Friday, December 21, 2012

book pick: Are You Grumpy, Santa?

we don't "do" Santa in our house, although we do share the story of Saint Nicholas with our kids to explain where the idea of Santa came from. and we're sure to let them know that it's fun to pretend about Santa, just like it's fun to pretend about fairies and talking cars.

now, if Santa were real, i'm sure he'd have bad days like all of us. even saints suffer, after all. and since when are the holidays a smooth sleigh ride full of jolly smiles and ho-ho-ho-laughter? yeah, right. more like party after party with obligation after obligation and, with kids, too little sleep and too much sugar begetting two big crankypantses. about the only thing that's likely true is that fat tummy from eating too much. coal for the lot of you! bah and humbug! ... and then we watch our kids unwrap a little gift, or enjoy time with our grandparents, and we remember what the season's about and settle back into that happy cozy Christmas feeling. ah, that's better.

enter Are You Grumpy, Santa? by brotherGregg and Evan Spiridellis, they of JibJab fame. Santa is having an epic-bad day. but there's work to be done, delivering all those presents. so off he goes. and things still continue to go wrong. itching, sneezing, and rubbing a bruised bum, Santa finally arrives at his last stop and finds a surprise gift waiting for him: a plate full of cookies, of course. and he finally smiles.

here's hoping your holidays are filled with many smiles. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Banishing the Mommy dark place in a dark world

The news from Connecticut is tragic. There's no overstating that. I know I'm not alone as a parent in having my mind "go there," imagining what it would be like -- what it must be like for those grieving parents now -- to lose a child through such senseless violence.

Even before kids, my mind often wandered to the Land of What If. I would envision myself either kicking the arse off any would-be baddie, or ending up dead and mourned in the valiant effort thereof. When I became a mom, the Land of What If became a darker place, a less heroic place -- and a much harder place to avoid. No more novels involving abused or lost children. No TV crime dramas. Normally a cover-to-cover newspaper reader, I'm now more selective.

Our house was burglarized some weeks back. The girls and I were home in bed at the time. And instead of the heroic arse-whooping of my daydreams, my reality saw me fumbling to find my effing glasses and later watching as my 5-year-old gave a statement to the police. I barely slept that first night. The rest of the week, I was afraid to leave my daughter at school but equally afraid of kissing her goodnight and leaving the room. I felt something I hadn't felt before ... that I honestly never imagined my cynical, facts-based, get-'er-done sense of self feeling (even in the Land of What If) ... potent fear. Too close a call.

I felt in my heart what I've always known in my head -- that we do not have control over our lives.

And then Sandy Hook. The lens on life can rapidly narrow to one dark spot after something like that, casting everything else in shadow, as if there really is an inevitable downward trajectory to our collective history. We grieve for the parents who have lost children, because we know how much we treasure our own. I was reminded how precious my girls are after the burglary, and I'm reminded again after this school shooting.

The real world contains little of the heroic drama that our daydreams conjure, although we look for heroes and laud them (as we should). The real world continues where the daydreams end with a quick credit role, as we seek control by reviewing family safety plans, debating reforms to gun control and fumbling over deficient mental health care (as we should). Neither heroism nor bureaucracy dispels the cold finality of death, but they do help bring back some light. Life goes on. We focus on the beauty around us in the here and now, avoiding the black hole of the Land of What If and the equally black hole of wall-to-wall coverage of the Real World.

So I thank the police who responded. We install a security system. I get to know my neighbors better. I hide the pictures in this morning's newspaper from my girls. And I turn off this stupid computer and go have a dance party in the kitchen with them.

These folks say it better:
How Can We Find Hope in a Time of Tragedy? from Creative With Kids
Another mother's thoughts from a different tragedy over a year ago, smaller in scale by media standards but no less heartbreaking

the ugly doll

we went over the top this year with our Christmas tree. literally. our new house has nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings, so we figured we'd maximize that glory and go big! we ended up going a bit too big and hacked off about three feet of the trunk to make it fit. she is a beauty, though.

the place where we bought the tree had a "gift shop" of mostly second-hand goods and other things the owner has found at wholesale for resale. we let the girls each pick something from the 25-cent box. Little One picked out a miniature horse on wheels. we found a lovely giraffe collectible for a friend's daughter's first Christmas. and Sweet One picked out an older doll from some timeworn dollhouse set.

wait a minute. what? the girl who is pining for a Yellow-Dressed Barbie Doll With Yellow Birthstone Jewelry New In Package On Sale But Sold Out is passing up shiny trinkets for this ugly doll? it's the kind of doll even a Goodwill shopper passes up.

i take a closer look at this thing to see what i'm missing. it's a grandmotherly doll whose white hair is Einstein-like (if Einstein had grown his hair even longer, that is). the paint is flaking off her white pumps, and she could use a facial. there are green paint splotches on her body and dress. the outfit is dowdy and falling apart. she looks tired, worn, and unwanted. yet our daughter wanted her more than anything else in that box. she loves the thing. this ugly little doll is already the center of many stories (she is currently taking a nap in the wardrobe with a quarter).

i get so caught up this time of year with coveting what i don't have — even if i don't particularly want it. this extends especially to my kids. i want to buy them everything they could ever want, even if i'm not a huge fan (we are up to our eyeballs in princesses, y'all). we typically don't buy the girls much for Christmas anyway. so many relatives are generous enough, and quite frankly it's not in the budget to do much more than a book, CD and a few added dollar-store craft items. but i waste time every Sunday morning paging mindlessly through all the toy catalogs anyway. it reminds me of being a kid, circling everything i wanted in the advertisements to give my parents. (nowadays, of course, we just click to add it to the wish list on Amazon.) i knew even as a kid that it was ridiculous to want or expect some of those toys.

i've been reminded in more ways than one recently that simpler is better, that the mundane can be extravagant, that imagination is golden. my kids ask for things for the same reasons i want to buy them: because of those glossy advertisements and packaging that make everything seem so shiny and desirable (we're like raccoons, seriously). then i see how excited the girls get over a cardboard box, over cushy star ornaments from the '80s, over draping ourselves in sheets and falling to the ground like melting snowmen...

our tree is a bit sparse at the bottom. not in branches, but ornaments. Little One has commandeered all the stuffed fabric stars for carrying around in a basket and throwing across the room at random intervals. she's also prohibited all "candy cones" from the branches — these are the property of her basket as well. Sweet One has enlisted the help of all the angels she can reach in her stories. the Martha Stewart-brand bows i carefully staggered are crunched and invariably not where i left them.

it is, of course, the most gorgeous tree we've had yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

snowless snowmen: easy winter activities

let it snow! well, unless you live where we do. then, well, not so much. but fret not, fellow maritime dwellers (and those who prefer to stay warm and dry inside, thankyouverymuch). today we've got some kid-tested, slacker-mom-approved snowmen-sans-snow activities for you!

snowmen in the living room

being a snowman is
surprisingly toasty
who doesn't love to build a snowman? we sure do, even if it's a pint-sized gal. but no snow? no fret. build one in your own living room with a willing model and a white bedsheet.

first, grab some props—boots, hats, scarves, mittens. see what the kids come up with. Sweet One wanted to give her snowman a backpack. Little One thought it was the neatest thing ever to throw yellow burp rags at her snowman's feet. the key material, of course, is snow! for that, we turn to a white bedsheet (or maybe yellow if you have that sense of humor?). a fitted sheet works best, with one corner going over the head like a hood. the larger the better: our king-size sheet left plenty of room for loosely wrapping ourselves in "snow." then give your snowman some flair. the girls thought this was the funnest idea ever.
oops, she melted!
melting snowman
as a finishing activity for the bedsheet snowman, you can also act out this fun rhyme about a melting snowman. the King County Library System has an amazing online collection of fingerplays, rhymes and songs. there's even a category for holiday rhymes, which includes some Christmas and winter-related gems. one that generates some giggles, and fits our theme, is I'm A Little Snowman. i'm including their YouTube demonstration, but see their original webpage for some nice variations on the words. (i like a blend of the two versions, substituting a carrot for the broomstick.)

to save you some digging, here are a couple other winter rhymes from the collection:
Ring Those Bells
We're Going on a Santa Hunt

cotton ball snowmen

looking for an activity that focuses on more fine-motor skills? me neither. looking for a craft that will keep the kiddos busy for five freaking seconds and may even draw you in? ok, then! i had a huge bag of cotton balls that i haven't drawn from in two years or so. hm, they look like snow! we started (and continue to enjoy) a cotton ball-snowball fight (or ten). then we lumped them together into bigger balls for some floppy snowmen. we glued a couple cotton balls onto green-paper trees for some easy Christmas cards. and now we're eyeing our growing stockpile of upcycle-worthy thingamabobbers to create our own snow model Christmas town (where their cottonball snowmen look a bit more put together than our slackers).

and to get in the mood...

see our favorite story about snowmen (what do they do at night?) and enjoy this video of caspar babypants' "i wanna be a snowman."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

book pick: Merry Un-Christmas

do you ever find yourself overjoyed that Christmas day has finally arrived — if only because it means it will soon be over? there's so much build-up to the actual day in our over-indulgent society. i don't know what your community was like, but the Christmas product and decorations went up in some of our stores before Halloween. Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday until it was co-opted by Christmas (you did hear, it's now known as Grey Thursday?).

of course, like any good kid, my daughter would love to have Christmas every day of the year — or at least have the holiday alternate every other day with her birthday, to the point that she'd be 200 years old by the time her 6th birthday rolls around (and the decorated tree has spontaneously combusted).

Merry Un-Christmas
here is a silly holiday book pick to fit just this mood. Merry Un-Christmas is written by a former Simpsons writer, which i take as an endorsement of its worthy humor. well-known illustrator David Catrow has already made an earlier appearance on this blog. in this book, Noelle and the other citizens of Christmas Town wake up 364 days of the year to celebrate Christmas. what does this mean for Noelle? a backyard full of ponies, a garage overflowing with bicycles, and an elaborate dinner each night that has become so boring it may as well be a TV dinner. the children of Christmas Town — but especially Noelle — look forward to one day of the year: Un-Christmas Day. no tree, no elaborate dinner, no presents. instead, a single magical day of school, mail, and — well, TV dinners. Noelle wishes every day could be Un-Christmas Day!

if i see one more advertisement for a sparkly princess toy that will break by New Year's, i'll be wishing every day was Un-Christmas Day too!

this post contains a lonely affiliate link, although this book is out of print so i'd recommend trying your local used book store first!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Stick 'em up! It's a guest post from Jes...

Who's the real law in this town, anyway?
When the house grows from one child to two children and perhaps more, eventually someone receives the highly coveted bossy boots. For most homes, the boots typically go the oldest child, a natural fit given their birth order. In our home, this has certainly been true until recently. The youngest is sure giving child number one a run for his money.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

book pick: Bob

only with Sandra Boynton do you get a Christmas with a hippo under the tree (and on top of it).

this week's silly holiday book pick from our private stash is Bob and 6 more Christmas stories, which has tabs to let kids choose which story they want to go to. Bob the pocket-sized reindeer kicks things off, and pops up in the other six tales as well. most are silly, although the board book ends on a sweet note with a "Christmas Lullaby" (musical notes provided!).

most anything by Boynton is bound to be ridiculously fun. see our previous Pajama Time bedtime Boynton pick for another fave in our house, although there are many more of course.

happy reading!

this post contains an affiliate link