christmas

I Know That You Know (And When You Know That I Know, Still There Will Be Magic)

I love this season of innocence. Even when it’s not so jolly. This weekend we cut down our Christmas tree and I was reminded of the look on Owen’s face in a picture I took last December, a picture I now love.

I was reminded of how hard things were mid-December, last year. How un-jolly it all was, during that particular week. And nothing tragic or life-altering happened. Rather, life happened. Sickness. Deadlines. Tantrums. Rejections. And then I was reminded how Christmas, still, ended up being magical.

This week a friend and I briefly chatted over email about the difficulties that come with parenting when so much in the world seems wrong. Bigger wrongs than colds that will end. Deadlines that will result in paychecks. Tantrums that exist because we’re lucky enough to have a child. Rejections that happen because I was able to write some words on a page. But it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the holidays when beauty is so very much lacking elsewhere. So many elsewheres.

But kids, they make it easy. Easier.

They make it harder, too, yes, but mostly easier.

This week we decorated our too-big Christmas tree (if you turn sideways you can walk from our entry into our living room). And when we were nearly done, I looked over to see Owen sitting on the bottom step of our staircase, staring at the tree with the most content smile on his face. His eyes reflected the tree lights like something out of a Hallmark special. All was right in his world. All was bright. Despite.

I know Sophie knows about Santa. She doesn’t know I know. She’s not ready. She’s guarding the knowledge tight in her fists, much like she does when she hunts for fairies. She’s unwilling to let go.

At first, this bothered me, She’s 7. I had it all figured out at 5. In one fell swoop I learned about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. The sadness was slight, that of a soft sigh. And then I relished in knowing a secret my siblings did not. I felt grown-up.

The boys drill me about Santa constantly. “How does he get down our chimney if it’s closed up?” “How does he sneak around the hallways of apartment buildings and hotels?” “What about kids who don’t have a fireplace?” “If books say Santa goes all over the world then what about people who don’t celebrate Christmas? How is he going all around the world if many people in other parts of the world don’t celebrate Christmas?”

I half-answer. Change the subject. Wish they would just come out and ask, “Is Santa real?” And when they do I plan to answer as my parents did. “What do you think?” I’ve learned that coming to conclusions on one’s own always softens the blow.

But no one asks. Not the boys. Not Sophie. Sophie doesn’t even ask questions about the Big Man anymore. She answers the boys’ questions. She has an answer for everything. She’d scream his reality from the rooftops if she could. And so I let her. That is her realization to come to. Not mine to take. At least, I hope that’s the right thing to do.

And when they know, they all know, and they know that I know they know, I’ve learned this: I’ll still find magic. Because even with all of our life’s little wrongs and the world’s big wrongs, there’s so much magic, and innocence, during the holidays.

There’s the taste of bacon-wrapped chestnuts and buckeye candies and fancy cheeses we don’t normally buy and champagne. There are candles and white lights and colored lights and twinkly lights and just so much light. There are thoughtful gifts, homemade gifts, the gift of time spent with those we love. There are three kids singing the wrong words to Christmas songs while I play on our out-of-tune piano, rusty in my memory, missing notes. There are messes. So many big, beautiful messes. Christmas cookie-making messes. The mess of pine needles everywhere, always, no matter how often we water the tree. The mess of wrapping gifts in brown paper and decorating them with stickers and markers and glitter pens. The mess of making a quadruple recipe of Chex Mix and the mess of addressing too many Christmas cards and the mess of extra coffee cups in the morning when family comes in from out of town. And with those messes come the hugs. So many hugs. Great-grandmother hugs. Grandparent hugs. Sibling hugs. Aunt and uncle hugs. Parent hugs. Cousin hugs. Niece hugs. Husband hugs.

So during the holidays, I let in cheeriness and maybe even a little cheesiness. I let in some make-believe. I let in some sappy moments despite the realities both at home and out in the hard, beautiful, cold and light-filled world. I let myself soften while watching a little guy sit on the steps and stare with a small smile at a decorated tree. I let another little guy question me incessantly about the logistics of Santa’s big night. I let a 7-year-old think that I think she still believes.


“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
—Norman Vincent Pe

Thoughts While Putting Away My Children’s Toys

I recently read Maura Quint’s “The Entirety of My Thoughts As I Eat My Son’s Mac and Cheese Dinner,” cleaned my children’s bedrooms and closet-size playroom, and was then inspired to write this:

Didn’t 4 year olds work in fields 150 years ago? Probably not. That actually sounds awful. But still, mine should at least be capable of putting Chutes and Ladders back in its box, right?

I hate Chutes and Ladders.

They have too many toys. I should donate half of them. Most of them. All but three of them.

Why are there candy wrappers stuffed in the Lego bin?

I am not their maid. A maid would be so nice. And a laundress. And a chef. And a personal trainer. Definitely a personal trainer.

I wonder how many calories I’m burning shoving stuff in bins. I should get one of those Fitbits. Or actually go to the Y. They can play with toys in Child Watch. Toys I don’t have to deal with. I wonder if I can find a place to hide and read in the Y while they play in Child Watch.

Another capless marker, wasted. That’s it. No more markers. Ever.

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD THEM TO PUT THE CAPS BACK ON THEIR GLUE STICKS? No more glue sticks. Ever.

Huh. A Barbie shoe. I thought surely I had vacuumed all those up by now.

Why are there 76 pieces of paper with one line drawn on each of them?

I’m going to have to hide these in the recycling bin to avoid the apocalypse that will surely happen if they find out I’ve recycled their one-line masterpieces.

Maybe my children are hoarders. Maybe there’s a mental issue here. I should email the pediatrician.

I will never allow their rooms to get this messy again. Maybe I should try the Saturday Box. Or the Marble Jar. Or the Popsicle Stick Jar. Or the Reward Chart. I should check Pinterest.

Or maybe I just get rid of it all. I mean, seriously, they’re downstairs playing with empty boxes. Empty. Boxes.

Isn’t it monks who find joy in everyday tasks? I don’t think monks have children, though. They’ve never had to deal with 8,000 .$97 Matchbox cars. Or Rainbow Loom bands. Or Perler Beads. I hate Perler Beads.

I wonder what my friends are doing at work. I bet they’re wearing heels. I bet they had a salad with some kind of candied nut on it for lunch. I bet, after a meeting, everyone picks up their papers and pens and tablets and coffee mugs and puts them away, without any reminders or timers or let’s-see-how-fast-we-can-get-this-done games.

All these crayons are broken and worn down to little nubs. They really need some new crayons. I should get some the next time I’m at the store. And markers. And glue sticks.

At least we’re out of the finger paint stage. Those were some colossal messes.

Gosh, I miss those finger paint pictures on the fridge. Why do they have to grow up so fast?

[SILENT CURSING. A LOT OF IT.] I will not miss the Legos on my bare feet. I don’t care how crazy creative they get with their creations I will not miss those pain-inducing little pieces of plastic.

Why do people even buy Legos anymore? It’s not like they break. Or get old. Where are all the Legos people have been building with since, when were Legos invented, the 70s?

Probably in the trash. Probably parents stepping on them and throwing them, one by one, in the trash.

I actually love that they got Legos for Christmas. They play with them for so long. So much silence for such long periods of time. I should send the Lego company a thank-you note.

Our house cannot handle any more toys. Can I tell people not to buy toys? Is that rude? Is that too minimalist? Is that too Grinch-like? My children do not need any more toys.

We should become minimalists.

Well, minimalists with a few toys. Five each.

But then there’s March. I hate March. How many toys will it take to entertain them indoors in March?

I need more bins.

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!” —Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

(All of) Christmas 2013

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” —Norman Vincent Peale

Days Like This

I need to talk about today. Because today has been, well, awful.

Everyone’s sick.

That’s not true.

James and Sophie went to school today.

But everyone has been sick, at some point, since Thanksgiving.

For all of us it’s been a feverish cold but then today Owen threw up his toast. And now he’s hungry and yelling at me and I can’t do anything about it.

Our furnace sounds like it’s some strange being from a horror movie and the warmest it’s been in our house all day is 66°.

James fell asleep 10 minutes before we had to leave to pick up Sophie. When I woke him up he, still half asleep, punched me in the arm, over and over, he was so angry with me.

Owen refused to walk to the van and refused to let me carry him. When I finally picked him up he kicked off his rain boots and screamed about the injustice of it all as I took off his thick winter coat, leaving him to freeze in his pajamas as I buckled him in his car seat, barf bucket next to him.

I picked up Sophie in the infuriating car line (not wanting to make Owen walk to school today) and she said she presented her gingerbread person today and I was so excited to hear all about it because she was so excited to decorate it—her first big, at-home school project.

She was so-so throughout the whole conversation and then said everyone else in her class had their parents help them with their gingerbread people and the directions said parents were supposed to help and she asked me to help but she said I said I was too busy to help and apparently all the other kids’ gingerbread people were much more fancy.

I remember saying I was too busy at.that.exact.moment but I also remember asking her if I could help later and I remember her saying no, that she wanted to do it herself and I thought her gingerbread person was beautiful. Yes, the outfit was simply colored with crayon but it was so lovingly detailed and I thought the hair was so clever—twisted pipe cleaners, totally her idea. But in the end, this wasn’t nearly as fancy as all the other gingerbread people.

I’m close to tears and she’s close to tears and I think we’re all exhausted. Exhausted from travel (Baltimore, TN, and Lewisburg, Ohio the last three weekends). Exhausted from Christmas, already. Exhausted from school, freelance work, laundry, homework, life.

We have sore throats and sniffles and beautiful gingerbread people that we feel are lacking (even though they aren’t) and looming deadlines and 20 minutes of reading every night and agents who are finally answering their 2014 queries (which means seemingly every-other day rejections coming my way) and neighbors who have the most amazing Christmas lights all over their house (ours are not yet up), lights that include a countdown to Christmas, which is not at all helpful in terms of my level of stress.

Here’s a picture from this weekend. It’s the best one I have of all three kids while cutting down our Christmas tree. Owen is crying because he insisted the tree we chose was too small, despite our many conversations about the limitations of our home’s ceilings.

Fa la la la la.

(This, for all you mamas and papas who feel as if December should be magical 100 percent of time. Today our holiday season is -27 percent magical. Check back in a week when I write a sappy/happy-tearful piece about decorating our tree. But today, for now, if you’re in the negatives—or not breaking 50 percent—know you’re not alone.)

“Mama said there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this mama said
(Mama said, mama said).” —Luther Dixon, Willie Denson

The Garland.

It’s February. Our Christmas garland is still hanging on our front porch.

Ever see the Everybody Loves Raymond episode titled “Baggage” (season 7)? In it, Ray and Debra return from a weekend trip and temporarily leave their suitcase on the staircase landing. Weeks pass with them both refusing to carry it the rest of the way, believing it is the other’s responsibility.

Their suitcase = our garland.

Everything else in our house Christmas related is packed away—the indoor decorations, the tree, the outside lights, the taped-to-the-bookcase Christmas cards—everything.

Except the garland.

Andy graciously, selflessly and in only a slightly (mostly) Grinch-like manner hung all the outdoor lights and garland. “It’s for the kids,” I told him when I handed him our new Dyno Seasonal Solutions St. Nick’s Choice Professional Pole for Hanging Lights, 16-Feet, which I ordered on Amazon this year.

I, in turn, took over all the indoor decorating.

After Christmas, I put away all the indoor decorations.

He took down and put away the Christmas lights but for some inexplicable reason, not the garland.

When I remind him of what he’s done and what I’ve done in regards to why he should take down and put away the garland, he’s quick to point out how he carried all the large Christmas bins all the way down from the attic.

I then remind him that I’m the one who shoved all the too-small clothes and extra hangers and beach towels out of the way on the attic stairs, creating a path so he didn’t fall and die. And then I remind him how I’m always the one to create stair paths all the time and it’s something no one gives me credit for, ever.

THEN he brings up the tree. The tree he says he had to trim in the house because I always pick one that’s much too tall, which I say he wouldn’t need to trim in the house if he had a better understanding of how tall our entryway is when we’re out in the field. THEN he says every year he’s the only one who does the lights and then I remind him that he doesn’t let anyone else do the lights because we don’t “push them in far enough” or something along those lines. AND THEN he says the kids help both of us hang up the ornaments so I shouldn’t get credit for that. “Help,” I say. “Yes, they help.”

Every weekend we make an idealistic to-do list of which we accomplish about 20 percent, on average. Every weekend since January 1 “take down the garland” has been on the to-do list and yet it never gets taken down.

Some days it was -5°. I get that. No one should be taking down garland in -5° weather. But this Saturday, it was 56°.

“If you want it taken down so badly, take it down,” he says, reminding me of how he took the tree out to the curb on our town’s tree recycling day, carried the decoration boxes back up to the attic and took down all the outdoor lights.

And then I remind him how I made our Christmas card list, updated all the addresses, ordered the cards from a friend, addressed and mailed them. I remind him how I did 95 percent of the Christmas shopping and 98 percent of the Christmas wrapping. (He reminds me of the “help” I had wrapping from the kids.)

And round and round and round we go.

And there our garland sits, for all to see, 40 days after Christmas.

“It’s growing on me,” he says. “I kind of like it.”

“We are that house!” I say. “We are totally that house.”

“So TAKE IT DOWN,” he says.

“It’s YOUR JOB!” I say.

And round and round.

I let him read this. “This isn’t even a fight!” he says adding something about “understating my arguments” and then adding something about how “it’s not even an argument.”

“Then what should I call it?” I say, changing the title from “The Garland Fight” to “The Garland.”

“A standoff. But it’s not even that! I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

I smile.

“So … tomorrow?” I ask.

“Maybe,” he says.

And round.

“In the early years, you fight because you don’t understand each other. In the later years, you fight because you do.” —Joan Didion

Sophie’s Version of the Grinch As a 3-Year-Old

We watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” tonight and it reminded Andy of this video. He played it for the kids—I forgot how much I love it. So it’s an oldie (December 2011), but one of our family’s favorites.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” —Dr. Seuss

Clementines

We eat clementines like candy during the winter months. Although Sophie doesn’t technically eat them. She prefers to suck all the juice out, leaving the skins all over her plate (and the dining room table, and coffee table and cup holder in the van). The bowl was a Christmas present from my parents—it’s made by Heath Ceramics. I’m in love.

“Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” —Kahlil Gibran

A Belated Christmas Post

We celebrated Christmas with my mom’s side of the family after Christmas, due to sickness and weather. With family living in California, Kansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, it’s hard to get everyone together so it was a small celebration, but fun nonetheless. And Ben, my cousin who teaches in Bethel, Alaska, was in town (he’s the last picture, can you tell?). It was so great to see him.

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick—even when you’re home.” —Carol Nelson

Christmas!

Finding the perfect tree at Burlington Tree Farm.

Decorating the tree.

Sophie’s handmade Christmas present to us, from preschool (she couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to us).

A late night writing Christmas postcards.

Christmas at Great Grandma Gebhart’s house + handmade train whistles from my uncle Skip.

Greg

Pop Pop’s lap overflowing with grandkids.

James and Owen with their new cars from Great Grandma.

Autumn and Amanda

Opening presents.

James’s new Jake the Pirate set from my aunt Ellen and uncle Skip (he loved it).

my grandma

Suzy

Aunt Katy and sleepy Colleen

Uncle Kyle and (Great) Uncle Skip

Autumn and her mom, Lisa

Sophie getting some puzzle help from Autumn.

Andy and my uncle Roger in the kitchen.

Aunt Ellen

Christmas at my grandma’s farm, a tradition I’ve long loved.

Nini making pomegranate cosmopolitans.

Nini, Katy and me!

(They were delicious.)

Nini reading Eve Bunting’s Night Tree to the grandkids.

A Christmas gift for the birds—bagels covered in peanut butter and bird seed.

Hanging our gifts on the pine tree.

Mom and Dad (Nini and Pop Pop)

Writing letters to Santa.

Christmas around the house.

Sophie’s preschool Christmas gift to us.

The decorated mantel—Sophie wasn’t pleased with it so she added the ribbon and, if you look close, handmade snowmen hanging from it (of course, I left it).

A Christmas Eve viewing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Andy reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

James and Owen, clearly ready for bed.

More Christmas around the house.

Letters, cookies, milk for Santa, and lots of carrots for the reindeer.

Christmas Eve, right before bed = joy.

He came!

The walk down the stairs.

Christmas morning.

Christmas day at my parents’ house.

Colleen and Sophie

Uncle Kyle

Opening gifts.

Colleen

Colleen’s handmade hand-print wreath (with the help of Nini) to Uncle Tom and Aunt Katy.

Uncle Kyle and Sophie

family

My mom made beautiful teddy bears for each of the grandkids. They loved them.

Kids’ table.

Grown-up table.

The BonBonerie Christmas cookies.

Sophie trying out her new skates …

in my parents completely reorganized, repainted basement.

Christmas around my parents’ house.

Christmas dinner and paper crowns.

James, Owen, Sophie and Colleen

The teddy bears my mom made …

(they’re comfy).

Bliss.

Day-after-Christmas snow.

Gear. So. much. gear. (But of course, no boots. We hadn’t bought them yet.)

The kids’ first snowfall of the season—and their first snowman!

Making the traditional Uhl Family Christmas Cookies with Grandma and Paw Paw.

Owen taking a TV break from making cookies.

So good.

Christmas Eve w/ Grandma and Paw Paw.

Christmas morning—again!

Sophie opening her very special craft box, which Grandma put together.

Paw Paw and Grandma

Early morning sun.

Grandma made a craft box for all three kids—it’s huge and organized and labeled and filled with so many wonderful things—all three children play with it daily (thank you).

Thomas the Train tracks = love.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: The presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” —Burton Hillis

The Nutcracker

I was 6 years old, the first time I saw The Nutcracker. I still have the program from the Cincinnati Ballet Company—I pull it out every Christmas. And I can I still remember the wonderment I felt when Mother Ginger lifted her enormous skirt and a dozen children danced out of it. So I don’t know who was more excited—Sophie or I—when my mom wondered if we would like to see The Nutcracker with her this year.

We saw a different version, de la Dance Company’s The Nutcracker Jazzed Up! My mom knew the mom of Clara—subsequently, Sophie got to meet Clara after the performance, which she was shy about but I think she loved.

Our entire family got hit with a stomach bug a couple days before this event. At one point I was in the bathroom getting sick, Andy was holding a towel up for James who was getting sick and Owen started getting sick. The whole idea of throwing up terrified Owen so much that he started running, while getting sick, around our living room and entry. When we finally got him to stop running he finished, all over Tucker. I.t w.a.s h.o.r.r.i.b.l.e. We pulled a crib mattress down into the living room so the kids could try to sleep in between getting sick episodes. All night long it was laundry, baths, tears, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’ve since learned many friends have gone through something similar—some over the holidays. I’m so sorry.

I was worried we were going to have to cancel The Nutcracker. But Sophie was 100 percent better in less than 24 hours. I took longer to feel better, but rallied, knowing the importance of the event, and went.

I’m so glad I did. I spent as much time watching her as I watched the performance. Re-experiencing things for the first time, through your children, is one of the better aspects of mothering.

Since The Nutcracker Sophie has flipped through my childhood program from the ballet almost every day. She hums music from it often and whenever she hears it on the radio she says, “The Nutcracker!”

I’m pretty sure Andy was only humoring me the few times we’ve been to the ballet. Perhaps, now, I’ve found a new ballet partner.

Thanks, Mom, for a great gift.

“We should consider every day lost in which we don’t dance.” —Nietzsche