Saturday, December 31, 2011

Secret Santa Magic

In our home, Santa brings each child three gifts.

Ask any of my children why, and they'll invite you to put your feet up awhile they pour you a glass of our red-and-green Kool-Aid : "If it's good enough for Baby Jesus, it's good enough for us."

(On occasion when we are asked why other kids get more than 3 gifts from Santa, we simply reply: Parental Subsidies. We don't subsidize Santa; we subsidize dance. It leaves them stumped, yet mystically satisfied.)

I (Mama) give an ornament to each child every year, so that when they are grown, they'll have a collection of ornaments from their childhood.

And, in an effort to promote sibling bonding (and don't knock it, this works BIG time, especially when some of your children's primary love language is gifts), we have a Sibling Secret Santa Exchange. Hatfield organizes a name drawing, and then each child gets a special shopping trip out with Mom to purchase a gift for their assigned sibling.

This year, Paloma's MOST FAVORITEST GIFT EVAH was from her Secret Santa, Hatfield.
A pair of Fashion Eye Glasses (non-prescription.)

If you were to happen upon our home on any given day to see what the Mister and I wear, you will wonder just where-oh-where does Paloma get her Fashionista Passion.

I assure you, it is from neither of her parents.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Gift that Can't be Wrapped

My Christmas gift from the Mister this year didn't come in a shape or form that could be plunked into a box and wrapped up with a bow.

Instead, he gifted me with the ability to say good-bye to a very important part of my life, in for form of two weeks of vacation time off from work, and sandwiched between two- 24 hour car rides with five kids and a papillon.
Which probably sounds like he wrapped up Hell and slapped a bow on it.

But it wasn't. Not by a long shot.

My grandparents built a home on Sanibel Island, Florida (off of Ft. Myers, in the Gulf) right around the time I was born.

When I was going up, every family winter vacation took us to Sanibel. I have so many memories of my grandparents (now elderly), my father (now deceased), and my childhood, in the house.

Yet, my grandparents are aging and no longer able to travel to Sanibel. The house and island are pricey, so it's no longer practical to keep the house.

My folks went down there for the month of November to work on the house-- paint, repair, pack.

Basically, they have the terribly difficult and bittersweet job of dismantling a world.

My mother begged us to come down, to give them a reprieve from the weeks of sadness. For the Mister (and boys) to help Boppa with some of the heavy lifting jobs that he couldn't do on his own (carpet removal, anyone?)

So, halfway through November, we packed it up and headed South.

Being there this year, without my grandparents' presence, was terrible in and of itself. It was not the same, and something was just very much missing.

But that hurt was covered by the joy I felt in watching my children swimming in the pool, playing on the family room floor, running down the beach.
Watching my parents and my aunt and uncle watch my children, seeing how much they loved all the crazy life my kids breathed into that place, was wondrous. "It is soooo good to see the house be used the way it was intended to be used," my aunt commented on Thanksgiving night, watching the kids take a post-Turkey swim.

I spent a huge part of my time on Sanibel one breath away from choking up with tears---seeing the beach for the last time, being in the house for the last time, driving away for the last time.

But it was worth it.

So thank you, Mister, for "forcing" me to agree to this trip. It was priceless.

And as bittersweet it was to leave, what a gift my grandparents gave all of us--over three decades of family memories.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Demolishing the Fortress of Coping Mechanisms, Brick by Measly Brick

Clearly, attempting the 12 days of Christmas was overly ambitious on my part.

This month has flown by. The entire second half of the year has, really, as the calendar in my mind shows July 2011.

Where did Summer and Fall go?

Our holidays were nice this year, truly. The past two weeks have been a blur of baking, knitting (seriously, if you ever find me attempting to knit Christmas presents the week before Christmas, for the love of all things holy, stage an intervention and take my needles away), watching Christmas movies, preparing presents, etc.

My mom and I took the kids up to visit my grandparents, who are somewhat housebound in their home on a lake in very Northern Wisconsin (i.e., the middle of nowhere.) We brought up pictures and the keyboard and violins, and had a little Christmas recital for them.

The kids have been fighting off the flu/headcolds all week. I knew my turn was coming, but somehow I literally forced my way through it until 6 p.m. Christmas Day. Within 5 minutes of the last guest leaving, my sinuses blew up, my tonsils caught fire and my lymph nodes swelled into shooter marbles.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your reference point), the Mister's industry takes the week between Christmas and New Year's off. Meaning he has been on Mr. Mom duty ever since I took to bed. I'm on Day 2 in bed, resting so I can be up and about for Knitty Knight tonight.

My Haitian Sensations have been holding it all together remarkably well, given the buzz about the holidays. In fact, now that I think about it, they did great, and I'm really proud of them.

While at times I feel like we're treading water, when I look at the Yearly Big Picture, the amount of growth is amazing.

Slowly, but surely, Keenan is beginning to recognize, acknowledge and process emotions. This is huge. H-U-G-E. It is neither an easy nor pretty process, but it's so important that it happens. Testing shows he's at the emotional development of a 24-30 month old, but that's okay.

For the first 2 years he was home, he had nearly zero emotional development. The child was stuck in a Fortress of Coping Mechanisms.

In many ways, he still is, as he retreats to that Fortress often. He is completely uncomfortable and often unwilling to accept any feelings of discomfort, dislike, and displeasure. Sometimes I get confused thinking this is an entitlement issue, but really, I think it is an inability-to-process-emotions issue.

This is a constant push-pull dance that we have with homeschool. Keenan does not like doing math work. He is super stinking smart in math, and can do all the work, but he doesn't like it. It's not fun. Why do math when you can play with toys and feel good.

So, instant retreat into "I don't know what a 4 is," or "I don't know what a pencil is." Anything to try and block those feelings of not liking something.

I work hard at pulling/coaxing him out of it. When I'm "on," I can remain perky and try to pull/coax him with positivity and rewards. It takes tremendous energy/effort to do this, because most days I just want to roll my eyes and say, "Too bad! No one has ever died from doing math! Deal with it!"

(Although I don't say that, because I'm pretty sure that doing so would tempt fate into making me the First Homeschool Mom who Died from Math. And that, to steal a phrase from Paloma, would be a Bad Bummah.)

On days when I can't muster it, or when the situation becomes so imbalanced that I must give focus/energy to the others and not allow Keenan to suck all the oxygen out of the room, then I move to an (ideally) empathetic and (hopefully) calm manner of: "You are welcome to play/go outside/call a friend to play as soon as you are done with math. School is every child's job, including yours."

I call that the Empathetic-yet-Practical Boredom Approach to Math.

Somedays he can pull through and get it done; others he will sulk and refuse to do it, choosing to spend an afternoon pretending he doesn't know how to add 1 + 2.

Those times are tough. It often seems like he literally wants to be forced into doing his math, whether it is me encouraging him or me warning him that if he doesn't want Mama's Homeschool, he can do Daddy's Homeschool after dinner. Either way doesn't matter to him; it is just that he wants someone else to force him into it. As if he is somehow forced into doing it, then it's not really him doing it.

Does that make any sense?

I don't quite get that yet.

But, the larger picture is that he can't live in a bubble, nor can he expect/demand/force other people to let him live in that Happy La-La Land (which was the main trouble with public school, as he is very cute and very charming and he knew exactly what to do to get out of work.)

So, I'm trying to turn something unbearable for him into something bearable. To try and teach him: there's always going to be something we don't like, but we have to push through and get the work done. And you know what? That sense of accomplishment from doing something we don't want to do but do anyway? That feels really good.

So far, he's not really buying into that.

At times I want to say: Holy hell, kid, you'll be doing math every day for the next 11 years! Do you really want to make yourself miserable every day for the next 11 years?

But honestly, that thought makes me really nauseated.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas

On the Second Day of Christmas,
My True Love Gave to Me:

Two Singing Friends

Paloma taught her bff Audra the song she sings daily to Buddy, our "Elf on a Shelf", all in hopes of getting him to talk to them.

Good luck with that, girls. ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas

On the First Day of Christmas,
my True Love gave to me:

Our First Teenage Daughter

I still feel flummoxed at the notion that my very first baby girl is a teenager. I can recall every tiny detail about her birth and bringing her home from the hospital. I feel nearly panicked at the thought that in another year and a half, she'll be off to high school. If 13 years went by in a blink of an eye, how quickly will those final four years at home seem?

The Mister and myself and our entire family are beyond blessed to have Hatfield in our lives.

Here is the song Hatfield and I listened to over and over (and over) again all summer. I will never not hear this song and think of my girl. It's a great one to start off the morning, so crank it up and dance about wherever you are.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day of Rest

For years now, the weekends have been my "big chance" to catch up and get all the things done each week that I hadn't gotten done earlier in the week. This especially became true once we began our homeschooling lifestyle. Then, I found all that time I had once had to do things like vacuum, clean, organize, and decorate, suddenly evaporate, taken over by the necessity of juggling math lessons, history readings, and science projects.

We brought more children into our family, the kids grew older and activities were added into the mix, and suddenly, the weekends became a time to stress out, trying to shove 50 hours of duties into a 48-hour span.

A few months back, I realized that I was burning the candle on both ends. I never seemed to have time to relax and just enjoy life without worrying about all I have to do. I found myself trapped in the cycle of thinking: Oh, I'll be able to veg/knit/relax for a while as soon as I get the ironing/mopping/shopping/planning done.

News flash for myself: the ironing/mopping/shopping/planning would never be done. It's like painting the Golden Gate bridge. As soon as I'm done, I have to start all over again.

So, I have now claimed Sundays to be a day of rest for me. God really got that one right, and shame on me for being such a self-asborbed, bone-headed martyr for me to miss out on it for all these years.

I have friends who are Adventists, and they take their day of rest very seriously, to the point of having lists of approved and unapproved activities.

My list isn't legalistic in a biblical/Christian sense. I just more or less took some time to think about what fills my tank and what things deplete me into an exhausted stupor.

Things I'm okay with doing on my day of rest:

* Taking a walk/bike ride/ run if the goal is to make me feel re-energized, or to give me time away from the house. I love to explore the larger neighborhood, looking at landscaping or exterior color design on houses.

* Baking/cooking if it is not done to make the week easier, but instead out of a craving/intense desire and liking of the food.

* Reading a good book

* Knitting

* Enjoying yard or garden work, as long as there is no set work goal in mind

* Napping

Things that are not allowed and which I gave my husband permission to look me in my bedroom and throw away the key if he catches me being a numbskull:

* Preparations for the week. While it makes me feel more organized in the end, the actual process stresses me out. I have 6 days each week when I can plan and prepare. No one--least of all, me-- is going to die if I skip out on this one day.

* Cooking for the week.

* Exercising to achieve a goal or keep a schedule.

* Reading parenting books.

* Cleaning (except the Dyson. I allow myself the luxury of vacuuming if I am going to sit on the couch and knit, because I don't want a ton of dog hair in my knitting.)

* Ironing or laundry.

I am amazed by how much just one day of doing nothing each week improves my mental and emotional health. And I have found that I get more done in 6 days/1 day of rest than I did in 7 days of feeling tired and sluggish.

The past 3 Sundays consisted of cross-country roadtrips and our dance school's Holiday Performance at a local theater, so my self-prescribed Day of Rest was missed. As such, I awoke on this Sunday morning, feeling panicky and off-kilter about all that needs to be done.

But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself: it can wait.

So, I spent the morning reading in bed, with kids coming in and out to cuddle, look at books, show me their newest lego creation, etc. The Mister is whipping up batches of bagels and English Muffins (because, yes, I somehow managed to score a husband whose biggest stress buster is baking!) and the house smells of a doughy-heaven. It's sunny out and a very warm 38 degrees (I'm not being facetious here. 38 degrees right now feels awesome.) and this afternoon I'm going to take a walk and look at Christmas decorations. And then I'm going to whip up a big batch of my dad's chili (because I want to), open up a cold beer, and watch my 12-0 Green Bay Packers whip some Raider ass with my little boys.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Reindeer Games

My kids were shocked to come home and find that not only does Santa has some new reindeer this year, their front hall photos were swapped out with reindeer photos. Please meet:





File under: Fun and Free Holiday Decorating that You Don't Have to Drag Up from the Basement.