Another Morning In Paradise

First we watched Jane braid her hair in our room in front of our mirror while dressed in only her underwear and sports bra.

Then I saw Daryl sitting on the couch playing games on his Nintendo DS. When I asked him to take care of the dishes, he suddenly remembered he needed to use the bathroom. Not to mention brush his hair and teeth.

Hal started off the morning playing with a toy airplane. He moved on to stealing his brother’s plastic recorder because Daryl obviously intended to relinquish ownership when he left it sitting on Hal’s bed. Once I broke up that fight, Hal finally managed to change his underwear and then proceeded to parade around the house announcing to me how comfortable the new pair was.

We had conversations with the still-not-fully-dressed Jane about volleyball, cell phones, work schedules, and more until she got frustrated, noticed the time, and loudly pronounced it time to leave.

With a serious case of bed head, Daryl seemed confused as to why I wouldn’t return his DS to him.

After the caravan left without him because he was not ready to go, Hal got upset that I refused to let him wear long sleeves with his long pants when it’s going to be ninety degrees outside. His teachers already think he’s strange for refusing to wear shorts most days.

And all of this before I managed to complete a shower.

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The Doctor Becomes Real

The Doctor is manipulating our lives. “Doctor who?” you ask? Exactly. Doctor Who. I don’t know why he is personally interfering with our rather mundane lives, but he is. We ought to get a ride on the Tardis for this. Just one will do. Someplace safe. Please.

Last weekend, we were watching “The Doctor’s Daughter” (Season 4, Episode 6, David Tennant). With about 10 minutes left in the episode, the opposing sides in a misguided war come crashing into the room. Only the doctor stands between them and mutual destruction. As they come into view, he puts one hand up in each direction and yells, “STOP!!

And just like that, our video stopped. With the doctor frozen in his “stop” pose. I guess when the doctor speaks, even our TV knows to listen. We tried a variety of solutions to our technical problems that night until we finally had to admit defeat and send the kids to bed. It would be 48 hours before we were able to view that last 10 minutes.

Last night, we returned to the doctor. After watching one episode, we noticed that the next was a two-parter. It was already 8:00 and I suggested that perhaps we should stop. We didn’t. The episodes were “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” They center around a planet that is a library – the entire planet. But all the people are missing and something is lurking in the shadows.

The doctor then indulged in some foreshadowing. He said, “Almost every species in the Universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong. ‘Cause it’s not irrational. It’s Vashta Nerada.”

Donna Noble then predictably asked what Vashta Nerada is.

“It’s what’s in the dark. It’s what’s always in the dark.”

We had only a few minutes left when we decided that Hal really wasn’t paying attention so we told him to go to the bathroom and change into his pajamas. He wasn’t happy about it but off he went.

This means that he was standing alone in the bathroom with his pants around his ankles when it went completely.and totally.dark. The power went out! There was a split second of silence before Hal started crying. Daryl and I both leapt off the couch and rushed to his aid, lighting the bathroom with our Nintendo DS and cell phone.

Jane was already in bed but the four of us still awake congregated in the boys’ room. Daryl shined a small flashlight while Hal got ready for bed. He didn’t like how dark it was and didn’t want anyone to leave.

Daryl and Daddy both started talking about avoiding the shadows. They were using their best ghost story voices. I spoke my husband’s name sharply and gave him an evil eye that couldn’t be seen in the dark.

We really didn’t need the object lesson on being afraid of the dark. It’s not easy to contradict the doctor when trying to comfort your young child. I mean, he is the doctor, after all. The next episode is entitled “Midnight”. I’m wondering what might happen if we stay up really late and watch it at midnight. I’m not sure I’m that adventurous.

What Beneath A Pillow Lurks

Underneath a boy’s pillow is a mysterious and dangerous place that only the bravest of parents should dare to venture.

I have found quite the variety of items under pillows over the years. The most common, by far, has been candy. There is a bear pillow that is still waiting for me to figure out how to unstick the blue candy cane that is matted into its fur after Hal tired of sucking on the candy during the night and tucked it under his pillow for safe keeping.

When Daryl was very young, I came to tuck him in and he said, “You can give me a hug, but don’t put your hands under my pillow.” That, obviously, caused me to do just that, revealing his candy stash he planned to consume that night.

The Nintendo DS has been a recent sub-pillow dweller, although we appear to have resolved that issue. I have extracted quite a few books, toys, flashlights, even pen and paper.

All the candy and toys in the world couldn’t have prepared me for last night, however. My natural hugging of a tucked-in child causes my hand to sweep under the pillow. As I hugged Hal, I thrust my right hand under the pillow and was stabbed!

“Ow! What in the world??!!”

I pulled one of Daryl’s jumbo thumb tacks out from under the pillow. “You have got to be kidding me! What were you thinking, Hal? Do you have any idea how much this would have hurt if you had stabbed yourself in the night? Look! I’m bleeding. This was a terrible idea!”

He looked suitably abashed and gave me extra-tight squeeze hugs in an attempt to make amends. I never expected to injure myself tucking my children into bed. I think I might start wearing heavy duty rubber gloves and searching the bed before I go in for the hug.

Stuff-Messer’s Rehabilitation Program

Hal has a problem messing with other people’s stuff. His curiosity consistently gets the best of him. I was recently sitting in my bathroom and I could hear him moving around in my room. I called out to him.

“Hal! What are you doing?”

I got the standard reply: “Nothing!”

“Oh, yes, you most certainly are doing something. What are you doing?”

“I’m messing with your stuff.”

This cracked me up because he knew that the next phrase out of my mouth would be “stop messing with my stuff!” He hears it a lot. The admonition does no good, though. He still regularly, daily messes with other people’s stuff.

Daryl bears the brunt of the messing. He has to share a room with the serial messer, after all. This means “Hal, stop messing with your brother’s stuff” is the most common version of the refrain.

The single most often messed-with item is Daryl’s Nintendo DS, which he just got for Christmas last year. Hal’s desire to play with the DS is so strong that he began to hide it under his pillow. He’d get up in the night to try to play with it in his bed when no one could see him. He’d hide with it during the day.

We had tried everything we could think of to get him to stop. We tried timeout. We tried denying him special opportunities. We tried spanking. Nothing stopped him. It didn’t even cause him to hesitate or hold off for a day. We were catching him with the DS every single day!

On one particular day, my exasperated husband asked me “What are we going to do about Hal and Daryl’s DS?” I didn’t have an answer. The situation seemed unsolvable. “I honestly don’t know, honey.”

That night, I went into their room to tuck Hal in bed for the night. He was laying on his stomach and did that telltale shuffle and flop that kids do when they are trying to hide whatever they are doing. I told him to get up. He moved. Reluctantly. I lifted his pillow. I saw the DS. Then I saw red.

I wanted to rage. I wanted to shake some sense into him. I wanted to get through to him that this had to stop. I’m pretty sure I yelled as I grabbed the DS. I headed down the hallway to give it and the responsibility for finding a new consequence to my husband. When suddenly, inspiration struck. I was still angry but I had just thought of something we hadn’t tried yet. Something that was bound to work.

What is the best way to teach someone to respect someone else’s stuff? Perhaps take away their favorite stuff? I grabbed a trash bag and returned to his room. I began to grab his most favorite possessions and put them in the bag. His “sleep bee” (bumble bee pillow pet), his Pooh-bear blanket, his huge stuffed caterpillar, Dug (the talking dog), his lullaby lightning bug, his cowboy boots, his Green Bay Packers jersey, Mr. Fuzzy (a stuffed seal), his Battat airplane, and more. I filled the trash bag while he wailed and cried. And then I sat down on his bed.

“Hal, I’m not going to throw these things away.” His crying settled down. “I am taking them away and you will not have them for two weeks. You have got to stop touching Daryl’s stuff, particularly his DS, without permission. If you touch his DS during that two weeks, you will have to pick something out of this bag to give away. We will give it away and you won’t have it anymore. It will be gone. And then your two weeks will start over again. Each time you touch his DS, you will lose something out of the bag. But if you go two weeks without touching it, then you will get all of it back.”

That was a week ago. So far, everything that was put in the bag is still in the bag. We appear to have achieved success. He’s not moping around, pining for his missing items. He’s actually started playing with things he didn’t used to play with. But not Daryl’s DS. And while he’s not talking about the bag’s contents, I’m fairly sure he’s still thinking about them. And eagerly awaiting their return.

The Best Christmas Ever

Our Christmas tree is still up and decorated. In fact, Hal just turned the lights back on today. The first week after Christmas was spent out-of-state, visiting family. The next, out-of-town to celebrate our anniversary. The most recent was full, first with a funeral and then with resuming school and work. I am telling you this so that you understand it is still Christmas at this house, and thus not inappropriate at all for me to finally get around to blogging about the best Christmas ever. I was too busy enjoying it to write about it at the time.

Christmas 2012 did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. The 11:00pm Christmas Eve service was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. We all attended in our pajamas, including my husband in his footed smiley-face PJ’s that I had just given him. That drew a few looks.

No, the service that heralded the arrival of Christmas Day was nice and the drive home was uneventful. I was worried about what such a late bedtime would do to the day, but not too much. The problems started when we got home. Hal did not want to use the bathroom before retiring to his bed and a tantrum ensued.

Once all the children were settled, I needed to wrap just two or three presents and stuff the stockings. That took well over an hour. I finally went to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 and wondered how late the children would let me sleep.

Not long, as it turned out. A serious thunderstorm moved in by about 2:30, waking Hal. I stumbled into his room to comfort him. I struggled for a long time before I got back to sleep. The wind picked up and a loud metallic thwacking sound woke me around 5:00. I asked my husband if that was the new roof coming undone.

“Probably.”

“Do we need to do anything about it?”

“Like what? I’m not going out there in this.”

He had a point. Besides, the old shingled roof was still under the metal of the new one. No way I was getting back to sleep, however. I lay there listening until the sound changed to something bounding down from the roof. And then silence.

“There,” my pragmatic husband said, “It blew off. Happy?”

Before I responded, the next strip of the crown began to rattle. Sleep was a distant memory by this point.

Things improved once I gave up on sleep, though. My husband had once again managed to slip something under my pillow undetected. He hates wrapping, so this has become our new tradition. I already knew I was getting a Kindle Paperwhite, but I still don’t know when he managed to slide it under there.

As I passed through the living room, I saw a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in my stocking that I had not put in there the night before. So he hadn’t forgotten about my stocking either – another nice surprise. I added the toppings to the breakfast strata started the night before and put it in the oven.

Then it was stockings and presents time. Hal passed out the stockings, such a good Santa’s helper. All of them distributed gifts. Just like last year, though, there were no names. Last year were numbers and they’d have to ask me which number was whom. This year, they were letters. Perhaps this will become a new Christmas puzzle. As they heard who was each letter, I asked them what the formula was. I gave them a hint that I couldn’t put the appropriate leter on Daddy’s gifts because it was a duplicate of someone else’s. Daddy figured it out (2nd letter of their middle names). No one else did.

Jane unwrapped four nested boxes, each wrapped individually, before uncovering her mp3 player. Daryl received a used Nintendo DS, given to us by a friend to give to the kids. He immediately declared this the best Christmas ever.

And so it was, but not because of the gifts. When we were done unwrapping, we ate the strata. And then… then we just were. Most Christmases would have seen the hustle and bustle of preparing for a long trip. We would have been packing suitcases and piling into the car to travel the four hours or so to relatives in Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma was forecast to get hit by a blizzard. We had decided the day before that we would delay our trip by 24 hours. We had no idea how life-changing that decision would be.

After breakfast, we just enjoyed ourselves. We set Pandora to play Christmas music. People tried out their new electronics. We played some games and worked some puzzles and read and ate and relaxed. And shouted in excitement when we looked out the window and saw snow! Snow, on Christmas Day, in Texas. No one even changed out of their pajamas, except to go play in the snow.

I looked up at my family at one point and wondered, Is this what Christmas is like for other people? Christmas has never been a relaxing time for me, not even in childhood.

As a child, I remember opening presents at home and then almost immediately leaving the house to go… somewhere. Christmas Day usually included 2 or 3 extended family gatherings. The usual routine was to head over to my maternal grandparents’ house for lunch and Christmas with my mom’s family. At some point, sometimes before lunch and sometimes after, mom would drive us to my paternal grandmother’s house and we’d have Christmas with my dad’s family. Mom would then pick us up and we’d have dinner and Christmas at my step-dad’s parents’ house with his family.

It got even more complicated when I married. My husband brought with him Christmas obligations to his dad’s family, his mom’s family, and his step-dad’s family. Some families adjusted to celebrating Christmas on a day other than the 25th, but we usually still had at least two places to be that day, often more.

Shortly before we had our first child, we decided that we wanted to be able to attend our own church’s Christmas Eve service. That meant attending worship and then hitting the road, arriving at my mom’s house around 2:00 Christmas morning.

When the kids arrived, my husband began to agitate for change. He wanted to celebrate Christmas at our house. I wanted to avoid hurting people’s feelings. The compromise that stood for years was the Christmas Day travel. This allowed us to worship at our home church, open presents at our house, and still make it to Christmas obligations back home. I had been trained to believe that the right thing to do was to cram everyone in, jumping from one place to another, making sure we made an appearance everywhere.

This time, though, we actually found ourselves with no family meeting on Christmas Day. We still planned to travel that day, so suggested to my dad that we celebrate that night. And then we got word of the weather. There was no problem changing plans with dad. No reason we had to travel that day. No place to be until 6pm the day after. Why not stay home? It was such a novel idea for us.

The experience was ground breaking for me. Earth shattering. Tears-down-the-face significant. I sat at the table, watching my family just exist, with no place to go, no obligations to meet, no phone calls or appointments or errands, and I cried. My husband looked at me and smiled.

“Do you need a hug?” he asked. I nodded and he rose from the table.

“I’ve never had this before,” I said into his chest as he hugged me tight. “Not ever, not once in thirty-eight years. I’ve never just stayed home and relaxed on Christmas Day. This is amazing.”

We didn’t have to speak the words then or now, but we know what we are doing next year. The 26th is soon enough to travel for family. The peace of Christmas will descend on our household again. It is the only day that we can truly just be still and be together. I never understood how special that kind of time is. But now that I’ve experienced it, I am not giving it up.