Posts tagged holidays

C’est L’amour – a year later

Once every ten years or so I change my mind about something. Most people with my personality will tell you that it is not easy to admit that your views on something may not have been sufficiently explored, and must therefore be subjected to scrutiny. Valentine’s Day is one such issue for me. Those of you who remember last year’s post are no doubt intrigued that I would even suggest a change of heart.It all began with my resolve to be more prepared this year. Because I have always found the tradition of handing out Valentines at school utterly useless, I would wage silent protest by not participating until February 13, when it became clear that my children would be the only ones not professing their undying love for their 19 classmates the following day. So on February 13 at 4:30pm I would yield to the will of the masses, and by 4:45 I’d be standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart with the other parents who had dragged their butts on the issue until the 11th hour, so to speak. (See last year’s post for a more detailed presentation of the repercussions of this type of approach on the home front.)

To avoid the stress and frustration therefore, I vowed that this year would be different. So casting aside my principles about the utter wastefulness of the purchase, preparation and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards, I headed to Shopper’s on February 3 of this year – a personal record in preparedness.

I should mention that the thought had been planted quite firmly by our second son, Sammy, (hereafter referred to as Romeo to better reflect his character) who began preparing Valentines for the entire family on February 1st. When we turned over a new page on the calendar he saw hearts, and immediately felt it incumbent upon himself to prepare for this most worthwhile of celebrations. By the end of the day every family member had a construction paper heart taped to the wall beside their bed with a heartfelt message of his affections. Obviously, someone around here actually cares about Valentine’s Day this year.

Contrary to the common perception, I am not a troll on matters of the heart, particularly not where my children are concerned. If it means this much to Romeo, I will surely do my part to help him celebrate. If I learned anything from last year, however, it is to carefully examine the cards before purchase. Do not purchase anything that has the fine print “some assembly required” if you do not wish to spend the evening of the 13th furiously assembling cards. The cards I found this year are really quite simple (no folding, no stickers, no pop-up construction, no GPS tracking device) and, I think, quite profound in the message they convey. Nothing says “I love you” like a googly-eyed Lion with the caption, “You’re Wild!” (The argument could be made by the astute parent that these cards may not be appropriate for young children, but I’m claiming naiveté in my defence.)It is hard to over-state the profundity of these cards.

The children are excited to hand out Valentines this year, I must admit. I suppose there could be worse things to celebrate. So while I do not ordinarily go on about mushy stuff on these pages, it is only fitting that I close with a small tribute to my stalwart husband who has, in the past year, selflessly taken on a lion’s share of the responsibility at home, now that I have a real-life job. I do not know too many men who do laundry, groceries and vacuuming in addition to working full-time and keeping everything from faucets to hinges to piano pedals working properly. So here’s to you, Babe: Happy 13th Valentine’s Day!

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C’est L’amour – the Fall-Out of Valentines Day

Buster Brown Valentine postcard by Richard Fel...

Image via Wikipedia

The only thing more frustrating than wasting err… spending precious time on February 13 making your child’s Valentines for his classmates, is finding every single Valentine still in his backpack when he comes home from school on February 14.

I didn’t realize how much pent-up frustration I still held from the previous night’s mad dash to finish something I do not believe in to begin with, but let’s just say Valentines Day at our house became a little less sweet beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon when everyone arrived home. “Sammy, what’s this?!?!?” I asked, both surprised and annoyed.

“Oh, I forgot.” He answered.

Nice try, my boy. There is no way he could have forgotten when I spent the night before urging him on toward the goal of at least writing his name on all of the cards, by painting a mental picture of how he would get to be the mailman the next day and distribute all his little letters in the kids’ mailboxes.

On the morning of February 14 I led him to his backpack, showed him the bag full of Valentines, and again enthused about how today was going to be a great day where he would get to hand out all of his Valentines just like the other kids.

You may ask why all this enthusiasm is necessary. I’ve already learned that our Sammy’s middle name is Apathy when it comes to things like this. The canned goods I sent in all came back home in his backpack. “I forgot.” His library book collected about 25,000,000 Air Miles riding back and forth in his backpack before he finally returned it. And now, we have over 60 Valentines in the house: Teddy’s received Valentines, Sammy’s received Valentines, and Sammy’s undistributed ones. I know you’re all laughing at the poetic justice of it all.

I should have known something was amiss when he was unwilling to go into school yesterday. He quietly confided in me that he didn’t want to hand out his Valentines. A shy boy, he probably feared having to go out on a limb and personally wish everyone a happy Valentines Day along with his little offering. I explained that he only needed to put them in the kids’ mailboxes when everyone else was doing the same thing.

Knowing that he is sometimes blissfully unaware of what’s going on around him because he has his head stuck in a fantasy world involving paper fish and possibly fire-breathing dragons, I figured he probably doesn’t really get what’s supposed to happen with those Valentines. So we went in together and I talked to his teacher, explaining that he was nervous for some reason and might need a bit of help handing out his Valentines. His teacher, an exuberant woman who does not have an introverted bone in her body, simply exclaimed, “Oh, he’ll be fine. It’s you who looks nervous.” Little did she know that I had a vested interest in those blasted things, am fully aware of my son’s track record in these types of things, and had just picked up our two-year-old off the ground after he had gone down a wet slide wearing only cotton pants.

My guess is, that while all the other children were happily putting their mothers’ carefully prepared Valentines into all their friends’ mailboxes, our son was either eating a cupcake (blissfully unaware) or playing with the dinosaurs in a corner (also blissfully unaware).

Maybe we should have just used the undistributed Valentines as fire-starters this morning and saved ourselves the hassle. Although, living with the guilt of having transgressed the 11th commandment would be too much for me to bear.

 

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C’est L’amour

I just finished the single-most futile yet somehow obligatory task in all of motherhood: my children’s Valentines cards. Combined, we completed over 40 this year. And yes, the kids did help. A little.

This afternoon (Feb. 13) at 5:00pm I found myself browsing through Shoppers Drug Marts’ assorted Valentine offerings along with all the Dads who had left the task to the last minute. The funny part is that I am not a Dad, but a Mom who is supposed to love Valentines Day and all it stands for. I’m supposed to be the torchbearer of all things sappy and pink in a household where my gender is outnumbered 4:1, but I just cannot do it. In my mind, Valentines Day and this ridiculous tradition of handing out a Valentine to every child in the class could be done away with, beginning immediately.

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, there I was standing in the drug store trying to decide on whether to throw my money away on Dinosaur Valentines or (official) NHL Valentines. The Dad next to me was on his cell phone with his 6-year-old: “How about Hello Kitty? No? Tinkerbell?… Ummmm, pink, it looks like… The Tinkerbell ones are Pop-Ups. No? So Hello Kitty then? Ok, I’ll keep looking.”

I wasn’t about to let my kids make the choice between dumb and dumber, and so I went with the non-licensed character Picture Search Valentines for Teddy, who would love that type of thing, and the Dolphin Pop-Up Valentines for Sammy, who would also love that type of thing. Had I realized that the pop-ups aren’t actually built-in, I would have dropped that box like a hot potato.

While Teddy went about preparing his Valentines like a seasoned pro in a chicken processing plant, Sammy needed more guidance (this being his first Valentines Day, after all). He was so taken with those dolphins that all he wanted to do was play with them. I repeatedly reminded him that his only task was to sign his name, which he did to the best of his ability. My tasks in preparing those Valentines included:

  •  punching the 20 dolphins out of the cardboard
  • matching the correct dolphin to the correct card background (which took some figuring out, seeing as there were 8 different card designs and 8 different dolphin types – Yay!)
  • bending the little tabs to fit into the little slots of the cards
  • carefully finagling them through the little slots
  • ensuring that each dolphin would actually pop up
  • securing the card tops into the little tabs to keep it closed
  • addressing it to the lucky classmate who would receive this token of Sam’s affections.

The hilarious thing is that Sammy has no interest in actually giving Valentines to girls. Just this morning he was telling me that girls only gave to girls and boys only gave to boys.

If only this were so, my Boy.

The truth is that there is this unspoken 11th commandment that says “thou shalt prepare a Valentine for each child in the class of thy progeny with a view to each child’s fragile self-esteem and the other parents’ esteem of thee. Shouldst thou disregard this immovable law, thou and thy child shalt be smitten with the knowledge that thou wast the only family to not participate in this most sacred Elementary sacrament.”

So every year I put it off until the very last minute, finally haul my reticent rear-end to Shoppers Drug Mart on February 13, and spend the evening helping my children complete a task that they really cannot be expected to do by themselves at the age of 4.

I asked one last-minute Dad whose children are in grades 5 and 2 whether there was any end in sight to this madness. He didn’t offer me much hope, saying that the tradition was still alive and well in his daughters’ grade 5 class. I’ve done the math, people. If this blight lasts until grade 6, I will have spent 12 years buying and preparing Valentines that will only end up in the recycling the next day (at least if the other homes are anything like ours). For 7 of those years I will be responsible for more than 60 Valentines.

I think it’s time to start a revolution.

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The War is Over

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

Image via Wikipedia

It has been one month since our family’s television fast began, and it’s time to take stock of our time spent disconnected.

I can’t say that we’ve gotten used to being completely without television, although I’d love to say that it has no draw on our family after being without it for one month. The truth is that there are times when I’d like to sit down with Oliver after the children are in bed to watch an episode of The Office. There are times I’d like to allow the children to watch a story they delight in, because I remember how I cherished those times with my brother when we were growing up. I have very fond memories of watching Mr. Dress-Up on a weekday morning or Bugs Bunny after church on Sundays with Dad.

Still, our television fast has been worthwhile. For one thing, we’ve been forced to come up with alternate activities during unstructured time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it required some effort on my part to plan activities for the children to do when they would normally have watched television before. As a result of exercising our collective creative muscle, our home is decorated with home-made paper snowflakes dangling in front of our picture window, and many of our presents are wrapped in recycled newsprint dressed up with paint stencils and potato stamps. We have handed out and enjoyed large amounts of home-made goodies, baked and decorated with the children’s help. We’ve made more music together, played more Lego together, and read more books together.

Oliver and I have also been challenged to find different things to do on those evenings when we’d rather have sat down and watched TV. We’ve spent many hours sitting in front of the fire, sometimes sipping a glass of wine and chatting about life. Our marriage has certainly benefited from the “forced” communication. Although we have spent many evenings apart, involved in our respective commitments and friendships, we have found more uninterrupted time to communicate in meaningful ways.

I cannot say that there have been any fundamental changes in our children’s behaviour as a result of not watching television or playing computer games. This is to be expected, however, since television only comprised a very small part of their daily routine to begin with. The one difference I can see is that they have become better at playing together peacefully, but that can be attributed to a change in the way Daddy and I deal with their bickering (for details on how we have begun dealing with sibling rivalry, see Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop).

The pre-Christmas season has passed seemingly more slowly than in previous years, and I feel that we have allowed our hearts to be prepared to celebrate the Saviour’s birth in the coming days. As with all fasts, we are looking forward to being able to return to “regularly scheduled programming,” as it were, but with the understanding that discernment still needs to be our plumb line as we expose ourselves and our children to media again.

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The War Is On (Part 3)

Douglas and his cake

We’ve baked cookies. We’ve decorated cookies. We’ve baked more cookies. We’ve celebrated a stuffed dog’s birthday with real cheesecake. (Our media-free Christmas is turning into a cholesterol-laden shock to the system.) I decided it was time for a new activity to ring in the festive season. I settled on painting.

   In my mind’s eye I can see a few of my readers shaking their heads. Painting at your dining room table with a 2, 4 and 6 year old? Are you nuts? By some definitions I probably am, considering I’ve voluntarily turned off the electronic babysitter for at least a month. I guess decorating Christmas cookies has awakened in me a dormant desire to create, and lately I’ve been dreaming of a colourful Christmas, complete with hand-painted plaster ornaments and home-made wrapping paper.

I spent the afternoon preparing the after-school craft, which is to say that I indulged my inner artiste and sat there painting a plaster ornament from the set I had purchased that morning. This will be perfect for Teddy, I thought. A quick search through my old craft supplies yielded more painting supplies than I remembered having. Apparently there was a time in my life when I had time to sit and paint plaster ornaments.

It quickly became clear though that there was no way Sammy – who is just learning how to grip a pencil properly – could manage the ornaments, so I also tried out the stencils I had bought at the craft store earlier in the week on some blank newsprint that has been accumulating in my desk for months. This brilliant idea came to me this week and I thought it too good not share it here.

For months our weekly advertising package arrives with an extra sheet of blank recycled newsprint. I’ve been saving these pieces thinking that they’d be great for crafts. Now that Christmas has arrived I am faced with the same conundrum I struggle with every year: finding an alternative to non-recyclable, high-gloss Christmas wrapping paper. For our own family I’ve sewn simple cloth bags from some flannel I once fell in love with at the fabric store. We use them year after year, but I don’t feel like giving them away with cousins’ and friends’ gifts.

Sammy's work of art

Today I discovered that a 4-year-old can – with some assistance – use a stencil, some acrylic craft paint and a large toddler paint brush to turn boring, recycled newsprint into an impressively festive and environmentally-friendly gift wrap.

I’ve also discovered that spending an afternoon supervising two separate painting projects while attempting to re-connect with a spouse after work and simultaneously whipping up homemade pizza (so the child whose pizza order was misplaced will at least have leftovers in his lunch tomorrow) basically amounts to stress. So here I am (alone!) at Starbucks, sipping a Peppermint Hot Chocolate (thanks Kim) and de-fragmenting after a day of hearing my name taken in vain one too many times. Ahhhhh

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The War is On (Part 2)

It has been a full week now since our family last turned on the television, and I’m happy to report that we are still whole and sane and thriving. Amazingly enough, our children have not protested anywhere near as much as I thought they would. I used to hear, “Can-I-watch-a-show?” several times a day whenever they were too lazy to come up with anything creative to do. (Other requests included “Can-I-have-a-snack?”, “Can-I-go-on-TVOkids? and “Can-we-go-somewhere?” All of these phrases can be translated to mean, “I am bored. Entertain me.”) In fact, 2-year-old Caleb had started to say it when we were driving in the van coming home from somewhere. Except coming from him it sounded more like this: “Ca-A-watchasha? NO!” (Yes, he would add his own emphatic “No” based on the general answer the children would receive to their oft-repeated mantra.)

I can say with certainty, however, that our Television Fast would not be so successful were we as parents not intentional about planning other things for our kids to do or just being available to them during the times when they would normally watch television. There have been several times where I have been tempted to turn on the television for them so that I can get something done. It requires effort on my part to come up with an activity and then supervising that activity.

This is not to say, however, that our life is now centered around doing stuff with our kids and that everything else is being neglected. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. Our children are inwardly more at peace without all the media input and can occupy themselves happily. Yesterday while Oliver and I sat on the couch, Caleb was busy playing with PlayDough at the table, Sammy was immersed in decorating Christmas cookies on his own, and Teddy was working hard at creaming some butter and sugar for Spritz Cookie dough in the kitchen. Sometimes all it takes is giving them a start on something and they run with it.

2. Because Oliver and I are also not watching television in the evenings, we are getting all sorts of things done, even if it’s just sitting and having a long-overdue conversation and investing in our marriage. Most of our Christmas presents are bought and wrapped already. Oliver spent last night practicing piano for his involvement on Christmas Eve, and I finally sat down to read a book without interruptions.

While I bake or craft with the kids, Oliver has become more intentional about passing on his love of music to the kids. His most recent project has been to build a South American drum called a Cajon (which, by the way, has an amazing array of sounds considering it looks like a wooden dehumidifier). I don’t know of any child that can sit still when they hear a good beat, and our children are no different. A few nights ago he brought the drum upstairs, cranked the tunes on the stereo, and began accompanying the Transylvanian Orchestra on his drum, much to the delight of the children. Before that, we actually had a jam session in my music studio downstairs. While I played the piano, he played the Cajon, and those children that wanted to participate picked one of our percussion instruments and played along. When they were done they went and played with the train track Oliver had set up previously, and we could continue with our jam session. It was the first real one since the children came along, and it was sweet. We ended off with the most rocking version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” our children had ever heard. I felt like a teenager again. Wicked.

Last week we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. This week will include more baking and perhaps some Christmas colouring for the grandparents. Maybe next week we’ll be putting together cookie plates for the neighbours and then deliver them. That’ll be fun.

 

 

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The War is On (Part 1)

 
Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.
Image via Wikipedia

Ah, Christmas. Time for much food, much drink and way too much stuff. It’s no wonder January is a major downer given that the fuel that has fed the fires of the “Christmas Spirit” has run out. It’s a hangover, really. For this reason many people spend the pre-Christmas time wracking their brains for something new and exciting that will make the holiday “more meaningful this year.”

I’m one of those people. I love the decadence of Christmas; the real-butter baking, the regal decorations, the festive meals, the pretty dresses, the majestic music of the season (this does not include Marshmellow World or Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.) Christmas is the one time of year when my heart is moved to worship at surprising times when an actual Christmas song floats over the airwaves of a radio station that ordinarily plays hollow and meaningless drivel. Dark neighbourhoods suddenly seem more inviting as people dress up their homes with lights and bows. And yet each year I spend time thinking about concrete ways to allow the truth of my Saviour’s coming to earth penetrate deeper and bring about actual change that will last past December 31st.

Years ago I researched different Christmas traditions for a stage play I was writing and came across an interesting custom from the Coptic tradition. In this tradition people fast during the advent season as they prepare for our Saviour’s birth. So this year our family is doing a fast of sorts: a television fast.

It happened more by chance than by plan. Those of you familiar with my writing know of my aversion to all things media, especially where my children are concerned. It just so happened that the latest development in the saga (chronicled in my last post) happened during November, so Oliver and I decided to pull the plug on the children’s consumption of media during advent. To make things fair, we felt that we needed to lead by example (though the children don’t ever see us watching television during waking hours anyway). And so here we are, putting away the remote for a few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.

baking sugar cookies

This means, of course, that Mommy and Daddy need to be more intentional about planning things for their children to do. This week we have been baking Christmas cookies, which is a real hit. Nobody complains about wanting to watch TV given this alternative. Since the project has several steps and we’re doing this after school, we’ve had several days of fun. I had forgotten how fun it was to bake and decorate cookies, although that could be because in recent years the children were less of a help and more of a nuisance when baking. This year it’s great fun. Tonight we’re thinking of putting up the tree.

We will make an exception for family movie nights featuring classics like Rudolph and the Little Drummer Boy. Perhaps Oli and I will even take in a Christmas classic after the kids are in bed one night. But as a general rule we have decided to devote the advent time to things that families would have done generations ago to prepare for the season. There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas, and this year it won’t all be up to Mom.

Horsey and DouglasThe television has been off since Monday and we’ve already seen signs of the boys’ imaginations returning. On Wednesday morning Teddy and Sammy walked out of their rooms with their stuffies, Dougles (a dog) and Horsey (a horse).

“Only seven more days until Douglas’ birthday,” Teddy announced. It’s written on the calendar folks: November 30. Teddy has already asked whether we can have a party complete with a cake. I’m thinking of humouring him. It will be the first time I’ve thrown a party for a stuffed animal, but it is another idea to substitute TV time.

At this point Sammy chimed in to tell me about Horsey’s birthday. “Horsey’s birthday isn’t for a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” Teddy added. “It’s still a long, long time away. It’s in a whole year.” Apparently the horse’s birthday was on November 10th. How could I have missed it? I’m sure Douglas won’t mind sharing a slice of cake with Horsey.

“Before he turns 1, Douglas has to have his eyes checked,” Teddy informed me next. “He’s still a puppy so his eyes are just opening. He has to have them checked to make sure they’re opening properly.” He went on to tell me that the one thing Douglas didn’t like in his life was when Teddy massaged him on the tummy (which was accompanied by a demonstration) and that if he wasn’t careful Douglas would attack him as a result.

“And the other day,” Sammy added, always needing to be a part of the conversation, “Horsey was going for a walk and tripped off a stump and bonked herself in the eye.” Sammy went on to scratch Douglas behind his ears, just like a real pet.

While I am loving the return to imagination, I’m a little concerned about the subject matter. I can handle a stuffed dog on my couch, but what happens when the children ask for a real one? If we end up with a real dog because we insisted on the children using their imaginations instead of watching television I just may have to bend my principles in the future.

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