Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Too Busy Making Merry, I Guess...

Wow. Did you hear that thud? That was the sound of me dropping the proverbial ball. I promised posts filled with Christmas craft ideas, recipes, and other holiday snippets. What I failed to consider was that my hopes and plans for the holidays almost always involve me biting off more than I can chew. I apologize for my absence from this space for the last few weeks. Geez, has it really been that long? I do sincerely hope that your holiday moments were joyful ones and that you are eagerly anticipating an exciting and fulfilling 2010!

Our holidays were lovely. As a Christmas enthusiast, I always feel somewhat sad after Christmas has passed. I find myself grasping to catch the last few holiday memories before they slip through my fingers. Lingering, I attempt to bask in the Christmas afterglow: slowly packing away the tree ornaments, admiring the new ones from this year and remembering what fun we had making them; folding freshly washed Christmas dish towels, thinking about putting them to use again next year for holiday baking; and taking down the Advent stockings, being thankful that my children were too young this year to care if I forgot to fill them each and every day of Advent.

As always, I have my predictions as to what gifts will garner the most oohs, aahs, and smiles from my beloved recipients. And, as always, the children generally prove me wrong. Except on a few particular gifts. So, I thought I'd share a few of the "hits" (and let's not discuss the "misses" for now, as I am still holding out hope that they will come around and become big fans of the other gifts I painstakingly chose).

I had grandiose plans of raiding my mom's closet for some dress-up clothes and getting my hands on a vintage suitcase that I was going to decorate to personalize it for my daughter. In the end, I ran out of time and purchased various dress-up outfits instead. Many of these purchases were done online, so I was surprised to see the items in person, as they were very...pink. Not soft, baby-pink, but sort of a loud, in-your-face pink. Regardless, I knew Roo would love them and she did Although, she is still afraid to wear the Elton John-like glasses and the clip-on earrings. I'm not sure why, but at least her little brother is finding them fun. :)

These heels were a bit high for my liking (again, hard to know the specs on things like this when buying online), but she insisted on wearing them even though they elicited tears every time she turned her ankle while walking in them.

And below, we have the flapper dress stylishly paired with owl pajamas and a super-pink boa (or furry jump rope, in this case).

My other hit was this Sprig dump truck for Rascal. He enjoyed gathering bits of wrapping paper and bows for "trash" and tooling around the living room. I think he has perfected his dump truck sound effects at this point. Is that a boy thing? My daughter rarely makes "car sounds" when she plays with cars and trucks. Instead, she makes the cars chatter and sing songs. Granted, my son has very few words at this point (he's 18 months), but even when my daughter was his age, she was never into "doing" sound effects. Perhaps it's yet another example of what everyone told me when Rascal was born: "Boys are different from girls. You just wait and see." And they weren't kidding. My son and daughter have already shown this Mama a myriad of differences: some delightful and cute, and some frustrating and challenging. But, I digress.

I took this picture tonight of the flannel board I made. Roo was playing with it before dinner. On it right now you can see the felt pieces to go along with the Eric Carle story, "A House for Hermit Crab." You'll also see some random bunnies and cats on the right side there, because no ocean is complete without its fair share of domestic pets.

I also began work on felt pieces to use with some other stories: Cat in the Hat, Very Hungry Caterpillar, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and a few others. Reading the story while the children put the pieces on the board makes reading more interactive, which is nice for really little ones like mine (increases their comprehension and memory of the story line, plus it's just fun to make things stick without having to use tape or glue!) Added into the book props are some basic shapes like rectangles, squares, and circles so they can create buildings, cities, and cars. Some trees, grass, mud puddles, clouds, raindrops, and other felt objects make it possible for them to make up their own stories. It was a fun project to work on those last couple of weeks before Christmas. Cutting out the characters free-hand was time-consuming (I wasted a lot of felt and didn't finish up half the pieces I had in mind when I started), but I think it will be a nice (quiet!) activity for them to play with during the coming winter days.

Every year I intend to keep the holidays simple. Especially where gifts are concerned. But, every year I talk myself out of it because I love choosing gifts and imagining how the gift will delight someone and how it will be put to good use. Plus, that Amazon cart is just so easy to fill -- even at 2 am! Gifts for the children are my weak point. My husband and I keep it simple when it comes to presents for each other and adults in general (parents, in-laws, friends, etc.). But, as children, my husband and I both recall coming down Christmas morning to a tree completed swallowed up by mounds of sparkling wrapped presents. We rationalize that Christmas only comes once a year and so it's okay to go overboard. We generally avoid excessive material consumption the rest of the year and we make sure the children observe and take part in giving to charity year-round. So, I suppose we feel justified in piling on the goods at Christmastime. Well, I think what I observed this Christmas is going to push me headlong into gift restrictions next Christmas. This is what I saw:

My normally cheery 4 year old daughter was mopey and teary and quite obviously overstimulated by the gift opening. After she opened the first gift of Christmas morning she wanted to play with it immediately. But, since we were on a bit of a time crunch (we had plans to drive to my parents' house later that morning, we still had to eat the special Christmas Day breakfast, and we had more presents to follow), we told her to put the gift aside and continue opening gifts. Reluctantly, she did so. I noticed that she was becoming progressively less excited with the opening of each subsequent gift. The thrill had worn off.

Later on, she was opening a gift that my family had purchased as a group (as it was a tad pricey, but it was something my daughter had been asking for repeatedly). But, instead of being happy to see the long-awaited present, she was apparently in gift-opening mode, because no sooner had the paper been ripped off the box when she asked, "What else can I open?" *Gulp* Talk about embarrassing. I reminded myself that 4 year old children are allowed (and maybe even expected) to forget their manners once in awhile. But, the message had finally hit home (heck, I think the message was hit clear out of the ballpark): it was all Too Much. Too much rushing, too much unwrapping, too much hub-bub.

We've always been vigilant about talking about the true meaning of Christmas with our daughter. We've given lip service to the idea that it is not about the presents. But, our words and our actions don't always match up. We think that by buying presents, we're doing it "for them," when we're really doing it for us. To make ourselves feel like we are providing enough: enough fun, enough excitement, enough education, enough experiences. Enough love? Maybe on some subconscious level I believe tokens of affection are exactly that: proof of how much someone loves someone else. Hmmm...Well, now I say enough with the gifts.

I will admit that, as an adult, I love shopping. I get swept away by the whole consumerism thing way too easily. Buyer's remorse is a feeling I am familiar with, unfortunately. I don't want to pass that love of "things" on to my children. And I'm certainly not blaming my parents for planting some shopaholic syndrome seed in me, due to excessive Christmas presents during my formative years or anything like that. But, I know there is something to be said (and possibly a great many somethings to be said) for scaling back the "stuff," and focusing more on the sacredness of the holiday. I had a friend long ago tell me that she and her husband give their children three gifts on Christmas. She said that if it was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for her own kids. That's an interesting perspective, I think. And it's something I will continue to think about over the coming year. Replacing some of the store-bought tangibles with the real gifts of the holiday: peace, togetherness, time, gratitude, love. Oh yes, a whole lotta love. That's certainly one gift that's impossible to give in excess!

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