Friday, December 30, 2011

relaxation, prayers and recovery

We'd had plans to drive up to New England this week and spend New Years with my family. But, we began to reconsider when we realized Carolyn had not responded to her amoxicillin and spiked a temperature on Christmas day. When I tucked her in to bed on Christmas night, she was covered from head to toe in hives, thanks to a delayed allergic reaction.

Our decision to stay home was confirmed when the day after Christmas, Elizabeth, after taking her new bicycle for a spin around the driveway, hopped off and ran over to tell me how excited she was about riding and en route, twisted her ankle and fell down. When she still couldn't walk the next day, I brought her in to the pediatrician ... who sent us in for an x-ray ... where it was determined that she had suffered a hairline fracture.


Carolyn accompanied me to the doctor with her sister, and while we were waiting for her x-ray, we were subjected to televisions that were locked on CNN. Although we do read the newspaper, we don't watch much news at our house because it isn't as much "news" as it is the most horrible recent events, run on a continuous track.

The girls are learning to read, so they were deciphering the captions. "Mom, did that boy die? What happened to him? Where were his parents?" I tried to distract them with coloring books and flashcards, but when images of the devastating fire in Connecticut flashed up, they were mesmerized. "What happened to that house? Oh my goodness! Were there people inside? I really hope there weren't people inside...."

Yeah, I'd really hoped that, too.

Like quite possibly every mother in America, I've been unable to stop thinking about Madonna Badger and it's impossible for me to fathom how she is going to move on in her life. Over the past two days, the children have asked me questions about what exactly happened and I've tried my best to answer their questions, appropriately. While I know that people endure losses everyday, this particular tragedy has really gripped my heart and many of the coping mechanisms that I typically employ are falling terribly short.

So we've just been hugging our children a whole lot tighter. And all the expectations that we'd had to pack in a week of adventure have fallen by the wayside. We've had no plans and no agenda and it's been incredibly relaxing. Just as our fleet of doctors have ordered.

Because Elizabeth's fracture is so small, she isn't in a cast.

(At least not yet.)

And because we want to keep her "quiet" we equipped her with a walkie-talkie and some binoculars and camped her out at the kitchen table while her father played an awesome game of hide-n-seek in the woods.


Charlie is darting around the yard with one walkie-talkie. When the kids would see him, they'd yell it over the walkie talkie. He was very stealth and was only spotted once. When I traded spots and went outside to hide, I fell in the creek and lost both of my shoes in a mud pit.

The kids immediately saw me, flailing about.


So I retreated to the house where we made banana bread in the shape of a train.


William set up a Harry Potter museum in his room and offered free tours.


He'll make a fine curator one day...


He hasn't taken these glasses off since Sunday. (I need to hide them.) Look at that sweet little face. Did I mention that he lost his first tooth two weeks ago? He was at a birthday party and yanked it right out. Such bravery!


Everyone has received pedicures.


And since Santa brought all the children Camelbaks for Christmas, there has been a lot of hydrating going on. There has also been a lot of baking and juicing and napping and game-playing and reading and knitting and happy memory-making.


This has been the most wonderful week of the entire year. So like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter, I'm storing up all the relaxation and awesomeness for what I hope will be a very good start to 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

scenes from Christmas morning

Little feet pitter-pattered in to our bedroom at 6 AM on Christmas morning.


First up was Carolyn. She noticed the ribbon strewn all down the hallway and she peeked her head in to the living room, only to see that the stockings were full and there were gifts spilling out from beneath the tree. She hustled in to our bedroom and whispered in to my ear, "MOM! SANTA CAME and he took my shoe and potato!!"

Ten minutes later, Elizabeth was up.

Followed by William and Henry.

For as long as we've been married, our Christmas tradition is that Charlie and I will have breakfast and slowly, open our stockings. We try to extend the gift exchange experience for as long as possible, so that if we pace ourselves appropriately, we're still opening presents at noon. Add children to the equation and within a matter of minutes, they had every single present under the tree opened.

They were like a gift opening MACHINE.


All told, they received:

A Harry Potter costume. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)





(Note the curly hair on Ruthie?)


(Note the curly hair on Carolyn?)


Although he received a cool Imaginext castle and race car track that was rated for 8+ but his father swore he'd love, Henry's favorite gift was a McFinn matchbox car that hasn't left his grasp since Sunday morning.


Charlie was correct about the boys loving that race car track. Especially the BIGGEST boy in the house. He's been reliving his childhood ("I had one of these when I was eight and it was so incredibly AWESOME!") and keeps asking me, "Wanna race?"


There was also a karaoke machine...


And bicycles that were way too big for the children (but looked so much smaller in the store?) which were exchanged.

Santa, that trickster, even brought out some of the toys that he'd delivered in years past that we haven't been playing with. Exhibit A: our marble run. There has been a renewed interest in this toy that I never could have expected. As such, Santa is thinking that he might make a tradition out of re-introducing things in to circulation.


This was MY favorite present.


And …. this was second.


After my Christmas gift last year, Charlie has most definitely redeemed himself.

I've been sleeping with the 278-page manual beneath my pillow in hope that I'll absorb the contents through some kind of osmotic process. Thus far the only thing I've figured out how to do is attach the neck strap.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

T-1 (5 minutes)

Cookies and letters lovingly left for Santa.


So sweet. Although I'm not really sure what the "Mat" refers to?


In the workshop.


Preparing a Special Delivery From The North Pole...


Whilst eating cookies.


Santa most definitely was here.


Not only did he eat all the cookies (and respond to the notes...)

(and replace all the potatoes and apples with gifts...)


But he remembered to leave a little stocking for Louie, too.


He was upstairs ...


And downstairs ...


And he tracked his boots right through the fireplace soot.


He also lightly wrapped a sparkly Christmas ribbon all through the house. Down the hallway, around the doorknobs and throughout the bannister.

I think this was part festive decoration and part an attempt to keep children's doors closed because Santa suspects they'll be up before the sunrise on Christmas morning.

(Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!!)

T-1 (6 hours)

We took the children to see the matinee Arthur Christmas, today. I think my new favorite Santa line of all time is, "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen and ... I forget your name ... Bambi? and you two, with the white ears! Go!"


As is often the case with children's movies these days, Charlie and I were in stitches at some of the lines while the kids looked at us and asked, "Why is that so funny?"

We'd had all kinds of grandiose plans to spend the afternoon baking and delivering gingerbread cookies, Christmas caroling at a few neighbor's homes and attending a candlelight Christmas Eve service this evening. But it was chilly outside and memories of two years ago when Mommy and Daddy had high expectations on children and squeezed too many activities in to a short span of time and Santa nearly turned his sleigh around came flooding back to me.

This is supposed to be a wonderful, relaxing time.

Let's strive to keep expectations low.



So instead of venturing out, we returned home from the movie, lit a roaring fire and settled in with a game of Candy Land. The kids decorated their gingerbread cookies and after snacking on fruits and various appetizers throughout the day, had a dinner of bananas before they went to bed.

I love this picture of Henry. Albeit poor quality, he's got a look that screams, "It's Christmas Eve and I'm eating a banana. Where's my Honey Baked Ham and English Crackers?!"


Everyone received new pajamas ...


And heard "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."


(The same copy that Charlie and I have been reading since 1997).


They put out their potatoes and apples, as Santa had instructed...


And then they pretended to go to sleep. After pleading to sleep in the living room, Carolyn wanted to tie one end of a string to her cookie and the other end to her finger so when Santa picked it up to take a bite, she'd wake up. I asked what she'd do if she actually SAW Santa and as she thought about it, she decided that she'd scream. So she then asked that I please put a letter on her door that reads, "Santa, although I told you I wanted to give you a hug PLEASE do not come in my room. Love, Gracie."

An hour after tucking the children in to bed, William nonchalantly wandered out of his room, looked around and declared that he needed to use the bathroom. Which he did. But I suspect that he suspects that something suspicious is going on. When I just went in to check on him, he is tossing and turning, unable to sleep. He asked if I had some sleeping pills or something I could give him because he's just SO EXCITED.

Oh, I remember the feeling well.

There's nothing like it in the world.

T-1 (10 hours)

After one of our neighbors gave us the 100-page Christmas catalogue on American Girls, several months ago, our girls have been going crazy to own one of these dolls. Apparently, there's a whole culture surrounding these dolls that we've been oblivious to.

Until Now.

Carolyn immediately spotted Ruthie. She has dark brown hair and blue eyes and looks very much like Carolyn. Elizabeth immediately spotted Julie who has blonde hair and brown eyes and looks very much UNlike Elizabeth.

Yesterday, we took the children shopping so that they could pick out presents for their siblings. And it just so happens that we conveniently have a two-story American Girl doll store in one of the local malls. Charlie had the girls - shopping for the boys - and I had the boys - shopping for the girls. The boys and I wandered in to the American Girl store and although they had Julie in stock and we picked Julie up and turned her box around in our hands ... William and I both agreed that Marie-Grace had the same exact coloring as Elizabeth. Her brown hair with the beautiful blond highlights and blue sparkly eyes? It was uncanny.

Surely, Elizabeth would LOVE this doll. Because Elizabeth is so pretty and this doll is so pretty and the dolls are supposed to look like the girls who own them.


So we bought Ruthie and against my better judgement, Marie-Grace.



Supposedly, the girls don't know what their brothers gifts for them are. But since our purchase, Elizabeth has done nothing but talk about how much she loves Julie. When we visited with Santa, she made it a point to tell him, "Santa, I'd really love to have Julie. SHE HAS BLOND HAIR." Then she pointed at William and said, "Kind of gold, like my brothers. Do you see?"

William looked up at me with a grimace and whispered, "Oh no, Mom. I really think we need to go get the other doll." I returned his grimace and said, "You mean the one that she said she specifically said she wanted and we just got the one that we thought she'd like better?"

He nodded and asked, "Can we please go first thing in the morning?"

Although my boy isn't one to get up and out of the house early, this morning at 8 AM, William was back at the mall and first in line to exchange Marie-Grace for Julie. With the new doll in his arms, he was wearing a smile ear-to-ear as he said, "Oh my goodness. I can't wait to see her open this present. It is going to make her SO HAPPY!"

Of course it will.

It came straight from the heart of Santa.

T-1 (12 hours)

We're tracking Santa via NORAD.


He's currently over Japan and has already delivered over 97,000,000 presents.

It's only 9:30 AM, EST!!


And I thought the Army was amazing!

T-1 (15 hours)

During a conference with the children's first grade teacher on Thursday, she mentioned that she'd heard of the incident on William's school bus wherein the bus driver told the children that Santa isn't real. And she suggested that we visit the Merrifield Santa because he is the REAL Santa and any lingering doubts would be immediately and forever extinguished.

We'd heard that Santa was going to be available from 5 to 8 PM, so we arrived at 4:55 PM, expecting that we'd be among the first in line. We assumed wrong. After standing in line for 30 minutes, we moved six inches. It turns out, the Merrifield Santa is a tradition in these parts and people started forming a line several hours before he even arrived.


It took us just over three hours to see Santa.

It's a miracle we waited at all, since waiting is one of our least favorite things to do. But soon after we'd arrived, I'd overheard the family in front of us say that although it might take us a few hours, they were experts on this Santa because they've been coming to visit him for the past 25 years. Ultimately, they convinced us he was well worth the wait.

As we waited, we wrote (and re-wrote) letters to Santa and socialized with our fellow line-standers ...



Henry made his first love connection. She was a four-year-old girl who was wearing light-up Toy Story 3 boots. If that wasn't awesome enough, she shared his fascination with dinosaurs. As I watched the two happily playing, for the better part of an hour, I couldn't shake the thought that one day this little girl very well might be my daughter-in-law. I've never had a thought like that, before. And I'd prefer not to think like that again. I, instead, opt to see my children as children. Never growing up, always living with me and whole heartedly believing in Santa Claus.




I snapped off some pictures of letters that had been written, over the years, to this exact Santa (who has been serving as Santa since 1966).


Some of them were touching and funny...


And some made my heart break for children who have painful challenges in their young lives.


The wait was long to see the Man in Red because Santa, who was perched in his REAL sleigh, would take the time to talk to each and every family. He jumped down from the sleigh, once, to sing "Come All Ye Faithful" and tell the children about the nativity. He then climbed back in to his sleigh and reviewed everyone's letter that they wrote to him. And with each person from toddlers to teens, he challenged them to think about the real meaning of Christmas.

If you can't read the tiny font on this "Open Letter from Santa," in my opinion, the best part is:

The one special gift that I would like to give each and everyone of you this Christmas is the gift of understanding the meaning of Christmas. It is not the toys that are important, for toys break. It is not the games that are important, for they can become dull. It is not the clothes that are important, for clothes wear out.

What is important is people doing things for people. The truest gift you cannot wrap with paper of silver or gold. The truest gift of Christmas you cannot even hold. There is a meaning in Christmas, far more important than Santa Claus, and if you can grasp the full meaning, you will have a gift that will last your lifetime, a gift far greater than Santa could ever bring.


By the time we arrived, he was completely hoarse from talking and singing with everyone. So Elizabeth reached in to my purse and pulled out a cough drop which she handed to him and very sweetly said, "Santa, I really need for you to take care of yourself because if you go to heaven.... WHO WILL DELIVER THE TOYS?"

(She has never been one to mince words.)


While his beard wasn't as natural looking as some of the professional mall Santas that I've seen over the years, his message was true and like everyone else who stood on their feet for 180+ minutes tonight, we walked out with a warm feeling. Everyone was kindly smiling and believing that yes, indeed.


He is the REAL Santa.

After he'd talked with the children, and told them in very general terms the gifts he'd be bringing them, he'd cut a string of souvenir ribbon, which he gave them with specific instructions. Henry was told to put a sweet potato on the kitchen table before he went to sleep. He instructed Carolyn to put her shoes outside of her bedroom door with a potato in them. He instructed William to put his Santa hat on the table with a potato inside of it. And he instructed Elizabeth to put an apple in her Santa hat. On Christmas morning, he said, they would find presents where ever they had left things, just as he'd instructed.

My mind was swirling. How was I supposed to remember all of this? But as we were exiting, Santa's helper slipped me a note and with a wink said, "Here's your homework."


Tonight, when we returned home, Carolyn told me that she wanted to put her potato in her father's shoes. Because they're MUCH bigger than her shoes.

What is important is people doing things for people.

A larger shoe isn't for her benefit. Of course, not! She just wants to help Santa out by making sure he has enough space to leave her present.