Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Happy Side of Christmas

I've had a very rough couple days. I spent most of this weekend on the verge of tears. Tomorrow doesn't look brighter. It's hard to not let your happiness fall under the control of other people, especially the people you love. A romantic would say that that is the whole point of love. To tie yourself inexplicably to another. But a realist, one who has been married a few years, would disagree.

Yes, in marriage, you have to work and think as one. But even your life partner will disappoint from time to time. So how do you keep the source of your happiness independent from the person who is your present and your future?

I don't know the answer. As an extremely independent person, I find this to be one of the most challenging things about marriage. How to be in control of your own happiness while also being part of a two-person team.  Maybe it's impossible.

In my last post, I guess I painted a bleak picture of our Christmas. The truth is, a portion of it WAS bleak, but only in my heart (where I so desperately tried to focus on the actual meaning of Christmas- but I struggled, a lot). On the outside, for the kids, it was a magical success. And as a parent, sometimes that is all that matters. As the title of this post promised, here is the happy side of Christmas.

We celebrated Christmas Eve at my parents' home.

 At least my hair looks pretty good. 

I brought over the Christmas cookies Jacob and I made and we set the kids to town decorating them. Jacob was painstakingly meticulous about his cookies. When he dropped a brush and red specks got all over his green tree, he had a total meltdown and ran down the stairs in sobs. He didn't come back up until I promised repeatedly to frost over those darn rogue red specks.

The salvaged tree.

Ryan was a little less meticulous and basically just dumped sprinkles everywhere.

Here he is double-fisting his sprinkles. Notice that there is not a single cookie on his plate. But there are plenty of sprinkles!

"Mama, pretty!"

Then, before opening gifts, we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. Jacob wanted to bake a cake. I was running low on time and money. So we just picked up half-price cupcakes at Safeway. Hopefully, Baby Jesus didn't mind.

This picture captures Jacob's personality perfectly. Wild, gregarious, fun, and very much not to be tamed.

Jacob received a ton of coloring and art supplies. He LOVES art and I love watching him work so hard to color pictures and draw his own. Jacob has already mastered the moody, artist personality. He knows that all good art requires inspiration and that sometimes inspiration requires libation. (I already KNOW I will receive hate mail or mean comments because some people have NO sense of humor. So please note: he did not actually drink any wine.)

I'm so proud of his Ninja Turtle. For those not versed in all things TMNT, this is Leonardo. He has a blue headband and two swords. 

Jacob has been asking for walkie-talkies for about 5 months. I totally forgot to put them on his wish-list. But family came through. He was absolutely THRILLED.

And Ryan very much enjoyed his new Elmo. Ryan was an excellent gift-opener this year. He was unsure at first but by the end of Christmas day, we was trying to open any present he could find. "Mommy, present!"

We got home at a pretty reasonable hour Christmas Eve (10pm). The kids fell asleep in the car and we whisked them right to bed. Then, the most amazing thing happened on Christmas Morning. My kids, who, no matter how late they go to bed will always rise no later than 7am, actually slept in until 7:30am! I know it's not a huge deal but for sleep-deprived parents who stayed up until 1am making sure Santa did his job just right, 30 minutes is GOLDEN.

Santa's footprint (we don't have a chimney- correction: we have a chimney, but no fireplace)

The tranquil scene, post Santa. 

Can you guess what Santa brought Ryan? I had so much fun wrapping that gift!

That's not even the most amazing part. When the kids woke up, I snuck out and put cartoons on. The kids happily watched cartoons until 9:30am. If you aren't amazed, then you simply do not understand:  the kids happily watched TV...on Christmas morning...for two hours...while standing two feet from the tree and all their Christmas presents!

I woke up at 9:30 am and finished the breakfast I had started the night before. We had quiche with cornbread crust, breakfast potatoes, and burnt bacon (my specialty). Ryan was ready for a nap at 10:00 am so we put him to bed and enjoyed our quiet breakfast. We didn't even get around to opening gifts until 11:30 am, when Ryan finally woke up. To me, that itself was a Christmas miracle. Growing up in my family, this would have been unheard of!

Jacob looks so grown-up here. It kills me.

His favorite gift: An Innotab 3 tablet. We really wanted to get him his own tablet with games for reading and math and this was by far the least expensive ($50) and had the best ratings. You can buy all kinds of games for them. Santa brought a Ninja Turtle Math game. I highly recommend this! The only down side is that it take four AA batteries but you may be able to buy an AC cord for them.

Jacob feels so grown up and special. He is learning how to use the calculator among other things. He carries it around everywhere he goes (even when he has used up his allotted play time for the day).

Ryan got some ball toys. I really skimped on Ryan this year. In fact, we only bought a handful of toys for each of the boys. Ryan only TWO (oops). But I'm glad we didn't buy more because our family totally spoiled them.

Jacob with his Legos and Ryan with his "hoop."

After opening presents at home, we went to my husband's parents home for an early dinner and even more gifts.

Ryan ate Ranch dressing for dinner. 

Jacob dressed up in his new threads...and a bow. Because...well, why not?

While the boys were spoiled with gifts this year, I kept half of them (already unwrapped) stashed under the tree. Over the past couple days, I've slowly been pulling them out one at a time. The boys had forgotten about most of them so it has been fun to see their faces light up when I pull them out. This has prevented Christmas let-down and has extended the fun as long as possible. Also, I have absolutely nowhere to put the new toys. My house is bursting at the seams with stuff (even after two Goodwill trips). Sometimes I wish my boys were twins. Because then I would only have to maintain one age-range of toys in the house. 

I hope everyone in Internet Land had a wonderful Christmas (and if you're Catholic, then Happy 5th day of Christmas! Still 7 more days to go!).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Gifts And A Christmas Fight

It wouldn't be holidays without some good, ol' drama, complete with emotional ups and downs. I

Two days before Christmas, my husband confessed that he hadn't bought me a single gift. I was OK with this because we had nearly run out of money for the month (with 7 days to go before payday). Also, I had been having my own problems finding him a gift. He is very picky. Like pickiest man alive, picky. (One time I bought him plain crew neck sweaters. Solid colors. Simple. He said they weren't his style and returned them. Apparently, all his collars have to be a certain shape- seriously?!).

Luckily, the week before Christmas, I was able to scrounge up a gift card, a book, and a bottle of his favorite gin. All from Santa. But true to his word, Christmas morning, there was not a single gift for me. I honestly did not care. I had treated myself to a nice scarf from Ann Taylor last month. I considered it an early Christmas gift.

While I didn't care at all about gifts for myself this year (I'm finding that I care less and less each year, in fact), what I DID want was a partner who would be excited about Christmas with me. See, I'm the leader of the Christmas Brigade in our house. If I don't do something, it won't get done. I buy the gifts. I plan all the stocking stuffers (even for myself). When the kids go to bed, my husband follows suit. I'm left to stay up half the night wrapping everything by myself. I don't understand why he doesn't get excited about Christmas gifts for the kids. I love to wrap Christmas gifts and get everything ready- right down to the fake Santa shoe print on the "welcome" mat. But, it's not as fun when you are doing it all by yourself. I wanted my husband to be excited WITH me.

When we tucked the kids into bed Christmas Eve, my husband headed straight for the bedroom, without exchanging a single word with me, and crawled into bed. My heart sank. I fetched all the gifts from the basement, put them in a big pile, and sat in the living room in front of the tree by myself. I was trying to have fun but the lack of my husband's participation was a glaring emptiness that consumed me. Another year of doing it by myself. The task wasn't physically daunting. But it was emotionally daunting. I swore at the tree and the plate of cookies I had set out for Santa and realized I didn't have enough emotional resolve to carry the entire holiday of Christmas forward on my own. It's exhausting having to be the sole source of Christmas cheer.

I promptly had a mini melt down which included stomping into the bedroom and passive aggressively making my upset known. Then I stomped out of the room as my husband called out after me, "well, what do you want me to do?" Why should I even have to ask? It's Christmas Eve. What did he THINK was supposed to happen? Did he think the gifts magically appeared under the tree all on their own? I couldn't believe his audacity. He was going to drift happily off to sleep while I stayed up until 1 am putting together all the gifts by myself? Even after staying up until 1 am the preceding night to do half of the Christmas Eve cooking by myself? IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE! We were supposed to be happy and laughing and sipping spiked egg nog as we bond over wrapping legos and oddly shaped gifts.

Oh I was angry. Hot tears poured down my cheeks. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Straight to the living room where my wrapping job was thwarted by tears that kept falling onto the flimsy, recycled wrapping paper.

My husband finally came out of the bedroom to save his own ass. But he didn't seem apologetic about it. I asked him to assemble Ryan's basketball hoop and told him, semi-sarcastically, that I would do all the rest. He assembled the hoop and was back in bed fifteen minutes later. Meanwhile I stayed up until 1 am writing a note from Santa, baking the cornbread crust for the morning's quiche, trying to wrap an entire basketball hoop, and filling stockings.

Then Christmas morning happened. And the kids were so excited. My husband and I got up, no words or glances exchanged between us. I finished cooking the breakfast. I set the table. And we ate. Pretty much in silence, interrupted every 30 seconds by Jacob asking, "can we open presents NOW?". I was trying so hard to savor Christmas and not dwell on the night prior. But my heart was still hurt.

I pulled out the video camera and filmed as the kids unwrapped their gifts. As Jacob and Ryan attacked the wrapping paper and screamed in excitement with each discovery, I smiled and captured it all from behind the lens. Then, out of nowhere, my husband reached out and put his hand softly on my leg, no doubt moved by the majestic sight of the pure, uncontrolled joy of children. It was his version of a peace offering. I could feel my anger slipping into relief as I made the decision to emotionally accept his offering. I just wanted to move on and salvage Christmas. "It's all ok now," I thought to myself.

When everything was unwrapped, Jacob made piles of everyone's gifts and kept a close inventory. He looked at me sadly and said, "Mommy. There's nothing for you." I, who had not given a single thought about my own gifts (and could care less), didn't even think Jacob would notice. He looked at me with such concern and sadness that my own heart started to break. "Mommy, Santa forgot you," he wimpered so sweetly. "But you were a good mommy." I put up a strong face but was totally melting inside and blown away by his empathy. I assured him that I didn't want any gifts and I was so happy to watch him open his presents. His concern and caring was so moving and yet so heart-wrenching at the same time.

The kids played with their gifts until it was time to go to my in-laws to celebrate Christmas dinner. At my in-laws, we ate what seemed to be an entire Thanksgiving-worthy meal and unwrapped more gifts. Then we came home in the evening and tucked the kids into bed. When I crawled in bed next to my husband he asked, "Did you get your present?"

"What present? You didn't get me a present."

"It's from the boys. It's on the kitchen table."

"I didn't see it."

Apparently, sometime during the day, my husband had put a small little envelope on the table without saying a single word. I had passed the table a hundred times and never even saw it. What the heck? I didn't know if I should have been happy to have a gift or upset by the lack of presentation. Oh well. I had used up all my emotions for one holiday. I let it go and drifted off to sleep.

Husbands are so weird.

Although I will swear up and down that I do not care about gifts (thank goodness there is a real meaning and purpose behind Christmas and that it's not all about gifts- although gifts do tend to get an unfair amount of the spot light), I was very excited to wake up and find a Nordstrom gift card on the table. Jacob, who woke up before me had already opened the envelope. He saw his name (where it said "From Jacob and Ryan") and automatically assumed it was his, of course.

Unfortunately, I had to go to work today while my husband (who took the rest of the week off) stayed home and tested out all the new toys with the kids. Luckily the office was eerily quiet so that gave me lots of time to think of all the ways I might use my gift card. After much debate (disclaimer: no internet surfing was done while I was actually on the clock), I settled on these fun shoes:

I can't wait for them to arrive. They look so comfy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa Photos Gone Wild

I'm sure the whole visiting Santa thing is very puzzling to children. I mean, the guy is supposed to be in the North Pole packing his sleigh full of dolls and nerf guns. Instead, he is hanging out in Fred Meyer, plopping crying children on his lap and laughing his jolly Santa laugh. Simultaneously, he also happens to be at the local mall. And the mall across town. And on the street corner downtown. Why, he even paid a special visit to Grandma's house. To add to the confusion, St. Nicholas stopped by our Church's Christmas festival. He looked more like a fancy priest than a Santa Clause and promptly disrobed in front of all the children when the last tot left his lap.

Luckily, Jacob doesn't think there is anything fishy about seeing Santa wearing a maroon suit and grey beard at Fred Meyer and then seeing him 30 minutes later in a bright red suit and white beard in front of Annie's Pretzels at the mall. Phew. I have one more year to come up with a plausible explanation for that one.

Even though my children have had their fair share of Santa this year, I really wanted to get photos taken at the mall so that I could order a photo ornament for the tree. I have one from last year and I think it might be fun to get a new one each year.

So after work today, I brought the kids home, shoved some snacks down their gullets, pulled out Ryan's nearly-too-small Santa outfit, and shucked them both into the car. By 6:15 we were off to the mall. Yeah, I know. What was I thinking heading to the mall on Christmas Eve eve. I knew there would be a line, but I guess I over-estimated my patience and how quickly the snaking line would move, and under-estimated how many children still needed to visit Santa.

It was insane.

The line nearly wrapped around the entire Santa-set-up and moved at a snail's pace. Ryan wanted to be held nearly the entire time so I spent a good amount of time juggling him and my heavy purse while trying to keep Jacob from causing too much trouble. Five minutes into our adventure, my hand holding Ryan's rump felt sopping wet. I set Ryan down and saw urine literally dripping from my hand. Five beads of urine fell from my hand to the floor. His diaper had gotten twisted and he soaked the entire front of his outfit. I set him down, right in the middle of the freaking line, and changed him on the mall floor. And washed my hand with a baby wipe approximately 5,000 times.

I continued to hold Ryan, clutching his pee-covered Santa body against my own. I prayed that his pee would dry before we reached Santa. Not only would the pee spot not be ideal for the photo, but I would feel kind of horrible setting a pee covered baby on his lap (but if the pee dried and Santa had no idea, then there would be less opportunity for him to judge me).

Catching snowflakes.

As I held a squirming Ryan, Jacob joined a group of three boys who were standing as close to the gate that surrounded Santa land as possible. They were catching fake, falling snowflakes in their hands and tugging at the fake snow that covered the ground. (They were also trying to shake the trumpet-playing reindeer who was standing guard nearby but I am trying to maintain an aura of plausible deniability about that, especially since a chunk of the reindeer's tail mysteriously went missing).

Creepy reindeer playing the piano.

I swear I looked down at my phone for one second (with one hand because the other had a death grip on heavy Ryan who was slowly slipping in the direction of the earth's core- friendly reminder to self: do more lifting at the gym).When I  looked back at Jacob he was holding an empty, smashed soda can and trying to catch falling snowflakes in it. Upon further questioning, I determined that he had found the discarded soda can near the garbage can and was trying to catch enough snow to make a snowball (duh, mom). The good mom that I am, never missing an opportunity to dash the hopeful dreams of a young boy, I jumped right in and totally ruined that fun.

As the clock ticked away and the line moved painfully slowly (literally, my arm was about to fall off), Jacob suddenly announced that he had to go pee. I thought about making him wait, until he grabbed at his crotch and started to do the OMG-dance. I know that dance well. I've utilized it many times. With my hands full of a 25 pound baby, a 25 pound baby's special blanket, and a large purse, I desperately pleaded with the people around me to hold my spot before I grabbed Jacob's hand and walked him quickly to the other end of the mall (where the restrooms were) and back.

After our 10 minute detour (and one purchase of a dozen chocolate chip cookies), we arrived safely back in our spots in line only to discover that some kid had unplugged the one cord that powered the entire Santa Land. Santa Land looked like downtown Bremerton, dark, lifeless, and possibly hiding a meth-head around the next corner. It only took 15 minutes for a vigilant mall cop to arrive and PLUG IN THE FREAKING CORD. Seriously? I could have done that. At least that extra 15 minutes gave my children extra time to eat four cookies each. Dinner, bam!

Washing down a cookie dinner

As we neared the finish line, Jacob kept wandering off to a nearby phone kiosk. I promptly told him not to touch ANYTHING. Apparently the air i the mall is very thick and it takes sound 30 seconds to travel 15 feet because he touched approximately ALL the phones before he shoved his hands in his pockets and stomped back to the line. That's when Jacob found another troupe of children to harass and instigated a cotton ball snowball fight. Ryan saw that they were having fun and, for the first time all night, wanted down to play. I was just about to tell Jacob to stop throwing fake, cottony snowballs at the other children when he pitched one right at a Christmas tree and knocked down an ornament.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the kids changed games. But quickly sucked in another tense lung-full of breath when I realized the new game was "let's-kick-each-other-in-the-shins-over-and-over-again." Ryan was the instigator this time. He would go up to Jacob, kick him in the shin and giggle. Jacob would laugh, then kick back. Then Ryan would kick the kid next to Jacob. The kid kicked Ryan back. They were giggling but I new that would be short-lived. I instructed Ryan to stop kicking and his response was to walk over to me and kick me right in the leg. This caused an uproar of laughter from the parents around me but did nothing to discourage Ryan from kicking.

The kicking did not stop. I approached the kids and was about to threaten some major time out when Ryan plowed into Jacob, knocking him and another kid onto Santa's red carpet.  Before I knew what was going on, the three of them were right in the middle of a wild game of pig pile. I stopped them, of course, but not before snapping some incriminating photos.

Right about here is when I wished I had a shirt that said "I'm just the babysitter."

I know it sounds like my boys were horrible, but seriously, they waited in that line for an entire hour, wearing uncomfortable Christmas swag, in the middle of a mall (so many things to touch and places to run), right at bedtime. So considering all that, they did pretty well.

And the pictures....

Well, aside from the creepy, laughing Santa, they turned out pretty good. Forgive the quality, they are pictures of pictures (my download code isn't working).

And from these pictures, you can't even tell that they were causing so much trouble.

Phew, another year in the bag!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Very Good Saturday

It doesn't always happen, but I managed to fill today with a little bit of everything. All week long I look forward to the weekend. And as long as the weekend is far away and exists only as a hypothetical, it is perfect. It's full of family, giggles, quality time, crossing chores off my list, and regrouping. But when it actually comes, the weekend is typically far from all of these things. It's usually busy and stressful, or lazy and unproductive. It often involves me choosing between a multitude of things that need my energy and time, including me. 

Working moms always talk about how the weekdays are a constant juggling act. But, sadly, the weekends don't offer much reprieve.

It's hard to be on all the time. It's hard to be organized and jet-fueled all week- packing lunches, dressing children, scooting them out the door, making them dinner, tucking them into bed. And It's hard to be doting, and patient, and present during the weekends- playing games, trips to the park, constantly giving my attention. When the weekends come, I want to check out for a couple hours and do absolutely nothing. But this usually means sacrificing quality time with the boys. This is why weekends are so hard for me. It's a constant battle between recharging my own batteries, giving the kids the attention I am unable to give during the weekdays, and tackling all the chores that have been sneaking onto my ever-growing list. No matter what I choose, there are consequences, even if those consequences are purely emotional or mental.

So basically, as much as I look forward to the weekend, it can be a big pain in the ass. When things compete for my time and energy, I hate to be the one responsible for setting priorities. But if I don't and just do whatever I feel like doing, I end up feeling guilty for wasting my weekend. And on the rare day when things just turn out well, without much effort, it's so rewarding. 

Off-topic: Santa visited my parents' house the other weekend. It was such a special treat to have a private visit by the jolly old man.

Ryan did not quite agree and is still very terrified of the guy.

But Jacob wasted no time collecting his present (he had to name five good things he had done first- it took a while).

Today was one of those days where everything just worked out. I got up and made the kids a nice breakfast. We played games and wrestled. They helped me do some laundry. Then we headed out the door to celebrate my niece's birthday with family.  After the party, we came home and I tucked my precious sleeping Ryan into his bed and snuggled with the big boys on the couch as we settled in to watch the movie Elf. When it was finally time for Jacob to go to bed, I sat on the couch and chilled out with only the glow of the Christmas tree to light the room. 

This beautiful tranquil scene is my favorite part of a long, busy day. There's something soothing and comforting in sharing a darkened room with a tree swathed in strings of yellow lights. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lights: House & Zoo

Our Christmas lights aren't the fanciest. But I sure do love pulling into the street in the evening and seeing the glow of our house.

This house is the source of a lot of emotions right now. Mostly bad. I'm trying so hard to love it. But this tiny little sardine can is draining my patience, my tolerance, and my bank account (our sewer drained backed up this weekend-yay for surprise and expensive home repair projects that are becoming way too frequent for this 103 year old house). This house is probably the biggest reason why I am not getting my third baby. It is also why I cannot begin the process of becoming a foster parent (which I feel so strongly called to do). And we're kind of stuck here for the foreseeable future.

Some days, I just want to walk away from it. I literally want to exit the front door and never come back. But I can't.

 So, I wrapped it up in Christmas lights instead.


This is our entryway/living room/dining room. The kitchen is behind the wall with the bookshelf. Two other rooms and the bathroom are crammed off to the right. That is my entire house. 

At least it's pretty - when it's not filthy and littered with toys that have no place to go.

Lucky for us, we spend a lot of time outside.

Last Friday evening, we packed up the kids and went on an impromptu trip to Zoo Lights. I was exhausted from working all week but we decided to suck it up. It's just not Christmas without Zoo Lights.

 We saw Mt. Rainier.
Not quite sure how the polar bears migrated to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe they rode on Santa's sleigh?

The kids were bundled up in their finest jackets and whatever other warm accessories we could find.

For some of the displays, I was a teeny bit more excited than the boys, as evidenced in this picture:

My husband pushed the stroller ahead of me and walked way too fast. But I still stopped for a minute or two here and there to play with the shutter speed on my camera, even at the risk of getting lost/separated.

The light technicians recreated the Tacoma-Narrows bridge.

And a creepy tiger.

Ryan looks so handsome in this picture. I love that guy.

And this guy is simply hilarious although not so easy to wrangle away from any item that might be used as a playground. I present, Jacob the hermit crab:

The next picture was taken especially for Ryan. Jacob has a small stuffed shark that is most beloved by both boys. In fact, they fight over it constantly. Most mornings I wake up to the sound of Ryan yelling, "Sharky! Sharky! My Sharky!" I can usually get a sense for how the day is going to do based upon Jacob's response. (If he shares, then we are usually in for a good day.) I

Ryan was very excited to see a real-life shark.

Jacob was just excited to be set loose at the zoo. He must be doing a happy dance here.

One final pose before everyone (including me) got crabby.