Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas with Children

Having children has really changed the Christmas game. Before becoming a mother, I’d turn our home into a scene out of a Norman Rockwell print. At the time of this writing, I still have a Thanksgiving wreath hanging on our backdoor. 

My indoor decorations are minimal this year because I’m still pulling foam winter berries from last year out of Cyrus’ mouth. I cannot figure out where he is finding them. Probably the register now that he’s learned how to remove the grate. Additionally, the bottom three feet of the tree is bare because he has an incredible reach for a 1 ½-year-old. The thing is awfully top-heavy, but when I found a red glitter bulb floating in the toilet, I knew something had to change. 

Caroline has really put a festive spin on her daily questions. Last week she asked the following: 

  • Is there a baby in Santa’s belly?
  • Does Mrs. Claus go to the grocery when he delivers presents?
  • What kind of animal is the Grinch?
  • Should Cyrus get no presents since he pee-peed the bed again?
  • Should I just get Cyrus’ presents?
  • If Jesus was born in a barn did he smell like a cow when he came out?
The list goes on.

I tell the kids every evening before bed that they need to pick up their toys, so Santa doesn’t trip on them if he shows up tonight. Caroline continues to convince me that “we’ve still got time” while she climbs the stairs, toys still scattered across the living room floor. One day she’ll be a mom and will understand the pain of stepping on a pocket tractor in the 2:00 am darkness. 

 Because there are so many toys packed into this old farmhouse, we’re keeping our Christmas buying to a minimum this year. One toy, one book, one outfit and a new plate/bowl set for each. If you see our kids between now and the 25th, please don’t tell them. As these things are purchased, I’ve had a heck of a time hiding them throughout an old house without closets. And I’ve reached the age that I’m afraid I’m never going to find the Christmas presents I’ve hidden. Cody asked last week why there was a new pair of footie pajamas folded and placed in his farm filing cabinet. I told him because that’s the last place Cyrus will ever look. He just shook his head and went back to the barn. 

We went to see Santa last week and that was a real treat. Cyrus went right to the jolly old elf, sat on his lap and proceeded to take Santa’s hat off, with the hair attached. Talk about traumatic childhood experiences. I jumped inside the wintery scene and tried to get it back on the man before any other children saw the situation. Caroline, watching this unfold, instantly clammed up and wouldn’t mutter a word to Santa when she got her turn. She didn’t mention the horse, puppy, or Barbie dream house she’s bent my ear about for the last month. We proceeded to get both kids on his lap for a photo and I think it would have been easier to baptize a cat. While we were trying to get both of them to smile - or even look in the general direction of the camera – Santa’s helper elf reminded us that we couldn’t use cell phones to snap a shot. Professional pictures only with the mall Santa. $29 later, we have a 5x7 and six wallets to commemorate one of the worst experiences of their lives to this point. 

Christmas with children is a thousand times better than without. The magic, anticipation, and spirit of the season only get better with time. Hopefully, mall Santas do, too. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kitchen Table Conversation

We recently spent Saturday playing hard with cousins who live on the east side of Indianapolis. Our two children, ages one and three, are still great nappers for the most part. When they both forfeited an afternoon nap, I knew the bedtime routine would need modification to meet my selfish, personal needs:

1)    Feeding four pens of cattle four different feed regiments
2)    Checking said cattle eyes, noses and stools
3)    Getting frozen clothes off the line
4)    Loading the dishwasher
5)    Unpacking the travel bag and washing any cloth casualties (we’re in the thick of potty training – day 334)
6)    Rest in general

I carried Cyrus into the house, and he remained asleep, warm and ready for bed. Cyrus, who has fallen down the farmhouse steps twice and keeps his cheeks packed full of windowsill insects, is so surprisingly pleasant and easy at this stage. 

I carried Caroline in the house from the cold car, and as we reached the patio she asked through the cold darkness, “What’s for supper?”

I looked at the clock on the microwave. It was only 5:45. It was dark. She was tired. I was tired. I decided to use daylight saving time to my advantage. So I did what any optimistic, exhausted mom would have: I lied. 

“Honey. It’s the middle of the night. You slept through dinner. It is time for bed.”

“But I don’t remember dinner,” she responded, slumped over my shoulder. “And I’m hungry.” I knew then: If the kid talks about hunger in her sleep, it’s probably real. 

I sat her down at the dining room table and put a slice of leftover homemade pizza on her favorite plate and warmed it in the mircrowave. By the time I delivered it to her, she was wide-eyed, and far too curious.

This is a sampling of the questions Caroline asked over half-warm-day-old-pizza:

1)    Why can’t Cyrus have my pizza?
2)    Have you ever choked? 
3)    Are pepperoni and macaroni sisters?
4)    Does Dolla Genna (Dollar General) have horses?
5)    Can I have Amish horse?
6)    Why so many trucks go by in the middle of the night? (it was maybe 6:00 PM at this point) Where they going?
7)    Why does (cousin) have shineys on her teeth?
8)    Can I have them? 
9)    Am I pretty?
10)  Is Cyrus pretty?
11)  Whys he cry so much?
12)  Why didn’t you brush your hair today?
13)  Why don’t birds have teeth?

I sat there and watched her get marinara sauce in her hair, eating pizza and talking to me at the kitchen table like she was twelve. My mind flashed to a decade ahead when I will likely beg for my daughter to talk to me “in the middle of the night”. 

That’s why I didn’t shut her down or encourage her to hurry up and eat. I simply sat and listened. I studied her. I answered her curious questions to the best of my ability. 

That kitchen table conversation reminded me of the many precious conversations I had with my grandmother over the years. For some reason, I found it easier to sit at her kitchen table and talk to her about frustrating careers, disappointing relationships or life in general than anywhere else in the world. She was no counselor – things to her were very black and white – but she always got the full story out of me. Something about that picture window overlooking the farm and her listening ears kept me talking over the years. We consistently got to the heart of the matter and I always left there with clarity and knowing I had been heard.

So, I continued to listen to our three-year-old and answer questions. She thought she was experiencing a special privilege staying “up all night” having pizza with just mommy, but she had no idea how precious that leftover dinner conversation was to me.

That night, my daughter reiterated a lesson my grandmother taught me during my formative years: It is remarkable the things people will tell you if you simply sit back, shut up, and listen. Perhaps the toughest part of this act is simply shutting up.