Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Memories

This week Sadie suddenly waxed poetic in her 8-year-old way:

“One of my favorite things about Christmas is listening to the oven beeping, because I know that something yummy is baking and it’s almost ready to eat. And I like the way the trees smell. And I like to decorate and use all the sparkly glitter and pretty ribbons.” (She frequently asks the dreaded question: “Hey Mom, where do we keep all the glitter and the glue?")

“And I like the sound of bells and the smell of snow outside. And I like the way Christmastime looks – the dim lights and the lights outside and the way the snow sparkles in the sun.”

Wow. It appeared that she had been giving this list of Christmas favorites a lot of thought.

When she was three, she loved to sing “Have a holly jolly Christmas, have a holly jolly Christmas, have a holly jolly Christmas…”

Those were the only words she knew. She loved to look at Christmas lights and she’d say, “Oh, the lights are be-yoo-tiful!” Once when she saw an especially well-lit house she said, “Hey, look at that house! Those people must really love God!”

Her reminiscing led me to ponder my other kids’ favorites – and my own.

Josie loves the smell of pine trees and apple cider. She likes drinking cocoa, eating pumpkin rolls, sledding, playing with my Russian nesting dolls, and going to see Christmas lights with her Grandma and Grandpa. She loves when we drive all night to NC and she hears the turn signal tick-tick-ticking as we turn in to Great Grandma’s driveway. She likes to sing along to The Little Drummer Boy, Feliz Navidad and Silver Bells. When she was younger, she always said, “Oooh, ahhh” when she saw Christmas lights. She was convinced that Baby Jesus’ earthly parents were named “Mary and Jofus” and that “Frosty the No-man was a jolly happy SO.”

Adelaide loves making Christmas cookies and eating candy canes. She loves opening presents and helping to wrap gifts. She likes leaving cookies out for Santa and carrots for Rudolph and reading Christmas books from the library. She likes seeing Baby Jesus in the manger, going to Journey to Bethlehem, Christmas angels and singing Silent Night. She loves wearing new poofy Christmas dresses and sparkly shoes. This year she said, “Did you guys see that lit-up house? It was just faj-a-lous!” She also likes to sing her own version of the Elves’ song from the Rudolph movie: "Ho ho ho, Ho ho ho, Santa smells himself." Last year she sang “It's the most WONDERFUL time of da YEAR! Of da YEAR!” When her sister told her she was weird, she said, “No, I am not. It IS the most wonderful time. Of da year.”

Jedidiah is thoroughly enjoying this Christmas season. He rode a Christmas Train (“choo choo!”), ignored Santa when given the choice between sitting on his lap and eating a candy cane, and he learned four new words: “So-man!” “What!” “Why?” and “A coo-kie!” He made us laugh this year anytime we were riding together in the car because he likes to point out the window and say, “Ah, wights! Ah, wights!” and (wait for it) “Ahhh! Wights!”

And me? The old Disney's The Sounds of Christmas album is my absolute favorite Christmas-y thing. I listened to it every single Christmas until I was grown up, and now my kids listen to it with me.

On Christmas Eve, I always got new pajamas from my Grandma. I was never sure if I couldn’t sleep those nights because I was so excited or because the new pajamas were itchy.

I remember my mom hanging our little red jingly cuckoo clock bell from the doorframe and my daddy hitting his head on it every time he walked through the hall. I have that bell now, and that tinkling sound still takes me back.

I loved this weird “bird ball” that plugged in to the wall and made a crazy “woop, woop, wooo-ooooop woop woop” sound. When I was six, I was convinced that a tiny (yet very loud) bird actually lived in that little green ball. I always wanted to see what was inside, but I never did. Maybe it was a real bird.

I loved treat bags from my church, finding out what was in my stocking, calling my cousin to swap stories on Christmas morning, and listening to my Grandpa read the second chapter of Luke from the Bible. I loved doing skits with my cousins and staying up late on Christmas Eve and singing songs with my daddy and his guitar. I remember my mom hiding and jumping out to take my picture every Christmas morning and the year we got matching red and white striped footie pajamas WITH a trapdoor in back.

I remember parties and wrapping paper fights and Rudolph and Hermey the Elf and Frosty and acting out The 12 Days of Christmas. I remember looking up in the cold winter sky for the Christmas Star and singing Away in a Manger as I prayed and desperately wished for a southern snow.

And every year, I remember reading my favorite passage from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson: "But as far as I'm concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman - sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby. And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham."

These are some of our Christmas memories. I hope that you hold your Christmas memories safely in your heart – they are truly your very own.

May this holiday season leave you and your family with more precious memories and plentiful blessings for the New Year.

-from my 12/30/12 article for

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hedge of Protection

Like every other parent in the country -- or maybe even the world -- I've spent the last week reevaluating.

Crying. Praying. Holding my children close. Breathing them in. Thanking God that they are still here with me.

In moments when I am alone, I find myself with unbidden tears streaming down my face. I don't even realize they are there until they start dripping onto my shirt and then I remember.

I can't stop thinking about it. Even when I don't think that I'm thinking about it, it's still there, niggling away at my subconscious. Those names. Those faces. Those ages. The same age as my sweet Josie.

I ache for those mommies and daddies. Those brothers and sisters and grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. I keep feeling like I'm going to throw up.

I want to sleep. To forget. To go back in time.

That day, that horrible day, my two oldest girls came and sat with me on my bed and we hugged each other and cried. They are 8 and 7. I can't figure out how to explain to them that we are living in a world where things like this happen.

Someone once said that whenever bad things happen, you should always look for the good. Look for the helpers, because someone will always be there helping. And it's true. There are moments of good in all bad situations. I try to tell them this. I try to remember it myself.

But on the inside I'm thinking, "Is it safe to go to the library? Should we go to the movie theater? Are we safe at the mall? At church? At a Christmas play? Anywhere?"

And I don't know the answer.

A friend of mine told me that her mom used to pray for a hedge of protection around each of her children and for an angel to stand guard at every window and every door. That's seems like such an old-fashioned notion, doesn't it?

You may or may not be a Christian or believe in God, and that's fine. But this past week has just been too much for me to stand. I'll admit that I have fallen to my knees more than once. I always seem to return to the question of "why?" and I guess that's just not for me to know.

We pray for miracles. We hope for them and we cross our fingers and we bargain with God and we wish on stars.

But maybe the miracles are happening all around us. Maybe every single minute that I get to spend with my four babies is a miracle. I never really thought about that before this week.

What if they were gone tomorrow? Did I do enough? Did I hug them tight enough? Did I help them feel special and happy and important? Did they know that they mean EVERYTHING to me? Did I make it clear enough to them?

Probably not. I probably said something like, "Stop whining!" or "Quit being a pest!" or "I can't pick you up right now," or "Shhh, Mommy's on the phone" or "wait until I'm done with my email" or "I'll color with you after I check Facebook" or something else that, in retrospect, is ridiculously stupid.

What is wrong with me? Where are my priorities? What wouldn't these parents give for just one more minute with their precious little babies?

As I check on my children while they sleep (because I can't), check the locks on the doors, check the alarms, and check on my children yet again, I pray that God will help me to appreciate the miracles that are in my life this Christmas. There is no guarantee that they will be here next Christmas - or even tomorrow.

And I'm praying something else, too - an old prayer that's new to me... I'm praying for a hedge of protection around my children, please God, please. And for an angel at every window and every door.

-from my 12/23/12 article for

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yes Indeed I'm Laughin'

Sadie to Josie: You are the weirdest person I have ever met.
Josie: Yeah, I know. I try.
Sadie: See, that's just weird.

Adelaide, singing her own version of the Rudolph/Santa song: "Ho ho ho, Ho ho ho, Santa smells himself."

Mommy: Ooh, Jed, aren't those new socks pretty? Can you say pret-ty?
Jed: Uggie.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Nutcracker

Before last weekend, I’d never been to a real ballet.

And to be honest, I’ve never been that much of a fan. Too long, too boring, too many people, too much traffic… you know what I mean.

I couldn’t understand why people would actually go to see The Nutcracker every single year and make it a holiday tradition.

My two oldest daughters, though – Sadie, age 8 and Josie, age 7 – are big fans. So to kick off the holiday season, my mother-in-law took the three of us to see The Joffrey Ballet’s version at Playhouse Square.

None of us (besides Grandma) had seen The Nutcracker before. The girls donned their new Christmas dresses (they’re always looking for a reason to dress up), and we headed downtown. There were several events going on, so it was really busy and very crowded with other holiday merry-makers.

After we saw the lights at Public Square and the decorations at what used to be Higbee’s, we finally found a parking spot and made our way through the crowds to the theatres.

Once inside, we marveled at the beauty of the State Theatre. Decorated for Christmas and with a gigantic beautiful tree right in the lobby, the theatre immediately evoked festivity and Christmas-y-ness. I began to realize how lucky we are to have such a place (and cultural events like the ballet and The Cleveland Orchestra) nearby.

We pushed our way past the Bavarian pretzels and hot cocoa carts with little time to spare. As we made a desperate last-minute trip to the potty (we didn’t want to miss anything!) and found our seats, the excitement kept building. “Is it time? How much longer? Is it time yet? Did you see that? I think the curtain moved!”

When the lights finally dimmed and we saw the first set, a gorgeous Victorian parlor decorated for Christmas, I realized that this was no ordinary ballet. The scenery was incredible. From the growing candlelit tree to the life-sized white horse to the candy forest, the whole thing was a feast for the eyes.

At certain points, it was almost too beautiful to look at. I know it sounds silly, but I actually found myself having trouble catching my breath.

I was almost unable to believe what I was seeing. If you’ve seen The Nutcracker, or at least a great production of it, you’ll know the part I’m talking about – with the glittering white wood sprites and the waltz of the snowflakes and the swelling music of Tchaikovsky and the snow falling; it literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.

When I was able to tear my eyes away from the stage, though, what I saw was just as beautiful to me. My two girls, not fidgeting, not talking, not whispering or saying that they’re hungry or that they have to go to the bathroom – no, my two girls, staring, wide-eyed, rapt, craning their heads from their little theater-issued booster seats, not wanting to miss a single solitary second. Eyes riveted. Mouths in perfect little O’s.

It was, simply put, magical.

Afterward, I asked what they liked best (I liked the giant teapot and the Chinese Tea Dance.) Josie, without hesitating, said, “I liked it when the nutcracker doll turned into a real guy! Poof! First he’s a doll, then there’s some smoke and he’s a guy! How do they DO that? And then I liked the giant doll lady (Mother Ginger) with all the kids running out from under her skirt!”

Sadie, though, said she couldn’t pick a favorite part. My dreamy-eyed, ballet-loving 8-year-old said, “I loved it all. Every minute of it. Every second.”

Now I understand. It’s really no wonder that people make it a holiday tradition.

Traffic was terrible. Parking was terrible. The crowds were terrible.

But the ballet – the ballet was magnificent.

-from my 12/16/12 article for

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Mommy Guilt and the Flu

At our house, we are suffering through what will henceforth be (un)affectionately known as The Plague of 2012. And when I say “we,” mostly I mean the two adults in the family.

Chills. Shakes. High fevers. Aches. Pains. Nausea. Swimmy head. Coughs.


I can't unwrap a cough drop without my knees knocking, teeth chattering and hands shaking.

My 7-year-old even looked at me in dismay and said, “I’ve never seen you like this before, Mom.”

My husband -- conked out on the bed thanks to some Nyquil -- snored in agreement.

The only thing worse than having the flu is the flu coupled with Mommy Guilt -- which is, for those who do not know, that gnawing feeling that your slacking on your mothering.

For the past two days, my poor children have subsisted on a nutritious diet of animal crackers, water and the occasional e-z-peel tangerine.

I’ve shoved so much extra Vitamin C in my children’s direction that they are probably going to sprout orange boughs out of their ears in the spring.

While I'm too sick to mother, my kids read books to each other. They watch Wild Kratts on the TV and birds at the feeder, make up games, draw pictures, write to their pen pals, keep their baby brother out of trouble,make crafts and do their best to pitch in.

Today, Josie tied her little apron on and made lunch for everyone. I hear their voices through my cracked bedroom door.

Sadie, my 8-year-old, just informed me that she wiped the table, wiped off her brother, put the dishes away, sprayed Lysol on all the doorknobs and cleaned up the kitchen. Now she’s on her way to wash her hands yet again.

They are being so helpful and empathetic that it makes me feel even worse that I haven’t been able to “be there” for them for the past few days.

Thank goodness for Grandma, who braved the noxious germ fumes, closed us in our room, fed the kids and put them to bed for us before vacating the premises.

The other Grammie also visited with reinforcement tissues, juice and chicken noodle soup. She left them at the kitchen door, rang the doorbell and fled before she could be contaminated. I saw her through the window as she jumped back in her car and made a hasty retreat.

Even my sick husband – who grudgingly admits that I’m sicker than he is – has pitched in despite his illness. He checks in on the kids for me from time to time and changes a diaper or two. He brings chicken tortilla soup home for supper, which the children fall on and devour like they are a pack of wolves (wolves that have been eating nothing but animal crackers.)

Meanwhile, I feel like I can't move. And, when I do move, it's in slow motion.

All I want to do is play with my children, read to them, be mom to them.

Tomorrow I’m planning to tear open the shutters and throw up the sashes (which is a heck of a lot better than what I’ve been throwing up, pardon the pun) and exorcise this house of all the germs so we can get on with a happy holiday season.

The flu's got nothing on Mommy Guilt.

from my 12/9/12 article for

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Just Give Up

Adelaide, "Last night, Mommy came and slept with me for a while on the Fruiton. But I wouldn't quit wiggling, so she left." Josie: "FU-TON." Adelaide: "That's what I said, the FRUITON." Sadie: "Just give up."

Josie, singing the 12 Tribes of Israel:
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issacher, Zebulon, Dad, and... Dad? DAD?"
Sadie: "These are the sons of Jacob!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Josie: "OW! I fell and now my butt hurts!"
Sadie: "Well, now there are TWO ways that you are a pain in the butt."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Hamster Thanksgiving

The ridiculousness that is my life never ceases to amaze me.

Picture it: It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Adelaide is playing with a ZhuZhu pet – a fuzzy little brown hamster with wheeled battery-powered feet. She’s holding him and letting him run around on the floor, over the couch, up my leg and (I should’ve seen it coming) onto my head.

The hamster is running.

The wheels are turning, and they are turning fast.

His little wheeled feet wrap my curly frizzy hair around them 30 times in 3 seconds. That hamster winches himself down flat against my head before I even know what has happened.

Do you understand what I am saying? I have a hamster attached to my head.

The little sucker is not about to come off. He is hopelessly entangled right on top of my head.

I scream. Then I cry (yes, I know, I’m an adult, but it hurts!) Adelaide and Jedidiah point at me and laugh. I send them to their rooms. I know I have to think fast, and having a four-year-old and a two-year-old laughing and pointing at me doesn’t help my ability to concentrate.

Now I’m alone in my predicament and I try to assess the situation. Not only is the constant pressure slowly yanking my hair out by the roots, but the battery compartment is stuck down so tight against my scalp that I can’t pull it away even the tiniest fraction of an inch (which would probably be enough to turn the thing off.) So not only is it yanking my hair out, it’s getting hotter and hotter by the minute because the battery is still engaged.

I consider my options.

If I yank it out, I’ll have a bald spot on top of my head.

If I cut it loose, I’ll have a sticky-up cowlick for months.

I can’t break his feet off because they are too close to my head.

The reality seems to be that I have a smoldering rodent permanently ensnarled in my hair.

I look in the mirror. I can’t help but laugh. I’m crying and laughing at the same time because a) it hurts, and b) I look absolutely absurd. I look like a crazed serial killer. Apparently, head vermin make you go insane fairly quickly.

I don’t know what else to do. I give up and call in the cavalry (to wit, my husband.) He can barely understand what I’m telling him through my hysterical sobbing and maniacal laughter. All he hears on his cell phone is “hair,” “hamster,” “help,” “hurts!” and “ridiculous.”

Yes, my husband actually has to come home from work and save me from a hamster.

He calms me down (somehow he does it without laughing) and sets to work on my head with several kinds of pliers and a screwdriver.

My hero dismembers and guts the offending rodent of its batteries. It proudly holds onto its trophy, though: a big hairball around one little wheeled leg.

Only I, who already have pretty much every weird phobia in the world, could be attacked and subdued by a ZhuZhu pet.

Look out, folks: It’s a Hamster Holiday.

from my 12-2-12 article for