Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why My Kids Won't be Sending Thank You Cards Any Time Soon

This year, my friends and family won't be getting any thank you cards for the Christmas presents they gave my kids. It's not because I don't appreciate what their thoughtfulness or because I'm overwhelmed, or even because after years of typing almost exclusively, my handwriting has slid into the state of barely legible. No, we won't be sending cards in the mail (sorry, USPS. I'd feel a bit worse about this if you hadn't lost the present I sent my in-laws this year). This year, I'm making my directorial debut, as I lead my young children in a series of videos, thanking everyone for their gifts.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about how to teach kids gratitude. How to get them to a point where they appreciate each gift they receive and not slide into that " gimme, gimme, gimme," mode. My friend gave me a great suggestion -- rather than me write out thank you cards for my kids (who at 4 and 2 1/2 are too young to write cards themselves), take a video of the kids, with their gifts, and have them thank the person for the gift and tell them what they like about the present.

Not only is this good training for getting kids involved in the formal "thank you" process, but it makes them go back and contemplate each gift they received and think about the person who gave it to them. So, we've started doing it (which is incredibly easy with a smartphone) and emailing the videos off to everyone. So far, people seem to appreciate it. They seem to enjoy seeing the kids playing with and holding the gifts they received.

When it comes to gratitude and good manners, there is no one silver bullet, that will instantly teach them to appreciate that which they have. Instead, it's a matter of employing a variety of techniques and messages that will all, hopefully, teach them how fortunate they are and help them to be grateful for all which they've been given. I think these video thank you's are one, helpful, step in that process.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Grandma's Christmas Eve Dinner - An Evolving Tradition

Last week, Slate ran an article about the downfall of the recipe card. For some reason, it whipped up a frenzy of nostalgia in me. While the author mocked the holly berry cookies her mom used to make, it made me instantly crave them -- by the way, this year I'm declaring those holly berry cookies to be retro chic and a holiday must. The next day, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on cornflakes, food coloring and marshmallows. The result has been delicious, though my husband was a bit disturbed by the manic cookie-making that overtook me and our entire kitchen...

Okay, back to the main point of the article... The author fondly remembers the grease-spattered recipe cards, that often represent a bit of family history. It got me thinking about the oyster dish my grandma used to make every Christmas Eve. My family had few food traditions, but that is one that has stuck with me. Sadly, none of us ever got the recipe from her while she was alive and I have no idea what happened to her recipe cards after she died. Not only that, but none of us ever thought to ask her why it was that she made breaded, fried oysters for Christmas Eve every year. I did a few Google searches, trying to find out if it was a Swedish tradition, but didn't find anything, so the reasons seem to be gone along with her. While that recipe is gone, I've decided to bring back Christmas Eve oysters this year -- with my own touch. I'll be making Oysters Rockefeller. Part of me thought I should try my best to create Grandma's dish, but then I decided that a tribute to her with my own spin might be better. I never thought to ask her to teach me how to make them while she was alive, so I know they'll never really be "Grandma's."

Thus, the tradition will evolve. And, maybe that's as it should be. While so many of us love traditions, they all seem to slowly change and morph over the years. Even the traditions I've created for myself have changed bit by bit. I love, love, love Christmas movies and watch a whole slew of them every year. This year though, I noticed that some of the movies I used to watch annually (like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street), I now only watch every other year or so. Also, new movies like Love Actually (it's terrible, but I love it so) and The Holiday (plot aside, I could drool over Cameron Diaz's wardrobe and Kate Winslet's house every year) have found their way into the mix. Maybe the importance of the traditions isn't doing it exactly as it's always been done, but keeping the original spirit and thought alive in the tradition.

The mystery over my Grandma's oyster dish has made me realize that while I'm okay with traditions evolving, I really regret not having learned that bit of family history while I had the chance. It's gotten me interested in learning more about my genealogy. I know some about my mom's side of the family, but virtually nothing about my dad's side. I know that on my mom's I've got Swedish, Irish and Scottish ancestry. But, I don't know what that ancestry is on my dad's side -- though I think there's some German in there, and maybe some English... I've decided that in 2012, I want to spend time going through the family documents and archives that exist and talk to the family members who are likely to know the most about the family history while I have the chance. Has anyone else ever delved into geneaology?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This is your child. This is your child on Christmas. Any questions?

This is your child.

This is your child on Christmas.

Any questions?

Before having kids, I anxiously awaited the time when I would be a mom and my kids would be in those wonderful years where they truly believed in Santa and the magic of Christmas. I dreamed of angelic children, wearing pretty party dresses (and gorgeous red coats). The trips to the carousel downtown, pictures with Santa, baking and decorating sugar cookies, matching Christmas jammies... I could hardly wait to turn the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas into one long stretch of merriment. Cocoa and carols. Presents and parties. Oh, the fun we'd have.

Now, while we are doing all of those things (and for the most part they're wonderful), this year I've noticed another side to Christmas with kids -- the side of Christmas that causes parents to consume lots and lots of egg nog. At four, my daughter's enthusiasm is on a whole, new level. She seems to have an electrical current of Christmas excitement coursing through her little body at every moment of every day. In years past, we'd have our fun experiences and moments, but the rest of our days went on, largely as any other. This year however, it's a constant, pulsating thump of expectations and excitement.

We do our advent calendar right after breakfast, starting the day off on a high. While that miniscule drop of chocolate is hardly enough to give her a sugar rush, the fun, new infusion into her morning routine is enough to start things off on a wild high. Things pretty much continue on in that vein for the rest of the day. Christmas cards arrive in the mail, the tree lights are turned on and off, inflatable yard ornaments are sighted, carols are heard, Christmas specials are watched on TV...

All of this anticipation-building merriment and excitement has changed her at a seemingly molecular level. She less resembles a young girl and more resembles a top, spinning around out of control until she crashes (or I do -- I admit to calling my husband in tears more than once this season). A four-year-old, bouncing off the walls in excitement is bound to find themselves in a fair number of time-outs and enacting more than their fair share of naughty behavior.

I have found myself so close to yelling "This is Christmas! We're supposed to be having festive, holiday fun, damn it! Start behaving yourself."

A true "Christmas girl" myself, I never thought I'd say this, but I need to find a way to survive the holidays. Somehow, I need to figure out how to calm and center our lives at home, so that we can go out and enjoy the fun festivities without the constant crashes. If Christmas is crack for kids, how do I maintain a comfortable, base-level high, without the wild rushes and dramatic crashes experienced by less-careful drug users?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Wish I Were the Kind of Person Who...

The other night, as I stared at the dry, cracked, end-of-day, residual make-up clinging sadly to my skin, I thought to myself, "I wish I were the kind of person who took her makeup off (and applied a good, nighttime moisturizer) at the end of every day." It led to a whole string of "I wish I were the type of person who..." thoughts. Like, I wish I were the type of person who:

  • Took the dog for brisk, mind-clearing walks on a regular basis
  • Was a decent housekeeper (Not even great, my aspirations aren't that high - just tidy enough so that our house doesn't look as though it's just been burglarized on a regular basis)
  • Flossed daily
  • Never yelled or snapped at my children, but always remained calm and spoke to them in a low, authoritative voice, which they responded to and respected
  • Ate healthier (and, let's face it, had the figure to prove it)

This list could go on and on and on and on. From what I read on other blogs and in other parenting news, it sounds like most women have the same kind of ongoing commentary in their heads as well.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we think we need to be Martha Stewart (both the home-maker Martha, and the CEO-Martha)? But not just Martha, we should also be a little Heidi Klum while we're at it - great figure, wonderful sense of fashion, loving (and, let's just say it, sexy) wife - with an overwhelming dollop of June Cleaver, Mother-of-the-Year on top?

Why don't our thoughts go more along the lines of, "I'm so glad I'm the type of person who":

  • Loves her children and does her best to keep them safe, healthy and happy
  • Cares about her friends and wants the best for them
  • Enjoys any sort of party or celebration
  • Wishes all of her Facebook friends a happy birthday
  • Is good about sending thank-you notes

Why do we focus so much on our short-comings and so little on all of the things we actually do well? I'd like to think that this would be my New Year's Resolution for 2012. But, I know it won't. I'll go right back up to the first list and try to keep improving on the old model-me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Little Girl Sewing Little Dresses for Africa

My cousin's daughter is 10 years old and wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. While many kids may say something like this, she's actually taking steps to get there. This girl blows me away. She's an incredibly talented artist and has recently started sewing lessons as well, to help her reach her goal.

While I can operate a sewing machine (most of the time... I'll admit that after a long break from sewing, I find myself back at the sewing machine store, begging them to re-teach me how to thread the darn thing), I am by no means a sewer. My hems are crooked and nothing's what you'd call even. I like to think of my products as having a charming, homespun look... This girl however, her pieces, they're a work of art.

So... last night at a family birthday party, we were asking her how her sewing lessons were going. She told us that she'd recently made five Little Dresses for Africa. I'd never heard of this organization before, but I must say, it sounds incredible.

Little Dresses for Africa- This is a non-profit organization that encourages people around the U.S. to turn pillowcases into cute, simple dresses for girls in Africa, who are desperate for clothes. It's a simple idea, yet an inspiring one. (The picture in this post is one I borrowed from their site.)

In the news, we so often hear about the bad things that are going on with kids. The childhood obesity, the decline in U.S. test scores, the bullying, the cyber-bullying, anorexic five-year-olds... So, when I hear of something like this, it's refreshing. Here's a young, 10-year-old girl, spending her time to sew dresses for other little girls, halfway around the world. This next generation, it just may be alright after all.

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