Not calm...but bright

When I talked to my family on Christmas morning, it was 10:30 and they were just finishing opening their stockings. We, like many of you, I'm sure, had been up for hours and had already opened presents, put presents together, played with presents and eaten breakfast. Having gone to bed at 2 A.M. on Christmas Eve, Eric and I were ready for nap time. But there was bread and apple pie and cranberry sauce to make for dinner. And there were movies to watch, games to play and wrapping paper to squash into the recycling bin...so our naps were put off until the children are grown.

When Marley opened her new pink and red purse I could read her smile in an instant. It said I'm like mama now! Within minutes she had hooked it to the new toy stroller Santa had brought and was pushing her baby doll around the house with a confident air.

Brigham retreated to his bedroom to put together his new Lego ship and didn't resurface until almost 3:00 in the afternoon. We found that in his intense focus, he'd eaten nothing but a pack of gummy lifesavers all day. Eric Jr. spent most of the day bouncing his two new basketballs around the house and playing catch with his new baseball mitt.

At five o'clock we walked next door for a lovely, chaotic dinner with our neighbors and two other families. Snowflakes dusted our shoulders as we walked back home with tired, happy children.

After a good night's sleep, I spent some time today thinking about our Christmas. Interspersed among the beautiful moments were many hours of stress, indecision and general not-being-the-mother-I-want-to-be. So here, more for my benefit than anyone else's, and in the hopes that I can do a little better next year, is my Christmas after-action review:

I decided at the last minute to help the boys make presents for each other and their sister, so they would have something other than getting to look forward to on Christmas morning. Unbeknownst to Eric and me, my cousin had taken all three children to a pottery store and had them make presents for us, which they were excited to see us open (and we were excited to receive!!). The sibling gifts, not so much. They had made them hurriedly on Christmas Eve, after being spoon-fed ideas and instructions from me. Next year I'm keeping that tradition, but will start much earlier and give them less input, so they feel like the gifts are really coming from them and are more proud and excited to give them.

We all loved our Christmas Eve dinner of cheese fondue, a tradition inherited from my mother-in-law. It's a favorite of everyone in the family, and it's special, fast and easy to make. I could maybe do without lighting the dining room table on fire for the second year in a row, but really, that table is dying a slow death anyway. And I like the kisses I get each time someone loses their bread in the pot:).

Family presents are always a quandary for me. A lot of families I know, being large, have some sort of sensible system for keeping gift-giving manageable, like drawing names, only giving to kids, etc. My extended family is just small enough for that not to work, but large enough to break my budget every year by a significant amount. This year, as in years past, I resolved to keep my shopping to a minimum and go small on gifts. And this year, as in years past, I felt a little pang on Christmas morning opening thoughtful, generous gifts and knowing that I had not quite reciprocated in kind. But a budget is a budget, and if I die trying, I'm going to learn to stick to mine! So, I decided to fix the shortage of energy and money by getting ready for next Christmas starting now. My plan is to use rainy days and the occasional family-night for projects and crafts that can double as Christmas presents. I hope this can help us all focus more on giving and showing our love to our family and friends, rather than scrambling around for gifts at the last moment. With a new baby on the way, I'm really going to have to get a jump on things, but what better time than now, when ideas of all the fun things we didn't have time to make are still fresh in our minds?

The last big change in our Christmas plans is a sad, but inevitable one. About a week ago I overheard the boys' friend ask them if they believed in Santa Claus. Brigham's response was "eh- half and half," and Eric said "I'm not sure what to believe." So we knew that Santa's days were numbered, but we decided not to broach the topic until the weather warmed up and thoughts of Christmas were far from the their minds. Then tonight at dinner, Eric turned to me and asked me directly if Santa was real. What could we do but break the news then and there? Brigham took it well, but I caught the well-disguised disappointment in Eric's eyes. I asked them when they'd started to doubt and he said about a year ago, when he realized there was no such thing as magic, reindeer couldn't fly and Santa was too fat to fit down the chimney. But I could tell that he'd held on to a tiny spark of hope until a moment before when I had stomped it out. He was quiet for a minute and then asked, "but what about the letters we get from him every year?" I croaked something about my mom sending them and then let a few tears slip out. Then everyone laughed at me and we moved on to happier subjects.

So that leads me to the next big change I want to make in the way we do Christmas. Each year I watch my kids' faces light up when they pull the wrapping paper off of their heart's desire, only to set it aside five minutes later to open the next toy, and the next. After a while they're so overwhelmed with good things that they lose their ability to appreciate them. I like the idea of Santa bringing each kid three presents: something you need, something to read and something just for fun. Then I'd like to make one gift for them and buy them one gift and let that be it. When you add in all the gifts from family and friends, plus the fun stuff in their stockings, it's more than enough. I think I'll wait a while to let them absorb the Santa thing before I lay that one on them, though.

This morning, in lieu of church (it's Georgia, and a snowflake touched the ground!), our neighbors came over and we read Luke 2 together. What stood out to me was the way in which everyone- Mary, Joseph, even the Savior himself, had to figure things out as they went along. Which is what I feel like I'm doing all the time, which is just fine.


Even though she was a cow...

Marley currently has an obsession with one of my favorite books: The Story of Ferdinand. As I was reading it for the third time today I tried to soak up the wisdom in the simple story.

Ferdinand was a peaceful bull who, rather than run and jump and butt heads together with the other bulls, preferred to sit just quietly under his favorite tree and smell the flowers. His mother worried that he would be lonesome all by himself and asked him why he didn't want to run and play. He told her he liked it better in the shade, under his favorite tree and (this is my favorite part):

...because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.

Each of my three children is Ferdinand in their own way. They each have ways of being happy that are foreign to me. Eric prefers to keep his emotions mostly inside his own heart and head. I would explode. Brigham sometimes breaks away from the group he's playing with because whatever they're doing doesn't seem fun to him. Togetherness would trump interest for me, every time. Marley sleeps naked. I'd freeze.

I'm not there yet, but I'm trying to learn that they are the ones with the maps to their own happiness, not me. My best moments as a mother are when I can remember to stand back and cheer on their daily efforts to be true to themselves.

Maybe someday it will be said of me: she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow. ;)


Race Report

When we arrived at Kiawah Friday night the air was balmy and breezy, music was playing and the island was crawling with smiling runners. After getting Eric checked in we headed to the condo we were sharing with my mom and Jeff, chatted for a bit and then turned in early.

I woke up at 5:45 to the sound of rain outside our window. Eric downed some peanut butter toast and farmer's market eggs, I made plans to meet my mom later and we bundled up and walked down the street to catch the shuttle to the starting line.

They took off with the gun at exactly 8 A.M. under still drizzly, much chillier skies. I took off in the opposite direction on a quickie run of my own to burn off some of the empathetic stress. The race clock was at 1:10:00 when I made it to the turn around point with Eric's gloves, a bottle of water and two nutri-grain bars. While I waited I talked with a sixty-something mom whose three kids were all running, and a twenty-ish looking woman from Florida who was cheering for a friend. I mentioned that I had planned on running, but had gotten pregnant instead, and she asked how many kids I had. I said this was my fourth and waited for the usual shocked reply. Instead she smiled and said, "that's great- I have six at home." I was the one with my jaw on the ground for a change. I was dying to know if she was Mormon, Catholic or just crazy, but didn't have the guts to ask. I love talking to people at races- so fun to hear their stories and make new friends, if only temporary ones.

Eric rounded the turn at 1:31:00, looking strong, but cold. He downed everything, put the gloves on and got back on the road while I turned around and headed to the finish line to look for my mom, who was running the half. Thank goodness for the double-loop course or I would have been in trouble!

I practiced my iphone unlocking skills (not so easy when your fingers are numb!) while I waited to snap a picture and cheer her on to the finish. My favorite part of watching a race is the faces of people crossing the line. They range from smiles to tears to total incredulity. My mom looked focused and relieved when she came around the bend. After getting her some food and a bathroom break, we went back outside to wait for Eric.

3:10:59 clicked by on the race clock and my heart ached a little for him, but I knew he would finish strong and use this as another learning experience on the road to accomplishing his goal. Plus I was having so much fun I didn't mind the thought of doing it all over again in a few more months, as I knew I would be. He had stayed on pace until almost mile 23, when he realized he would have to completely destroy himself to make in it on time, so he took a few walking breaks and relaxed his pace, crossing the line at 3:19:57.

We hopped on the shuttle back to the condo, showered and packed up. We ate lunch with my mom and Jeff at a little pub where we watched the Duke game on the TV behind the bar. Then we got in the car and drove back to our little ones, who were not snug in their beds, but happily waiting up for us. We gave them the treats we had brought back, tucked them in and collapsed into bed.

Maybe it wasn't our lucky day, but it felt that way.



Eric and I are sneaking away tomorrow afternoon for a quick trip to South Carolina. Eric is giving his Boston dreams another shot in the Kiawah Island marathon. I have high hopes- the course is said to be flat and "easy" and perfect temps are in the forecast (kind of important when you're not wearing shoes).

I've written a multi-page email to Leslie and Greg who will be staying with the kids, cleaned the floors, pre-made dinners, washed the sheets and all the running clothes.

I feel like I've run a marathon already...


Pigs flying and other recent happenings

We had a lovely Thanksgiving respite in Durham, filled with laughter, relaxing and lots of food and friends. Being with dear friends always charges me with energy and reminds me who I am.

Some highlights from our trip...a pre-Thanksgiving Tessem feast of delicious grilled pizza...a visit to Shady Lane featuring dinner with the Straubels and dessert with the Spences...a return to Easley to see beloved teachers and friends, playdates for Eric with his buddies Brayden, Liam and Ben...Eric and the boys' visit to one of Eric's favorite Duke professors who is recovering from cancer...1 A.M. almost every night- Brian and Eric begging Lindsay and me to stop talking and let them get some sleep...an incredible Thanksgiving dinner with the Alders and Larsons that ended with Eric stepping in what he termed a "poop crumb" on the living room carpet*...and finally, a Mexican feast at the Rays', just in case we hadn't gotten enough to eat the rest of the week.

Thank you everyone- we miss you more than ever.

We had such a wonderful time, in fact, that I dreaded our return to Atlanta. As we pulled into our neighborhood I thought of our old house on Shady Lane, looking just the same, even hung with the Christmas wreaths we had left up in the attic. But then, when I opened the front door of our little old rental, an unexpected feeling settled into my heart. I breathed in and thought,

It's good to be home.

I thought of Eric in the kitchen on Saturday mornings, making eggs to order for all the neighborhood children. And of Jen's piano music floating through my bedroom window on Sunday nights. And downtown Decatur, all lit up for Christmas. I guess my plan of not getting too attached here isn't working after all, and I have to say, I'm kind of glad.

We slowly settled back in over the weekend and managed to unpack and decorate for Christmas while battling nasty post-vacation colds. All that bed-time-flaunting and overeating catches up with you in the end, doesn't it?

Now onto the flying pigs: little Eric cut his hair. We made a deal- if he would cut it short, we would not say the word "haircut" for an entire year. The best reaction was from Marley, who stared at him for several minutes, trying to comprehend the fact that he actually has ears.

After school today I nonchalantly asked him if the other kids had said anything about his new look. He told me lots of boys said they liked it, but that he "didn't hear any comments from the girls." Then he added that he didn't want to hear any comments from the girls.

I can tell it's going to be a good December.

*As far as we could tell it was an escapee from a squirming toddler diaper change gone wrong.