Saturday, July 31, 2010

Christmas in July

Why am I thinking about Christmas in July?  It's not because I'm doing some fun 'Christmas in July' activity with the children.  It's because I am already struggling with how 'handle Christmas'.  I'm wondering how to find the money to 'do Christmas' (whatever that means) and getting frustrated with the feeling of having to 'do Christmas'.  

What's Christmas all about?  As Christians, it's about Christ, or at least it's supposed to be.  That's not to say there aren't a lot of fun traditions that can help us celebrate the season that are not rooted in Christianity, but we can be sure that the way we do them honors and celebrates the birth of Jesus.   I look forward to finding fun and creative traditions to start with the kids as well as enjoying the ones my husband and I have enjoyed since growing up.  There are lots of great ideas out there about traditions and celebrating Christmas without so much commercialism.  That's great.  I feel like I can handle that.  I started last year with a fabulous advent calendar with daily activities, and I look forward to doing even more this year.

My problem lies completely within the realm of gifts.  Giving, receiving, asking, donating, whatever it is, gifts are my problem.  As a family we are concentrating on living simpler, with less stuff.  We are focusing on less toys, but more play.  We are focusing on less food with better quality. We are spending less, saving more, and living better than when we were not so conscientious.  While we have had to learn to do without as we are getting our money, debt, and financial planning under control, we have also learned that sometimes doing without isn't so bad.  (Other times it just plain sucks, I'll be honest.  But the planning, saving, and budgeting we are doing is going to make those times less and less because we will have the resources in the future to get the things we need and even what we want.  And in the end, we find we are wanting less of some things so we are able to spend our resources on the things we do want.)

As we approach the Christmas season, you can hear all sorts of well-meaning comments from moms about how each year they go through their children's toys before Christmas and donate all the old ones to make room for new ones or how they are now rotating their children's toy selection so that they don't have so many out at once and can get some more variety throughout the year.  I appreciate these sentiments, and they are both good ideas.  But I am struck by the fact, that I don't want to go through my children's toys and give away bunches to make room for more.  Of course, if they have outgrown something, it is time to pass it along to someone who can use it.  But I don't want to be getting rid of tons of stuff (and that's the word I'm going to use to sound a little nicer when I admit in my head, that's not the word I'm saying) in order to make room for more stuff.  I want less stuff.

I fully admit my children already have more toys than they could ever play with.  I do plan to do a cleaning out soon, packing some in the basement to save for the future or another day and giving some away.  But I want to become more aware of what comes into our house so that less has to come out of it when it comes time to clean.  Many of the kids' toys I have carefully selected for their ability to last through the years and encourage creative play.  Other of the toys, not so much.  Some of those not-so-much toys have been purchased by kind and generous relatives, and some of them have been purchased by my husband or myself.  But, we are making changes. 

I see my children appreciate and enjoy their things when there are less of them.  I see my children appreciate gifts, accepting them with love and graciousness, when there are less of them.  There is simply no reason for more.  But this brings us back to the problem, we are blessed by friends and family who want to give our children presents.  We've tried to handle this in a couple of ways, and we have for the most part failed miserably.  When asked what our children want, we've tried to be specific about their needs, suggesting things like gift certificates to activities (though that's another post that will be coming soon) instead of more stuff.  We've tried being really specific about the stuff, because there are some neat things out there that would be great to add to the playroom, quality toys that encourage creative play that will last through many years as our kids are able to use them in different ways as they grow.  We've created an online registry for when family asks what we want.  Many family have graciously heard our requests, although I can't help but imagine that they thought we were a little tacky in making them.  Other family and friends have understandably chosen to pick out a gift themselves, because isn't that the fun of gift giving?  I'm sure we have offended some.  We have certainly gathered more stuff than we ever wanted, and we have more toys that we said we'd never have than I'd like to count.  And I am widely known as the big mean mama who won't let her kids have all the stuff in the world and any toy that takes more D cell batteries than I can supply.

So, what to do?  There has to be a way to manage this attempt to be less materialistic, simplify our lives, and yet welcome the outpouring of love that is meant with this gifts.  I know mamas who have given a list - no plastic, no batteries, no this or no that.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Meanwhile, there's a flip side of things.  The giving of gifts.  We have a lot of family and friends that give gifts, and likewise, that we would like to give gifts, too.  Of course, all of our family and friends don't have the same level of income or expenses, and yet there often feels an expectation that we will give a comparable gift to what we've been given.  We simply cannot afford to do that considering the sheer amount of gifts that we receive.  We've encouraged family to keep gifts small, or set a limit of say $25, and we've been ignored.  They ignore us out of love.  They want to give.  But we can't give that way and we don't want to receive that way.  I just don't know what to do!

How did gift giving and receiving become so difficult?  Of course, I want my children to enjoy giving and receiving gifts.  I want to enjoy giving and receiving gifts.  But, I feel trapped in this desire for less of everything with a focus on quality, and the pressure to give it all and receive it all!  And I'm tired of being big bad mama that won't let my children have all the fun stuff when that's just not it.  This is for their good, their health, and their happiness.  It's to increase the entire family's quality of life, because stuff isn't what it's all about, and it certainly isn't what Christmas is all about. 

Do you deal with any of this?  How do you go about it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All because of a dead fish.

Yesterday, I had one of those tough conversations with my three year old son, B.  We had been at the lake that day, and some kids he was playing with found a dead fish which they thought was great fun.  Um, yea, ew.  I told him not to touch it (only after I saw him carrying it around.. yes, I repeat, ew), and that was it.  Apparently, one of the other children's moms had them bury the fish, and I guess in doing so made some comment about it going to heaven.

I didn't find this part out until bedtime.  My husband had a council meetings, so I was reading to both kids before bed.  B stopped my reading to ask about the fish that they buried so it could go up high.  I was pretty confused but eventually figured out what had happened.  What followed was a conversation about heaven, God, Jesus, death, resurrection, and life... with my three year old.

If you read my other blog that is dedicated to my kids and keeping friends and family up to date on their adventures, you might remember me talking about the death of my grandfather and how we try to be honest with the kids while keeping things simple and age-appropriate.  That's our approach.  Honesty with attention and care given to the spiritual and emotional maturity of the child.  We are attempting to wrap our children in love and support so that they can comfortably ask questions and test the waters.  And, oh my goodness, it is hard.

So B and I talked, while little brother, E, threw a tantrum that shook the sides of the house because he was clearly too tired for philosophical and theological conversation at that point.  But B and I talked nonetheless.  I tried to be honest.  I can't remember the exact words or the exact questions and answers, and I honestly don't want to because in doing so I would see all the things I said wrong.  But at the time, I was doing the best I could.

B asked at one point with these questioning, pleading eyes, "But mama, we won't ever die, right?"  Wow.  Talk about getting the wind knocked out of me.  I couldn't, can't, and won't lie to him.  I told him that we would.  Gasp.  I know.  It sucked.  I tripped over language that was insufficient for the task at hand.  I struggled with the desire to stop it all and just say "of course not honey, of course we won't die"  or to promise him, swear to him with every ounce of my being, give him a money-back guarantee that neither he nor his parents would die for many, many years.

In the end, we went back to reading our book.  We finished, and I said it was time for bed.  He solemnly put the book down, and slowly and quietly walked to the door.  I asked, "B, are you ok?", and when he turned, I saw a quivering lip and eyes filled with fear and uncertainty.  The tears began to gush, and he cried "I waaaant daadaaaa".  I grabbed him and hugged him.  He cried for daddy, but I knew he was just crying for something, someone to make it all feel better.  He held me so tight.  There we sat on the floor, him on my lap, clinging to each other, rocking, and I prayed to God, begging for wisdom and guidance.  I prayed for God to rain down on B with comfort and security, for God's arms to wrap up B the way I was trying and hold him so tight that B would feel that everything was going to be okay.

 It is at times like last night that I am brought to my knees, humbled by the call to motherhood, terrified of the task ahead of me, and completely uncertain of my ability to raise this child up, with honesty and integrity, while protecting his sweet, sensitive spirit.  It is at times like last night that I want to protect him from every truth there is.  I want to tell him that the world is made up of sunshine and rainbows.  Instead, I painstakingly try to provide the most secure and safe place for him to grow, explore, question, and wonder.

Breastfeeding problems?  Natural childbirth?  Colic?  Oh man, those were easy.  Can I have those days back?

Monday, July 5, 2010

A letter to your 20-year-old self.

A few days ago while driving, I heard this NPR piece and thought it was really interesting. 

Say you're in your 30s or 40s and you could write a letter to your 20-year-old self. What would you say?

That's the request Cassie Boorn, a 22-year-old college student and single mom in Davenport, Iowa, made on her blog. She needed advice, so she asked some of her older fellow bloggers to write letters to their younger selves.
I thought for a moment about what I might be say to my 20-year-old self.  Then my children started screaming in the backseat and suddenly I was giving my 20-year-old self a list of why she should not have children and if she did, she should wait until she had enough money to hire a nanny, and maybe a housekeeper, and a personal trainer, all of this punctuated with various expletives (in my head, of course).  It is a little disturbing the things you think when your brain turns to mush as a result of the screaming, oh the screaming.  That was the end of that.

It was the end of that until, an amazing site that answers pretty much every breastfeeding question under the sun accurately, shared on their facebook page this post of someone taking a stab at a letter to their 20-year-old self as a result of the NPR segment. 

Where was I when I was 20?
The year of 20 was a pretty busy year for me.  I was newly engaged.  I served as Program Director at a camp in Wisconsin for the summer.  I completed my last semester of college along with my undergraduate thesis and graduated.  I moved home for six months to finish planning my wedding while substitute teaching.  I joined Weight Watchers and a gym managing to lose forty pounds.  My fiance graduated from seminary on my twenty-first birthday and two weeks later he had been ordained and we had been married.

What would I tell myself?
Disclaimer: I've used the backspace key more in writing this than ever before.  My thoughts have ranged from bitter and passive-aggressive to my past self and her mistakes to sugar-coated dishonesty.  In the end, I've tried to be honest and strike a balance between things I really wish I had known then to avoid regrets and celebrating the wisdom of the last eight years.  (Yep, I'm only twenty-eight- laugh, snicker, and get over it).  I think what was most interesting for me was finding that the advice I had for my twenty-year-old self is some of the same advice I need to hear right now.

Those girls you barely knew when you moved into Quarry North 102 will be some of your best friends for at least the next ten years, and I have no doubt much longer.  Cherish them.

The amount of accomplishments you gather and obligations you pile on do not directly correlate to your happiness. In fact, they might have an inverse relationship.

Slow down. Seriously, just slow down. Stop looking at what's next and wishing you could get this over with to get to that. You'll always have a this and that, and you'll miss out on so much.

Save money, as much of it as possible.  You will have more dispensable income in the coming years than you'll ever have once you choose to stay home with your children.  Throw away your credit cards.

Cook.  Learn to cook. Learn to bake.  Do it regularly.  Do it as a couple, and by yourself.  Doing it now will save you ridiculous amounts of money in the long run, and you'll enjoy it!

Don't stop exercising.  You started. You found a healthy way of life.  Don't give up!  These are habits you want to live with for life.

When you're twenty-eight with two kids, nobody's going to give a shit about your degrees or how smart you are.  Find something else to make you happy.

Don't ever let go of your love of the outdoors.  Make room for it, daily.  You are happier and healthier when you do.

Don't stop writing. Don't stop reading. Every year you are out of school, you'll get dumber.  Slow it down as much as you can.

Learn to keep an organized and clean home in the beginning of your marriage.  Do it together.  It will be so much easier then than when life gets crazier and kids are added into the mix.  Start good habits.

Don't be surprised when your friendships seriously change (and sometimes disappear) as you from single to married to, gasp, a mother of two.  Mourn the loss and move on.  It's all you can do.

Soak up every minute of your senior semester of college.  For years, you will look back and long for the time that your 4 best friends lived just down the hall, especially when the closest is hours away.

Dance.  Whatever you have to do to keep dancing, just do it.  You love it.  It makes you happy.

Go to church.  Every Sunday.  Find one you like.  Find one you don't like.  Church hop, whatever, it doesn't matter.  Just go.  You get more out of it than you realize.

And in the end, you're going to be that mom.


On their facebook page, asked her followers a slightly different question in what would you say to yourself as a brand new mom.  I'll have to think on that one.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Yes, labels make me happy.

You might remember from the tour of our playroom that labels make me happy.  And you might remember again from my love of Mabel's Labels that labels make me happy. 

Well, I just had to tell you how happy I was to find out someone as bizzarely uniquely in love with labels as I am.  Thrifty Decor Chick is a lot of fun, she's got great ideas for beautiful decorating on a very small (though most of the time admittedly still bigger than ours because right now we don't have funds allocated to decorating) budget.  Plus, now I know that she loves labels as much as I do.  In fact, she says they make her happy, just the way I do.  Now, if I only had the mad skills she has with a cordless drill, (or come to think of it, if only I had a cordless drill at all), and a miter saw (or yea, you guessed it, if only I had a miter saw at all).  But most of all, I want, wiping drool from the corner of my mouth, that beautiful Silhouette Craft Cutter she talks about in her love of labels post.  Oh the things I could do with vinyl... hmm, I'm not sure I meant that the way it sounded.  Oh well, at least I have something to aspire to in my labeling.  Did you see her pantry?    I'm going to go stare at the pictures some more.