Thursday, December 23, 2010

A gift from a stranger

Note entire can of decorator icing used on this train wreck
At the supermarket tonight, the woman in line before us said to me, “My, what polite children!” I looked at her blankly for a moment and said, “Thank you – we left the rude one at home…” and quickly added, “No, I’m just kidding. We left the mature and responsible one at home because he’s old enough to stay by himself.” My middle son was at the express register two lanes over using his allowance to pay for some gum. My youngest was helping me unload our cart.

We had walked around the corner to the store, but my oldest didn’t feel like joining us. Truthfully, I had wanted to leave all of them behind – we needed just a few things, including icing for a birthday cake, since all my icing had been depleted at our gingerbread house party the weekend before – and if I had gone by myself, I could have accomplished the whole expedition in under 10 minutes, since I wouldn’t have had to debate or negotiate about why something is or isn’t a good value and whether or not we really needed any more candy than the Life Savers I had chosen for our stained-glass window cookies we’d be making the next day.

I’d also felt that we’d had ample togetherness today, starting at 6:15 a.m. when everyone got up and began jockeying for position, bickering, teasing, tattling, sulking – oh, the drama! At 8:00 a.m., I thought I might tear my hair out. At 8:30, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The school bus’s arrival was imminent. At 8:45, I breathed a sigh of relief as I waved goodbye to the bus. At last, I could work in peace. A well-meaning friend reminded me that my children are my joy. I replied, “Today they’re my job.”

I know that’s just how it is in the days leading up to Christmas, though. The boys all know to the hour how much longer it is until Christmas. I was actually able to complete all my card sending, gift making, and present wrapping today. Usually I am up until the wee hours of Christmas morning completing everything. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “It does get easier.” Does this mean I’ll just try to do more tomorrow? We’ll see…Good stress is still stress. It had taken a lot of energy for me to ensure that the kids weren’t at each other’s throats all afternoon since the school bus returned them to me.

My middle son and I were both carrying grocery bags and I held my youngest’s hand with my free hand. “Boys, do you know what the woman in line ahead of us said about you?”

My middle son said, “That we’re really stupid?”

I raise my eyebrow at him as I said, “Uhm, no…guess again…”

“What did she say, mommy?” my youngest piped up.

“She said, ‘My, what polite children!’ ”

My youngest squeezed my hand.

My middle son said, “Oooh, that makes me feel all Christmas-y inside!”

Yeah, I thought. That was like the best gift I could have received today…

Boy to the World!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

All wrapped up

“Why are you late, Mom?”

“Well, hmmm, I really can’t say…and anyway, we’re not late yet. Technically we have one minute to get your brother to practice…”

It was 5:44 p.m. My middle son has basketball practice at a building within the same complex as the extended day program; my oldest has practice at the elementary school gym in the next town over. Both practices are at 6:00 p.m. My middle son’s coach is there 15 minutes early so it’s okay to drop my son off then. We really need the whole 15 minutes to get to my oldest’s practice; we have been on time once. Every week I think I am going to leave my office by 5:30, but that is rarely the case. On two out of three of the occasions that I did, I got held up at extended day for one reason or another.

“, let’s get a move on, boys!”

My older two hustled out to the car, but my youngest was not on board. He was upset that he hadn’t been able to finish a craft project. He knew we had basketball, though: he was the one who delivered my oldest’s change of clothes to him in the middle school room. As of 7:15 a.m., when we were gearing up for another week – making lunches, taking out trash, digging the favorite shirt out of the dryer – I had forgotten we had practice.

“C’mon, honey. We really don’t have time for this right now. Your brothers don’t want to be late.”

Rather than endure the wrath of his brothers, he complied.

So, why was I “late?” I decided that I would take inventory of all of the Christmas presents I had bought for my kids this morning during one of my conference calls. I put the phone on speaker (and muted it), hauled everything out from the various hiding places, and spread it all over my office/bedroom floor. Then I pulled out all the wrapping paper, tape, bows, ribbons, gift tags and boxes. Then I got overwhelmed. I spent most of the day walking around or stepping over little piles of gifts. At lunch time, I wrapped the kids’ gifts that they had chosen for each other. Mid-afternoon, I had my Santa gifts wrapped. When 5:00 came, I realized that I better at least organize everything else before I put it all back in my luggage, hanging next to my garment bags, in the eaves of the attic. I spent the next 25 minutes sorting the stocking stuffers, making sure I had the right number of Santa gifts for everyone else, and trying to balance out the items I was giving to my kids. I considered holding some of them back for upcoming birthdays, especially when I realized I had bought two of exactly the same Lego Hero Factory sets. Then I just tossed everything together in one bag. I’d have to defer that decision to another day. I had to be sure I hid all the wrapping paper, too – I wouldn’t want Santa paper to be found anywhere, not even the scraps that were in the trash.

By 5:25, I was ready to go pick up my kids and begin the Monday evening routine, but it took me more than five minutes to warm up the car (thankfully I had filled the tank earlier); organize the sneakers, basketballs, snacks, and drinks; back out of my driveway (which is close to an intersection); and get in line with several other vehicles trying to make a left turn on Main Street, which brought me to the point where my oldest asked me, “Why are you late, Mom?”

Perhaps I just sounded like absent-minded mom or like I was still wrapped up in work, but the truth was, I couldn’t say. I know that the mere mention of presents triggers a) 20 questions (“what did you get me,” “what did you spend,” “what did you get my brothers”), b) the temptation to snoop, c) the inquisition about whether or not Santa Claus is real.

Boy to the World!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dream big

I had left a Toys R Us catalog on the dining room table and told my boys they could circle the items they liked. My middle son went first. He chose red pen. Then my youngest, with a green pen. All the while, my oldest was peeking over their shoulders, censoring them.

“You can’t circle that!”
“You’re never gonna get that!”
“That’s way too much!”
“You don’t need that!”
You can’t have that – I wanted that!”

I had to keep reminding him that I had only asked them to circle the things they liked. Not once did I make any promises about what they would actually get, and oh-by-the-way, “how would I know anyway, what Santa might be planning?”

When it was my oldest’s turn (in brown pen), he circled a few things of his own, along with some Barbie and Hello Kitty items (with “J.K.” written next to them). I also noticed that he had crossed out some of his brothers’ selections, further editing their choices.

I told the boys, while looking pointedly at my oldest, “It’s okay to both want the same thing. It’s okay not to want the same thing. You're not in charge of deciding what someone else does or doesn't want."

They all proceeded to vie for additional turns with the catalog, which is how it attained its "well-loved" look.

"It’s also okay to want something even if you have no idea how you might get it. How are you ever going to get what you want out of life if you don’t know what you want?”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Alone at last

“Well, why don’t you just leave the other two here…”

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, because the dad continued, “…and go have some time…to yourself?”

The idea grew on me quickly. “Okay…are you sure you don’t mind?”

“No, they’ll keep each other entertained – they won’t bother me at all.”

I had showed up at our friends’ house to pick up my oldest with my younger two in tow. These friends have two sons: their older son is my oldest’s age and their younger son is in between my younger two. Earlier, I had dropped my oldest off to do his tour of duty with the boy scouts selling Christmas trees (with my friend's older son) before taking my younger two shopping. He was planning to walk home (since it was about four blocks) because I didn’t think we’d be back before his shift was over, but it wouldn’t be so much later that he’d be alone at home for very long.

As I was in the checkout line, he called me from his friend’s mom’s phone.

“Hi So-and-so,” I answered, thinking it was her.

“Hi Mom, it’s Oldest. Mrs. So-and-so says I can go home with them.

“Okay, great. We’re just finishing up here. I’ll be there in a little while.”

We stopped at home to put the frozen food away. My middle son snagged his basketball, since these friends have “thee-most-AWEsome!” basketball net at the end of their driveway, which is on a private road (unlike our street, which is actually a portion of a numbered route on which there’s a good deal of traffic).

But when I got to the house, the dad was surprised to see me. “Uhm…how are you?” My oldest and his friend were both sitting at the breakfast bar with their shirts off. I quickly realized they were having “man time.”

“Well, I think I’m just a little shell shocked after taking these Middle and Youngest shopping….” I’d said, probably staring at him vacuously. While the kids had all been reverent at church, it seemed that every moment in the last three hours since then had included potty words, raucous songs (replete with potty words), poking, hitting, mocking, producing body noises, getting in each other’s space, and looking at each other “the wrong way.” There was the “let’s regurgitate water in the car” game followed by a hefty dose of “let’s trash the living room.”

“Ah…well…what’s up?”

“Oh, I just came to pick up Oldest.”

“I thought So-and-so was going to bring him home?”

“Oh, really… uhm…when?”

The older two quickly disappeared, so even if I had wanted to bring anyone home it would have been difficult, which it so often is when picking one of my boys up from “hanging out” (we’re not allowed to say “playdate” anymore after Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

“After she comes back from the market.”

How I wish that I could have shopped solo. I had even thought to myself when we were at the specialty grocers, Next time I come here I’m coming by myself.

“Well, alright then!” And I slipped my shoes back on as we walked out.

My youngest was thrilled with the impromptu idea of hanging out with his friend. My middle son only wanted to know how to adjust the height of the basketball net. “Bye mom!”

So, I went home, calling a friend on the way to share the news of my good fortune and heated up a cup of coffee. I lounged on the couch in the quiet living room with my toy-blinders on (since there were still Hot Wheels and Bakugan cards strewn on the floor, which I vowed to put in the good will bin if they weren’t cleaned up by bedtime, and this time I’d really do it!), and I read a book. Not a business book or a how to book, but a novel: The Nanny Diaries, which underscored both my need for alone time and my gratitude and appreciation for my children.

And I wound up having a whole hour and a half to myself before I took the kids back to church for the tree lighting on the nearby common, the arrival of Santa Claus, and cookie decorating. Boy to the world!

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...