Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Memories

Here's what I remember about the Christmases of my childhood...

Baking cookies with my mom using generous, heaping doses of decorator sugars, sprinkles and cinnamon red-hot candies.

Begging my dad to call Santa on our antique phone to relay our wish list messages.

Visiting the big department stores in downtown Cincinnati to see their elaborate holiday window displays.

The gravely voice of my grandmother singing Christmas carols at church on Christmas eve, the one time each year she would sing along at church, forgetting any insecurities about her less-than-perfect singing voice.

Driving around town after dark to admire the holiday lights.

Eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning.

Reading The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  Over and over and over.  Every.  Year. 

Going to bed on Christmas eve, nearly bursting with excitement and convinced I would NEVER fall asleep. 

Here's what I don't remember about the Christmases of my childhood...

What gifts I got.

As I scroll back through the memories of Christmases past, I have a hard time identifying any gift that I received.  My brother and I were the only two grandchildren on both sides of our family, so I'm certain there was some excessive spoiling going on around Christmas time.  But I recall almost none of it.  I remember mounds of presents under the tree.  I remember none of the specifics of what was actually in those boxes.

This is what keeps me sane this holiday season.  As I ponder and begin to stress about the prefect gifts for each of our children, my own foggy memory is a poignant reminder.  It's not what is in those packages that our kids will remember years from now.  They will remember the mood of the season.  They will recall the abundance.  The baking.  The wrapping.  The giving.  The singing.  The anticipation.  The magic.

My gift to my children this year is to enjoy the season.  Don't fret...we will still have actual gifts on Christmas morning.  But I've learned that is not the important part.  Shopping, counting gifts and trolling mail-order catalogs doesn't need to be my only focus between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I'm making a conscious effort to focus my heart and my time on the spirit, not the spending, of the season.  Memories are made of time and traditions, not the latest, greatest toy under the tree.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Photo-A-Day: A Tutorial for Gen-X and Older

If you're somewhat familiar with social media, you've probably seen the "Photo-a-day" thing.  They are all over blog sites, Instagram, Facebook, etc.  Essentially you get one word or prompt for each day and you are charged with taking a photo that relates to the word.  And then you hash tag the heck out of it and post it far and wide for everyone to see. 

I've seen friends participate in these things and it seemed cute and (maybe) fun.  It also seemed like a lot of work to remember to take a photo every single day.  I wasn't sure it was really for me since I'm over 40 and I really don't need any more excuses to look at my phone.  But I was looking for some way to mark time during Advent, so I thought I would give this photo-a-day business a try.

My first order of business was to hit up Google for some help finding some kind of Advent photo thing.  Google rarely disappoints.  The first image I found was this:

Perfect!  It's Advent-y, straightforward, and started on December 1....which happened to be the day I got this great idea.  Technically it was really day two of Advent, but when we're dealing with cheesy Internet photo prompts, we're not too strict on the details. 

Lesson #1
Check the dates on your photo-a-day challenge lest you be embarrassed (as I was) to learn somewhere around Day 3 that you are operating off of LAST YEAR'S photo prompts.  Oops.  Oh well.  So much for searching for all those other kindred souls hash tagging the same thing as me every day.  Sigh.

So Day 1 was fun.  The word was "Go" so I posted a photo of all the tacky smashed pennies I have collected as souvenirs from places I've gone.  Easy.

Bring on Day 2: Bound

These books are #Bound for the Adopt a Family program at NVCSS.
Lesson #2
Hash tagging is a dangerous business.  I suppose during Advent the word "Bound" should lead us to ponder the the journey of Mary and Joseph, bound for Bethlehem.  Or perhaps the word suggests that we reflect on how we are all bound together by the love of God.  Turns out that there are people on the Internet (LOTS of people....) that have a completely different meditation on this word and the images that are #bound might make you a little #uncomfortable.

Somewhere around Day 10, I felt like I was getting into a pretty good rhythm.  I would look at my word in the morning and ponder it all day until something struck me.  Then I would dutifully take my photo and slap it all over the Internet.  Day 10 is also where it all started to fall apart.

Lesson #3
The devil is in the details.  Read and re-read your word.  Proof-read your post before going live with your daily stroke of genius.

Each day is numbered and is assigned one word.  You'd think it would be easy.  You would be wrong.  Here is my post for Day 10:

Day 11: #Sacred. Recalling the promise of the rainbow as we anticipate a humdinger of a winter storm.
Did anybody catch that?  Duh.  It's Day 10 and the word is Holy.  Oops. #photoadayfail

Lesson #4
Even though there are billions of people on the Internet that could potentially witness your failures if you mess up a word or post the wrong day, there are precious few that will actually see your blunder.  (Unless you happen to be a 17-year old YouTube that case you'll probably have a larger audience for your mistakes.)  As for me, my audience is a small, loyal group of friends and family and guess what?  They won't care.  Holy, sacred, whatever.  Let it all hang out. That's what the Internet is all about.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Parenting Gems.

As a mom, I find that there are ample opportunities in my life to be reminded that I'm not perfect.  Not that I thought I was perfect before having kids.  Far from it.  But when you're a parent it's like having a neon billboard, in the shape of a squirmy child, boldly announcing your imperfections to the world. 

I was having one of those weeks last week.  You know type.  The week where nothing seems to go right.  Kids are melting down into raging hissy fits at an alarming rate.  Your temper gets the best of you.  Nobody likes the dinner you cooked.  You find yourself raising your voice more than you would like.  You spend all your time picking up toys and nagging your kids to put their laundry in the hamper and your house STILL looks like a tornado hit it.  Doors get slammed.  Somewhere around Thursday afternoon, you slowly begin to believe you're a crappy mom and there is no hope for anyone in your house.

Can I get a witness??  Perhaps an Amen?

We are all imperfect.  We all have "off" weeks.  But for some reason when  things are off with my kids I take it personally.  It's as if I alone am to blame for each and every imperfection that shows up in my child.  As much as I try to be an easy-going mom, the doubt and uncertainty that fester when the kids stray off course can be toxic. 

Never mind the fact that my youngest is three and hasn't yet mastered impulse control and social graces.  Forget the fact that my sweet, young daughter is hard-wired as a sensitive type and will cry at things that make me roll my eyes.  I get that teenagers can be sassy, withdrawn and occasionally infuriating without even lifting a finger.  It's normal stuff.

But sometimes I forget that they are human and I am too.  I expect perfection from them and from myself.  I become so absorbed in teaching them to cooperate and be good citizens that I forget they are individual humans with their very own unique traits, quirks, and personalities.

This is a dangerous road, friends.  Because when we forget that we are raising humans, not robots, we expect too much of our kids and ourselves.  We forget to be graceful and forgiving.  We overlook the diamonds in the rough that God has sprinkled in our life.

This is exactly where I was last week.  I had ENOUGH of the complaining, the temper tantrums and the children that were exercising their age-appropriate behaviors.  I wanted perfect little soldiers that fell in line when I said it was time to go.  Instead I had a preschooler that was banging dents into my candles with his spoon, pulling the water tank off the humidifier, and refusing to leave the house. 

I picked him up, hauled him out to the car and strapped him into his car seat.  I got into the drivers seat, breathed a sigh of relief that he was strapped down and not able to do any further damage aside from his screaming and crying. And then I felt the pressure of my own tears, threatening to make an appearance.  As I listened to his wails, I wanted to join in.  I felt like sitting in that car and letting him see my frustration boil over into hot tears.  With my voice wavering and one tear escaping, in spite of my attempt to hold everything together, I turned around and looked at this angry child and said (probably louder than necessary), "I'm so TIRED of you not cooperating!"

Truth is I was just plain tired.  This perfect storm of the morning rush to get out the door, interrupted by a kid that needed some attention and didn't want to wear a coat was, in that moment, inexplicably exhausting.  I had held it together and remained civil with my kids in the midst of numerous similar scenarios.  But that day, I just couldn't muster my super-mom gene.  I felt hopeless, ineffective and frustrated.

And as we all sat together in silence, letting that little moment of ugly sink in, I heard the small voice of my daughter from the back seat.

"Mommy, do you need a hug?"

Yes.  Thank you, my sensitive, observant child.  A hug would be great.

And there it was.  In the middle of our ugly morning....a diamond in the rough.  Compassion from a small child.  Hugs given freely.  A quiet voice of reason in the midst of a stressful morning.  Lessons that she learned in my home, in spite of my imperfections. 

Thank Jesus for these small gems.  They are the lifeblood of motherhood.

Today's Lesson: Hug freely.