Advent Calendar

What are you most looking forward to today? Or tomorrow?

Often we move through life without noticing anything in particular we’re looking forward to. While most look forward to the holidays, perhaps gifts, and seeing friends and family, coming across an advent calendar reminded me of the smaller, but needed joys, we have access to daily.

When my boys were young I stumbled across Lego advent calendars. I recalled the joy I had as a child opening a simple paper door awaiting to see the picture inside. Now Lego was making them? I couldn’t resist getting them for my boys. Each advent calendar had a different theme (one city, one movie). Behind each door revealed a small surprise — a simple-to-put-together object such as a tree or mini figure. Every morning my boys would rush to the table eager to find what would be revealed that day.

It reminded me of unseen joy that might lay ahead. How life doesn’t give us physical advent calendars for the entire year, but they are there if we allow ourselves to see them, and figuratively (and sometimes literally) open the door. Meeting a new friend, noticing beauty in nature, sharing time with a pet, are a few examples of things that can happen for any of us any day. It’s just seeing the “door” and allowing yourself the opportunity to find the joy.

My boys are too old for advent calendars now, or so they tell me, but they’re not too old to find something to look forward to every day — whether it’s in the form of gratitude, anticipation, or the unknown. Each day there is an opportunity for us to “open” the door with anticipation and looking forward to. The “prize” might not reveal itself right away, but I’m betting with some reflection the “gift” of the day will ultimately reveal itself.

How do you approach each new day? How are you helping your child see the ‘gifts’ around them?

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

As we emerge (fingers crossed) from the pandemic, what are you most grateful for?

My youngest son’s school wanted to start a new annual tradition this school year to celebrate being able to come together as a community. They decided to hold a Gratitude Festival—to not only celebrate community, but honor the things we are grateful for — teachers, parents, administrators, friends, health, education, the community, and much more.

Being grateful has given me so much – it helps me be present and notice all the wonderful things around me (people, nature, animals, etc.). Everyday I’m reminded of all the things I have to be thankful for. I’ve tried to instill gratitude in my children. At meals we often share what we are grateful for. I’m hopeful they see the joy in being grateful too.

With Thanksgiving coming up, we often reflect on what we are thankful for. I hope events such as the Gratitude Festival at my son’s school, is one of many events that are held across the country, throughout the year, that provides each of us the opportunity to acknowledge the gifts all around us. After all, realizing the gifts in your life is a catalyst for experiencing gratitude, and when you’re grateful you feel blessed or fortunate. That usually means you feel good. And if you feel good, you’re more likely to spread your good feelings to others. Spreading happiness. What a wonderful thing.

What traditions do you have that are teaching your child gratitude? How are you and/or your child spreading happiness?

I will be away the next few weeks while spending times with friends and family, and will be back in December. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The Joy of Dinner

What is mealtime like for your family?

When the kids were young and in high chairs it was enjoyable — spooning food into their cute little mouths, watching them make a mess. Then they got older, pickier — mealtime became a struggle and could be exhausting. Now that they are more independent and starting to pull away (particularly the oldest) it can be a challenge to keep them at the dinner table — they eat, answer one or two questions mom or dad asks then exit as soon as they can. Ah t(w)eens!

My husband had a later-than-usual work call and my workday ended after I thought it would so dinner didn’t happen until right around the time the kids started proclaiming how hungry they were. We sat down to eat. My husband was still on his work call and I figured worst case I’d wait and eat with him. Something almost magical happened. My sons started eating, we were talking about our days and then we started to reminisce. I’m not quite sure what prompted us remembering old times, but I asked my son if he remembered his former youth soccer team going to a high school tournament game many years ago (their youth coach was also the coach of the high school team and had invited the kids to watch), and how they had poked fun at the soccer players that were flopping (in an attempt to get a red or yellow card for the other team). The boys were somewhere around 10 or 11 and when the opposing team would “flop” one of the boys would say loudly, “oh, does your boo-boo hurt? “ And another would chime in, “Do you need us to get your mommy?” Then the rest of his teammates would all start chiming in. The high schoolers heard them. The fans (high schoolers and parents) heard them, and no one said a thing. Seems the power dynamic worked in their favor as no one was going to go after these kids. It was humorous to see the kids doing this (I know that’s terrible but I was impressed with how they called out their older peers for faking it). In recalling this story my oldest started laughing. “Oh yea. That was hilarious.” I asked, “You’re the age now of the kids you and your teammates were giving a hard time to. How would you feel if it happened to you today?” “I’d probably think it was funny,” he shrugged. I’m not sure if he would find it as humorous, but the conversation had us talking and laughing well beyond our typical time at the dinner table. We were there so long, in fact, that my husband finished his call and was able to join us for a good period of time.

Oh the joy of dinner. It’s so hard to believe the nights where we’ll have dinner are so fleeting. Only a few years left before our oldest is off. Working to be present and really enjoying our time together whether it’s a ten minute or hours long meal at the table.

What is a favorite mealtime memory for you and your child? How are you finding joy at the dinner table?

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.

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?

Reboot

Getting a hug from your kid always makes your day a little better, right?

My husband came home from work one day and was greeted by my younger son. “How was your day, Dad?,” he asked. “Fine,” My husband replied. You could tell by his tone that it wasn’t a particularly good or bad day, he did look a bit tired though. “Dad,” my son continued, “you need a reboot! I’m giving you a hug!” My husband couldn’t help but laugh by ur son’s reaction. “A reboot?” my husband asked. “Dad, you’re like a computer. Running all the time. You’re going to ‘crash’ eventually — no computer runs forever. And a hug is the way you reboot.” I was in awe of my son’s insight and the truth of his words. We joked about how Dad ‘crashes’ (naps) too often do he was probably overdue for a ‘reboot.’

As parents, we are going on full speed 24×7. We can sometimes try to get by on caffeine, little sleep, or just ‘touching it out.’ Children are very observant and understand a lot more about what’s going on than we parents sometimes realize. I loved that my son recognized this, and loved that he understood a simple hug could make a world of difference even when you’re not having such a terrible day.

How do you reboot? How does a hug from your child positively impact you?

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,  who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.  Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).  It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?

 

What Brings Us Together

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. An American tradition of coming together with family and friends and watching the big game, while enjoying rich food and celebrating competition.

Our family found the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in recent years which airs at the same time as the Super Bowl. In the Puppy Bowl they do an animal take on the big game with puppies of different breeds playing together. And while there is some competition (e.g. which dog will finish the task first) it is more about watching these adorable animals interact. My youngest son loves puppies and anything ‘cute’ so the Puppy Bowl is a hit for him. My oldest son, husband and I found it quite cute ourselves after watching it for a few minutes. It is much more enjoyable for us than watching violent hits, boasting players and beer commercials, and I should note I actually like watching football normally. The Super Bowl just seems like a game on steroids (literally and figuratively?).

With all the chaos of the last week the Puppy Bowl got me thinking. Animals don’t differentiate between people. Animals are eager and willing to meet (and play) with people they have just met happily (unless, of course, they have been mistreated). We should take a lesson from the animals playbook.  Our pets and our love for them bring us together.  People from all races, religions, and countries love their pets. People’s love for these creatures is universal. Animals have a magical quality of meeting us where we are, and excepting us how we are without judgement. They provide love, comfort, companionship, and joy (and much more). My sons love animals and are asking us for a pet (and we’re hoping there may be some in our future). My husband and I grew up with animals and remember how important they were to us.

Puppies aren’t the only cute critters having a bowl game today. There is also the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. My youngest is looking forward to seeing both the kittens and puppies play, and so is the rest of my family. We might tape the ‘big game’ and fast forward through to see the commercials later, and while either the Patriots or Falcons will become the Super Bowl Champions, the animals are winning out this year.

How is your family celebrating it being Super Bowl Sunday?  What do you and your family love most about animals?

 

Let It Snow!

Do you like snow?

As a kid, I loved it. As an adult, I dread it. My favorite snow is the kind that sticks to the ground, but not to the street. In other words, snow that doesn’t slow me down.

With this being one of the busiest times of the year, snow seems like a really big inconvenience, but for my kids, it’s something different. It means no school. It means they get to go outside and have a snowball fight. Snow, to them, means fun.

After dreading a pending storm, I had to come to grips with the reality, once again, that I don’t control the weather. The snow is going to come when its going to come. And as much as I’d like for the snow to miss us, my kids are hoping just as hard that it doesn’t.

The snow came, the kids played and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their excitement over it. The snow forced me to pause, take a breath, and appreciate what was going on around me. Snow may be inconvenient, but it brings something else with it — beauty, joy and fun.

How do you make the most of things (like the weather) that inconvenience you during this busy time of year?