had chosen those three hours as the best time for him to step out into the world. Right beneath the details of his bottles and bowel movements that day one of the teachers had scrawled, “Bo took three steps today.” I pasted that form into his baby book in lieu of a photo of the momentous occasion.

I was very sad to have missed seeing those steps. That’s why the saddest thing for me during deployments is all the stuff that my husband misses seeing. I’m a pretty good story teller and I try to recount in as many details as I can everything that happens so my husband will feel like he was there, too. Sometimes I tell the story so effectively that months or years later he recalls the details and we both forget for a second that he didn’t actually see it happen. But, when something amazing or amusing happens while he is deployed, my first thought is always how sad it is for him that he didn’t get to experience it. My second thought is how sad it is for the kids that he wasn’t there to share the moment with them. And my third thought is how sad it is for me that I don’t have anyone to nudge and laugh with over what just happened. I suppose my fourth thought is how I will describe it when I get a chance to talk to him again.

This Christmas, like many before, lots of families are separated by distance and war. Lots of kids have been performing in Christmas plays that one or both parents have had to miss. Lots of kids will be fighting with their siblings for the attention of the one parent who is home. Lots of moms will be trying to balance a video camera while installing batteries in new electronics or fumbling with the maddening zip ties that keep toys shackled to cardboard boxes.

And “over there”, lots of soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors, civilians and contractors will have one all-too-short phone call during which to hear as many details about their families’ Christmas celebrations as can be recalled. They’ll check their emails several times throughout the day, in hopes of receiving bleary-eyed Christmas morning pictures. They’ll get off the phone and tell their buddies with pride about all that’s going on back home, including as many details as they can, telling the story as if they had been there themselves. Then they’ll go back to work and hope that the day – and the deployment – passes as quickly as possible.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and especially to those of you who are spending Christmas with your loved ones on the phone. Whether it’s your first or your fourth (or more) Christmas apart, may it be as merry as possible. To those at home: Take and send lots of pictures and note and share as many details as possible. And to those away: Please stay safe and healthy, and remember that it won’t be like this forever.

Happy Holidays, Military-Style

(NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST FROM WIFE ON THE ROLLER COASTER, AS PART OF THE MILSPOUSE HOLIDAY BLOG SWAP. ENJOY!)

When I was growing up, my family’s holiday traditions rarely varied.  Sure, every now and then my mom would mix up the Thanksgiving menu by making a seven-layered salad instead of a green bean casserole or my grandparents would visit for Christmas.  But typically our holiday rituals remained unchanged.  It wasn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey.  It wasn’t Christmas Eve without hors d’oeuvres and stocking stuffers.  And it wasn’t Christmas Day without a plate of cookies and wrapping paper that was color coded for each family member, both of which were gone before the sun had a chance to rise.

But holidays are different when you’re married to the military.  As hard as we may try to maintain traditions, the military tends to test our resolve by deploying our husbands and moving us to remote locations.  We celebrate holidays where and when we can, sometimes ignoring the calendar so we can collect the special days and celebrate them all when our family is intact.  Yes, we military families have to make do, convincing our kids that Santa can find us wherever we are and convincing ourselves that one day we’ll look back on this and laugh.

I’ve definitely had some interesting military holidays.  I spent my first military Christmas in a hotel in a strange new city where Christmas dinner consisted of beer and nachos at a local bar.  I spent my third military Christmas repeatedly telling myself that it’s not a big deal that my husband was missing our 9-month-old son’s first Christmas because the baby wouldn’t remember that his daddy was in Iraq.  And I spent my fourth military Christmas in Japan, this time with my husband, but without anything else that felt familiar.

That first Christmas in the hotel made me resent military life.  The third Christmas without my husband made me feel powerless.  But that fourth Christmas overseas introduced me to an aspect of military life I had never experienced before: the military family.  And although the specific members may come and go, that military family has become just as important to me as my real family.

I expected my first holiday in a foreign country to feel, well, foreign.  Most of our Christmas decorations were in storage back in the States, and our family was an ocean away.  It was just me, my husband, our 22-month-old son, and our dog.  Or so I thought.

There were so many holiday events throughout the month of December in that small Japanese town that by the time Christmas came, I was all Christmas-ed out!  We watched Santa drive into our favorite park in a fire truck.  We gazed at Christmas lights downtown and learned how the Japanese celebrate the holidays.  We attended multiple Christmas parties for kids and adults.  We even got our dog involved when the base offered Santa pictures with pets.  It was the most festive holiday season I had ever experienced.  And I had my military family to thank for that.

We were all in the same boat.  We were all missing our families in the States, many of us missing our husbands as well.  We had no other choice but to join together and make the best of it.  And boy did we ever make the best of it!  That Christmas in a foreign country was the farthest thing from foreign.  I felt like I was home.  I felt like I was surrounded by family.

Throughout the three years we lived overseas, I learned to embrace my military family and adopt as many family members as possible, especially during the holidays.  In fact, the last Thanksgiving we spent in Japan was probably my most memorable military holiday.  I bought the biggest turkey the commissary had.  My husband and I invited acquaintances who had nowhere else to go or whose spouses were deployed.  I cooked for four days, preparing a feast for a gathering that included both close friends and people I had never met before.  Some have remained friends, some I’ll never hear from again.  But that day, as two dozen or so people came in and out of our house at varying intervals, we welcomed them as family.  From the geo bachelor missing his wife’s Thanksgiving spread to the Korean wife who had never had a Thanksgiving spread, we welcomed them all.  Our military family.

Since leaving Japan, our holidays have been surprisingly unaffected by military life.  And while I appreciate the luxuries of living stateside, having my husband home, and establishing our own traditions, I sometimes miss those holidays made so memorable by military life.  But I’m sure that one day the military will test our holiday resolve again, and when it does, I’ll be ready.  I just need to remember the recipe for the perfect military holiday: A main course of adventure, served with a side of adaptability, a bottle of vintage flexibility, and a hefty helping of humor for dessert, all prepared with a dash of love.  And a little help from my military family.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

(Be sure to check out the Riding the Roller Coaster blog to read more great posts like this one. And you can find me today over on Witty Little Secret, a hilarious milspouse blog that I’m sure you’ll want to bookmark –  Rebekah)