The Nutcracker and a New Year

What has reminded you most of the holidays being different this year?

Not being able to be with family and friends really struck home during Thanksgiving. Turning on the TV this past week and seeing The Nutcracker performed, really drove it home for me for Christmas. I was ready for no parties, or gatherings. I was ready not to go to any shows, movies or ballets. But seeing The Nutcracker on a local station being performed by our local ballet company solidified how different things are.

My youngest son joined me to see The Nutcracker at our local theater a few years back. Being there in person, hearing the music and feeling the vibrations from the orchestra as they play, watching talented dancers of all ages perform, and the excitement and gratitude the crowd felt just to be there appeared universal by all in attendance. It was special. Yet, sitting here in my home, seeing the ballet felt equally special. I didn’t have to go out into public, risk exposure to the virus to see a performance that can bring such joy.

I attempted to get my boys to join me to watch the performance. My youngest was playing Minecraft with friends online. My other on the phone with a friend. Ah, teens. It didn’t really matter. I lowered the lights to mimic the theatre and sat back. I could imagine being there in person with my family beside me. It was a mixture of nostalgia for what was, and hope for what can be — seeing the ballet live again one day soon.

This year has been one that required awareness, guidance, patience, reflection, support, community, and love to make it through. While a hard year, it was a year of growth for our family, and I’m guessing for many of yours. I look forward to how 2021 will be different. How we grow together. I’d say ‘go back to normal’ but my sense is even that will have changed. I look forward most to reconnecting, and being able to hug others again. I do so look forward to the New Year.

What is bringing you and your family joy this holiday season? What are you most looking forward to in the New Year?

I will be off the next few weeks to enjoy time with family and will be back in January.

Trim the Tree

How are you decorating for the holidays?

I have to admit I haven’t done much decorating this year. I like to decorate for the fall holidays mainly, but just haven’t seen the point or been in the mood, and my kids haven’t seemed to mind, so no decorations for Halloween or Thanksgiving this year. Christmas though felt like I needed to make an effort, though a part of me asked why?

It dawned on me that the holidays were upon us when my youngest asked when we’d get our tree. I realized Christmas was only two weeks away. When did time start going fast again? We decided it was now or never, so we got a tree.

Next I must confess that there are two parts of a Christmas tree I’m not a big fan of — getting it in the stand and hanging the lights. The end result is always worth it. It helps that my boys actually like putting the ornaments on — this year they even coordinated when to put the ornaments on the tree, knowing I’d want to snap some pictures of them in the action. 😊

I don’t plan to get more decorations out (besides the stockings) unless the kids really want us to. Since holiday gatherings are off, we’re really just decorating for ourselves, and trimming the tree is enough for me.

What decorations are you putting out this year? What decoration(s) does your kid enjoy the most?

The Christmas Letter

Do you send out cards for the holidays?

Every year we send out cards to friends and family. We like to include both pictures (so our loved ones can see how the kids have grown), and a letter that outlines what we’ve been up to. This year’s card I wondered if including a letter would be worth it, haven’t all of us (for the most part) been up to the same things for the past 9ish months?

I decided to give it a try. After getting the opening out of the way (how do you best start a greeting during a pandemic?), I launched into the details of what our boys were up to, what my husband and I are up to, and things that helped us during the year. Putting the words down in writing showed me that while life often felt like it’s been on pause, we’ve actually been doing a lot of living, and growing, and listening, and talking. We’ve been creative in how we connect with others — my oldest riding bikes with his best buddy, and my youngest connecting with his peers over a virtual game night — are two of many examples of how we found ways to enjoy it.

Writing the letter reminded me to keep finding joy in the present, pandemic or post-pandemic. And help my boys keep finding joy as well. We’ve got a lot more living to do.

What happened this year for you and your family that’s brought you joy?

Easy Come Easy Go

When was the last time your child did something that surprised you?

This last happened to me a few days after Christmas. My oldest has been asking for an iPad for a while. We have never invested in a gaming system for our kids, and my son likes to use my iPad (which is very old) to play Madden. My iPad is so old, it no longer can support any of the latest versions of Madden so, as far as my son is concerned, it’s useless. 😊 My husband and my response is always the same when our son tells us he wants this, “Do you understand how expensive iPads are?” Communicating that we understand he wants it, but it’s not going to happen. We said if he wanted an iPad so badly, he should ask for money from his grandparents, and other family for Christmas.

I was in need of a new smartphone earlier in the year after the screen on my previous phone shattered. When buying the phone they had a buy one get one free offer so I decided to pick up an iPhone for my son. My husband and I had been talking about upgrading him from his flip phone to an iPhone but still had concerns over him having such a device (particularly with all the content that’s available). Thank goodness for parental controls. Being able to restrict his usage as night, limiting what sites he can access made us feel more comfortable giving it to him as his Christmas gift. It was one of the few times I’ve seen my son get a gift and be almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

A few days after the holidays my son came to me and said, “Mom, you know that money I was saving for the iPad? Well, I no longer need it since I have my iPhone. I want to give it to #TeamTrees.” My son learned of this organization (teamtrees.org) while watching YouTube. They were getting a lot of press and buy-in from other YouTube and non-YouTube celebrities helping them achieve their goal of planting 20 million trees. My son was caught up in the hype and wanted to contribute his savings that day. While I loved that my son wanted to donate his money I wanted to make sure he was really thinking through where his money was going, and taking the steps to educate himself on the cause, charity, and feeling good about where his money went (e.g., what about the cause speaks to, or resonates with you?). My husband and I asked him to do some research, sleep on it and we could figure it out in the following days. Once we learned #TeamTrees had exceeded their goal, my son was more willing to look into other charities. We had him look up charity ratings, and after doing some research he decided to donate his savings to the ArborDay Foundation. I was proud and surprised at how easily my son was letting go of the money he’d been saving up for almost a year. He could have easily bought something for himself, but felt compelled (maybe influenced by the YouTube community?) to give his money away.

I’ll take this kind of surprise from one of my children any day.

When was the last time your child surprised you in a good way?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

All I Want For Christmas is…

What does your child want for Christmas this year?

My kids are older now, so gift giving is somewhat easier – getting gift cards, money, athletic gear, YouTuber merch (yes, I’m using teenage slang now. 🙂 ), or music — and they are happy campers. For me, sure there are things that I’d like, but nothing that I need. I feel unbelievably fortunate.

At home, one evening near dinner time, my younger son was sharing some of his favorite sayings at school. He threw them out rapidly and each one made you stop and think. I was impressed, but the one that stopped me in my tracks was, “there’s no pause button in life.” I said, “Did you hear that from someone or did you come up with that yourself?” He replied, “No, mom, I came up with that myself.” I think I saw an eye-roll before he went about sharing other favorite phrases he likes to use at school. Now, I know my son is not the first person to come up with or use this phrase, but the fact that it resonated with him, and he understood what it meant, blew me away.

I ask my family to join me to see the luminaries lining a nearby lake every December. It’s a tradition I’ve been trying to create for many years (even blogging about it previously). This year, it was raining the night of the luminaries. The rain was supposed to move out, but hung around. I told my kids it was time to go and they both protested in a way that I knew that while I could force them to do it, none of us would enjoy ourselves. So, my husband and I went by ourselves and walked the lake in the rain. We commented on the pros — lesser crowds and no kids protesting; the cons — it was raining pretty hard, and our kids weren’t with us. We had dinner following and talked about how it will only be a few more years before our oldest is out on his own, and only so many more times to walk the lake together as a family. It reminded me of what my younger son had said — that there is no pause button in life. Oh, how I wish there was. The hard times, I might want to fast forward through, of course, but there are those times when you want to slow things down, maybe even backup and do them over, but you can’t. There is indeed no pause (reverse, or fast forward) button in life.

All I want for Christmas this year is for my family to be together, and enjoy our time together. The kids promised they’d walk the lake with me next year (we’ll see if that actually happens or not), and that’s enough for me for now. 🙂

What do you want for Christmas?

I will be off for the next few weeks spending time with family, returning in January. Happy Holidays!

 

Holiday Spirit

What brings you joy during the holidays?

I have to admit, since my kids we’re old enough to understand what Christmas is (maybe when they were two or three) my ability to get into the holiday spirit (e.g. enjoying the decorations, music, wanting to bake) has taken more time to get there then before they came, with less time to enjoy it.

There is so much going on leading up to the holidays, right? Concerts, parties, pageants, getting a tree, decorations, gifts, etc. I have often felt I was running on adrenaline right through Christmas Day, and could only relax once the day (or at least dinner) was over. 😊 Now that my kids are older, more independent, and our aware gifts come from Mom and Dad, the fuss to get everything done, to try to create that magic you want your kids to experience, isn’t as intense. It feels as though I’m reclaiming some of that previously-lost-time from Christmas past.

I noticed a joy coming over me earlier this year that I haven’t felt in a while. It is my Christmas spirit coming back. It feels really good to have time to get close to it, and really enjoy it with my family.

With everything going on, are you able to get into the holiday spirit?

‘Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

Tree Lot

Where do you get your Christmas tree?

Our family gets our tree from our elementary school’s tree lot. We didn’t even know they had a tree lot until our kids went there. Prior years we would get a tree wherever it was easy without much thought. Going to this elementary school changed that as parents were asked by the PTA to help run the tree lot (help customers with the trees, get them to their cars, run the checkout stand) and we felt obliged to help. It was one of the few ways we thought we could actually give back to the school. When the kids were young it seemed a bit overwhelming to run the stand, as we’d need to get sitters for them or be prepared to chase them around the lot the entire evening, but as the kids grew and could truly help out at the stand it became a family tradition we look forward to.

My youngest is in 5th grade and will be moving on to middle school next year. We thought this would be our last tree lot until we learned that my older son’s scout troop also does tree lot. And because there are only a dozen or so kids in the troop, each family has to work multiple shifts. Seems like working tree lot will be in our future for many years to come!

My boys will always gripe about working the tree lot, even though we remind them working the lot means we’re helping raise money for their school and/or money for their troop. But I get it, I can’t imagine I would have been super excited to work a tree lot for hours on end when I was their age. It can be cold, wet, and sometimes miserable (weather wise), but seeing the families come in to buy their tree, young faces wide with excitement about the holiday, and people telling us they specifically came to the lot to support us (be it the school or the scouts), makes it all worthwhile. It makes us feel more connected to our neighbors, our community, and you can’t put a price on something so needed and special.

Working the tree lot has become a family tradition. I’ve a greater appreciation for where we get our tree from, and those that make the time to get their tree from us.

Where do you get your Christmas tree from?

Giving til it Hurts

Which do you prefer during the holiday season — giving or receiving?

I have a heightened sense of my spending during the holiday season. Toys for the kids, gifts for friends and family. It can all add up quickly. Add on charities and the desire to help others, and it becomes the time of year money seems to leave my pocket too easily. I love the joy the gifts bring to my loved ones, and how donations can help others, but do not necessarily look forward to the pending credit card statement that follows.

My oldest son decided he wanted to get a gift, with his own money, for his younger brother. He accompanied me to the mall so he could get some ideas. My youngest son is into geography and when we came across a map store we knew we wouldn’t leave the mall empty-handed. The store was filled with amazing gifts — maps of every country, globes, travel books, pictures, and more. It was a bit overwhelming. He decided to get his brother a map of Australia. My youngest has always shown an interest in visiting there. The map cost $25. There was a cheaper version of the same map, but the one he had chosen was lamented and would last for much longer. He took the map up to the counter, looked at me and said, “Am I really paying for this?” To which I responded, “Yes.” You could see his inner turmoil — wanting to get his brother something he would love, but struggling with parting with his money. He took a deep breath, pulled out his money and handed it over to the cashier. As we walked out of the store he leaned over and said, “That hurt.” “What hurt?,” I asked. “Spending that much money,” he replied. I understood what he meant, sometimes, even when we want to be generous, it can make us feel uncomfortable — especially when you’ve worked hard for the money and saved it over a long period of time as he had. We walked out of the store, and my son immediately headed to a sports store. He found a cap he wanted, went to the cashier without even looking at the price of the cap and had them ring him up. This time the total came up closer to $40. $40 for a cap? I thought. I would think twice before dropping that much money on a hat…it seems like a rip-off. Yet, my son was perfectly happy to part with that much money for it. I couldn’t help but contrast the two situations — one was about being selfless and giving, the other was about self satisfaction. One caused him angst and one didn’t phase him. Interesting.

When I was a child, I really liked getting gifts at Christmas. I didn’t learn about the joy of giving until I was a teen and finally had enough money to spend on others. I can remember saving up my money to buy my sister a leather jacket. It was expensive — way more than I could really afford (and wouldn’t have been able to without the concept of lay-away), but there was something that really drove me to get it for her: 1) I really wanted to see the surprise and joy on her face, and 2) prove to myself that I could buy gifts like this for someone else — and a thrill in my fiscal abilities. Wow, I was just able to figure out how to finance a nice present without going into debt. It felt great! I wondered what drove my son to part with his money. As an observer, it felt more like something he wanted to do, but he didn’t like the feeling of spending his hard earned money. Giving shouldn’t hurt, or give you pause or cause you angst. I do hope one day he’ll experience the joy in giving — and that parting with your money can actually feel good through and through.

Happy Holidays! I will be off for the next few weeks to spend time with family and friends and will be back in January.