Santa Through The Eyes Of My Child

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My 6 year-old walked in the door today in a flap.  “EVERYBODY in my class believes in Santa!  How can they believe in Santa?!  He’s not real!”

He tugged off his ski pants.

“I mean, think about it,” he continued, “can you fly around the world in just one day?”  He didn’t even pause for a response.  “No!  No, you can’t.  And the night is shorter than the day.  So how is he supposed to go all the way around the world?  You just can’t do it.”   He pulled his toque off his head and tossed it in the basket and stooped to collect his mitts that I had pointed at.  I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise if I tried.

“So you know what they should do, all those kids in my class?  They should stay up ALL night long and watch and then they’ll see.  They will see there is no Santa and it is just their moms and dad!  Then all those moms will be in big trouble.  Because they LIED!”  He finished dramatically, mitts flying in two directions.

At this point, I explained calmly, once again, that just because he doesn’t believe in Santa doesn’t mean he needs to tell everyone else that Santa isn’t real.

“But Mom!” he exclaimed, “Why do parents want their children to believe in something that isn’t real?  Why do they lie?”

I explained, or tried to, that some parents think that it is fun for their kids to believe in Santa.  He wasn’t buying it.

“You know what the kids in my class say to me?  They say, ‘how can they get presents from someone who isn’t real?’  Well, you know what?  He doesn’t give them presents.  The presents are from their moms and their dads and their uncles.”

He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “They just write from Santa on it!”

I nod. “You are right.”

“It is creepy to think of someone coming in your house.  Besides, he lands on your roof and then what?  We don’t have a chimney.  He can’t come in the front door or he’ll set off the alarm.  Who made up this idea of Santa anyways?”

He must not remember last year’s explanation.  So I recounted the story of good old Saint Nicolas and the way he helped others and before I finished, Lucas ran off to play Lego.  I’m surprised the flying reindeer didn’t fit into his dissertation on the implausibility of Santa.

This is what happens when you combine a very logically minded child with growing up in countries where neither Santa nor Christmas for that matter are the enormous deal that they are here.  Without effort on our part, he doesn’t buy the whole Kris Kringle business.  (Judging from the fact that my 2 year old refers to Santa as “A Christmas guy” I don’t think he does either).  From Lucas’ perspective, Christmas is about family, presents and the simple story of a baby in a manger.  And I don’t think he is any less excited than the other Grade 1s who are laying out plates of cookies and glasses of milk.

I am not criticizing those who believe in Santa nor their parents who teach them to believe.  I am all for children being children and wonder and the spirit of the season, giving.

But you know what?  I’d rather my children get presents from me, not from some remote fat man who somehow monitors their behaviour, and finding it meets standards, breaks into their house at night to leave gifts under a tree.

I’d rather teach my children how to give and care for others by my example.  I’d rather him see a spirit of generosity modelled all year long, not just by a fictional character one day a year.

I’d much rather remind him that the most important gifts aren’t presents, given or received, but the way we love others.

You can argue with me, but I think in kids’ eyes, Santa=presents not Santa=love.

If I want him to learn wonder, I’d rather him see it in my eyes as we set up the nativity set; I’d rather him hear it in my voice as he asks for the Christmas story to be told him at bedtime.  I’d rather the wonder be resplendent like that first Christmas star as we contemplate how the hands that hung the stars flailed wildly and small, like the infant brother waving snow angels on his lap by the light of the Christmas tree.

I will tell my children the story of Saint Nicholas, yes, the one of a man who selflessly cared for others.  But I won’t change that into some man at the South Pole.  And you know what?  I don’t think they are missing one little thing.

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Why I Love Being The Mom of Boys

A lot of people have assumed this pregnancy that I’m hoping for a girl. They have suggested that since we know we are having our third boy that perhaps we should try again for that elusive girl. While I’ll admit that girls seem easier to name, I don’t feel an ounce of disappointment that I have been blessed with three boys. Nor do I feel my family is incomplete until a girl is added.
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My older son was initially hoping for a girl. I think this is due to his desire to care for them. He tends to think girls need more protection. He was constantly getting frustrated with the smallest girl in his Kindergarten class—there were things she struggled to do and he tried to help her. She is a bit of a spitfire and wanted nothing of his help. This did not fly well with Lucas. “Why won’t she let me help her?! She can’t do it herself!”

So when he received the news at the ultrasound that it was another little brother for him, he laid his head on my belly and shed a few silent tears. After a little conversation in the car, he started to brighten. “Hey! I would have had to play princesses! I might have had to play tea party! Now we can play Lego and fire trucks! I’m glad we’re having a brother! I don’t ever want a sister!” Leave it to a 5 year old to state things in absolutes.

Once he recovered from his disappointment, I felt free to enjoy the news myself. Another little boy. Awesome.

I once read an article about how you can spot the difference between moms of boys and moms of girls at the playground. While mothers of girls look coiffed and put together, the mothers of small boys tend to look slightly disheveled. Why? The boys climb all over them, perch on their heads, are in their faces. I had to chuckle. I still do when my boys scale me like a playground and I remind them, “I am not a jungle gym.”

I know you have to be careful about drawing stereotypes of genders and boxing kids in. I try hard to give my kids freedom to choose what they are interested in. For years that meant everything in our house was purple since that was the colour of preference. Is it a boy’s colour? Technically no but did I care? No. Each child has a fuzzy pink duck in their beds. Does that matter? No. I did not steer them towards trucks and dirt and rescue heroes and rough and tumble. They naturally and strongly gravitated toward those things on their own. So this is just my list of things I enjoy about my boys, letting them be who they want to be.

1. I’m the girl in their lives. My oldest son has picked up on the fact that I like jewelry and accessories and girly things. In his mind, bigger is better and more bling expresses more love. So for birthdays or special occasions, he takes it upon himself to find the gaudiest, tackiest fake jewels. Sweetheart that he is, when he goes to Chuck E Cheese (shudder), he saves his tickets to buy me plastic rings. There is something about them noticing and affirming my femininity that I love. I can teach them how to treat a girl well.

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Perhaps hard to see but do you notice the bling on my finger?  I couldn’t even bend my knuckle from this birthday present!

 

2. I don’t have to worry about hair and wardrobe. The thought of being responsible for someone else’s style who may really care about it terrifies me. The thought of my child wanting me to be really trendy also terrifies me!  My younger son really does love hats and shoes and choosing his own clothes but it is not difficult to match a polo to jeans, pop on a fedora and go. Leggings and tunics and boots and scarves and when to pierce ears and ratty hair—this all I can do without. On a deeper issue, the idea of teaching appropriate modesty in this day and age seems like a scary thought. Of course, I’m on the flip side—teaching respect and decency which I imagine is not clear cut either.

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Micah loves when we both wear hats!

3. Dirt is fun. Dirt is not the enemy. If you have a dump truck and a bulldozer and a pile of rocks or dirt, you are set. For some reason, this is deeply satisfying to me, this ability to let mud squish between toes and get sand under fingernails and stain the backsides of light coloured shorts grey. Good old organic fun. PS If you add noise, the fun just gets better.

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See? Nothing wrong with pink!

4. They still want to do things together. Just because boys are boys doesn’t mean we can’t read stories, bake cookies, make crafts or do things that may be labelled as girly. Our stories may be about fire trucks, our crafts may be minions or ambulances or paper mache airplanes but we still have a grand old time together. If you genuinely allow a child into your interest area and give them some space to explore, almost anything is possible.

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5. Building. With my little boys, building is everything. Anything is possible if you have blocks or bricks or better yet, Lego. I love co-creating with them, taking an idea and piecing it together. It is a metaphor for me of life—we’re just building together toward common ideas. Sometimes our ideas work better than others. Sometimes there are no instructions. But when we sit together on the floor and start to work it out, we’ll build something great every time.

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Our first 3-D animal out of Lego–an orca.

These are just a few of the reasons I love my life with the boys I have. What are the great things in your life about parenting girls? Or boys? Or both at the same time?

The Word That Changed It All

The day started out almost perfectly. The kids were up a little too early for a Saturday and we had some snuggle squabbles where they both wanted to snuggle the same parent at the same time and didn’t want any intruding sibling’s limbs to interfere.

But our day was planned. It was Fire Safety Day, a much anticipated event in my household of want-to-be-firefighters. They’ve been counting down the days until they get to see the firefighters, the fire trucks and Sparky at the fire station, crawling through the smoke tunnel and watching the jaws of life. Fire Safety Day is practically Christmas.

They watched a Popular Mechanics segment on fire fighting from the library while I put together a favourite breakfast and then we all sat around the table in pyjamas, lingering over strawberries and biscuits, slowly peeling hard boiled eggs, snuggling and laughing. There was no rush to eat, no heavy conversations to be had, no sight words to drill. We just enjoyed. I said to my husband, “A leisurely breakfast with your family where no one wants to leave and everyone is enjoying food you made…that’s about as good as it gets.” We even said wouldn’t today be a perfect day for baby to show up after good time like that.

Not too long later, the boys tromped in from outside and my youngest, just over two, went running through the kitchen in his rubber boots. “Boots off first,” I said and reached to grab him but he went running by. “Micah, stop!” I said, “Boots off.” He didn’t stop. So a standard time-out was issued. No big deal until he dug in his heels and decided he wouldn’t say sorry at the end of it.

My husband and I looked at each other. Now what? You have to say sorry, right? So we explained, “If you don’t say sorry, you can go back into time out. When you say sorry, you can come right out.”

And the timer was set for 2 minutes. At the end of those 2 minutes one of us would sit on the floor in front of him and ask if he was ready to say sorry. And he dug in his heels. At some point in this, right around the time when we were supposed to be leaving for the fire station, it became apparent that our little plan may be sabatoged by pure stubbornness. Stubbornness on his part and on our part.

When you start a battle like that, you have to finish it or you don’t teach anything. They’ll learn to dig in their heels just a little longer than you dig in yours. At least that’s how it seemed.

So the other two eventually went ahead. I explained to Micah he could go too if he said sorry. They would come back and we’d all go together. But no sorry.

An hour and a half went by. Slowly. In two minute intervals. Getting my 9 month pregnant butt up and down off the floor 45 times. But who’s counting? “You are in a time out because you didn’t say sorry.” “Are you ready to say sorry?” “You are in a time out…” The beeping of the timer.

Finally I fed him a banana, changed him, put him in his crib and gave him one last chance. Say sorry and go to the fire station; don’t say sorry and have a nap.
He was asleep in about 7 minutes. I wasn’t far behind him.

I woke up just as the fire station’s open house closed. Micah was still sleeping. Maybe it was that fantastic cocktail of late pregnancy hormones, maybe the stress of the morning, maybe the disappointment of my little fire fanatic having to miss out but this Mommy started crying and couldn’t stop.

Sometimes the enormity of the task of parenting is overwhelming. I want so badly to teach them well, to be level and fair. I want to parent well—not so people can say I’m doing a good job but because parenting should be done well. Children should be parented well. God desires it.

Today it was the two-year-old and the sorry battle. I’ll blink and it will be the 15-year-old and the social media battle. Or the 20-year-old with the questionable partner. This isn’t an easy job but it is a good one and one worth digging your heels in for.

Later, we went on to feed ducks and roll down hills full of leaves (I did nothing of the sort) and crawl around in pjs laughing, tongues out like puppies (I was the pokey little puppy). A few times Micah ran up excitedly and would ask, “We go to fire station now?” And I’d have to remind him that he chose not to say sorry. He’d lay his head on my lap for a minute and then go off again to play.

Did it get through? Maybe. I hope so. Was it hard? Certainly. Do I wonder if it was a good decision? Absolutely.

So my question for the day is how do you, in parenting, or in life, come to terms with the inevitable ambiguity involved in doing the right thing? Do you wish it was more clear cut or do you enjoy the freedom to choose?

The Chai Conversations: On the Best and the Good

While it feels highly unrealistic to commit to a blog post a day when I have a baby due any day now, I’m at least giving it a shot, linking up with a 31 day challenge.  

When I think of tea, I think of sharing a pot with someone and having a good heart to heart talk.  My goal this month is to brew a few cups of Chai…to open my heart a bit and invite response.  I’d love to begin a few conversations.  So draw up a chair and muse a bit with me.

 

When you work in the profession I do, living overseas working with people with great needs, people assume you are in it for the love of it.  Living the dream.  The height of fulfillment on a daily basis.  Yes, it may be hard but there’s nothing you’d rather do.

And that’s the way we all want to live, isn’t it.  For passion.  Fulfillment. We want to live the way children run, free, fast, unexhausted.  Where the blood coursing through your veins propels you to live, fully,  sprinting, heart beat pounding in your ears, face wide open to the sky, arms swinging.

People assume I love my work.  Love my life.

And I do.  Some days.  And then some days I want to run away from it, blood coursing, arms swinging, sprinting face first into the wide world of predictable and comfortable and 9-5 and job descriptions and anonymity and English.

Most days I’m just there.  Neither loving it nor hating it but trying to be faithful.

Sometimes we do the right thing because it is the right thing and we train our hearts to follow.  I wish it were the reverse—our hearts know best and if we follow our hearts we will do the right and rewarding and beautiful things.  But sometimes our hearts are lazy.  Sometimes our hearts have good intentions but are weary.  Sometimes our hearts don’t know what to think because they were designed to feel and not think!

So we go back to what is good.  We go back to what is true.  We go back to the things that are pure and noble and worthy of doing them.  And we do them for those reasons, not because we desperately need to feel something in order to be alive.

Parenting is like this.  By our facebook posts, you’d think our children were always smiling in our organized living rooms with combed hair and wiped noses.  But we don’t have our cameras on the ready in the mornings when they’ve put clean undies on top of the dirty ones and won’t hurry up.  When we need to walk out the door in two minutes—or should have walked out the door two minutes ago—we aren’t camera ready, aren’t even really loving it, this parenting of rush and fluster.

Of course we have those good moments too, moments where our kids stand at the school yard fence, too small to be embarrassed by blowing kisses and kisses and still more kisses and catching ours and stuffing their pockets full for later.  We have those early morning snuggles or those mid-day giggles that fill the pockets of our hearts.  We love that.  We can live for it.  But when our pockets get turned inside out by the day and all we have emotionally left is lint for the hungry child, the dawdling child, the defiant child, we keep on being parents.  We keep on acting in love.  We act in love not because we always feel it but because it is right.  It is good.  We calm ourselves by reacting calmly.  We remind ourselves to love by acting lovingly.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weekends ago.  She shared with me a thought a co-worker presented speaking to a group of new college students.  “Sometimes,” this lady said, “we get so focused on doing the best.  On being the best.  Whatever happened to just settling for good and expecting good.  God looked at his creation and declared it good.  Why can’t good be good enough?”

So, I find myself, wondering about good, wondering about right.  I find more peace there than when I strive for all dreams and all fulfillment all the time.

But my question is:  Is that healthy, whole realism or settling for less than the best?  What do you think?

The Lego-man Diaries: On Acquired Importance

4966_199482005371_2693008_nBefore I became a mother, I was functionally unaware of the existence of certain basic things.  Bulldozers, for example.  They only existed for moments in the summer as I waited in a string of cars for the orange-vested Highway worker to give us the go-ahead to drive.  Then those Bulldozers vanished quickly into oblivion.  Oblivion, that is, until we saw road reconstruction after an earthquake in Costa Rica.  My son was 1 1/2 .  Then bulldozers became all the rage.  We drew them, we read about them, made them out of pancake batter and chocolate cake.  If we were lucky, he’d spend a few moments on his own in the sand playing with them.  Once, I snuck a miniature bulldozer in the pocket of a bridesmaid dress for my little ring bearer.

 

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Blackbird

Another previous unknown is the SR-71, colloquially referred to as the Blackbird (charmingly mispronounced as the Blat-bird). This reconnaissance military jet blasted into my consciousness after my son watched a preview for a video on Military Machines. A two minute clip and all of a sudden we were making Blackbirds out of cereal boxes and duct tape, dancing around  singing  a modified version of the Beetles’ song:

 

Blackbird flying in the dead of night
take those speedy wings up to the sky
all your life
you’ve been only waiting for this moment to arrive.

These phases burst onto the scene and I am forced to learn quickly to answer my son’s many questions.  Because he is a fan of long and complex explanations where no detail is too small to mention, I am taking full advantage of the juvenile non-fiction section in our community’s library.  If a picture is worth a thousand words and the average book has, say, forty pictures, I have just saved myself 40,000 words.  That’s a significant savings.  It goes right back into my patience bank.  Boom.

IMG_4598Now, with son #2 on the scene and becoming more verbal and individual by the millisecond, Lego men are the new rage.  Who knew they were so interesting?  They elicit shrieks of delight and the ever-enthusiastic “GUYS!” when he finds them.  These mini-figs parade all over my house.  I imagine them like the army of soldiers in Toy Story.  I close the door and they shout commands to each other, scaling walls, rappelling down staircases, hiding under furniture.  Some are as audacious as to hide in my pillowcase.

Purely as an aside, I can handle many Lego-related injuries.  I understand that kneeling on little pieces is inevitable; stepping on swords, unfortunate.  But Lego in my BED??  That’s just going a bit too far.

Now, we spray-paint garbage cans to make Lego men costumes.  We hoard and spray paint protein powder containers to make storage for the bazillion Lego pieces that evade organization.  This morning, I plucked Lego men out of the milk jugs destined for the recycling bin and later out of the dish washer where they were nestled in the detergent compartment, awaiting their “bath”.

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Now I get excited about Lego men when a few months ago I didn’t care.

This is the mystery of motherhood.  You love what your children love.  Because you love your kids.  You become aware of things that you were blind to before.  And you don’t just stop at awareness—you become a full-blown fan.  What is important to them becomes important to you.

Long after bulldozers and building and Blackbirds are outgrown, I’ll look on them fondly, maybe even exclaim, “Oh look!” before I remember to stop myself.