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When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

emily-christmas-baby

Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

christmas-santa

Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

 

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I didn’t write anything about how awful people were when the little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure.  I didn’t say anything about how quick people were to judge the poor parents whose child was killed by the alligator.  What finally put me over the edge were the comments on an article about the most recent instance of a baby dying in a hot car, left there by her father due, as usual, to a change in the family routine.

It was an accident, terrible and tragic.  Witnesses saw the father sobbing in the driveway.  His child is dead.  Nothing can change that.  And although it WAS an accident, he will forever believe it was his fault.  He will never stop going over that day in his mind, imagining what he might have done differently and wishing that he could have a second chance.

And yet the comments on this article were vicious.  Inhumane.  Merciless.  People wrote that he should be locked up forever–or in a hot car for a few hours.  They accused him of lying, said he did it on purpose, called him a terrible father.  How could he, they asked.  I would NEVER forget MY kid, they said.

The same hate that has polarized the country over issues like gun control and presidential politics has seeped into every area of public discussion.  We are all firmly entrenched in our little self-righteous camps, unwilling to listen to one another or to extend any benefit of the doubt or God forbid any mercy to ANYONE.

Loudly judging other parents arises from fear.  It’s our way of saying that we are not like THOSE parents and that something like that could never happen to OUR kids.  It’s a way of asserting control but it’s just an illusion because no one can control everything.

Chances are your kid won’t fall into a gorilla pit or be eaten by an alligator.  But let me tell you, at some point a Bad Thing will happen to your child.  Maybe he will break a bone, or be in a bad car accident, or flunk out of school, or use drugs, or shoplift, or get caught drinking underage.  Maybe she will wander away from you in the mall and get lost, or turn into a Mean Girl, or develop an eating disorder, or experience an unplanned pregnancy.  And if people find out they will talk about how you weren’t protective enough, how you weren’t paying attention, how you didn’t raise that kid right, how there must be something wrong with you, how that would never happen to THEIR kid.

And you will probably be telling yourself some of those same things.

Let’s cut each other some slack, shall we?  Let’s accept that we are human and make mistakes, some of them with tragic consequences.  Let’s concentrate on what we really CAN control–loving our kids and offering mercy to those who need it.

Blesssed are the Merciful- Showing Mercy to Parents Who Need It

 

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And the Survey Says- After Three It Just Gets Louder

When it comes to kids, three is the magic number… for stress.

Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels

At least that’s what a survey from Today.Com claims, about which more right here.

More recently, you might have read this:

Parents of large families were found to have the most life satisfaction, according to a study by Australia’s Edith Cowan University.

Read all about it right here.

These articles provide welcome validation to those of us with larger families, who are more used to hearing things like this:

Boy, you have your hands full!

Don’t you know what causes that yet?

Better you than me!

 I don’t know how you do it!

Are they all yours?

Do they all have the same father? (yes, someone did actually ask me that once!)

I don’t happen to think that five kids is that many because I grew up knowing many families of nine or ten.  But it’s more than twice that 2.3 kid average, so it’s not the norm for most people.

Do I agree with the studies? Yes, for my own reasons.

For me, the most difficult parenting transition was from one to two kids.  Once you find out that yes, you CAN love two kids, and you CAN split your attention between them, adding the third is not that hard (although waiting more than 12 months to do that might be good, not that I would know).

Going from two to three, the main change is that you are outnumbered.  Once you are outnumbered, it doesn’t really matter how outnumbered you are!  After three, it just gets louder.  Really.

Three little kids was hard, though.  Most of that first year is a blur.  But since most of us don’t have kids in a litter, by the time you have four kids the oldest one can help you, probably quite a lot.  I was on bedrest when William was born.  Emily was ten, and made her own and her little brothers’ lunches every morning before school.  By the time Lorelei was born, we had an in-home babysitter whenever we needed to get away.

Having lots of kids frees you from having to do All The Things, because it’s impossible to do all the things.  Taking care of four or more kids makes you supermom without having to volunteer for everything at school, keep a perfect house, and do Pinterest-worthy crafts in your spare time (spare time–LOL).

Illusions of control are shattered as well.  If you have just one kid, and he’s a brat, you think you are a terrible parent.  Likewise, if your kid is perfect, you think you deserve the credit.  Trust me, with four or more you are going to learn that kids are the way they are and it has a lot less to do with how you parent than you thought it did.  This is immensely freeing.

As for life satisfaction, it’s not like I don’t crave personal fulfillment and viral blog posts, but it’s hard for me to imagine anything that could provide more satisfaction in the long term than helping to create ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS who are all different and interesting and separate from you and who will be around remembering you (fondly, you hope) after you are gone.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

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What NOT to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

You know, I’m not really a big fan of all those “what not to say” posts.  Because I think that most of the time people mean well, and the people who don’t mean well are going to keep right on saying whatever they want to anyway.

But hey! There’s a first time for everything, right? And today I feel like ranting about What Not to Say to the Parent (that would be me) of a Picky Eater (that would be William).

So what should you not say?  Probably pretty much anything you are thinking of saying.  Just don’t say it.  Because William is 14, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you are dying to tell me I already know about and it won’t work.  If you want a list:

  1. Don’t tell me he won’t grow or that he will be malnourished.  He is almost 6 feet tall, he’s had his blood checked, he takes a vitamin every day, and I cannot remember a time he had to visit a doctor for an actual illness.
  2. Don’t tell me that if I just don’t give him the food he wants he will eat the other foods I want him to.  There are things that William will NEVER eat.
  3. Don’t tell me to force him to eat vegetables or else.  See above.
  4. Don’t tell me that I’ve spoiled him by not making him eat whatever you think he should eat.  When you have a child who is this picky, you feed him whatever he will eat because he needs calories, even nutritionally inferior calories.
  5. Don’t tell me what YOU would do if you were me.  Let’s make a deal, okay? You do what works for you with your kids, and I’ll do what works for me with mine.

How picky is William?  He won’t eat any vegetables except baby corn cobs.  He won’t eat any fruits.  He likes pasta with salt and pepper, but only angel hair (spaghetti under duress).  He won’t eat hamburgers, pizza, or macaroni and cheese.  He likes crab, canned tuna, most chicken, rice, Asian food, ice cream, milk, some juice, bread, and most (but not all!) sweet things.  This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea.  William’s pickiness is difficult enough that it has an impact on his life and his family’s.

William has ALWAYS been picky.  This is not my fault.  I did not do anything different with him than I did with my first three kids, who are now grownups who eat pretty much everything, and who were not particularly picky as children.  Shortly after I introduced William to solids, he started spitting out his baby food.  In would go the spoon, then squash (or whatever) would spew through the air.  It didn’t matter what I tried.  Even bananas! What baby doesn’t like those?

It’s a good thing that he was breastfed, because that continued (no lie!) to be his main source of nourishment until he was about two.  For a long time the only things he would eat were butter and sugar sandwiches and he wouldn’t drink cow’s milk unless it was sweetened too.  So really, I look at what he eats now and feel like we’ve come a long way.

I realize now that William wasn’t just going through some kind of phase like I assumed back then, and that this isn’t something that he is growing out of like I’d hoped.  He has actual issues that cause his eating difficulties, and had I realized this back when he was a baby there were likely therapies that could have helped.  But I cannot beat myself up for what I did not know, and now William is an adolescent who can try new foods himself if he decides that he wants to.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

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The Presidential Debates- An Educational

In this house, we LOVE election season (except sometimes on Facebook!).  We had a great time watching the first GOP debate last month (definitely the most entertaining debate I’ve ever seen) and then talking about it afterwards.

If you had asked me earlier this year, though, I would not have expected William (a 14-year-old 8th grader) to be glued to the screen along with John, Emily, and me.  It’s true that our big kids were interested in watching debates at his age, but I wouldn’t have thought William would sacrifice two or three hours of precious time that could have been spent researching one of his many obsessions about which he wishes to acquire ALL THE KNOWLEDGE to watch a debate.

As it turns out, though, he did watch the entire first debate, and had plenty of intelligent insights and opinions about the participants.  We all enjoyed talking it over and mostly agreed on who we thought did well.  Agreement on matters political is not taken for granted in this house, where the parents have opposing views on some issues and the kids have been raised to think critically and to form their own opinions, so it was interesting that we reached such similar conclusions.

So William was bitten by the bug, and he has added Donald Trump and his antics to his list of topics he researches.  For the past month he has watched videos about the Donald and has kept all of us updated on what he has learned (most recently being my source of intel about Mr. Trump’s Twitter exchanges with the Mexican drug lord who is on the lam).  William was so excited about watching last night’s debate that he did his homework WHILE IT WAS STILL DAYLIGHT, without complaining, so that he would not miss any of it.

That debate was really, really long, y’all.  Too long.  But we stuck it out, although we were too tired to hash it all over for too long afterwards.  Once again, William had opinions.  But there were a lot of people up there, and he wasn’t clear on all their names.  When he started reeling off his thoughts accompanied by his own unique descriptors, I knew I had to run for my notebook so I could record them for you all to hear.

2016 GOP Candidates, as named by William

1. Trump

2.  Jeb

3.  Young guy

4.  Jersey man

5.  Little curly ugly-haired man

6.  Sad man

7.  Woman

8.  Brain surgeon

9.  Random person

10. Old man that was not afraid to say things (clue: based on observations from the first debate)

11. He couldn’t even remember this one by the end–I wonder what that says about his chances?

Leave me a comment if you think you can guess who is who. 😉 And tell me, do your kids watch the debates? Do you talk to them about politics? Do you get upset if they don’t agree with your political views?

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Lorelei is all about making videos lately.  She has her own YouTube channel, with a weekly posting schedule, and she has custody of my iPhone more than I do.  Today she was telling me that she no longer enjoys watching the videos made by one of her subscribers, because they all involve makeup, whether she is putting it on her American Girl dolls or herself.

“You know what I really don’t like, Mommy?” Lorelei asked me. “Before she puts on her makeup, she says ‘Ugly!’  And she isn’t ugly.”

My heart sank.  The little girl she was talking about is ten years old, just like Lorelei.  She shouldn’t be wearing makeup AT ALL, in my opinion, let alone thinking that she is ugly without it.

When I was a little girl, my Catholic school did not allow us to wear makeup (a policy they should have maintained, if you ask me).  I did not start wearing makeup until the middle of my first year of high school, and most of the other girls didn’t wear much either.

By the time I graduated from high school, though, I wore makeup daily–eyeliner, shadow, mascara, blush, lipstick, powder.  I didn’t go out without “fixing my face.”

I think it was after I started having kids that one day I realized that I thought of my naked face as ugly.  And I didn’t like that.  I knew it was wrong to think that my real face, the one that God gave me, was too unsightly for the outside world to view unless I “fixed” it first.

So you know what I did?

I stopped wearing makeup.  I stopped wearing makeup until I could look at my naked face and see “normal” instead of “ugly” when I looked at my reflection.

These days, I wear makeup for church (if I’m not running late) or for special occasions.  When I put it on I feel dressed up and fancy and pretty, but I don’t feel ugly when I don’t.

I told Lorelei all of this, but she still seemed a little anxious when she showed me a picture of the little girl in question–a BEFORE picture. “See, Mommy?  Isn’t she pretty?”

Of course I said she was, and it was true.  A ten-year-old face cannot be improved by makeup.

If you ask Lorelei (as I often do), “Who’s the prettiest girl in the world?” she’ll promptly respond, “ME!” and she might even add, “In the UNIVERSE!”  What’s wonderful is that she believes it.  When she gets on the scale it’s in the hopes that she will have GAINED weight because she’s proud of how big she is growing and she will tell that number to anyone who asks her.  She might even volunteer it.

I don’t want the world to take that confidence away from her.  But I know it will.

The Prettiest Girl in the Universe

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Featured on BlogHer.com

Am I the only person in America who is having a little problem with this?

Please understand, I am NOT bashing this mother.  I am sure she loves her son and was concerned for his safety and his future.  I’m not accusing her of abuse, or saying that her parenting caused her son to be a rioter, or advocating that he be removed from her care.

I am thankful every day that there are no video cameras recording my parenting.  I have slapped my kids.  I have screamed at them.  I have said mean things to them.  Sometimes these tactics were effective at stopping whatever misbehavior motivated them–temporarily.  I doubt they produced lasting change, or if they did it wasn’t for the right reasons.

But seriously, am I the ONLY ONE (I think I might be, judging from every comment I’ve read on this video) who sees the irony in applauding an angry and violent outburst against a child who just engaged in an angry and violent outburst?  Aren’t riots themselves proof that violence begets more violence?  If we want justifiably angry people to channel their anger into peaceful solutions, isn’t that the behavior we should be modeling?

violence quote

Please join the discussion on this post at BlogHer.

Fridays Blog Booster Party Featured

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