Looking Back on Christmas Day

Christmas has officially concluded for our household. Yesterday was the last hurrah with a wonderful but too-brief stay with my dad’s family and a stop by the hotel room holding my sister-in-law and her significant other, delayed in their plans by a winter storm.

It’s been a good Christmas. One of the best in recent memory, I believe. And it all started Christmas Eve. I’m not talking about my emotional experience in church that night, although that might have set the stage. No, I’m talking about the 4 or 5 hours that followed.

We stopped by a friend’s house who had set up a light display set to music being broadcast on a particular radio frequency. The kids were frustrated because we hadn’t eaten dinner before the worship service and they were fairly sure they were starving. But then they saw the pulsing lights and were mesmerized. We sat through several songs before heading home.

Once home and fed and the youngest in bed, the magic started. As I mentioned in my Christmas Eve post, the older two had some magnificent decorating plans. It was now mostly a surprise for Hal, but I consented to staying holed up in my bedroom while they worked. We had plenty of surprises of our own so that was fine with us.

I sat on the bed cutting yarn and tinsel strands to construct the contents of the box I would assemble above the boys’ door, with a string tied to the doorknob. My hope was that when they eagerly and enthusiastically opened the door in the morning, the string would pull the flap down and all the stuff would fall down in front of them, revealing the first clue to their scavenger hunt. (It didn’t work, by the way. Hal inexplicably opened the door slowly and then stood there saying “What the heck?” as he examined the string tied to his doorknob. I rushed from my room to yank on the string. Not quite the same effect.)

My husband sat at the edge of the bed and worked on assembling three puzzles on a card table for part of the hunt. Our intent was to intermix the pieces from all three puzzles, turn it over, write the 6-line poem that represented the second clue on it, then separate the pieces back out to their respective puzzles. That didn’t work either. The pieces were all shaped the same but they were off just enough that we couldn’t mix them. So we went with plan B, which was to write the poem lines across all three puzzles but then mix the puzzle pieces in the three boxes. The puzzles, which were wildly age-inappropriate (way too young) would then go in the stockings.

As we sat and worked in relative silence, we listened to the activity outside our door. Jane and Daryl were working together as they never had before. They spoke in hushed tones but we could still hear them. The were excited and eager to impress Hal with all the lights and paper chains and huge paper snowflakes they had made. They listened to each other’s ideas and encouraged and supported each other. I was mesmerized.

Every once in awhile, they’d come to the door and ask where to find more staples, whether it was OK to attach lightweight items to the ceiling fan, whether all the Christmas lights could be left on over night. My husband and I were both tickled that they had gotten into the spirit of doing stuff for others on Christmas.

At one point, they tried to be considerate of my needs and informed me that they’d be in Jane’s room for awhile if I wanted to come out and do my thing. I laughed and informed them that 1) I had plenty to keep me busy in my room for now and 2) I wasn’t doing any part of my thing until they were in bed.

Eventually, they declared themselves done and we came out for a tour. I had suggested the tour when the realization that I would see the decorations before morning had disappointed them. They wanted to see our faces.

They had done an impressive job. Lights lined the walls of the hallway and living room, including some lit snowflakes over the boys’ door (which would make my plans more challenging). A very long white paper chain nearly encircled the living room and large snowflakes hung everywhere. And these weren’t your average fold-the-paper-then-cut-out-notches snowflakes. No, these were state-of-the-art 3D snowflakes that Daryl had learned to make at Sunday School a few days earlier. A large 3D snowflake hung from each of the three fan blades, which turned very slowly in the center of the room.

I was impressed by their results but even more impressed by the cooperation and love and kindness that had gotten them there. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

Of course, there was still work of my own to do. It took another 2 hours for me to setup the scavenger hunt and prepare their stockings (including the “auxiliary bags” for the overflow items that wouldn’t fit – sitting on the floor with a strand of yarn attaching them to their stockings) .

We assembled the box as quietly as possible over their door. I traipsed around outside hiding the final clues that would keep them out of the house long enough for my husband to move the new PS4 from our bedroom to the living room, to be setup and ready to go when the hunt brought them back into the house. I somehow managed to work directly under Jane’s window without alerting the dog to my presence although she caught my flashlight later and announced the outside “intruder” to the entire house.

Back inside, I taped “Rudolph Chow” on the dog food can so when the part of the hunt that included Santa’s Grocery List came up, they could find “reindeer food”. I taped clues under the carton of milk, behind all the mirrors in the house, on the power bar that holds all their electronics chargers, under some cookie tins. I had already searched through books for the words needed for one clue and carefully hid the clue behind a cabinet door in the bathroom. The clue gave them the book title plus three numbers: page, paragraph on page, and word in the paragraph.

I finally made it to bed about 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep well – I don’t anyway but on nights when I am anticipating something, it’s even worse. I was awake before any of the kids, just waiting for them to join me.

Throughout Christmas Day, my kids told me this was the best Christmas ever. We did have our bumps, but overall, it was magical. They love opening their stockings and they enjoy our scavenger hunt. But the two older ones specifically mentioned how much they liked the new tradition.

Based on a picture moving around Facebook, we limited their presents to 4 each (the PS4 was a gift to the whole family). The four gifts followed a pattern:

Something they want, something they need

Something to wear, something to read

Daryl hadn’t wanted this approach. “Only four presents?!” he had asked. But by the end of the day, he was sold. He wasn’t sure why but he had really liked it. We figured it out together.

Since we were only buying them four presents, we had to stop and think about what to give them. We had to come up with precisely the right gifts. As Daryl put it, “Instead of just getting us a bunch of toys, you got us just a few of exactly what we wanted.”

He didn’t even know how much he had wanted (needed!) new bedding, but the NBA-themed sheets and comforter excited him tremendously. Hal walked around all day in the new church clothes we bought him – tie and loafers included! Jane couldn’t believe she got both a new pair of Tom’s (need!) and her long-desired Uggs (wear).

To top the day off, we invited some friends over for lunch and afternoon game playing while they waited for their husband/dad to get off work that evening to have their family Christmas.

All in all, it was a wildly successful and happy day. I hope we have many more like it.

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It’s (Finally) Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

There’s a little winery in way East Texas that I discovered at a wine festival and loved. They are several hours away from my town and so small that they don’t ship. About halfway between here and there is a much larger winery that I also love. This one has a wine club, which I joined. That winery had my distribution ready to pick up.

The small winery is only open noon-7 Thurs through Sat so it’s nearly impossible for me to get to except on Saturdays. So… last Saturday, I planned a road trip. We’d drive to the small one first to get there before they close (youth basketball games prevented an early departure). We’d then pick up my distribution at the larger one on our way back.

The trip was almost cancelled when some accidental injuries and miscommunication caused a major full-family meltdown at departure time. We managed to resolve it in time and my husband and I hit the road.

At home were our three kids plus Jane’s sixteen year old boyfriend. We had several rules: eat dinner, Jane and boyfriend aren’t to be in Jane’s room at all – even with the door open, Jane’s boyfriend has to leave when the boys start getting ready for bed, stay in touch with us. That sort of thing. That was it though. No expectations.

What I came home to blew my mind.

The Christmas tree, which had still been in the attic in its box when we left the house, was fully assembled in a corner of the living room – complete with lights and ornaments. The stockings were hung on the wall. At least three manger scenes were assembled around the house. A Christmas hand towel hung on the oven door handle. Elves hung from all the bedroom doors, and some special little Christmas trees were scattered about. The boxes and tubs for it all had been tucked away in a back room.

I was in awe.

I love my kids. I’ve been so busy and so tired with no free time to prepare for Christmas. I was feeling bad about the delay yet wasn’t looking forward to the hassle of decorating. They did such a beautiful job. Now if I could just get the shopping done and the presents wrapped…

THAT Old?!

We were visiting with some friends when my husband used a phrase I had never heard of.

“Where do you come up with these things?” I asked.

My friend looked up from the game board and said, “That phrase has been around forever.”

“Ok,” I replied, “but I’ve never heard him use it. Sheesh! I’ve been with him for over half my life. You’d think I’d have heard all the phrases he knows by now.”

“You are that old?!” Daryl asked.

“What?”

“You are old enough to have been married to Daddy for half your life?”

“Well, I said ‘been with him’ but we’ve actually been married for over half our lives too.”

“But what about your childhood?!”

“My childhood was a lot shorter than adulthood has been at this point.”

“Besides,” my husband said, “We were 18 when we got married. We were kids.”

Daryl had another hysterically funny-yet-insulting-to-his-mother line after that, but by the time we got home, I had forgotten it. Guess I am getting old.

Dear God…

As we sat down at the table for dinner, my sixth grade son said, “Let’s pray!”

We had just recently resumed our dinner time prayers and I was surprised to hear one of the children suggest it.

“Sounds good,” I said. “Do you want to say it?”

“Sure,” he said – again, to my surprise.

“Dear God,” he began. “Thank you for this set. {giggle} Oops. {pause} I mean, thank you for this day and for this food set before us. I’m glad I had a good day and I hope you will… um… I hope you will make tomorrow good. And thank you for our day and the food and my family and… and… and everything in the world. Except the kids in Africa.”

My eyes opened as I cautiously waited for what would come next.

“I don’t like that at all,” he said.

I looked up at him and noticed my husband was doing the same.

“That’s just not a good situation there,” he said, and then catching our incredulous stares, he finished. “And, um, amen.”

Riiighttt…

I saw something on Facebook the other day that really excited me. It was a trailer for the upcoming Pixar movie Finding Dory. It hadn’t entered my mind that they might do a movie focused on her, but as soon as I saw it, I thought, Perfect! Of course! She was the best character in that movie!

I never say “Let’s keep at it” or “Keep on truckin'” or “Keep on keepin’ on.” Nope. If I need to comment on the need to just keep after something, I start singing:

Just keep swimming,

Just keep swimming,

Swimming, swimming,

Just keep swimming…

Every. Single. Time. Dory has, in her own special way, stayed with me more than any other movie character. Needless to say, I was excited. Everyone had already left for school though. I had no one to share the moment with. So I decided to send my daughter a text.

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I expected something along the lines of “Omg! That’s so awesome! I can’t wait!” I imagined her telling the rest of the family and the car literally rocking from people’s excitement.

Instead I got this:

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Well, at least I got the “omg” part right. I responded:

dory2

But she was already in the process of typing something else, which came in just ahead of mine. Which means the conversation ended up looking something like this:

dory3

Which, of course, looked kind of bad. I decided to respond to her second comment with sarcasm. But she got another comment in first again and I ended up looking considerably more sarcastic than I planned…dory4

I decided it was time to explain.

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But no way my daughter was going to let me off easy.

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All in all, I think teenagers spend way too much time communicating via text instead of in person or on a phone. That said, I’ve really enjoyed my literary sparring with my daughter over the last year or so.

Battle of the Bands: Little Brother vs. One Direction

This morning was a good morning. Hal returned to the land of the living – he had been ill and was asleep when I got home last night and never stirred from the couch all evening – despite all the bustle of activity around him. At one point, he heard my voice and reached for a hug but was back asleep in no time. He slept all night too. But this morning, he bounded in, full of energy. We told him to take a shower and eat some breakfast.

It was a good morning for Jane too. Today was the release day for the new One Direction album that she had pre-ordered months ago. She had the music on her iPhone and was trying to devour all the songs as she prepared for school.

And that’s where the collision occurred.

The happy, energetic, feeling-better seven-year-old was singing heartily in the shower. The happy, excited teenager was trying to listen to her new music while applying make-up and fixing her hair in the same bathroom.

“Hal! Can you please stop singing?”

{More singing of nonsense words.}

“Hal! Please! I’m trying to listen to my new music!”

{Singing continues.}

“HAL! I asked nicely!”

I called to Jane. She called back in an irritated voice.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m trying to listen to my new music but Hal keeps singing.”

“Singing in the shower,” I said, “is an intrinsic right. You can’t deny someone their right to sing in the shower.”

“Well! I didn’t want to turn the music up loud and bother people!”

“But you can’t tell him not to sing in the shower. It’s a primal need. You’ll have to go get ready in your room or wait to listen to your music or just put up with him.”

She groaned.

“Jane?” I called out.

She’d had enough. In her most tortured, irritated teenagery voice, she yelled back, “ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO ME?!”

“Yes. I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad the One Direction album came in. I’m glad you are getting to enjoy it. I’m happy for you.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“You handled that well,” my husband whispered.

“It’s what I really planned to say all along. Really.”

But I will hold the “ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO ME?!” line in my head all day. As my mother-in-law loves to say on Facebook, it was my first laugh of the day.

Just Another Mystery of Motherhood… Solved

I do the laundry every weekend. This weekend, my husband helped out by running a couple of loads through on Friday. I fold the laundry in our bedroom, making neat little piles for the boys to take to their rooms or for me and my husband to put away in our closet. But something was missing from the piles this past weekend.

Several somethings, actually. I began to wonder if maybe my husband was inept at collecting the laundry, but the hampers were empty. I would have expected approximately 14 of these somethings and instead there was only one. One pair of little boy underwear. Just one. I stared at the piles in disbelief as I finished folding the last load. One pair of underwear – Hal’s.

So let me get this straight, I thought to myself. Hal only changed his underwear once this week. And Daryl… Daryl never changed them at all. He’s still wearing the same underwear he wore a week ago? But he’s showered! Surely he didn’t put stinky, crusty underwear back on day after day?

Daryl, of course, insisted that he had changed his underwear. He couldn’t explain the lack of any clean pairs in the laundry. “Maybe someone took them out of the hamper,” he suggested.

Riiiight.

The mystery went unsolved until last night. Jane declared the bathroom floor a mess. I concurred and instructed Hal to pick up all the towels that were on the floor and take them to the hamper. So he picked up the five towels that littered the floor and this is what remained:

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We found the underwear. Eight pairs – four each exactly. So four showers. Four pairs of underwear. That’s about right since they fight taking showers so much, I only require showers every other day (unless they’ve gotten sweaty and/or dirty). Of course, they are still supposed to change their underwear…

But I guess I’ll take two-day underwear wearing over seven-day. Small comforts.