It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Counter-Cultural Me, or, our Santa-Free Christmas

When my oldest was very little, I noticed something. It happened in the weeks coming up to Christmas. It happened All.The.Time. It seemed delightful the first time, innocuous the tenth time, even the twentieth time, but by the hundredth time, I was beginning to have serious concerns.

I am out in a mall, first week of December. A neighbour, a friend, a little old lady approaches, smile at my adorable tot with her nimbus of blond curls and the grey eyes big enough to swim in, and said…

“And what’s Santa bringing you this year?”

You know what? Even at less than two, I wanted my child to know that Christmas is about giving, not getting. And she was understanding this! We were making presents for family. We were baking treats to give to neighbours and unexpected friends dropping by. The whole while we did this, we chatted about how happy gramma would be, or Mrs. Goodman across the street would be, to receive our gift. How much fun it was going to be to see her smile and be excited.

This was what Christmas was about, for my child. And then every single time we went out in public, ten times an outing, people would loom into her space and ask, “What are you GETTING? What do you WANT?”

This was NOT on my agenda for my child. This was counter to my values, counter to what I wanted for her.

At that time in my life, I was also a more conventionally devout Christian than I am now. I didn’t like the way that Santa had totally upstaged the Baby Jesus. How could he not? Jesus was an unassuming presence, a baby wrapped in strips of worn cloth in a dingy cowshed. The angels offered a bit of glitz and glitter, but nothing like Santa, with his promise of unleashed, unrepentent acquisitiveness, greed and ME,ME,ME, GET,GET,GET.

My solution?

We would not “do” Santa.

Not in the North American sense, anyway. Instead, we talked about St. Nicholas, “a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (the greater part of modern-day Turkey), who used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering”. We looked at different ways Santa (St.Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas) was portrayed in other cultures.

When we saw him in the malls, they could, if they wished, go sit on his lap, even though they knew The Truth. They knew these men were just nice people being kind to little children. (Not such a bad thing to know, hmm?) I even paid for the odd picture.

Not believing gave us freedom to play with the norms. Haley decided, when she was seven or so, that it made much more sense in our snow-bound country were Santa’s sleigh to be pulled by fire-breathing dragons. Her Christmas artwork that year included a few renditions of this idea. Lyrical, creative, imaginative – and shockingly untraditional!

The kids were carefully coached in not spilling the beans to friends – nor even to those well-meaning adults. It would be unkind. We don’t want to make people sad at Christmas!

So, when those well-meaning people approached with their “And what is Santa bringing YOU?” questions, the conversation would go as follows.
Child: I don’t know what I’m getting. It’s a surprise!
Me: Why don’t you tell Mrs. Sweet about the present you’re making for gramma?
Child, face lighting up in a most gratifying way, launches into enthusiastic description.

Time and again, people would respond with a wave of warmth and admiration for these kids who really did enjoy the giving. (Ironic, when you consider it was these same people who had highlighted the problem of teaching greed so clearly to me, but of course, that was not their intention.)

Now, when I greet a child before Christmas, I ask if they’re excited about it. I ask what they’re looking forward to most. (Happily, it isn’t always the gifts they anticipate!) I ask if they are doing anything special with mommy and daddy, if they will see gramma and grampa, if they have their tree up. I ask about their school Holiday Concert and/or their church Christmas concert. In short, I ask about anything and everything but presents – because Christmas is about much more than presents!

Although I’m not intending to suggest that anyone else follow my example re: Santa, I do think it’s good practice to step outside cultural norms once in a while. Think them through. Determine whether they apply to you and your family, and act accordingly. Sometimes “It’s traditional!!” isn’t justification enough.

© 2006, Mary P

December 13, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, individuality, parenting | 18 Comments

George and Darcy

George and Darcy are here! They are so BIG! Darcy has slimmed right out. He’s not a stocky little toddler any more, he is a boy – and a good-looking one at that. George always was on the slender side, so his growth spurt is less dramatic. Two tall, slim boys are in my home. Wow.

Today is a PD (Professional Development) day, meaning the teachers go to school and the kids have the day off. (For recent readers, George and Darcy are ‘old’ daycare kids, now four, and four-and-a-half years old, respectively.) When Nigel’s mother asked if I could take George for the day, I immediately emailed Darcy’s mother. “Want to send Darcy? No charge!”

So far today, we have made stockings, we have made pipecleaner candy canes, and we have made oatmeal raisin cookies. Now the kitchen is filled with the aroma of baking, and the sounds of — any guesses? — a hockey game!!

“OWWW! You hit me in the ankle!” George shakes his foot.
“Now we have to have a penalty.” The boys repair to a chair, where they sit, side by side, their feet dangling. George watches the second hand on the kitchen clock.
“But now there is no hockey game!” Darcy complains.
“Yes, there is. It’s just waiting.”

Hockey lasts until lunch. Macaroni and cheese, with a couple of cups of squash mixed in for rich creamy vegetable goodness. Darcy inhales his first bowlful, then holds up the empty bowl.

“More, please!”
“Darcy, that’s not polite.” George informs him.
“He’s right, Darcy. That’s not polite for a big boy like you. Say the whole sentence, please.”
“May I have some more macaroni, please?”
George claps his hands. “Good job, Darcy!!”

Are they not the sweetest? Oh, and then they sang The 12 Days of Christmas, but that song is enough for another whole post. We’ll string out the George-and-Darcy fun, shall we?

© 2006, Mary P

December 12, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, manners, parenting | 16 Comments

More Auction Info and How-To

Her Bad Auction

The previous post described the ‘why’ of the auction. This post gives some ‘how-to’.

1) This auction is in fact more of a raffle. Tickets are purchased for a specific prize, and winners will be drawn at random. You can, of course, increase your chances of winning a particular item by placing all of your tickets on that item.

2) All proceeds go to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

3) Tanner is a little boy, and we all know how kids love to receive mail! If you look in the left sidebar of the Auction Site, you’ll find information on how to get letters to Tanner. I’m encouraging my kids to write him a note: perhaps you could help your child/ren do the same!

4) Bidding will begin on Wednesday, December 13th, continuing through Sunday, December 17th. Winners will be selected on Monday, the 18th. Information on how to purchase tickets is now on the site.

So, pop over to the Her Bad Auction website, do a little browsing, buy a few tickets, maybe even make a donation direct to MD Canada, and get your children (your own, your sister’s, your neighbour’s, whichever you have!) to write a letter to Tanner.

© 2006, Mary P

December 11, 2006 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 8 Comments

A Very Good Bad Auction

Her Bad Auction

Some months ago, Her Bad Mother discovered that her nephew, Tanner, has Muscular Distrophy. For Tanner’s story, follow the link. Take kleenex.

What can you do in the face of something so cruel and inexorable? The only thing to do is offer what support you can. When you’re in the room with the person, that might mean holding their hand in silence. When you’re a stranger, miles away, and feel your heart aching for this mother you’ve never met, this family in pain, you find other ways.

A few creative mothers put their heads together and came up with An Idea. We’ll have an auction, a virtual auction. We’ll take donations from bloggers, and put them up to auction, with the proceeds going to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy research. I’ve made a donation – those of you who’ve read me for long enough will understand my choice of gift. (She grins.)

Please, go. Bid.

It’s the least we can do.

© 2006, Mary P

December 9, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Distractions are my Life

We Parents of Teens have a Serious Discussion. About children and parenting and decision and guidance. Sitting across the dining table.

“I think what I need to do is sit down with him and point out the decisions that face him.”

“Yes, because he tends to drift, and then a decision is made by default,”

“- a result of passivity -”

” – and he doesn’t realize he’s even made a decision.”

“Exactly. He makes a decision by virtue of inaction, then sees the results as something that ‘just happen’ to him.”

(This is my sweetie and I thinking together to create solutions to a shared concern. I just love the way we work together.)

“Then I think that, having had that conversation, I’ll –” My eyes have wandered just to the left of my sweetie’s head.

“WHAT is that lump on the wall?”

He peers over at the congealed whitish lump, a good two cm in diameter, protruding from the wall by his ear. Reaches for a kleenex. It comes off the wall with an audible “SNAP”. The Serious Conversation dies, drowned by laughter.

And, no, I don’t know what the lump was.

© 2006, Mary P

December 8, 2006 Posted by | eeewww, parenting, random and odd | 10 Comments

Happy Birthday, Haley!

To Haley!!!

Who is now Twenty-One years old. (Not such a big deal here, with a voting age of 18 and a drinking age of 19…) But definitely an Adult. Happy Birthday, Biggest Girl!

© 2006, Mary P

December 7, 2006 Posted by | my kids, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Holiday Meme

Stolen from Jen.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Mulled wine. Egg nog is too sickly sweet, and hot chocolate? I can have that any time!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Wraps them. (Well, he did back when we had presents from Santa. The kids are past that now.)

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Coloured! Lots and lots of lovely colour!

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Indeed. Right in the arch that joins front entry to livingroom, so I can smooch anyone who appeals to me… heh.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Usually by now! Right now all we have up is the wreath on the front door! Lights go up this weekend.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Ummmm… Probably the turkey. I know, how uncreative. But I love turkey. With gravy. Lots and lots of gravy.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Oh, goodness. They all sort of blend together, you know? I remember opening that one gift on Christmas eve, and practically bursting with anticipation of the others in the pile. My sister, brother, and I opening my stocking in the wee small hours of Christmas morning. (This was allowed.) Putting up the tree with my mother and grandmother, siblings, and aunt, while my grandfather manned the records. Sometimes (once?) he played carols on the piano. Everyone around the table in my grandparents’ dining room for Christmas dinner. Christmas carollers coming to the door; being a Christmas caroller. All sorts of memories. I think I’m saying I don’t have a favourite, aren’t I?
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
No idea. I don’t remember believing in Santa, though I guess I did at some time.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
No, though we did in my childhood family.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
While my eldest sorts out the strings of lights, I put on the Christmas music, generally including Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and a Blind Boys of Alabama/Nat King Cole disk we burned, among others. Lights go on the bare tree, then each of the kids has a box of their own ornaments that they add, while I put on the others. Oh, and hot chocolate. Always hot chocolate while we do this, and sing.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love the first few falls. By mid-January, though, it can Go Away.

12. Can you ice skate?
I’m stealing Jen’s answer to this question, because it so fits me, too:
“By most people’s definition, no.”

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
No. As I say, my Christmas memories tend to be one happy blur.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
One thing? ONE thing? The gift-giving!!! Remembering the original Christmas. Or maybe the music. No, the lights. The Christmas eve service at church! Or maybe, getting cards and decorating with them. Oh! The tree!! Love the tree. Crowds in the stores (really – as long as I’m not trying to do serious shopping, which I rarely do in December). Snowfall in the evening, glimmering against the Christmas lights. Holiday baking. Wine with friends? Yes! All of it! There is no One Thing.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
I make these great chocolate brandy balls. Yummm…

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
On Christmas morning, the children go downstairs and get their stockings from the mantle, go into the kitchen and make me a cup of tea, then come upstairs and they open their stockings on my bed while I sip my tea.

17. What tops your tree?
She does (see right). A gorgeous Christmas angel, who looks like she has a bit of faerie in her.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving. I do Christmas shopping throughout the year, and I love every minute of it.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
“Oh, Holy Night” (which is a carol, not a song*). It was my grandfather’s favourite, too.

(*Carols are steeped in tradition and grounded in the heritage and history of the celebration; songs, while they can be pretty and eminently sing-able, are neither. Eg., “Silent Night” vs “Rudolph”; “Away in a Manger” vs “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”.)

I don’t tag for memes. If you want to do this one, let me know in the comments, and I’ll link to you!

© 2006, Mary P

December 6, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, memes and quizzes | 10 Comments

Introducing Obsessive-Boy…

“No-soot! No-soot! No-soot! Outside!”

“That’s right. We’re going outside, Nigel. We’re putting on your nice blue snowsuit. One leg… There! And your oth–”

“Hat! Hat! Hat! Hat! Hat! Hathathathathathathathathathathat…”

“Your hat comes next, bud. Right now, we’re still putting on your snowsuit.”

“Hat! Hat! Hat! Hat! Hat!”

Snowsuit. One arm, the other –”

“Hat! Hat! Hat! Hat! Hathathathat!”

“Not yet. First the snowsuit. The other arm, and zip one zip, and the other zip. There! And now your hat! Hurray! Pop it on top, tie it under yo–”

“Mittie! Mitties! Mittiemittiemittiemittiemittie…”

“Not yet. And tie it under. your. chin. There. Your hat is on. What’s next? Mittens, right? Let’s get those mittens on. Hold out your hand, budd–”

“Boots! Boots! Boots! Bootbootbootbootbootboot…”

……. sigh …….

© 2006, Mary P

December 5, 2006 Posted by | individuality, quirks and quirkiness, the dark side | 5 Comments

A Day in the Life…

7:45, Emily arrives, wailing.
Soothe mom, send her to work. Calm baby.
Read her a story.
8:00, Emily down for nap.
8:07, take call from Emily’s mom, who hasn’t calmed down quite as quickly as her daughter. Poor sweetie. (Emily’s mom, I mean. Emily is fine – sleeping like a baby, in fact.)
8:15, Nigel arrives.
8:20, and Timmy. Timmy’s mother warns me that he has a bit of a — Timmy sneezes, sending streams of thick yellow glop shooting onto… his mother’s jacket. I try to twist my face into a smile of sympathy, but I think only manage to get as far as smirk of relief.
8:45, and last but not least, Anna.

9:00, snack for three awake children.
9:15, story time.
9:30, free play, a.k.a. toss babies onto a heap o’toys in livingroom and ignore while I dash about frantically grabbing diaper bag, library book bag, purse, keys, etc. (Both bags packed the night before, I might virtuously add.)
9:40, start dressing tots for outing.
9:45, Emily wakes. Olfactory diaper check. (How much of YOUR day do you spend with your nose in someone’s butt? Not as much as I do, I’ll bet.) She’s fine! Stuff her in snowsuit.
9:50, remove Timmy from his suit to demuck the boy, who is wallowing in mire produced in the three minutes he’s been in the suit.

10:00, start putting tots into stroller.
10:08, Start our walk, drop off books at library (but don’t stop to visit), head to toy store to pick up Christmas presents on order. There is a COOOLD wind coming straight out of the north and into our faces. Timmy, Nigel, and Emily whimper a bit until I adjust their collars and scarves. Anna falls asleep.
10:30, at toy store, Nigel on and on and on about the “daff-un!” “Daff-un! Daff-un!! Daffundaffundaffundaffun, DAAAAFFFF-UNNNN!!” Doll? Monkey? Snakes? Clown? Shovels? Hula hoops? Bubble bath? Finally I see it – how could I have missed that 12-foot-long model suspeded from the ceiling in the stairwell?
“Oooohhh… Shark, hon. That’s not a dolphin, it’s a shark. See all his sharp teeth?”
“Yah. Daff-un!”

11:30, home again. Peel the children out of their suits; tuck mittens into hats, hats into sleeves; boots on tray; suits on named pegs in the entryway. Sit them at the table.
11:45 lunch. (Vegetarian chili and cheese bread with frozen peas as appetizers.)

12:00 singing time. “Free monkeys! Free monkeys! Free monkeeeeeeyssss—NAP!” Nigel demands. I oblige.
The rest of the set list includes:
My father is a garbage man;
If you’re happy and you know it;
I’m a little smelly skunk;
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed;
Five green and speckled frogs.
Then the babies start crawling away. I think singing time is over…

12:20, diaper time.
12:35, story time, all snuggled together on the couch – two in my lap, one on each side. “Bee-bo book! Bee-bo book! Beebobookbeebobookbeebobook, BEE-BO BOOK!” Guess which is Nigel’s favourite? I oblige. (Guess what book he’s getting for Christmas? But don’t tell!) We also hear: I lost my bear; Cloudy; Ruby’s Rainy Day; Leo et Popi, il faut laver Popi; and the perennial FUNNY, funny book, Blue Hat, Green Hat.
12:50, start bedtime.

1:00, all tots down. Minor fusses from Anna, soon soothed, using the work-that-soother technique. Nigel discouraged from singing to his toes. (This highly stimulating pasttime can keep him awake the entire nap-time.)
1:10, everyone sleeping, even Nigel’s unserenaded toes.
1:11, I wash dishes, shovel out under dining table, scrub table, wipe down bibs, do laundry, cut up melons for snack, send a few emails.

2:00, write blog post.

Bet you thought it would be more interesting, huh?

© 2006, Mary P

December 4, 2006 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 18 Comments

Happy December

I know it’s fashionable to go on about how much you hate hats, but I’ve always quite liked them. It can be tricky finding the right hat, no denying that, but once I’ve found the right one, I love wearing it. (Do I have any at the moment, besides functional-but-boring winter tuque-y things? No, I do not. But the principle stands. Hats can be fun!)

Seems the parents feel the same way about headgear for their wee ones. Check out the millinery THIS week:

And my favourite by a mile…

© 2006, Mary P

December 1, 2006 Posted by | individuality, the cuteness! | 19 Comments