Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Santa Claus and ho ho ho and all that stuff

Because one of my former students asked me to write about this --

By the way, did you know I was once a teacher?

I know what you're thinking.  I promise.  I was.  I taught ninth and then tenth grade English, so some of those unlucky children had Miss Nixon for two years in a row.  And then I happily took the job of cheerleader sponsor on top of that.  Oh, dear.  It was quite a crazy two years of my life.  Clint lived in Birmingham then, and I don't suggest long distance to anyone but then again I think it was a necessary step for our relationship.

But I digress.  Yes, I was once a teacher.  And one of my former students is curious about how I explain the concept of Santa to my children.

Why this interests her is beyond me.  I am not a great parent.  No, no, no, just stop.  I know the truth and I know how often I mess up, and I am okay with my role of just being a parent and not a great parent.  There is no reason for anyone to follow me and take notes because I have done lots of things wrong.  I think Clint and I were given two atypical children because we fit with them well, and I think we're doing a good job with them.  But I have no idea how to raise "typical children."  Give me a child who is willing to listen and do as he's told and I give.  I have no idea what to do with that.

Okay, so since she wants to know, I dug up some photos from last year.  Here goes.  First of all, we do this

This is something I am trying to NOT do.  It seemed fun but now it is awful.  Mimi began asking for him, so the little obligation finally showed up.  He has been in the same spot for two days, and I just shrugged my shoulders when Meemers asked me what was up.

Mimi has a party at school before the winter break.  It's not a Christmas party -- it's just a fun, wintery party, which I like.  I'll get to that in a bit.

The children get gifts -- some from us and some from Santa.  

They make a big mess  . . .

. . . and then when we feel like they have played enough with new gifts, we throw them in the car in their pjs and head to see family.

Where we knowingly let them poke sticks in a fire with cousins.  Hey, my husband used to play in the woods with knives as a kid, so I see no difference.

My son gets overwhelmed when everyone approaches him wanting kisses and hugs and asking him about school, which is what is normal.  But, you know, he doesn't really love normal.

We make the kids perform for us because we need some entertainment.

We get completely worn out and grab a toddler to snuggle because it's only appropriate to fall asleep sitting up at family events if a toddler or baby is in your arms.

We drink a little.

So those are the normal Darby-Nixon Christmas holidays.

Seriously, her question was about how we approach the whole Santa thing, and I'm getting to it but just give me another minute.  

I was raised in the Super Southern Baptist Bible Belt of the world in the northeastern part of Mississippi.  It seems EVERYONE in my home state celebrates Christmas to the extreme -- the commercial side and religious side.  This was my childhood and this is what I thought was  "typical."  Over the top decorations and outfits and nativity scenes in yards.  I remember hearing the threats from public school teachers about Santa watching me talk to friends when I should be listening.  I spent the entire month of December trying to be good so that Santa would bring me more stuff.  My parents reminded me, my friends reminded me, and even the girl in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly reminded me to keep it together or Santa wouldn't visit.

So now I live in a small suburb of a very large, diverse city that is no where near the Bible Belt.  There are many people in my small town who celebrate Christmas and many who celebrate Hannukah, AND many who celebrate both (or neither).  So explaining this to my child has been difficult and wonderful.

Clint and I are Christians, and we celebrate Christmas not because we think it makes us good Christians.  Let's please get one thing straight.  Putting a zillion lights on your home really has nothing to do with being a good Christian.  God commanded no one celebrate the birth of Jesus by wrestling for a flat screen in Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  Several Christian denominations do not celebrate the religious side of Christmas, and I get it.  There is so much commercialization going on and Santa gift-giving nonsense that it feels like such a waste.  There is no commandment to actually write out "Christmas" and not shorten it to "Xmas."  There is no commandment that a store clerk has to tell you "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" as you exit their store.  Sigh.  If this sort of thing offends you, then chances are you should probably spend the entire month of December at home to avoid getting panties in a wad.  And please stop with the whole "Look at all my stuff my husband/boyfriend/parents bought for me!  I'm SO BLESSED!" posts.  Just stop. 
We discuss the birth of Jesus with our children because it seems like the appropriate season to do so (even though this is probably not the time of year he was actually born), just as we discuss it other times in the year.  But this time of year it does feel special.

We also discuss Santa.  We love Santa.  We love twinkle lights and reindeer and watching Elf. 

We also get to discuss Hannukah and why some friends only celebrate Hannukah and why some friends celebrate both.  

And this, my friends, is the Darbys' new world.  Other people exist beyond the Bible belt and they do things differently and raising my children here has not caused any of our heads to explode yet.  Frankly, it's really, really wonderful.  Clint and I have had to question what we believe more than we had in the South, and that has made our faith stronger.  When we do make it to church with our children, it's because we want to go and not because we feel obligated.  When two other children hop in my car after camp and a discussion begins on which holidays their families celebrate, I don't flinch.    

Anyway, back to Santa -- here's the thing.  You and I know the truth, right?  And we believed in Santa as children.  And we remember finding out that he *might* not exist as we originally believed -- he really looks a lot more like our parents and not so much like the guy in the Coke ads.  Because the reality is that children all over the world and some even our own neighborhood will not get a visit from Santa this year, and it is NOT because they have been bad. 

So this is what I tell Mimi and Mack -- Santa is real for our family as long as they believe he is real.  We have discussed the St. Nicholas story (thanks for the help, Veggie Tales), and we have discussed that some kids don't believe and some children's parents tell them he doesn't exist.  I do not hold the whole "make sure you are being good for Santa or that stupid Elf so you'll get presents" over their heads.  In a moment of weakness, I have said, "Have you forgotten that the elf is watching?!!" but then explain to my children that they need to make smart decisions and be kind all the time.  Period.  Presents are not linked to that.  Clint and I enjoy buying little gifts for them.  They each get one big gift -- a small dollhouse or scooter and a few small gifts.  We try our best to not go overboard and are happy that neither of our families do either, so we'll keep buying little Christmas gifts for them because it is fun and it's a family tradition.  

I've been told that the best way to teach our children who have everything to be grateful and humble is to volunteer with them.  Mimi is now at an age that she can begin doing that, so I let her help me shop for gifts for a 13-year-old girl with me.  I tried to get on her level and explain that this child's family celebrates Christmas but isn't able to provide gifts this year.

Why not?

Maybe a family member has been sick and has expensive medical bills.  Or maybe they aren't making enough money from their jobs this year.

But what about Santa?  Can't he just bring her the gifts?

Hmm.  That was a good question.  I told her that Santa is a part of our family's tradition but may not be a part of theirs.

That is really nice of you to help, Mommy, but I'm really tired after school and want to play with my toys.  You should go by yourself.

So after many "what if this was you or one of your friends" scenarios, she decided that the right decision was going with me.  Once we got in the store, she picked up everything that was sparkly and purple and straw hats and lunch boxes and absolutely everything she wanted but this girl didn't need.  We had several arguments and come-to-Jesus talks before we got out of that store.

When we got to the car, Mimi broke down crying and told me that was really hard to buy for someone she doesn't even know and to not get anything for herself.  It wasn't just a bratty whiney pout -- this was a deep hear-felt AHA moment.  She wanted someone else to be happy but she realized she's selfish.  And then this all made me cry because it meant she'd just grown up a little in that moment.  So here we are sitting in Old Navy parking lot having a big ole sob fest together.

Now Hannukah has begun (Happy Hannukah, y'all!) and I'm sure another discussion will begin this afternoon -- and I love that we will have this opportunity to learn about another religion and culture.  Whatever you and your family celebrate, just embrace the season and keep those panties out of a wad.  Please be kind to others when rushing to your Christmas cantata and dinner at Aunt Betsy's not because Santa is watching but because we're all human and are all facing our own battles . . . And hold that freaking door open for the mom with toddlers!!!



Monday, December 8, 2014

My Middle Name is Procrastination

I had expected to be up to my eyeballs in Reindeer Mobile Home Park fabric by now, but since my supplier has decided to be shady I can't sew.  I should be getting to other duties.

A trip to Lowe's, a run in Target and the grocery, checking gifts off of wish lists, and finally making all those doctor appointment check-ups that I've avoided for the last, um, few years.  No, nothing is wrong with me.  I just can't make time to schedule a regular well visit because I find a million other things that I think are more important.  But quit worrying about me, Dad, because I'm at least going to the dentist tomorrow.

And what do I do when my check list gets a mile long?  I update my blog. 
 Lucky for you I'm a procrastinator . . .

All this procrastinating makes me think of a convo I just had with one of my best good friends Saturday night.  She was my first friend when I moved to Chicago (nine months pregnant and didn't know a soul), and she has been my savior many, many times.  In a few short weeks -- oh, wait, is it now days??? -- she'll be moving 1,400 miles away from me, and I can't even find a way to write about it yet.  Sigh.  But anyway, she's a lot like I am.  We love food, wine, and procrastinating.  Why do today what you can probably put off until the last minute?

So we decided that we're okay with who we are.  We have sisters who are planners and put together like All.  The.  Time.  and the thought of being that way just stresses us out -- we're just not that and that's okay.  We are both the youngest of four, and we were, um, born this way . . . right?  

The truth is I woke up this morning feeling lots of pressure to get a month's worth of things accomplished in one day, which is why I just need to sit in front of my computer and regroup.  Coffee, my favorite Pandora station (Indie Children's -- I'm not kidding.  Love.  Edward Sharpe, Head and the Heart, Jack Johnson, Band of Horses, with a little Build Me up Buttercup thrown in.  Love, love, love.).  I skipped pilates because I have a cold (sort of), and I've narrowed my list -- my goal this morning is to get the Christmas cards ordered.  

That's right -- I haven't even ordered the freaking things.  This is something a "planner" would do Thanksgiving weekend, but I'm having trouble finding a "card-worthy" pic this year.  I have some great ones of my children but they aren't together or it's the back of their heads, or Clint is in the background sneezing.  We have completely thrown the idea of professional pics out the window because have you met my kids?  I can do one of those cards with several pics on the front, but then I worry about not having even numbers of great pics of the kids and should I include Clint and me?  And then what about Ruby?  It's all too much for me this Monday.

So I'll just post pics here about the fall.  Maybe some runners up will hit me . . .

  My children love a good waller in wet leaves.

This might be a runner up.  But only one face.  And it's a fall pic not a snowy, wintery scene.
See how I put so much unnecessary pressure on myself?

Sweet, but Clint is wearing shades.  And it's quite cloudy.  That's right -- he completely messed up this moment with frivolous sunglasses.

Oh, that hair.  Maybe I should just put this on the card and that will be enough.

We had a bit of snow in November (where the heck is it now?), but the kids wouldn't cooperate and stand nicely together.  And this is the neighbor's dog anyway.

And speaking of dogs, our Little Black Puppy is still the best.  Right now she's curled up in a beanbag next to me sleeping.  She sleeps about 20 hours a day and causes zero trouble.  Sometimes she is most definitely my favorite child.

This guy, on the other hand, has no use for a decent night's sleep, which, in my opinion, should be from about 6:00 PM to 8:00 AM for a kid with his energy.  He is a freaking handful and a half right now.  The last few weeks have been smooth sailing for him, so I knew it was coming.

When we returned home from Thanksgiving, he suddenly began throwing tantrums and didn't want to go to school.  He asks for milk and then throws his cup at me when I give it to him.  He asks to watch Handy Manny and then screams and flings his body to the ground.  The horrible toddler stage ends for most children by four, but because of Mack's delays we get to enjoy the "extended stay" version.  He was actually becoming my easier child and then BAM! he returned to being unregulated.  His OT tells me this happens when he has grown developmentally.  He is figuring out more about the world, social cues, his body, and what he can and can't control, and he is very angry about what he can't control.  I guess I also get pretty angry when I also realize what I can't control.

But we're working through it and his amazing teacher at school immediately got to work on this fun little poster with pics of Spongebob and Buzz Lightyear with velcro letters.  And this is how she gets my son out of the car without a meltdown in the morning.  She's pretty much a genius.

Now Mimi has taken her role of the easier child, and it's about time.  She has been a challenge since adjusting to the grueling demands of first grade, but now she's returning to her sweet self.  So I took her downtown to Daddy's office for lunch when she had a day off school recently.

Not the clearest pic, but I love seeing my creations with Chicago skyline in the background.

And I took her to Annie.  That's right.  Same print in navy and pink (ooh, and it's velvet).  If you didn't know it yet, I've turned into a sewing geek.  I thought she was growing out of mommy making her clothes until her kindergarten teacher last year made a big deal out of it.  And then her friends thought of her mom as a hip fashion designer.  Um, not really but I'll take it.  

Happiest kid on the planet.

 So we took the kids south ON AN AIRPLANE for Thanksgiving.  
And we survived.


And this is how we did it.

#1  O'hare has an awesome play area near the F gates (and probably other gates but we didn't venture).  They ran and ran and ran and pushed buttons and climbed in and out of things.

#2  I bought thick milk shakes for them right before we boarded the plane.  They were big, so they needed both of their hands to hold them, which meant they weren't touching anything.  Mack paused when he saw the pilots in the cockpit with all those amazing buttons but then remembered he'd have to put down the milk shake to touch them.  Also, their breathing slows down when using the straw, so that helped calm them after playing so hard.  AND drinking helped their ears pop.
#3  I wrapped inexpensive gifts for them to open when they had the wiggles.  They each only opened one :).
#4  I used CARE straps for Mack.  I thought about bringing his car seat, but both Clint and I really needed as few carry-ons as possible so we could chase, grab, or tackle our children during an emergency.  The straps kept him in place and made him feel like he was in his carseat.  Thank you Betsy, and I promise I will return them!  Maybe after I order those Christmas cards . . . 
#5  We splurged and bought an iPad mini for Mimi and let Mack use our iPad.  Ugh, I know.  It's like cheating to stick kids in front of screens but I can own being a cheater if it meant my kids weren't screaming and running up and down the plane aisle.   

#  And last but not least, I prayed.  As we were about to board the plane, I kept the kids back a little and let everyone else board who was in the area so I could check them out.  I asked God to please let all of these people be kind and understanding.  Hopefully they were all parents or grandparents or child care workers.  Whatever they were, I prayed that they wouldn't say anything rude to my children or me because we all know a harsh comment makes every bad situation complete hell.

As we found our seats, I heard a southern voice say, "Hey, Jeri Anne."

Huh?  I saw a familiar face but was so anxious I couldn't put a name to it.  Because what would someone with a southern accent who knows me be doing on a plane in Chicago?  

It was a friend from high school who had just taken her daughter and a friend to New York, and I was so happy that she was in front of us and the girls were behind us that I could have cried!  You can call it coincidence, but I call it God.

Decorating cupcakes with cousins and Shug in Memphis.

A wonderful dinner with the Darby siblings who I adore.

Checking out the horses in Mississippi.

Silly, silly girls.

Run, run, run before we get back on that next plane, Mack.

Sitting still for three seconds at the kids' table.

Happy birthday, Amy and Poppaw.  Mimi always has to steal the spotlight.  Always.

Ruby was in good hands having a sleepover at her BFF Scout's house.  

Cool girls.

My parents live near Tishomingo State Park, and I think we should visit this spot every time we go back home.

They even have the dangerous old see saws that I love.

This could be a runner up.  But Mimi isn't smiling and does it give a false impression that we live in a log cabin?  Our life really isn't that cool and adventurous.

Loved the swinging bridge.

This pic has nothing to do with anything but it makes me giggle.
I need a dozen cookie robots!

Okay, time to get to those Christmas cards.  Ugh, this is so hard.

Until then, Merry Christmas.  And Happy Hanukkah (Mimi is so jealous of all your nights of gifts).  And Happy New Year.  May your lights be twinkly and your bellies be full.  May you not honk your horns at all the traffic jams and please remember to hold the doors for that mom with several packages and a whiney toddler who is throwing his body on the floor.  Better yet, just babysit her toddler and give her a gift certificate for a massage.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Try to Get By

When I woke up this morning, it was about 45 degrees and rainy.  

But now it's 30 degrees and snowing . . . 

. . . so let's just think about summer for a second and try to get by.

Sunshine . . . ahhhhh . . . 

Mack and his bucket of stuff.  

On a milkshake date with Mommy.

I think often about why we don't live at the beach. 

But then I realize that there would be no magic if we lived there.  The beach would become every day and ordinary, and then where would we vacation???

This kid turned 6 over the summer.  S-I-X.  Y'all that's big.

She becoming more independent and more helpful.  More beautiful and more thoughtful.    

She's decided she needs to perform, and Clint and I can't disagree.  She's so young, but I have been anxious to see what interests this kid.  Soccer or softball?  She spends more time cheering for her teammates and singing.  Swimming?  She just wants to splash her teacher.  Ice Skating and dance seem sort of hopeful, but what she really loves to do is pretend, imagine, and create.  I recently took her to see Annie, and she sat so close to the edge of her seat that she fell off a few times.  And we were in the second row, so I'm not sure how much closer she thought she could get.

The very next day a mom told me, "You know, Mimi has a really great voice.  She should do something with it."

What??  Mimi?  I've never really paid attention.  And then another mom said the same thing the next day.  Okay, I get it.  More to come on that when I figure this out . . .

It's exciting to see her strengths emerging.  She's outgoing and helpful.  She concerned about her friends and doesn't discriminate against kids who are a little different.  She has the biggest imagination and takes up the entire room with her personality.  And she can talk friends and grown-ups into just about any crazy scheme of hers.

And then there's school.  Yeeesh.

As soon as first grade began, I knew there would be a struggle.  She can't sit still long enough to write and would prefer to read a book as she thinks it should go -- not how it is written.  While she understands math concepts, numbers over 10 get confusing for her.  She misses a lot of instructions because she's very busy telling a story to a friend, and she just can't stop telling that story for anything in the world.

So after frustrating nights of homework and drilling and really low scores on spelling quizzes, I've finally given in to the fact that my children learn differently.  I don't know what Clint and I did to create these little monkeys who are so amazing and wonderful and absolutely unique.  There is no other Mimi.  And just to prove it she is going to make damn sure that she gets special treatment at school, which by the way, is freaking awesome.  The teachers and reading specialist and principal along with other fancy degree people have been on it.  We moved to this district for Mack having no idea how beneficial it would be for Mimi.  It makes that insane tax bill not seem so awful.

And speaking of Mack -- this guy turned 4.

Four is a fun age, and we have seen amazing changes in him just since this birthday -- more talkative, more social, and my gosh, he's smart.  He is spelling long movie titles from memory and beginning to sound out words.  He doesn't just know that "Toy Story" begins with a "T," he can spell out "Disney Pixar Toy Story 3 on DVD."  Yes, he's the opposite of Mimi.  She has the social skills and he's the academic.  It wouldn't be fair if they were both perfect, would it?

As one friend recently told me, where a child is lacking in skills, he will make up for it tremendously in another way.  No doubt both of mine are making up for it tremendously.

Oh, low they love each other.  I love to catch them sharing toys and playing a computer game together.  Mack will occasionally walk up to Mimi and give her a squeeze and a kiss for absolutely no reason, and the world stops for a few seconds.

And this guy loves me.  I call him my little boyfriend because he loves to hold my hand and snuggle with me.  He likes to make me laugh and smile and even holds doors open for me.  He's a bit possessive but I'm learning to deal with it.

If I had known back when Mimi was a perfect little nine-month-old how challenging this would all be, I think I may have thrown in the towel then.  A couple of nights ago we went to a restaurant for dinner (restaurants are something we don't visit with children much anymore), and I looked over at a nearby table -- a happy mom, a playful dad, and a sweet little 9- or 10-month old baby sitting nicely in his high chair.  He was picking at snacks as the parents took turns giving him attention.  I remember that easy stage with Mimi.

And then I looked back at my table.  Mimi was talking our ears off and Mack was sticking his hands in Clint's water and then ran off towards the kitchen with a plan in his eyes.  After he threw his body to the floor in rebellion, I took a big sip, er, chugged my margarita and yelled back at Clint to box up my dinner.  I was done.

After getting him in the car, Clint and I traded places so I could finish.  As I sat staring at Mimi for a second, I couldn't help but notice that sweet couple still sitting nicely with their little one.  I also noticed that they both kept glancing at us, and I remembered they had done that some while Mack was losing his shiz.  I made eye contact and gave them a smile . . . all while thinking suckers, you think you have it easy now but . . . just . . . you . . . wait . . . 

Because we know even "easy children" aren't always easy.  Both of mine had simple, easy stages, but those never lasted long.  Once I thought I had it all figured out, new challenges emerged.  And I will never, ever judge a parent who I know is trying their best on their children's behavior.  An old lady once asked me if I could control my kids.  And my response was, "No.  Why, can you?"  It's not all nurture -- a lot of it is nature.

 I remember Clint and I sitting next to a family at dinner one night whose children were zoned out on their iPads, and we thought, "How horrible.  We'll never let our children do that."  And I had dinner with a friend once who pretended her daughter wasn't pouring Sweet and Low packets all over the floor.  The friend shrugged her shoulders and said, "Ignore her.  She's being really quiet."

No one's judging over here.  Nope.  We're all just trying to get by.

Anywho, I'm supposed to be packing and gearing up for our first flight with the children since Mack lost his shiz 2 years ago on a flight that was so traumatizing that we canceled our flights home and drove the 16 hours back.  Yep.

So I'll leave some sweetness and quit procrastinating.  I'll take all the tips and prayers and kind thoughts you have for our flight this week.  A straight jacket in a child size 5 would also be appreciated . . . kidding . . . sort of

 At least no messes were being made at this moment . . . I will get by . . .