Christmas Morning

It is exactly one week before Christmas, and I am worried that I won’t be ready. I think I have purchased all of the presents. I think I have all of the ingredients to bake cookies. I think I have enough bows and batteries. I have plans to clean and bake like a madwoman this weekend, I made arrangements for our five year old to visit with my parents so I can accomplish more while he has fun with them, and I have cleared my work schedule as of Friday, Dec. 19 at 4pm, to give myself time to make Christmas magic happen. My real work schedule, that is. If only I could get paid to wash windows, scrub bathrooms, mop floors, vacuum, dust, and somehow get those Lucky Charms marshmallow spots off the carpet! At least my Christmas trees are up and decorated. A designer of Christmas ornaments and gifts, Patience Brewster helped inspire me to slow down and enjoy decorating the trees and reflect on our traditions.

In the meantime, my poor husband will be assembling toys, finishing the homemade Lego table, and making room for all of the gifts from Santa. He will be in charge of making sure that Cookie, our elf, finds his way to a few more really good hiding spots, and he will have the distinct pleasure of vacuuming our stairs, cleaning our banisters, making our oven and kitchen sink shine, and washing down the walls that are too high for me to reach – picture a 20-foot stairwell wall and a precariously perched ladder.

Christmas Eve will find us, after family dinner and church services and the battle of getting two so-excited-that-they-are-vibrating boys into bed, cleaning up for the final time, praying our angels stay asleep while we make trip after trip from the basement and secret gift closet, loading batteries into toys in gift bags, and preparing the shiny new iPad with games and apps galore.

With everything that I still have to do, I have one thought that gets me through the pre-Christmas chaos: Christmas morning. When it comes right down to it, Christmas morning is the reason I drive myself crazy from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. Truth be told, I have more trouble staying in bed on Christmas morning than our boys do. I wake up before the sun, if I Christmas Morning 004 by dony31even sleep at all, and force my grumbling husband out of bed. I start turning on Christmas lights and lighting candles. I turn up the fire, start filling the cookie trays, and then I just sit and take it all in. It’s the proverbial calm before the storm.

When I was young, my brother and I were not allowed to peek at the presents on Christmas morning until my grandparents arrived. It was torture, waiting for them to arrive, but we always did. I never understood why we had to wait, because I knew that we could just show our grandparents what Santa brought us; now that I am a mom, I understand. Christmas morning is more special for the adults than it is for the children. We get to see the kids’ faces and experience the joy and magic of Christmas through them. They get new toys and games, but we get the joy of being together and spending time in the moment as a whole family. I admit, I have made it a little easier for our boys by ordering my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to be at our home bright and early. The funny thing is, nobody really complains about the early hour.

We open our stockings first and hand out presents to family members. We are not one of those families that takes turns opening gifts, but we do try to keep a slower pace to the opening frenzy. Our boys are still at the age when they enjoy handing gifts to others – and occasionally helping to open them – so we do get to see the surprises hidden in the packages, for the most part. We snap pictures and we struggle to open cardboard boxes and those straight-out-of-Fort-Knox plastic straps that hold down each and every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure and accessory. My favorite part is watching everyone’s faces as more wrapping paper flies and more wishes come true.

After the gifts are open, we start our traditional family breakfast. English muffins, Canadian bacon, dozens of eggs, and stacks of American and cheddar cheese appear on the counter as we make our homemade breakfast sandwiches. My grandmother is in charge of the eggs, my mom is in charge of the Canadian bacon, and my aunt and I are in charge of the toasters. After all these years, it is embarrassing to say that we still have to ask everyone how they want their eggs to be cooked. But, I know my grandmother will gross out everyone by putting jam on her sandwich. I know my brother will drink a quart of chocolate milk by himself. I know our younger son will refuse to eat until he is seated on my dad’s lap. And, I know that it will be another Christmas morning that makes my heart smile.

In the meantime, I just remembered we are going to ride on the Polar Express Sunday afternoon. Who schedules a Polar Express train ride four days before Christmas? What the Hell?

Image via Flickr by dony31

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Relishing the Boring Stuff – What the Hell?

My addiction to Disney movies is not something I’ve ever tried to hide on this blog. So, it should come as no surprise that this blog post is inspired by one of my all-time favorites: Up. The beginning love story sequence makes me cry. Hard. Ugly, shoulder-shaking, snot-sucking crying. It’s bad. I don’t even have to be looking at the screen. As soon as I hear the music, I know what’s happening, and I start to cry right around the time that they are in the doctor’s office. Again, regular readers will know why. There is just something about the whole movie that gets me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had students like Russell, or if it’s because the love between Ellie and Carl is timeless, or if it’s because I’m just a sucker for Disney movies.

Anyway, there is one line in the movie that hits home with me every time. Russell is talking to Mr. Fredricksen about being a kid and says, That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” (Don’t send me a nasty email if I misquoted that a bit. I’m not so good at quoting movies; that’s my husband’s claim to fame.) As a mom, I try, at the very least, to make each day fun. They’re not all smash hits, but if we laugh and smile and spend time together, then I’m happy. The rest of the tribe seems to be, too.

I see all of these moms on Pinterest and Facebook planning these elaborate day trips and play dates, and to be honest, there are times when I wish I had the creativity and the patience and the time to do half of those things. I envy their energy and their enthusiasm and their eagerness to be perfect moms. But, then I stop and wonder if that just makes their kids expect every day to be a grand gesture. Would they even appreciate the “boring” things that our family does? That’s when I realize I’m glad that we have that boring stuff. That’s the stuff of real life, and that’s what makes our family… well, us.

I like our nightly pillow fights and tumbling shows. I was thrilled when the big kid asked to help me make a chocolate chip banana bread yesterday, but “this time without the volcano.” I love knowing that I’m going to get the little guy out of his crib each day after his nap and see his smile and answer that daily question, “Daddy home?” And the next daily question, “Brother home?” And the one after that, “Turtle game?” We may have our boring routine, but there is comfort in that schedule. We know we will be together and play each late afternoon and evening. We know the Phillies game most likely will be on after bath time. We know we will make our wishes and read our books and talk about our days, head-to-head on the pillow. I even love knowing that we go to our favorite family dinner spot so often that they know what to bring us to drink and that we don’t need menus; knowing that we can leave with a screaming little guy without insulting anyone is kind of awesome, too.

So, yes, the boring stuff is the stuff I will remember the most. And, I hope it’s the stuff our boys will look back on and remember with fondness. We may not have done something awesome every day, but we did spend time together, as a family. When I figure out how to pin that and update that, I will. In the meantime, I’ll check out what those other moms are doing, and for once, I’ll be able to think I may just be doing something right. What the Hell?

My Son’s Other Woman – What the Hell?

I’ve written about it before: the unbelievably tight bond between my older son and my mother. It’s something that amazes me, warms my heart, and makes me jealous, all at the same time. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s the ugly truth.

This past week has been rougher than most in the he-likes-Gatoni-more-than-he-likes-me category because he is crying for her every night. This is very unusual; typically, he cries once a week for her, the night after his super-awesome sleepover at her house. This week he’s having a rough go of it because he knows she is going on a little vacation in a few days.

I was worried about her dogs and her house. I was very worried about fielding all of the phone calls from my grandmother and my grandfather and my brother; I swear they call her twenty times a day, each. I was worried about having to answer all of the questions about where she is and when she will be back and why she isn’t available to get my brother groceries. I was worried about what would happen if I didn’t remember how to follow that one recipe or how to deal with the latest little boy ailment: the usual reasons for my twenty phone calls a day.

I wasn’t prepared for my kiddo to have himself all upset about her leaving. And, I’m really not sure how to make him feel better because he’s never really had to miss someone before, let alone his person. I’m sure I won’t live up to his super-awesome weekend expectations. I’m sure I won’t come up with the most fun games ever. I’m sure I won’t indulge his every whim. And, I’m sure I won’t fill that hole in his little heart when he can’t see his Gatoni for four days.

But, I’m his mom. And, even though it hurts my heart to see him so upset and sad because he’s anxious about losing his grandmother for a few days, it hurts me more to know that he’s not seeing it as an opportunity to spend more time with me. I was expecting to feel this when he got a girlfriend. I never thought I’d have to deal with this at age 5. What the Hell?

12 Signs You’re From a Small Town – What the Hell?

I’ve lived in four houses my entire life, all within the same county in PA: the two that are the farthest apart are separated by only 18 minutes, on a good driving day. I’ve been eating at my favorite local restaurants at least once a week for as long as I can remember, minus the time I spent away at college. I have a category of people in my life who are “mill customers:” I don’t know their names, but I know they have been buying at our family feed mill since before I was born, and I know them on sight. My family doctor went to school with my mom; they even traded homework in an alley before school in the morning (Mom did the English, and he did the math). I’m a small-town girl, and I’ve decided there are 12 signs you’re from a small town, too.

1. Everybody knows your name.

Well, they may not know your first name, but they know that you are so-and-so’s daughter or son or so-and-so’s granddaughter or grandson and you look just like her or him.

2. When you hear a train coming, you know at least two alternate routes you can take to avoid the train all together.

That first whistle is just a warning. You know you have exactly 90 seconds to turn around, head down a side street, and jump the tracks because the lights are flashing but there aren’t any bars coming down across that crossing. And you feel a little bit like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit while you do it.

3. You hear “mom ‘n’ them” on a regular basis.

Okay. Maybe this is just a colloquialism from my particular small town, but it’s something you hear regularly around here. If it’s unfamiliar to you, picture this: you’re standing in line at a store, and you hear the people beside you say they had to pick up some Pepsi for “mom ‘n’ them;” you ask somebody to come for dinner this weekend, but they say they can’t because they’re going to be with “mom ‘n’ them.” It’s absolutely horrible. I’ve never said it. But it’s a part of the vernacular around here.

4. You don’t know street names because you reference everything by “where so-and-so used to live” or “where such-and-such store used to be.”

I hate it when people from out of town ask me for directions, because I have no idea what the streets are called around here. It’s only been 33 years; don’t judge me. I’m always fascinated by the college kids’ ability to deliver pizzas in this small town. I’ll bet not one of them knows where the old Kmart even used to be, but they’re successfully delivering pizzas nonetheless.

5. You know where everybody’s grandparents live.

Part of growing up around here meant spending time at your friends’ grandparents’ houses, not just your friends’ houses. Whether it was Sunday visits or trick-or-treating or just to drop off a clean casserole dish, you visited grandparents almost as much as you visited friends. The nice part was, you had a whole group of grandparents you weren’t related to but who still treated you like one of their own.

6. People have their own booths and tables and barstools in the restaurants and bars, and you know people are going to catch hell if they’re sitting in them on the “wrong night.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s the local family restaurants or the local dive bars: you can guarantee people will show up and immediately get pissed off if somebody else is in “their seat.” I’ve seen people march over to poor, unsuspecting patrons and tell them to get out of their seat. I’ve also seen people sit and pout while staring at the offending ignorant eaters because they didn’t have the guts to confront them. There even are a couple of waitresses in town who are nice enough to warn people about sitting in certain spots on certain nights.

7. If you can’t find somebody, you know which restaurant to find them in on a Friday night.

There is a whole culture of diners who eat in certain places on Friday nights. These people make up the majority of the people in #6 who have “their spots.” I’ve heard my parents say they weren’t going to call so-and-so because they just knew they’d see them at dinner that night. They didn’t have dinner plans together, and they weren’t going to eat together; they just knew they’d be there having dinner. In their spot.

8. Your mother and grandmother refer to all of the girls within five years of your age by their maiden names, and it doesn’t sound weird to you.

We’ve been to the weddings. We’ve seen the pictures of the ones we weren’t invited to attend. Everyone around here knows when one of “the kids” gets married. But, even though the majority of the girls take their husbands’ names, your mother and grandmother never get the memo or take notice of the new address labels on the thank-you notes and Christmas cards. You will forever go by your maiden name to those mothers and grandmothers, no matter what.

9. You see your friends’ parents and they still treat you like you’re twelve.

This probably has a lot to do with #8, too. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a wonderful development with some of the best families around, and those moms and dads watched out for us when we rode our bikes and played flashlight tag. I don’t know for sure, but whatever the reason, when I bump into those same moms and dads now, they look shocked to see that I’m old enough to be married with children (even though their kids are, too) and they still use that tone of voice they used when I was in elementary school. How are yoooou? What have you been up toooo?

10. You hear certain last names and know they’re trouble.

Right or wrong, fair or not, people are branded in a small town. Certain names and places carry stigmas, even if the current generation is made up of college graduates and success stories. It seems like the oldest generation in town is the most guilty of doing the labeling, and there is a subset of teaching families who shares the blame, but certain last names earn people the ire of many community members. And, the people who are the targets of the ridicule are aware of it and perpetuate it: “Oh, we’re not part of that clan. Our last name is spelled differently.” I’ve even heard people change the pronunciation of their last name, just to disassociate themselves from the rest of the clan.

11. You can list every sport the kids in certain families played.

Small towns like to cheer on their kids, and certain families are known for raising football players, basketball players, soccer players, baseball/softball players, and even 4-Hers. If a kid chooses not to participate in a sport that made his or her family famous, everybody wonders what’s wrong with him or her. It’s like the town expects people to follow suit and not break tradition; when it happens, they’re not sure how to handle it. On the other hand, when a new generation of a family begins, everybody starts purchasing sporting gear in the “family sport” for the new arrival. Baseball gloves for newborns are common baby shower gifts around here.

12. You expect to be able to park for five hours on one quarter.

There are some perks to being from a small town. You’re practically guaranteed a parking spot, and when you get one, you know you can spend the better part of the day parked in town on a single quarter. It’s funny when we go out of town and are expected to pay more than that for parking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about parking fees in the surrounding communities because we are spoiled here.

I’d like to be able to say that my small town is exactly as I remember it from my childhood, but it’s not. I described my dilapidated memories of some of the places that made up my childhood in an earlier post, and after I did that, I realized that even though things don’t look the same, they often still feel the same. Some days, that’s a comfort; other days, it’s not. I don’t know if I want our boys to be able to write a list like this thirty years from now. There are some advantages to this small-town life, but I often wonder about the things I missed out on by living in a big city or going out West somewhere. The hardest part is realizing that our boys are going to have to make that decision for themselves some day, and I can’t handle thinking that my small town may not be their small town. What the Hell?

On Becoming My Mother – What the Hell?

I don’t know exactly what it was that caught my eye, but I started staring at my hands while I was typing the other day.  My fingers were flying over the keys, as usual, and I was in the middle of a brainstorming draft session, and my attention suddenly shifted away from my thoughts and settled on what my hands looked like.  It took me a few seconds, and then I came to a startling realization: I was staring at my mother’s hands.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not up to speed on anatomy and physiology – probably because I’ve never taken an A&P course – but there certainly are some similar structures and looks to our hands.  I won’t describe them very well at all, due to my lack of knowledge about the technical terms for body parts, so please forgive me.  I just know that when I reach for the space bar, there is something about that bottom knuckle in my left-hand thumb that reeks of my mother’s thumb.  If I hadn’t fallen back into that old terrible habit of chewing my fingernails while thinking and writing, my thumb would look exactly like hers.

I don’t think my mom and I look alike at all.  I have had some people tell me that they can tell I am my mother’s daughter, just from our physical appearance, but I don’t see it.  Other people have told me that we have the same laugh, but I don’t hear it.  I think that’s why it struck me as so unusual that I saw her hands in mine.  The way the skin scrunches under my pinky when I extend my fingers.  The way there are four straight, raised lines branching out from my fingers and into my hand when I spread out my fingers to stretch them.  The way my rings never fit my finger the right way; they always seem to be turned to the side.  The way my knuckles, when my fingers are fully extended, look like my boys’ bellybuttons a few days after they were born.  The way we have deep crisscrosses all over the tops of our hands and fingers.  I got it all from my mom.

Most people say with a great deal of derision that they don’t want to become their mothers.  I’ve heard my mom say it about becoming my grandmother, and my brother and I tease her about how her driving is pushing her ever nearer to being Nana.  My dad used to tease me about becoming my mom, and I always shot back: “That will NEVER happen!”

But then I became a mom.  I needed my mom from the very second we brought that first precious little life home; with all of his eating issues and food allergies and my “touch of” postpartum depression (as the midwife so kindly described it), we needed her more than any of us ever could have imagined.  I watched her soothe my screaming baby who violently vomited after every feeding by wrapping him in a blanket and carrying him outside to show him the world.  Those hands pointed to the trees and the sky and clouds and my baby calmed down and slept.  Those hands helped me bathe the baby after my husband had to go back to work and some nights had to work until closing time, leaving me feeling alone and scared and helpless until my mom showed up and saved the day and the night.  Those hands took care of things when mine couldn’t.

I don’t simply see physical similarities in our hands; I see active similarities in our hands.  These two sets of hands have cared for both of my children.  They have changed diapers, felt for fevers, dried tears, applied bandages, and held little boys.  They have put battle gear onto Ninja Turtles and made Thomas the Tank and Friends go down the hill without tipping over.  They have stirred macaroni and cheese while getting milk into a sippy cup and not letting fish sticks burn.

I’ve learned so much about being a mother from my mom, and it’s funny how most of that learning happened through watching her hands.  I guess I have become my mom.  Or at least my hands have become her hands.  And I could not be happier about that.  What the Hell?