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Thursday, December 19th, 2013
Santa Claus brought presents for my daughters before they even became my daughters. He left stuffed animals nestled under the tree, a little something to make the long wait for adoption paperwork to wend its way through two countries’ bureaucracies more bearable.
And when, finally, our daughters came home, we welcomed Santa with open arms and a ticker-tape parade. We stood impatiently in lines to whisper our fondest wishes, and paid handsomely for a few quick-printed shots. We threw glitter and oats on the lawn for his reindeer, arranged platters of our favorite cookies with hand-drawn pictures and painstakingly misspelled notes. We listened for jingle bells and searched for footprints in the snow.
This was even better than being the recipient of Santa’s magic—being his accomplice, his partner in crime. Being the person who helped him give my two beautiful girls their hearts’ desires, who wrapped his presents in mysterious paper and ate his cookies every Christmas Eve.
But it didn’t take long before Santa lost his mojo. My ever-practical Katie did the math on Santa at six years old—and realized that there was no way in hell that he could visit so many houses in a single night. She kept working through her logic out loud, right in front of her baby sister. To help save Santa for Maggie, I had to cut my losses. And my heart just broke.
And now my baby Maggie is six, and she’s saying things that make my heart drop to my knees—like that she knows that the white-whiskered man she told that she wanted a “diary for all of her secrets” wasn’t the real Santa. And I realize that I’ll be incredibly lucky if Santa has one more year of magic left in him.
My girls are growing up, altogether too fast. They leave a long string of “lasts” in their wake, so many that most go uncelebrated or unnoticed. The last diaper, last sippy cup, the last time I carried my Katie up the stairs—all gone and done. The outlet covers have disappeared, and the baby gates are only used to keep the dog from snarfing snacks when we have company. We watch Doctor Who, not Doc McStuffins.
It’s better that so many of these lasts go unnoticed. Because the big losses—the first day of kindergarten, the last day of elementary school, the last Christmas with Santa—are hard enough. We’ll pull out all the stops this year, for Santa’s last hurrah. He’s going to be a little more generous, a tiny bit more mysterious. We have two Elves on the Shelf, not just one. Santa’s going to pen one really awesome note to two very special young ladies. And I’m going to treasure every second.
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Image: Santa hat by berna namoglu/Shutterstock.com
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Thursday, December 19th, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I pulled my daughter and her cousins aside for a little talk: “Do you guys still want to wear matching PJs for Christmas Eve?” I asked, reassuring them that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they wanted to stop matching now because they were getting older (ages 8 to 11). I fully expected “Yeah, we’re too old for that” with an accompanying eye roll. Instead, they looked a little disappointed that I was even asking. They told me that they still liked to match. And decorate the gingerbread houses. And help me make their favorite Christmas Eve appetizers—mini “pizzas” on bruschetta bread with a little sauce and cheese cut out in the shape of tree or snowman. So it seems that tradition trumps tweendom.
I should have realized that by now. My daughter, 11, is well into the tween stage. There’s nothing predictable about her except maybe being unpredictable. One minute she’s watching the Hunger Games. The next, she’s glued to a Sophia the First special that features Ariel. For Christmas, she asked for Barbies and clothes from Hot Topic (Have you ever been in there? It’s the only store that’s actually made me grateful for Justice.)
Starting tomorrow, she’s going to be off from school for the next 12 days so I’m going to face her multiple personalities 24-7. I’ll surely be referring to this piece in the latest issue of Parents to help me deal. But I’m also going to be relishing my daughter and her cousins frosting their gingerbread houses and putting on a play in their new peppermint PJs because who knows if they’ll want to do it again next year.
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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Christmas is a time of giving and a time of magic, which is why I’ve made it a tradition to participate in the U.S. Post Office’s Operation Santa program where everyday people can help fulfill the holiday wishes of less-fortunate local kids. As far as I’ve been told, the letters that qualify for the program are selected by postal workers based on the return address on the envelope (think the projects, really poor neighborhoods)–so they really are coming from kids and families in need.
My favorite part of Operation Santa is that you get to read through as many kids’ letters as you like before choosing the ones you want to “adopt.” Some of these letters are flat-out funny. For instance, one little boy admitted to Santa that he actually hadn’t been good all year, and that he’d done a few naughty things, but that he tries to be good, and that he’d help out an old sick man “if his dad said yes.” Many are sweet and come from little ones wanting things like “doctor sets” so they can practice to be a doctor when they grow up. Others—the biggest tear-jerkers—come from older kids not asking for anything for themselves, but hoping that Santa can bring a toy or a warm coat for their little brother or sister.
And then . . . there are the Xbox letters—or, to be more accurate, they’re the Xbox Live, iPhone 5, iPad mini, laptop letters. As you can imagine, they go something like this: “Dear Santa, Please bring me an Xbox Live with these four games. I’ve been good all year.” Or, “Dear Santa, Please bring me an iPhone 5. I’ll leave cookies by the fireplace.”
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking these big-ticket letters are coming more from a place of greed than a place of need. But the truth is, that these kids aren’t asking for expensive things to try to work the system—they’re asking for them because they want to feel normal.
Most young kids—especially kids who have little to nothing at home—really don’t understand the difference in price between, say, a playset or doll that might cost $40 and the latest tablet that can cost hundreds of dollars. Why? Because their family likely can’t afford either. To that child, both are equally out of reach.
Plus, it’s only natural for a kid to want the things other kids at school have and talk about–and right now, a lot of those things (not all of them, though, thank heavens for Rainbow Loom, right?!) are seriously expensive. In a needy kid’s world, getting an Xbox Live or an iPhone 5 would take a work of magic—the kind of magic kids think only Santa Claus can provide.
TELL US: Do you give gifts to needy kids at the holidays? Would you be upset if an underprivileged kid asked for an expensive toy or gadget?
To learn more about Operation Santa (you don’t have to choose an Xbox letter unless you want to!) click here.
NEXT: Great last-minute gifts for kids
Image of Santa via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, December 5th, 2013
My Christmas lists as a kid were legendarily long and detailed (if sloppily handwritten)—kind of like this girl’s wish list, which went viral. (I wish I had thought to ask for “a little thing that can turn into anything at any time,” because that would have been incredibly helpful about 20 different times this morning alone.)
But these days, my wish lists are extraordinarily small. That’s a product of being among those lucky enough to be able to afford the necessities and plenty of extras, and being a working mom of two very busy girls, which means my hobbies are things like sleep and laundry. And that also means that my husband and daughters have a tough time coming up with gifts for me (fancy dryer sheets?). I find myself asking for the same exact things my mom asked for 30 years ago, which led to much eye-rolling and sighing from my siblings and me. And now leads to much eye-rolling and sighing from my husband as well.
So here’s what I’m hoping to be gifted with this Christmas:
1. Child-produced awesomeness. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more wonderful than my daughters’ handprints in clay, stick-figure family paintings and photo-adorned ornaments, or whatever other crafty ideas my daughters’ teachers dream up. They’re even better when paired with the hilarious messages the girls often write in the cards they make. (At Thanksgiving, my oldest was thankful that we have jobs so we can pay taxes. I am thankful for half of that statement.)
2. Child-chosen gifts. A close second in my estimation are the goofy gifts the girls buy with our money at the school Santa shop. I like seeing where their imaginations and tastes take them. The “diamonds” may fall out of the ring two hours later, and the bouncy ball may not be the most utilitarian gift, but they’re cherished just the same.
3. The banishment of certain phrases from the family vocabulary. I would like to call a moratorium on the following: “It’s not fair,” “Why does she get to…,” “I don’t want to go to school,” and “She’s touching me.” That’s just for starters.
4. An honest-to-goodness sleep-in day. At last count, I’m about 324,000 hours into sleep deficit. There’s no hope of making that up, but it would be nice if on any given Sunday (usually our only day to sleep in), my daughters could read quietly and fix a bowl of cereal instead jumping on me demanding pancakes.
5. A (reusable) guilt-free pass. Kind of like that Monopoly Get-Out-of-Jail free card. I probably would need to use that on a daily basis. Like when I forget about being mystery reader for my daughter’s class, or show up last at pickup. When I’m short-tempered and always in a rush. When I completely suck at sending out proper thank-you notes to my daughters’ friends for their birthday party gifts. (If you’re reading this, sorry, and she totally loved the craft kit/gift card/board game.)
6. A rocking bass guitar. Because sometimes, a mom just has to do something besides track down lost leotards and harangue her children into eating clementines instead of cookies. I choose to rock out with my band.
7. The services of a professional organizer, and carte blanche to spend at Container Store. I was voted Most Disorganized in my high school class (along with Most Likely to Succeed)—and unfortunately, I haven’t improved in the intervening years. And even more unfortunately, I married a packrat myself. Still, I aspire to have my house someday look more like the Pottery Barn catalog and less like a sea of papers atop a Pottery Barn coffee table.
8. A few extra hours in the day. If I can’t have the aforementioned “little thing that turns into anything at any time,” I really want Hermione’s time turner from Harry Potter, or Doctor Who’s TARDIS, or some other item that would allot me extra hours to get things done. Then when my friends all say, “How did you manage to bake 10 dozen cookies, get your daughter to Nutcracker rehearsals, order Christmas cards, clean your house for out-of-town guests, host a fabulous party, finish a work project for a client AND still find time to take your dog to the groomer’s?” I’ll just smile and wink. (By the way, all that and more needs to be accomplished in the next 48 hours at my house. A time turner would be awesome right about now.)
9. Nothing more than what I have right now. When it comes down to it, I have everything I could possibly want right here, right now. The best husband, two amazing kids, three cats and one big goofy dog. My parents, sister and brother, who I love dearly—even if I don’t get to see them very often. A roof over my head, and food on my table. A large and crazy web of aunts, uncles and cousins—and my amazing grandma, still going strong at 80+. Great friends who are like family, the kind where you kind of just walk into each other’s homes and wouldn’t feel too bad about calling during a 3 a.m. emergency. (And thankfully, we haven’t had to take each other up on that.) And really, what more could you want than all of that?
So tell me: What do you want this Christmas?
If your Santa needs a little help, check out our favorite toys for kids, or find fun activities to jazz up your holidays.
Image: Gifts at Christmas by Ariwasabi/Shutterstock.com
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
“Guess Who I Am!” (charades to the rest of the world) was a favorite holiday family treat for our kids. Kids may never be more creative than when trying to silently convey a concept to the rest of the family. But that wasn’t the case in our house.
Our daughter began loving “Guess Who I Am!” during family gatherings just before she turned 2 years old, and throughout the holidays that’s all she wanted to play. We’d all assemble in the living room on the navy blue canvas sofa, the one with all the fossilized spit-up stains from when the kids were babies, and play our version. The rules were simple: Each player had to act out a person or thing that we all knew, without revealing who or what, while the rest of us tried to guess.
Our 4-year-old son was usually a fireman, policeman, cowboy, Superman, baseball player, basketball player, football player, Power Ranger, Ninja Turtle, fisherman, swimmer, astronaut, dinosaur hunter, lion hunter, or bear hunter. It was tough for us to distinguish one hunter from another, but we got a clue with the dinosaur hunter since my son usually looked all the way up to the ceiling before shooting. Eventually, he caught on to his “tell,” and threw in giraffe hunter once in a while to trick us. For our turns, my wife and I tried to be creative, but mostly we picked similar “Guess Who” roles as our son, sticking to the rule about choosing a clue that we all knew. Sometimes, for variety, one of us would mimic a grandparent or neighbor. Our 6-month-old was amused by the game, giggling frequently, waving his arms, and kicking his legs in apparent simpatico with whoever was performing. Most of the time, though, he just added spit-up stains to the sofa.
Because our daughter did (and still does!) everything with flair and a flourish, it wasn’t surprising that she developed the most unusual approach to the game. On her turn, she would always take center stage (the middle of the faux-Oriental square rug in the living room), raise her right hand in the air, put her left hand on her hip, and turn around in circles. If she was wearing a dress, her left hand held the dress out to her side as she twirled. She did this every time. Every time!! The routine never varied, nor did the secret character she was portraying—she was always, always, always either a ballerina or a teacher. While we understood the ballerina’s movements, we really never got why a teacher would hold one hand in the air, the other on her hip, and twirl about. She hadn’t gone to preschool yet, so she couldn’t be imitating something a teacher did in class. Maybe a pirouetting princess is what she hoped her teachers would be like when she started school (and starting school was high on her list of best possible things to ever happen to a kid). When she accompanied me or my wife to drop off her older brother at preschool every day, she was so, so jealous. (Maybe one of her brother’s teachers twirled while we weren’t looking?)
However the ballerina-teacher thing developed, here’s how our December evenings would usually play out: Our budding thespian would stand center stage, assume the position, and twirl. Her big brother would roll his eyes. We would give him “the stare,” which meant he had to pretend he didn’t already know the answer, to which he would usually respond by slamming his hand onto the sofa in frustration. Then we would all make random guesses, to which our little girl would happily shake her head “no,” until one of us would finally ask, “Ballerina?” It was 50-50 whether we were right on any given performance. But if we didn’t choose correctly, we let big brother get the final victory. “Teacher?” he would guess, feigning ignorance. “Yes!” our little actress would joyfully nod.
May your own cold December nights be warmed by ballerinas and teachers, firemen, policemen, cowboys, Superman, baseball players, basketball players, football players, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, fishermen, swimmers, astronauts, and hunters.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Frosted window with Christmas decoration via Shutterstock
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