Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Santa Policy: December 14, 2014

The nighttime visions are dancing in our heads already, but not sugarplums, unfortunately.

Melina: crying, gesturing wildly and emphatically  THERE was a SNAKE in my BED.  It was trying to EAT me!
Mommy: Was it a nightmare?
Melina: Yeth!
Mommy: Do you need to stay in Mommy's bed for a few minutes?
Melina: Yeth!
 This happy guy saw TWO Santas this weekend.  The first was at the Elkton YMCA at their Christmas Faire.  This meant Craig and I needed a Santa Policy.  We decided that we wouldn't do anything to discourage belief in Santa, but if asked we would answer truthfully.  So Mommy can label packages "from Santa" because it's cute and we can have a Cookies for Santa plate because it's cute, but our kids will probably always know that Santa is Daddy and The Tooth Fairy is Mommy.
 The decorated cookies were a hit, too!
 I was surprised the girls weren't more into Santa, seeing that all three talked my ear off about him all the way there.  When we got there, he made Melina so nervous I actually thought she might bolt from the room during Devon's turn.  "Don't worry, sissy, nobody is making you do anything you don't want to do," I crooned over and over.  Carrie was more calm, but her clamp on my shoulder got stronger the closer we moved into the guy in the suit.
 So this was all three kids with Santa this year.  Okay.

Devon: Mommy, is the YMCA the North Pole?
Mommy: No, Devon, they set up the room for Santa to remind people of the North Pole.

 The girls had runny noses on Sunday, and I figured if you are too sick for the Baby Jesus you are too sick for Santa, too.  Devon and I went alone with Karolina and Victoria to see Santa at Kilby Cream.
 Devon asked for the same thing both times: a Hot Wheels Car track.  Good to know...
He ate his Snowman Sundae outside in forty-degree weather and still wanted to play outdoors.  He's turning into a little winter Marylander after all. 

Devon: Mommy, does Santa live at Kilby Cream and eat ice cream all day?
Mommy: Well, remember that Santa is real in the same way that Veggietales and Spiderman and Thomas the Train are real, Devon.  He's real in movies and he's real dressed up and we can sit on his lap and have fun and use our imaginations.  But he's not real in the way that Devon and the Baby Jesus are real. 
Devon: blank stare Spiderman isn't real?
Mommy: No, not really, sweetie.
Devon: But I'm a RescueBot.
Mommy: Yes, you are.
Devon: When I lived in Florida, I didn't know I was an emergency responder.  I hadn't started to Transform yet.  I was too little.

Yep, our son has a FIRM grasp on reality....

Devon: What about in Polar Express movie where the bell rings when the boy believes in Santa.  Do all the bells in our house not ring because Santa isn't real?
Mommy: No, all the bells in our house don't ring because you've pulled them all apart and the ringers fell out.

Christmas Tree 2014: December 7, 2014

Our first tri-state Christmas is shaping up to be memorable. Opening our Christmas boxes was such a time capsule, since we celebrated last Christmas in transit.  The last time these decorations saw the light of day, we had a two-year-old and two one-year-olds!
Everything gets put up in a new place and therefore viewed in a new way. 
I also get to appreciate gifts from long ago for the very first time, so it's like being given them all over again.  This is the beautiful Christmas card holder I begged a friend to make for me, getting its very first use.  Our Christmas cards will have to go out near or even shortly after Christmas.  In the meantime, I'm collecting addresses already because we're not the only moved ones this year among out acquaintances!
MOPS fall ended with a pajama day.  Devon joined the Moppets saying John 3:16 for the moms in big group.
That weekend's ambitious plan was to hit Schmidt's Christmas Tree Farm in Pennsylvania for a freshly cut Christmas tree.  It was a luxury we had to give up while living in Florida.  There just aren't many tree farms there.  Haha.
Unfortunately, Saturday's plans were rained out.  Hours and hours of rain.  No problem, we said, we'll go Sunday after church.  What better way to start remembering the baby Jesus than worshiping Sunday morning, celebrating the baptism of our favorite baby twins, and then getting a tree just minutes away on the way home.  We couldn't help it if everyone else in the tri-state area was rained out Saturday and had the same Sunday afternoon plans.  We got the kids' church clothes off and mud clothes on carside as vehicles whizzed by us, Christmas trees tied to the roofs already.  The kids enjoyed playing in the huge bark playground as Craig and I tried to formulate a plan.

The first consideration was the mud.  Tons of it.  How muddy was our tree going to get?  How muddy were we going to get?
Then we saw the Tree of Saws.  Hmm.... we're supposed to take one to cut our Christmas tree.  That would take one hand.  With our three remaining hands, we needed to guide our three kids onto the tractor and keep them from wanting to touch the saw as we were driven out to the tree fields.  Then we needed to find a tree, keep the kids at a safe distance as we cut it, load the tree, the saw, and everybody else back onto the tractor, and try to keep the kids from touching the tree AND the saw all the way back.  Then we'd ditch the saw and get the tree AND kids over the foot-deep mud ruts and back to the car safely.

I looked at Craig.

He looked at me.

"I miss Lowe's," he said.

"I do, too.  Let's go there," I said.

We paused.

"I'm serious," I added.  

"Me too!"

In wise, all-knowing tones we informed the kids that we were just about ready to wrap it up at "the place where we took you to see where our Christmas Tree was grown".  Now we were going to the car to go see "the place where we get our Christmas tree and tie it to the top of the car".  It seemed like a perfectly plausible explanation to toddlers.  Thank goodness!
Of course, not everybody made it to Lowe's....  Devon and Mommy got to go in and select a tree while Daddy stayed in the car with the napping girls.

"Get us a big one, Devon," Daddy said.
We raced around Lowe's admiring the trees in our usual 5-6 foot row.  Daddy had said to get a big tree, so I rounded the corner and pointed out the 7-8 foot row, lifting one tree and then another so Devon could admire them and choose his favorite.  He didn't really get the concept of choosing one of them over another to bring home and kept wanting to sneak off and play with the electronic Christmas toys, so I picked one that looked nice and flagged some help to trim the trunk and wrap it for us.

Somehow I had overlooked the fact that the 7-8 foot row became the 9-10 foot row halfway through and I had chosen an unbelievably big tree.  I paled a little as the register tag revealed that this tree was way bigger than we were used to.  I almost chickened out.  Would our stand even be big enough?  Would we be able to get it home?  Could we lift it?
The kids waited in the car through the long task of roping the tree securely to the top. 
It was a Fraser Fir, a lighter choice, so the hoist up on top went much better than expected.  I told myself that all we had to do at home was lift it down without getting crushed by it.
It ended up being the work of Sunday just to get it home and in the stand.  It ended up being the perfect size for our first floor, just missing the ceiling after we trimmed the highest branch by a few inches.  The kids watched classic Rudolph for the first time in a year as Craig and I screwed it into the stand.  There is only so much that three toddlers can do in one day.  Monday night's work was stringing the lights.  All three went round and round behind Daddy holding each string.  
Thankfully one of the very few things I had bought after last year's season were new strings of lights, as ours were just starting to go.  We had enough to light the much taller tree.  When it was all lit up I was glad that I hadn't chickened out and bought a smaller one.  One of the advantages of still having a completely unfurnished gathering room is we have plenty of room for a truly amazing tree.  We haven't worked out what exactly we'll sit on Christmas morning.  Pillows?  Bean bags?  Folding chairs?
Tuesday morning at six am the ornaments started coming out.  My plan was to do them in short bursts throughout the day to keep everyone entertained and reduce toddler burnout (see Carrie's face in the tree lighting picture).

We truly have an amazing amount of ornaments, and this is the first time we've ever had a tree that didn't seem totally overloaded.  Both sets of grandparents collected throughout our childhoods for Mommy and Daddy.  They also kept detailed notes on the origin of each one, whether handmade in BSF childcare or purchased on a special family vacation as a memento.  We even have a white, wooden moose of Craig's that reads Baltimore, 1987, so we know that when he was fourteen he visited a mere hour from where we live now.  It's so, so neat to have these, and it's a tradition we want to start for the kids.  I'm hoping to purchase a special Christmas box for each this year, and start their respective ornament lists with the several they've gotten so far. 

When Craig and I got married, we kept up the tradition, purchasing commemorative ornaments on our various vacations and a few special ones each Christmas.  We have a "New Home" ornament from 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2011 as we purchased or rented our first four homes.  Now we need one for 2014, as we moved in on New Year's Eve!

Like I said before, the ornaments and decorations stayed boxed last year, but we were gifted with several lovely and unique mementos on leaving Vero Beach last year, and the kids have added some through fun trips and church crafts.  These have been coming out of the most unexpected places in EVERY room of the house.  It's been like a treasure hunt!  I'll be putting away clothes in the girls' closet and find a box with the three favorite Disney character ornaments the kids got on their first trip to Disney World.  I'll be collecting plastic fish from a broken game on the top of our dresser and lay hands on a small box with a hand-painted sand dollar that's spent the whole year there waiting for Christmas.  I spent an evening printing tiny pictures to stuff frame ornaments that have never been stuffed, some of them dating back to the girls' first year!
This was our first outdoor decorating effort in thirteen years.  It's our side mudroom entrance, so not even very visible from the street.  Devon and I just cooked it up one afternoon to surprise Daddy and give him something cheerful to look at every night when coming home from work.  We're thinking of going much larger scale next year, even doing something that goes across the front of the house.  It's a good start.
P.S. (Dec. 22) My final festive decorating effort was to finish the Christmas stockings I've been planning for the kids long before their conception.  When Craig and I were engaged I cross-stitched stockings for the two of us.  When I did the finish sewing, I bought enough fabric to finish off three more stockings and put it aside for someday.  Quite the planner, I was.  I finally finished the third (Carrie's) topper last week, and spent Saturday morning at a friend's house doing the finish sewing because my machine is on the fritz.  Whew!  I gotta admit, crafting projects are a lot more fun when you're not already parenting and running a household.  I'm just glad they're done.

Thanksgiving: November 27, 2014

November seems like such a blur already.  We were thankful for TWO whole weeks to celebrate, starting with Devon's pre-K thanksgiving program at Landenburg.
The kids came in dressed as pilgrims and indians.
They said their memory verses, sang their songs, and generally wowed the audience.  Carrie and Melina watched, amazed.
Afterwards was Devon's most talked about part: the big FEAST.  My three ate their weights in chicken nuggets.  A huge success.
Afterwards, we circled back home for the girls's nap and then back to Landenburg to pick up Devon.  It was a good trial run for the real Thanksgiving. 
The very next day we hopped in the car for the fourteen-hour drive to Nashville TN.  It was the first long car trip attempted since our move and our only significant vacation of this year.  Ten whole days!! 
The route took us through Lexington, KY, right past the house where the kids came home from the hospital, the burger joint that nourished their little bodies in utero, and the castle park where we played with Devon the night before the girls were born. 

Nashville was a pretty low-key vacation, which was just what we needed.  We spent time at a favorite park there daily, reveling in fifty-degree temperatures as our friends from home posted snow pics on facebook.
Mama and Papa's house is home to the toys of Craig's childhood, many of which came out to play. 
But the best part was the cousins.  Four older boys for Devon to look up to, and three girls for Carrie and Melina.  We enjoyed Big Hero 6 together.  My favorite part of the experience was having to make the girls share a chair with somebody because they were so light that their bodies wouldn't keep the chairs open. 
Devon discovered the foam sword.  And life will never, ever be the same. 
It felt awfully ambitious to get everyone out at 9 am on Black Friday to take a professional family photo, but it went really, really well.  And when is it NOT ambitious to get ten kids dressed, looking, and smiling?  This is an amazingly good result if you ask me. 
We were lucky to be able to delay our return until Monday after Thanksgiving, when most everyone was already home and not on the roads.  We decided to drive it all in one day, an ambitious choice that ended up working pretty well.  We left at four am and were already back through Lexington before these cheerful morning faces made an appearance.  We ate meals in the car and stopped to run around and stretch instead of getting out to sit and eat more again.  Come to think of it, we pretty much ate recreationally all day.  It's something to do in the car...  By seven it was dark again and we were almost home, and that's when the sitting-too-long energy explosion happened.  You wouldn't believe the noise in the car as the kids trilled, sang songs, and told each other incomprehensible inside jokes.  We pulled into Elkton around 8 and poor Ally Kitty must have wondered what tornado was hitting after a quiet ten days at home. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Week Off Toast: November 16, 2014

Good morning!  Thanks to all those who read my last post (definitely a record!) and said a few prayers for me.  If ever there was a mom who truly needed Clarence the Angel to show up and give her a George Bailey moment, it was me last week.  

Come to think of it, It's A Wonderful Life probably isn't a movie I should watch right now.  I get to the scene where Mary Bailey is doing something to the house (painting, putting up wallpaper, what was it exactly?) while her passel of very littles play passively and quietly at her feet and I wonder what I'm doing wrong.  My last hour involved a sprint around the house collecting baskets of very stinky laundry as Craig stood guard over the girls having Mowwker Time at the dinnertable (I LOVE how Melina says 'markers') and Devon stood by eviscerating an entire roll of scotch tape because Carrie's paper had a tiny rip.  Craig got up to carry a basket and I snapped "Don't move!" because if he had somebody would've been hitting someone and then comes the running with uncapped markers and, yes, then the screaming. 
 So, yeah, we're coping.  Some days better than others.  Devon's sleep issues that started with time change have smoothed out a bit, but not much.  He's still getting a good hour or two less a night than we think he needs, especially for a preschooler.  Putting him to bed early just confines the shenanigans to one room of the house.  Forty-five seconds of lying still and he'd be out, but instead he's changing his pajamas two or three times, rearranging his bed, or driving cars up and down the wedge pillows he's pilfered from Mommy and Daddy's room.

Devon: (forty-five minutes after bedtime) STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
Mommy: Devon?  Is that you?  What is going on up there?
Devon: It's just me.  I'm marching around in circles.
Mommy: Why?
Devon: Because I have to!
Mommy: Why? (listening)
CD Player: The ants go marching one-by-one Hurrah! Hurrah!....
Mommy: Devon, GO TO BED!

 We've been very concerned about how this bender would affect his school behavior.  It's occasionally caused some pretty intense spells of wakeup and dropoff crankiness.  On the evening of the worst morning on record, the one where Daddy was a half hour late to work because it took two adults with advanced degrees forty-five minutes to double-team a four-year-old into putting on his socks, we got a kind email from his teacher stating that he had a wonderful day. 
To preserve our sanity we're picking our battles in a big way.  This week Mommy decided that she needed a week off toast, as serving it creates a million crumbs that get everywhere.  Nobody's really minded that we eat pancakes instead, and no twenty-five minute sweeping sessions because crumbs are Mommy's kryptonite.  

This would be right about where I should chime in with a reminder to disregard the mess and fully embrace the chaos of the small-kids-at-home years, but I'm not going to do that.  Keeping up with the housework takes all day anyway.  Failing to finish just means everything is disorganized and my job gets even harder and MORE frustrating.  I cope by knowing what I can reasonably accomplish in the time I choose to devote to housework and refusing to take anything on that will be more than that and therefore not get done.  My laundry isn't folded but at least it's in the drawer.  Dinner was canned soup but at least the dishes went right in the dishwasher.  And yes, I didn't serve bread with dinner because who needs it anyway? My time is at such a premium now, and if I devote any time to extras I miss the things I'd like to keep non-negotiable, like nightly book time.  

Devon: (pointing) Are those the green eggs, Mommy?
Mommy: Yes, they are.
Devon: But the ham is green too, Mommy!
Mommy: Yes, it is!
Devon: GRRRRR.  They should call this book Green Eggs and GREEN Ham.

Mommy: Big P, little p, what begins with p? Painting some pajamas pink, P...p...p.
Devon: Mommy, that is making an awful mess!  He should NOT paint his pajamas pink.  He should leave them the color that God made them!
Mommy: Yes, Devon, sounds good to me.
Devon: He is NOT following God's commandments.  I command him to STOP! 

I am so, so thankful for Devon's Sunday School teacher, who is the Anne Sullivan to my son's Helen Keller.  Devon is ready to have conversations about heaven, sin, and a relationship with Jesus.  It's such a blessing to have him blurt out things he knows that we haven't gotten around to teaching him yet. 
I am so, so thankful for church right now.  Don't the girls look big!  No matter what kind of morning it's been, just walking through the doors makes me feel like I've been granted asylum.  Even if it's only 8 in the morning and I'm so worn thin and ready to weep with discouragement, I'm not going to stay home.  If you're going to be a hot mess, I tell myself, go and be one in the house of the Lord.  He understands. 

Melina: Are you sad, Mommy?
Mommy: No, Melina, I'm happy.
Melina: Are you exhausted?
Mommy: Ummm...

It's a difficult thing for me right now.  I'm struggling with how to make my children feel cherished and not a burden when managing them for so many hours a day seven days a week pushes the limits of my physical and emotional breaking points.  I feel that lying to them and telling them I'm fine when really I'm wrecked harms their understanding of human weakness and our need for physical and mental rest.  So I usually confess to them that I'm really tired and need Jesus to speak to my heart and give me more energy because I am not feeling good.

Mommy: What's the matter, Melina?
Melina: (crying at bedtime) I just want to go to Chick-fil-A, Mommy.  But I'm exhausted!

At least they're learning the limits of their own strength by seeing that my strength has limits.  Sometimes, endearingly, they pray for me.  Other times, they are quiet in the car so I can listen to a song that makes me feel better.  Devon has even started singing songs from "song time", what he calls the part of the service that the kids attend before being dismissed to children's church:

Oh, God, you are my God,
and I will ever praise you....

Hearing those words come so sweetly from his mouth makes the rather gymnastic task of wrestling all three in half the service worth it. 

I look forward to the day when my kids will be able to show me compassion and amuse themselves during these times so I can take a nap.  Those days are not here, though.  Devon, especially, takes any moment of unsupervision as an opportunity for mischief.  Most recently, he waits for us to go hide during hide-and-go-seek and then opens the pantry door, climbs on the step stool, and eats marshmallows.  Just last week he outsmarted the safety locks on the windows and I'm constantly feeling a draft in our expensively propane-heated house and having to go lecture him. 
I'm so thankful for MOPS providing structured outings that give my kids opportunities for social interaction.  Here they are after the tour of the nearby Herr's Potato Chip Factory. 
Carrie's language skills have been the most fun of all three lately.

Mommy: Carrie, could you stop kicking the back of my chair?
Carrie: I'm not kicking, Mommy.  Your chair is stopping my foot.

Carrie:(on Facetime) Hello, Grammy, just what have you been up to lately?

Mommy: Do you want to go to the park?
Carrie: No, I'm not really up to it right now.

Carrie: I'm going up to the third floor, and Jesus is going with me.

Carrie borrows a lot of her language patterns and inflections from Mommy.  No pressure, haha!

Carrie: I am just DONE playing markers.  Done, done, done, done DONE!  Don't ask me to play markers ever again!  I am going to SpiderMan Park RIGHT NOW!  Get in the car and take me there!
One of our lifelines in the constant struggle to manage our exhaustion as parents are mornings or afternoons at the YMCA.  Without their drop-in childcare I'd never get in my ambitious but necessary five-days-a-week workout schedule.  I desperately need the endorphins and the ability to cancel out at least one of every day's multiple dietary indiscretions.  The kids also benefit greatly from one-on-one time with Mommy, an impossibility any other way.  This week we set a record and were there four times!  I don't know what else to do to give the kids enough exercise when preschool ends at 3 and it's dark before 5. 
We received the unexpected blessing of a CharlieBelle Box a few weeks ago.  One of Craig's aunts occasionally surprises us with a huge box of eclectic gifts that come in the mail and delight our unsuspecting children. 
 It's 3:48 in the afternoon and I'm trying to resign myself to Ally Kitty being the only member of our family to get a nap this afternoon.  This stage of the girls giving up naps is rooooooough.  Truly sorry to complain, and well aware that a toddler mom talking about being exhausted is just about the most unoriginal thing ever.  I look at the clock and mourn naps anew about two hundred times every afternoon.  Then I tell myself to stop beating a dead horse!

Ahem.... I am well aware that the horse is dead.  And that I'm still expecting it to take me somewhere.  And that it's yet another opportunity to depend on God and not outward circumstances for my very sanity.

I echo the words of Tim Keller quoting I'm-too-tired-to-remember-whom: Everything that God gives is necessary, and everything that he withholds is unnecessary.  If I can't get a nap, I guess I didn't need one.  So far it's been a constant struggle to not be so much in survival mode that I toss some very good things out of the lifeboat.  Like letting Busy Boy get out of bed and experience the first snowfall of the season, even though it would take us forty-five minutes to get him back into bed. 
Two nights ago was also a big night for our family, as we officially became an entirely diaper-free household.  I was about to open another case of nighttime diapers.  We decided that they were getting too big for 4's, so I counted off how many days until I could exchange them for a larger size.  Then we thought for a minute and realized what a huge hassle it was becoming to even have diapers still in our lives.  The girls were taking them off in the mornings and hiding them in obscure trash cans all around the house instead of putting them in the diaper genie.  We were forever unspooling them from pj pants in the hamper, picking them up off the girls' floor, or stepping in one while getting them dressed.  It also seemed like they weren't getting much nighttime action.  So far, the girls are doing pretty well with the transition, although time will tell.  The case of diapers is going back to Costco on Tuesday, and I'll spend the money on special new pj's and maybe something to eat in the food court.  Those of you who read my last post just paused to say another prayer for me.  Haha.  Thanks.

We leave for vacation on Thursday evening and will arrive in Nashville on Friday night.  We're hoping to take advantage of ten days at Mama and Papa's house and let Mommy and Daddy have some occasional rests.  Then Grammy and Grandpa will spend half of December with us, so rest and recovery are on the horizon...