Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reeisms, Vol. 4

The master of making faces, the funniest kid around, and with a head full of truly terrible ideas, at age 3.5, Ree continues to keep us on our toes.

She is usually quite trustworthy out of my sight, but is never to be trusted in the bathroom alone.  Although I should know better (based on incidents including but not limited to toilet paper being stuffed in the sink and the sink being filled and flooded, for example), I recently sent her upstairs to use the bathroom and told her I'd be there in a minute.  I arrived to a guilty smile, and Ree said, "Mama I'm sorry but I washed the walls with toilet paper and water..."  Filled with dread, I asked her, "Where did you get the water you used?"  And of course, my worst suspicions were confirmed as she pointed down between her legs into the toilet bowl.  Oh my lawd but this child.  What am I going to do with this child?!

She calls flamingos falingos and a placemat a spacemat.  A telescope or a kaleidoscope are both called eyedoscopes, somewhat interchangeably.  She sings Joy to the World exuberantly although Advent and Christmas are past, blending her words together into "heavenature sing, heavenature sing! heaaaaaaavenature sing!"  

She has been known to run around the house declaring "Pip, pip, pooray!"

And when her teeth chatter, she'll say, "My teeth are snapping from the wind!"

And one of my favorites: "See you later!  In a crocodile!"

When a woman at the grocery store smiled at her, Ree declared loudly: "Well I don't like you!"
{And I died a little of embarrassment, of course.}

* * *

Ree: "I have lots of babies you know."
Me: "Where are your babies today?"
Ree: "I keep them in a cage."
Me: ...
Ree: "I don't let them out really."

* * *

Early one morning:
Me: "Ree, it's way too early to be up."
Ree: "Well, I didn't wake up until it was one sixty-two."

* * *

At 7:00 am one morning: "Hey Mama I am hungry.  Because it's five o'clock.  And the sun is setting.  Setting up."

* * *

As we came to the end of a fun hike: "I know we really need to go but I really want to stay here forever."

* * *

A conversation with her little friend Lydia, demonstrating that Ree is a regular little Miss Congeniality:

Lydia: "I like your apple hat."
Ree: "Thank you.  Well, actually, no thank you."
Lydia: "You are special and you are happy."
Ree: "No I am not happy."

* * *

"Hey Molly, do you want to die and go to a new place and visit God?  Yeah?!"

* * *

Musing to herself: "My belly button is a little bit crooked and it needs something to go on top of it."

"I don't like boy singers but I only like girl singers."

* * *

Ree: "Sometimes your brain hurts when you go poop.  Your brain that is in your tummy.  (Points to vein in wrist.)  This brain goes into my tummy."
Me: "Ohhhh your vein."
Ree: "Yeah.  And then you die and this vein goes into your tummy."
Me: ...???...

* * *

Me: {places order at Starbucks drive-thru}
Ree (yelling from the back of the van to try to be heard on the speaker by the barista): "CAN I PLEASE HAVE A DONUT?!?"

* * *

During Advent, when we were focusing on doing kind and sacrificial things for one another, Nell asked if something she had done was a sacrifice, and Ree retorted nonsensically, "No, that is not a sacrifice, that is a mad mean mookie!"

* * *

Her food choices are remarkable for a three-year-old: 
"I don't want soup, I want broccoli. Or salad."

In fact, she loves salad so much that she named her baby doll Salad.  Salad as her first name and Saliva as her middle name.  Salad Saliva.  Yes, really.

* * *

Ree {taking after her father perhaps, who has a cheek-biting habit}: "I'm eating my cheek where I bited it."
Me: "Oh, don't do that."
Ree: "But I like it and it tastes good."

In church (angrily): "I can't hear my sentence because everyone is singing too loudly!"

* * *

Disapproving of one of Nathan's Christmas music selections he was listening to: "This music is not Christmassy it is just plain."

* * *

Listening to Roger Whittaker for a moment of a throwback to my childhood, Ree said disparagingly: "I don't like this movie music!"

* * *

As the organist began to play "Go, tell it on the mountain," in church one Sunday morning, Ree declared, "This is the wrong kind of music for church!"

* * *

Driving in the car one day:
Me: "What kind of music should we listen to?"
Ree: "I want church music."

* * *

She thinks all pop music is a commercial - like the moments of pop music she hears in between songs when we're listening to music on Spotify.  A few times when I've put on some pop music to listen to, Ree will come dashing into the room and yell, "THIS is just a COMMERCIAL!"

"I need to practice my violin now because in seventy-two weeks I'm playing a concert for my kids."

* * *

Walking in abruptly on me using the bathroom: "You look nice."   {Um, thanks?}

* * *

Putting me in my place, as she frequently does:

Ree: "Mama I'm sorry but I peed a little in my undies."
Me: "Ok go hop on the potty quickly!"
Ree: "Ok.  Well good job not screaming Mama!"

{In my defense the so-called "screaming" is usually a slightly raised voice urging the speed required to go upstairs and get on the potty before the slightly damp undies turn into a full-on accident.}

When I took the girls to see the Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet after Christmas, and the Arabian dance began {with the male dancer, as usual, without a shirt on}, Ree declared in a loud whisper, "That's not appropriate!  That's not acceptable!  That daddy is naked!"

* * *

And when we went to the beach one wintery day and there was snow all around and the girls were in their snow pants and boots, Ree said ecstatically, "Look at the ducks!  I'm going to go in and swim with those ducks now!"

* * *

When she had an earache one evening, Ree said pitifully: "I have an ear 'fection.  Something is in my ear is choking me.  And it's having a fight in there.  And it's hurting me."

* * *

And later that same evening: "I want medicine.  And I get to decide what medicine it will be because it's my ears and it's my body so I get to decide what kind of medicine I want."

"God can make even Joseph and Mary cuz that's why God is flexible."

* * *

When I came downstairs wearing a dress one morning: "WOW I love you!  You are so beautiful!"

* * *

When I was reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe aloud to them recently: "They shouldn't have gone to that dangerous place with a witch they should have stayed home with their mother!"

* * *

And further musings on Narnia: "I wouldn't go to those bad scary places.  I would just go to good churches."

"When I was a baby asleep in your tummy I feeled that I was in your bone.  Isn't it funny that babies can be in your bone?  In your tummy bone?  And then they come out of your belly button and there's a scab and a cord and a clip to hold it and then it falls off and the cord is off and there's a hole."

And there you have it, my friends.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Molly at ten months

Sweet Miss Molly.  Ever so happy as long as Mama is holding her or is close by, and showing off her two bottom teeth with frequent grins, this girl manages to be both Mama's girl and extrovert at the same time, grinning at everyone she sees -- as long as they don't try to take her away from me.  

She sits at my feet for a lot of the violin lessons that I teach these days, and eagerly greets my students with big smiles.

A few stats:

Weight: 18ish pounds, I think

Nicknames: Molly Moe, Moll, Mollywog.  Oh, and in the past five minutes Nathan has referred to her as a "Beautiful, beautiful, Artisinal quality, handmade in small batches, beautiful, beautiful, high level baby."

Expertise: Scratching faces, grabbing glasses

Her favorite food is paper, and it doesn't seem to matter that we keep explaining to her that this isn't in fact a food.  All solid foods that enter her mouth are subsequently spit back out.  Paper, on the other hand, is surreptitiously grabbed in tiny bits that big sisters have dropped to the floor, and happily gnawed on until Mama finds it in her mouth and removes it.

She fights sleep, this girlie, and often seems to have some sort of baby-insomnia where the skills she's earnestly trying to develop are keeping her awake.  She'll be drifting off to sleep, and then open her eyes, pop up, and start saying "mamama!  mama!  mamama!" or clicking her tongue, or making kissing noises.  All wonderful, adorable skills, to be sure, but sleeping is a skill too -- and one we're hoping she'll develop one of these days.

Speaking of sleep, in a sad turn of events, poor Molly fell off the bed and fractured her left clavicle on Sunday night.  She keeps looking at me reproachfully, and who can blame her, really?

The poor baby, who usually cosleeps between Mama and Daddy, was blissfully cosleeping with just me while Nathan was out of town for the better part of a week.  Despite the pillow barricade I had set up, she apparently found a means of escape.

"Really, Mom?  You thought a mere pillow could stop me from sleep-crawling off the edge of the bed?"
It was pretty evident that something was amiss after her fall, so when morning dawned I called the doctor's office and we traipsed over there so that Molly's reproachful expressions could be joined by the reproachful expressions of doctors and nurses.  

Yes, of course, I feel terrible about it.  I know I won't be getting any Mother of the Year awards at the rate I'm going.  And I probably shouldn't admit that I'm pretty sure each of my kids has fallen out of bed a time or two, and somehow Molly was just the first one unlucky enough to get a resulting fracture from the experience.

In the meantime, by Tuesday she was already back to crawling around a bit and even pulling herself up.  I've tried various tactics to immobilize her arm, but she wiggles out of everything and keeps moving.  We're safety-pinning her sleeve down to the body of her clothing, which is what the doctor recommended, and aside from that precaution, it seems like her pain levels will determine what she can and can't do, and she seems to be managing okay.  

I have to admit my soft spot for this babe of mine has grown even softer, tenderized by a dose of pity, I suppose.  She needs lots of holding and snuggles, and I'm only too happy to oblige right now.

But look!  She's still got some pretty fabulous grins going on, fractured collarbone notwithstanding.

I'm working hard with Marie on the understanding that we need to be extra gentle with Molly right now, and not touch her at all.  This is difficult with a child who scarcely seems to be able to be gentle to begin with, and the only reasonable solution may be to never leave the two of them together until Molly is healed.  

I did allow the big girls a closely supervised photo op with Molly, of course -- and no, they didn't dress up for the occasion.  They were already dressed this way, as they often are.  Regular clothes are so boring when all you want to do all day is dress up and dance and twirl and be ballerinas.  I think Molly is wondering when she can join the fun.

Dear Molly,

I've probably said "I'm sorry" to you a hundred times in the past three days, but I'll say it again here, for the record.  I feel terrible that you took a tumble on my watch.  Somehow the knowledge that it's just the beginning in a long line of life's hurts I won't be able to protect you from makes it all the more poignant, and I've spent a lot of time in the rocking chair the past few evenings, just cuddling you and singing to you.  

You're a tough one, and I know you'll be good as new in no time.  

To tell the truth, sometimes my arms get tired of holding you and I get frustrated by how little you nap and how much you need me.  I guess that, even after almost six years of motherhood, I still have some selfishness left in me.  But at the end of each long day, I still look at your sweet, sweet little face and feel like I could explode from loving you so much.

I'm heading up to bed now to snuggle you, because I can hear your cries up there right now and can tell that Daddy just isn't cutting it for you.  I guess his feelings for your {as expressed earlier in this post} aren't yet 100% mutual.  Okay, okay!  I'll come snuggle you back to sleep.

I love you, girlie.  


{catching up}: Molly at 9.5 months

Aaaaand skipping over eight months, because life was crazy and poor Molly had a nose that streamed snot for weeks on end... I did manage to get some nine month pictures only a couple of weeks late! {At which point she was on round two of a cold, and still a little red-nosed and sad!}

Molly at nine months was crawling everywhere, pulling up on things, making kissing sounds, babbling (with aaahhhdadadadada being a particular favorite), and blowing raspberries like a pro.  She peed in the potty sometimes, with frequent resolutions by her mother to be more consistent with elimination communication so we could start getting the yucky stuff that really matters into that delightfully appropriate receptacle known as the baby potty.  She was rapidly moving into 12 month baby clothes, and her fingernails kept growing at an alarming rate that allowed her to scratch my face and draw blood from time to time.  I guess the 80 fingernails and toenails I'm singlehandedly responsible for trimming around here these days are getting the better of me.

Nine month Molly had become more attached than ever to Mama, and would often prefer to sit quietly and play at my feet while I was teaching violin lessons rather than be subjected to spending time with - the horror of it - a babysitter.  As with her sisters before her, I found her occasional babbles far less distracting than the sound of her screaming in a nearby room, so she has been keeping me company in my teaching these days more often than not.  

This child is not what you might call a good sleeper of late, and the past month or two has had its challenges in that regard.  In fact, for most of December she utterly refused to be laid down at any point for a single nap.  After endlessly trying to transfer her from arms or Lillebaby carrier to her crib, all of which ended in a wide awake and overtired and very crabby baby, we mutually gave up the effort and either Nathan or I would just wear her in the carrier for every. single. nap. for a while.  We simply concluded that between the emergence of two cute bottom teeth, and one cold followed by another, poor Molly just needed lots of cuddles.  So she took her naps on my chest in the carrier, and then would sleep the first part of each night's sleep in the carrier on Nathan's chest, and thus she was a reasonably happy camper, and we all kept surviving.

It's a good thing she's cute.

She had her first Christmas, and I think she approved of the experience.  She even got an ornament from Mama and Daddy to commemorate the occasion.

happily gnawing on a giant jingle bell.

Dear Molly,

You are surely adored around here.  Your sister Nell is of two minds on the matter: on the one hand, she wishes you were still a newborn baby and sometimes reminisces about those early days of tiny sweetness, and the way she could hold you and you didn't wriggle away.  On the other hand she can hardly wait for you to keep growing bigger and be able to really play with her!  You sister Marie loves you with the strange {deranged?} love of a three-year-old, and while it's dangerous to leave you alone with her, I do think that most of her cheek-pinching and body-slamming is somehow well-intended ... at least, we hope so.  Daddy can't get enough of you, and regards it as a personal accomplishment that most of your babbles are "dadada" rather than "mamama."  And I, while quite tired and sometimes overwhelmed with all the chaos and daily hard work of having three young children in the house these days, well, I wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas

We've been celebrating the twelve days of Christmas in some sense ever since we became parents.  Early on, it just didn't make sense to try to open all the gifts in one sitting with a toddler.  Little Nell wanted to enjoy something for a while.  And then a nap needed to happen.  And all this in between a special Christmas breakfast and then church and then, of course, Christmas dinner.  So we sort of accidentally fell into the idea of spreading the gifts out across the days following Christmas, and then we liturgically embraced it with intentionality, and we've been doing it ever since.

It also happens to work really well for our family given that Nathan works many, many extra hours in the month of December.  We really aren't that family that goes and cuts a tree in the snowy woods of New Hampshire on a weekend together, or strings popcorn and cranberry garlands together by candlelight, or drinks cocoa while Daddy reads the Christmas story.  But after Christmas, he usually gets some time off of work, and it's the perfect time for all that Advent anticipation to turn into Christmas celebration -- as a family.

It's really the way it's supposed to be, if one observes Advent, that to observe Christmas properly one ought to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany.  Somehow in our culture everything has gotten a bit backwards and people celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving (or, more honestly it would seem, Halloween) through December 25, and then everything fizzles out and everyone sits around in a post-Christmas slump of torn wrapping paper and wonders what to do with themselves until school starts again.

I try to be very intentional about Advent with my kids, and then we sure enjoy spreading out the Christmas cheer over the following days.  This year I'm trying to be particularly intentional about it, with a list of ideas going in my traveler's notebook {the delightful version of a day planner / journal / catch-all that I use} for ways we can properly celebrate Christmastide.

And before you begin thinking that celebrating twelve days of Christmas is the last thing you could possibly want to do because you're already exhausted and strung out from just the one day, wait! -- this is actually a much less stressful version of Christmas.  I promise.  It doesn't all hinge on one day. It's truly much more enjoyable this way!

A few people have asked me how we do this, so I'll share some ideas here:

Christmas Day

We open stockings first thing on Christmas morning, which is the way I grew up doing it.  But the kids don't get to go downstairs in the mornings until Nathan and I are ready to go down, too.  So when they wake up they wait for us to be awake, too, and sometimes once I'm up I'll tell them they can go tickle Daddy to wake him up, too.  Then they can come downstairs, but I always go down ahead of them and take a picture of the kids on the stairs, if for no other reason than because my parents always did this with us, and I love continuing that tradition!

This year the big girls were already wearing one of their gifts! I had decided it would be fun to give them the little hooded cowls I knitted for them first thing in the morning, when they woke and came into our bedroom.  They were quite pleased with them.  {And one of the things I'll be doing during the twelve days of Christmas is actually finishing them, since I ran out of time to add the little bear ears!}
Then, after opening stockings, the kids can play with their stocking treasures while I start making whatever breakfast things I haven't already made the night before.


An important part of our Christmas traditions are plenty of feasting.  We have special things that we only have at Christmas: cranberry coffee cake and a pecan ring, along with bacon and eggs and fruit and of course, coffee for me.


After breakfast, we go to church on Christmas day.  Always.  We have done this for the past six or seven years, I think.  And it's one of my favorite church services!  For our family, because my husband works at a church in Boston, Christmas Day is one of the rare days when we get to attend church as a family and sit together.  So, if the fact that it's Christmas Day weren't already enough, our kids really enjoy getting to have Daddy come with us, too.  This year we got quite a bit of snow on Christmas morning and only about four families braved the falling snow and un-cleared roads to come to church, but of course, you know those families really wanted to be there, and there was something extra lovely about that small crew of folks singing carols joyfully together.  The organist didn't make it in the snow storm, so Nathan of course stepped in and pulled out all the stops in his usual fashion.

By the time we've enjoyed all these things -- stockings, breakfast, and church -- it's a perfect time for kids to have a nap or at least a quiet time.  And then, depending on the year and what our plans are, we either begin making our Christmas dinner or begin to get ready to go visit with friends if we're doing that.  Either way, we make time to open about one gift per person.  I try to make sure whatever gift that is for the kids is the sort of thing that they will enjoy playing with for the rest of the day, and that it's relatively portable if we're going to someone's house for Christmas dinner.

This year we spent Christmas afternoon and evening with some lovely friends in their beautiful home, and passed the day with spiced nuts and chocolates and egg nog and other holiday treats until it was time for dinner.  And that was Christmas Day.

I know - you are probably not wondering how to celebrate Christmas Day because you already do that quite well, no doubt, and you have your own family traditions already well-established.  Good!  But the main thing I want to point out about Christmas Day is that it will be "magical," no matter what you do.  I did not grow up attending church on Christmas Day, and in my family we opened all the gifts on Christmas.  And it was magical.  I loved it.  Consequently, I sometimes have a niggling voice in my head telling me that if we don't do it the way I grew up doing it, which I experienced as being so magical, well, then my kids might miss out on that magic.

But I am learning that that is not true.

Sometimes when people learn that I didn't grow up "doing Santa" in my family, they immediately exclaim with surprise, "But Santa is so magical!  You missed out on all the magic!"  But of course, every one of my childhood Christmases was delightful and magical and we didn't need Santa to make it that way.

In the same way, Nathan and I get to choose and establish traditions for our family, and they don't have to be what we personally experienced as children to be wonderful, and delightful, and magical.  And who is to say that purple isn't every bit as wonderful as red in the early days of December?  And yes, it actually is magical to spread out the gift opening across many days of Christmas!  In fact, my children savor the continuing anticipation, and as a parent, I'm always quite happy that we pretty much manage to avoid the post-Christmas crash and resulting doldrums.

The Other Eleven Days

I'm pretty sure most of what I'm going to say here can be summed up as: take the things most people do before Christmas or on Christmas Day, and do them during the twelve days of Christmas, instead.  Need I say more?  {But you know I will, anyway!}  Here are some of the things I keep in mind to carry us through the twelve days of celebration.  Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but keep your decorations up!

Feasting: During Christmastide, I say "yes" to a lot of things I usually say "no" to.  We have leftover cranberry coffee cake for breakfast for several days following Christmas Day, or cardamom bread with plenty of butter, and clementines that seem extra special simply because they were in our stockings!  We also keep cheeses and salami and other savory treats around and just generally enjoy eating more festively.  (That said, the girls and I have had soup and salad the last two nights, because we also feel better when we don't go completely crazy, of course.)

Christmas cookies: The kids and I bake cookies after Christmas, too.  This year I plan to do cut-out sugar cookies with them and invite some friends over to decorate them.  This is a great example of an activity a lot of people would do in the days leading up to Christmas, but it is okay to do it during Christmastide, instead!  And of course, cookies fall squarely into the above category as well -- treats we usually don't eat a lot of, but it can be fun to enjoy during Christmas time.

Stories: We keep reading from our basket of Christmas books.  And, having done our Jesse Tree readings during Advent, during Christmas I like to read the gospel accounts of the nativity over and over again.  We have quite a few different children's Bible story books to choose from {thanks to my thrift store shopping habits}, so we enjoy reading lots of different versions!

Christmas music: This works especially well if you've been embracing Advent hymns throughout the season leading to Christmas, so you aren't already sick of Christmas music.  We love listening to Christmas music during the twelve days!  My girls are running around the house singing O Come All Ye Faithful, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and all the other good ones.  Daddy puts on all our best records and we listen to everything from Bing Crosby to King's College Choir to The Nutcracker.

Activities and Events: Speaking of the Nutcracker, we went the day after Christmas this year and I would love to make that a tradition for our family, that going to a special Christmas event like that can happen in the days following Christmas rather than the busy days leading up to it.  {For both my husband (a church musician) and myself (a violinist), the days leading up to Christmas are somewhat busy of necessity despite the fact that I try to create a slow-paced environment in our home during Advent.}

Keep Celebrating: You've probably noticed that there's a little thing called New Year's Eve that happens shortly after Christmas.  This is, in fact, within the twelve days, so why not enjoy the opportunity to eat some good food and get together with friends and make that a part of your general spirit of festivity and celebration during this time?

Puzzles/Games: I'm currently enjoying working on a 1,000 piece Christmas puzzle and the girls love working alongside me.  This is my idea of the perfect kind of Christmas activity.  If you're not a puzzle person, it could be playing with a new Christmas game or toy together, instead - so plan ahead and make a good family game or puzzle one or more of your gifts for one of the days of Christmas.

Arts & Crafts: Along with the girls' usual affinity for drawing and painting and handicrafts, during the days following Christmas we try to work in something special.  For example, this year they received unpainted wooden nutcrackers in their stockings that they get to paint themselves.

Giving Days: I came across this idea from a few different people online and we are doing it with our kids this year.  They each get their own "giving day" where they get to give the majority of whatever gifts they have selected or made for others (if they haven't already been eager to give a particular something before their "Giving Day," which would be okay, too).  They also get to do acts of giving to the family, like helping choose and make breakfast or another meal, and, since my kids are still quite young, I'll encourage them to make or draw something simple to give to family members.  {n.b.: I thought about giving myself a Giving Day as well, but I couldn't quite think of what I would do differently on that day in addition to the things I already do.  And then I realized that every day is a mama's Giving Day, ha!}

Shopping: Now if you've already "shopped til' you dropped" in the days leading up to Christmas, you probably neither want nor need to do this.  But if you happen to be like me, and skipped the malls and the busyness and even the craze of online shopping, well, it can be kind of fun to take the kids on a spin through the after-Christmas sales at Target or someplace!  Let them help choose gift wrap or gift tags for next year, or pick out a special ornament to add to the tree.  We did this last year with some good friends and had a great time.  Some of the holiday foods were also deeply discounted, and this is going to be perfect for you, because you know that Christmas isn't over and you're still celebrating!  So pick up that bag of cheddar popcorn or that tin of peppermint hot cocoa!

Follow the Star: We have one small nativity that I kept set up in its completion throughout Advent down at the kids' eye level.  I wanted them to be able to see and touch the figures and see it all together.  But then we also have a beautiful peg doll nativity set made by my talented friend Erin of My Pretty Peggy.  That nativity we set up in the wooden barn frame my parents made for us several years ago, and while the animals have been waiting in the barn since the beginning of Advent, we didn't add Mary and Joseph until Christmas Eve, and then late that night, I tucked baby Jesus into the manger so he would be there on Christmas morning.  But our wise men still aren't there!  The day after Christmas a star appeared somewhere in our house - a small glittering star I taped to the wall in a corner of our music room.  I sent the girls, with wise men in hand, on a hunt for the star.  When they found it, they got to place the wise men near it.  Each night I move the star, and as they find it, they move the wise men to follow it.  A friend shared this idea with me and I love it!  The girls are having a lot of fun, and it's a good daily reminder of Christmastide and of Epiphany approaching.

Gather with friends: You can invite good friends or new acquaintances or anyone you like to join you in many of these things.  I am hoping to incorporate more time with friends into our twelve days this year -- and hoping to grow closer relationships with others who are living somewhat liturgically, as well.  And note that this kind of gathering doesn't have to be stressful or fancy -- Christmas cookies and hot cocoa might be just the thing!  Or switch it up and have a salad night, ha, if you're all in a sugar coma and longing to eat something fresh and healthful.

Twelfth Night: This year for the first time I am planning to host a Twelfth Night party.  This is not a tradition I grew up with, but I had been pondering the idea of doing one, and then the very day I mentioned the idea to some friends, later that day I found that Leila Lawler, whom I look up to as a sort of beacon of creating a beautiful and meaningful family life, posted this: Restoring the Culture with Twelfth Night Festivities!  {She also has a post about celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, which you should read, too.}  So, I think it is meant to be that we shall do this sort of thing this year.  And Twelfth Night also falls on a Friday this year, which is an excellent time for a party.  I'm thinking we'll chalk the door and have king cakes {with a hidden bean, of course, the finder of which will become king or queen for the night}, and play games, and eat good food and drink wassail and sing carols one last time as we say goodbye to Christmastide and hello to Epiphany.  I'm excited about the idea and am hoping that some friends will want to join us.

Gifts: Of course, there are the gifts.  We have never made a hard and fast prescription for how the gifts ought to unfold, but I can tell you that it is actually not hard to have gifts that spread across twelve days, by the time you have a gift or two from grandparents, and sibling gifts to one another, and perhaps gifts from aunts and uncles as well, and of course, gifts from us, the parents {we usually do about three gifts per child, although it's flexible from year to year}.

This year I thought I wasn't really going to buy anything for the girls, as I had been storing away little treasures I found at thrift stores over the past year, hiding them in my closet.  When December rolled around, I found that I could just "shop" from my closet and I had lovely gifts I knew the girls would use and enjoy and cherish.  But then a few days before Christmas I found myself in Savers {dropping off donations, and then distracted by looking around as tends to happen to me at thrift stores!} and I ended up buying a few more things: a lovely tiny Christmas doll for Nell, wooden buildings and road signs and cars to add to Ree's collection, board books for Molly, and a pair of shoes for Nell and a dress for each girl.  They were all things I might have bought anyway, even if it weren't Christmas, but this is perfectly in keeping with my philosophy -- it's okay to make an ordinary thing such as a practical pair of shoes in perfectly beautiful condition into a special gift.  This is an essential aspect of celebrating the twelve days while keeping things simple and non-stressful!  Just like the simplest of things during Advent can become our special thing for the day with the right introduction and mood, so too can doing a jigsaw puzzle or receiving a new-to-you dress become a special Christmas thing.

{n.b.: you may want to clue in extended family that you're doing things this way, so they aren't surprised if you haven't already opened their gifts on Christmas Day.}

So between gifts, cookies and puzzles and games, a few gatherings with friends, The Nutcracker, good books and music, and a few other little things {I've promised I'll paint their toenails red tomorrow}, we really enjoying spreading Christmas out across the twelve days.

* * *

You know how that Danish word hygge has become quite popular in recent years?

Well, that's the feeling we're going for around here.

In between the naps needing to happen and the diapers needing to be changed and the laundry needing to be done... in between kids having their usual meltdowns over one thing or another and me going a little stir crazy from time to time... something as simple as keeping the Christmas candles burning and the Christmas mugs out within ready reach and the peppermint tea flowing steadily is going to give you that nice, cozy sense that it isn't over, you see.  There's more.  There's more to celebrate now, during Christmastide, and then there's more after that, too.  Because we get to observe each season of the church year, each with its own traditions and special celebrations, and we get to do it all year after year, orbiting around those most central of stories: that God became man, that he dwelled with us, that he sacrificed himself for us, that he wants to draw us to himself now, and that it isn't over.

The wonderful thing about the church calendar is that it is waiting with open arms to give you, whether as a parent or as an individual, the structure that you need to create intentional times and seasons in your life.  And I am finding that, if I do even just a little each year during these seasons to observe the things the church is calling me to observe, well, we will grow together as a family and grow in our knowledge and love of God.  It is so much easier than trying to start from scratch -- What should I read to my children? What verses should I teach them? What things should I do with them?  Do what the church is telling you to do right now.  It is the best of starting points.

{catching up}: Molly at seven months

In taking stock of my ever-expanding and never-shrinking To Do List, I realized that not only am I overdue to take some nine month photos of Molly, but I never took eight month photos of her, and I never uploaded or posted the seven month photos.  I think this would be an apropos moment for an ironic hashtag along the lines of #winning, or something like that.  

Well, at seven months she weighed in at just shy of 17 pounds, as I recall, and she had just had her first hair trim given by yours truly.  No teeth yet (although she's got a couple now!), no babbling yet, lots of army crawling / scooting around the house, her dirtied belly a constant and demoralizing reminder to me that we really ought to mop our floors.

She delights in us, and we delight in her.  Family is fun that way.

And saving possibly the cutest picture for last:

Seriously, this kid could take up baby modeling and earn a million dollars overnight.  I know, I'm biased.  But seriously.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Reflecting on our Advent

Towards the beginning of Advent this year, a friend shared with me the very freeing thought that you don't already have to have all your traditions perfectly in place when your kids are young.  You have time for things to evolve and grow and settle.

As it turned out, I needed to hear that this year, because a baby who doesn't sleep in the evenings without being held was not very conducive to finishing the set of felt Jesse Tree ornaments I began stitching last Advent.  {The set, while slightly closer to completion than last year, remains as yet uncompleted.}  In fact, there were a lot of things I might have wanted to do this Advent that simply didn't get done.

I did a lot of this.  Well, more accurately, I did a lot of pacing the house and attempting to get things done with Molly in the Lillebaby carrier.  And occasionally I got the luxury of lying down and holding her as she slept!
And yet, while we didn't do all the things, we did do some things.

We wore purple for the first Sunday of Advent, as we do every year.

We poured our own beeswax pillar candles for our Advent wreath for the first time this year, which was a successful endeavor I will repeat in future years now that I have the supplies on hand!

I filled our Advent calendar with slips of paper once again, and the girls took turns opening the door on the calendar for each day, and finding out what special thing we might be doing that day in our observance of Advent.

We brought out the basket of Christmas books, and with them, the Christmas blankets and pillows, making way for lots of cozy reading time.

We set up our stable, a small bowl of straw beside it, and the girls could put a piece of straw in the manger when I noticed them doing something particularly kind of sacrificial.

{picture from Christmas Eve when we put Mary, Joseph, and the baby into the stable}
We set up our Jesse Tree, and worked our way through a combination of stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, the Advent Jesse Tree book, and the Bible, hanging representative ornaments on the tree to go with each day's readings.

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, reading books about St. Nicholas and then practicing our own acts of generosity by filling gift bags with chocolates and delivering them to the doorsteps of a few local friends from church who live near us.  We had so much fun we talked about expanding our endeavors next year to include more friends!  {Actually, we did this on St. Nicholas Eve because I had to work a full day on St. Nicholas Day.  Oh well -- we made the best of it!}

We celebrated St. Lucia Day, the girls in full costume helping me make Lussekatter.  They colored pictures of St. Lucy and we talked about who she was and why her day is celebrated.  We watched YouTube videos of celebrations in Sweden, and listened to St. Lucia songs.

We decorated our house, little by little: a wreath on the front door one day, twinkle lights over the living room window another day, a garland and beautiful decorations on the mantle on another.

We brought the bin of Christmassy pajamas and clothes up from the basement and made particularly good use of all the Decembery things to wear this year.

We did handicrafts together -- I worked on my own knitting projects while the girls did small bits of stitching, and they filled books with their own drawings to give as gifts to their grandparents.

{Nell fondly recalled a handicraft she had done last Christmas, and asked if she could make a few more this year to give as gifts.}
Nathan directed a splendid service of Lessons and Carols (you can watch and hear the whole service at the link there!) at the church where he is music director, and I enjoyed playing in the orchestra while Nell and Ree watched from the front pew.

We read beautiful seasonal poetry as well as books, and I worked with the kids on learning some carols, including refreshing their memorization of the first verse or two of Once in Royal David's City, and memorizing some of In the Bleak Midwinter and See Amid the Winter's Snow, as well as others.

Nell learned about a dozen carols on her violin, and joined my students in playing carols at a nearby retirement facility to share cheer and music with the elderly people there.

Midway through December, we got a Christmas tree, and gradually even managed to get it decorated beautifully.

As Christmas drew nearer, we hosted our annual Christmas party and enjoyed time with friends, carol singing, and good food.

Nell sang in the children's choir for the Lessons and Carols service at our church as well as for the Christmas Eve service.

The girls wore pink for Gaudete Sunday, and we talked about joy, and the light drawing nearer but not yet being here.

{I meant to do the O Antiphons with the girls in the week leading up to Christmas, and I just didn't fit it in this year!  Note to self: do this next year!}

We had a "Shepherd's Dinner" by the starry light of the tree, picnicking on the floor, eating foods we could imagine shepherds would have eaten -- cheeses and dried fruits and such things -- as I read the shepherds' story to the girls.  We wondered aloud what it must have been like to be those shepherds abiding in the fields when the angel of the Lord appeared to them.

The girls liked it so much they asked to do it again the following night, and they brought their stuffed lambs.

All of that brought us to Christmas Eve, a day which this year was two things at once -- Advent in the morning, and Christmas Eve by evening.  It was beautiful, and contemplative, and it was finally here.

* * * 

Among many other wonderful Christmas books, we worked our way gradually through a favorite of mine throughout December.  I read the final bit of Madeline L'Engle's The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas to the girls on Christmas Eve, as they ate dinner by the light of the Advent wreath, all five candles glowing at the center of our table.  Their eyes shone as we finally finished the story, and my own eyes filled with tears for a moment when I read the last line of a book I remember so well from my own childhood: "And the light shone right into my heart."

I felt it then, as a lump caught in my throat - the light was shining into my heart, too.  Despite all the things that were not perfect.

As I read, there was a pile of dirty laundry at the top of my stairs that is probably up to my knees.  And three hampers of clean laundry waiting to be folded.  My dining room tablecloth was dirty from the children who ate three meals at it, and the far end of the table was cluttered with wrapping paper and scissors and tape.  The dough for the pecan ring, an indispensable part of our Christmas breakfast, was rising, and the cranberry coffee cake, equally indispensable, was in the oven.  The dishes hadn't yet been washed.  Our stockings were not hung, because I was waiting for Nathan to get home from work to help me find them.  My high-needs baby was sleeping in the baby carrier on my chest, having refused with adamant screams to be transferred into either her crib or her parents' own soft bed.  On my bedside table was a neatly wrapped up dirty diaper - Merry Christmas to me?

But through the mess and the noise and the clutter, through the fusses and cries of children and in between the moments where I've been less patient than I should have been, the light has shone into my heart.  And that is what I pray for my children, for this family of mine: that the little ways we observe Advent would open a way for the light to shine right into their hearts, too.

{Scenes from our Christmas Eve}: