Remember the Christmas…

I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in third grade. Or for most Christmases for that matter. Sure, I remember the big stuff. The Cabbage Patch Doll that I hoped I got because I knew they were flying off the shelves. The black-and-white TV set that got me through the grogginess of many migraines with the help of “Dallas” and “Love Boat.”

But year after year as we pull out the box of ornaments for our tree, Christmases past come sweeping back. The green beaded ornament that my kids don’t really like has always been one of my favorites. My grandmother bought us grandkids a special ornament every year for our packages. She picked them out at craft shows and we all got something different. That ornament reminds me of Christmas Eve at her house—a velvet Christmas dress and itchy tights with a crotch that hung near my knees. I remember looking for the lighted Santa on someone’s porch before we crossed the bridge, and coming home and climbing into bed with my sister, the only night of the year I was ever allowed.favorite ornament

Many ornaments on our tree tell a story. There’s the fancy beaded ball my mom made that used to hang on my childhood tree. She used beaded pins to hold sequins and beads in place. Our tree stood in the living room then and I remember a Christmas long ago when my sister picked out a snowman soap for me. I loved snowmen. I loved that soap and it sat on my dresser for years, unused and gathering dust. I think I finally threw it out as a teenager. More than anything, I loved that my sister bought me something she thought I would like.fancy ornament

There’s a golden wreath with a picture of my sister and me dangling from the center. We’re teenagers and I remember that my hair looked decent that day, a true accomplishment. There’s a wooden Revolutionary soldier on a red horse and that’s the first ornament I ever remember being mine. My sister and I fought every Christmas over who had the red one and who had the white one and, more importantly, who would hang which on our quickly dying tree. My parents finally got smart and taped our names to the backs.

When I married, I brought my box of ornaments with me. My husband did the same. And his ornaments tell stories too. His grandmother gave him a new ornament every year, and those were always from some kind of craft venue too. The lid of his box lists each ornament and the year she gave it to him. There’s the little football player sporting a green uniform (no doubt an Eagles player), birds made from pinecones, and a simple Matchbox car with a yarn hanger.footballornament

Every year our kids hang those ornaments on our tree along with the ornaments their grandparents have given them. And while they sometimes make fun of our old, crusty ones and root through the bin in search of “better” things to hang, I know one day the kids will look back at all of those ornaments and have stories of their own.

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Some Big, Tail-Wagging Changes

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am a planner to the nth degree. I am not a spontaneous person, but lately I did something a little spontaneous.

We got a dog. And I say a little spontaneous because we’ve been thinking of getting one for a few months. But the spontaneous part comes in because I didn’t do much as far as reading about training or caring for this creature we have just adopted. We have just taken a huge step and I’m in fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode.

As a parent, I’ve never been into parenting books. I’ve never once finished one from beginning to end. And what I’m realizing is that this dog ownership thing is a lot like having a baby or a toddler in the house again. I can’t tell you how many times my husband or I have already said to the dog, “Ugh, just tell me! What do you WANT?”

And that first night home? (And the nights after that?) The dog is already sleeping in our bed. Tsk. Tsk. Everyone knows he’ll never get out of it. Sometimes he cries and whines and paces, and we just want some sleep. He settles down a lot quicker than the kids did though.

The dog we got was a rescue dog. He’s under 2 but no one is certain just how old. He’s housetrained. He’s sweet. He loves to play and cuddle. But this is a new home and it requires some new training. He’s had some accidents. I feel like I’m following a toddler in training pants around again, wielding carpet cleaner and Febreeze. I have to make sure he doesn’t put things in his mouth, even though he looks adorable running around with an oversized stuffed animal that is too nice to be torn apart. And I certainly don’t want to hurt his feelings by being too tough. This guy needs lots of love.

He doesn’t like his crate. He doesn’t want to be alone. I have places to go. It’s brought back lots of separation anxiety flashbacks. Thank goodness he can’t hug my legs and beg and never let go. And now I have three creatures following me around throughout the day, at least once school is out.

I’ve found myself outside at 10 p.m. in my bathrobe, long johns, and big winter coat. And I really don’t care who sees me. I just want him to poop already.

My kids take turns walking him, or running, whichever the dog prefers. And seeing them like that, it makes me smile.

He’s quiet. He’s smart. He listens. And he’s doggone good. In time, we won’t know what we had ever done without him.

Meet Rowan

Meet Rowan

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When a Writer Is Born

I see my daughter close her diary, then run down to the kitchen to put the keys back in their hiding place. She can’t have her brother getting a peek again. After school, when homework is done, she wants computer time to type up stories about finding shells on vacations or blurbs about how much she loves her family.

She writes letters to family with run-on sentences about the owl in the backyard or the possum she sees at night. Who cares if she may be taking some creative license? Thank-you notes gush with love for an item, the color, the memory it evokes. Papers at school that require only a paragraph or two end up with pages and pages of her conversational tone, explaining in-depth our trip to Maine this summer or why bananas ripened in our kitchen.

Some mornings when it’s time for school, she shouts, “One more minute!” from her great-grandmother’s roll-top desk as she finishes up a letter, a story, a thought.

I both love and hate that she does that, has this need for writing. All my life when I’ve had an urge to communicate, it’s spilled out easily into words on a page. Flowed so fast my hand wasn’t able to keep up, the scratchy writing sometimes hard to decipher when I went back to read it again. My brain always moved too fast for my hands but there has always been a connection there, brain to hand.

The connection between my brain and my mouth is a different story. Words don’t flow from my mouth as easily. I am often quiet. Things come out all wrong or not at all. I am stumped for answers, for something touching when I need to be. Or words come out too quickly. I can’t take a moment to pause, speak, and go back and try again. Once I put spoken words out there, inappropriate as they are, they’re out there, unfiltered. But with paper or screen, words flow. Thoughts come. There’s no deleting, looking for the perfect word when you speak.

I remember as a child wishing I wasn’t the way that I was. I knew it had to do with writing. I felt like I sensed things differently, maybe I didn’t. I knew that I didn’t have to be famous or published to be a writer. I just was, in my heart, always. It was the way I had expressed every thing of my life.

I love that my daughter has that in her, that passion, that need. But I also hate it for her, that curse. That feeling that you just have to get it out. That you can’t go to sleep at night or leave the house or finish a conversation until you relieve yourself of the burden. Scrawl on scraps of paper or in a notebook in the car a thought, a story, an observation, a poem, a pain. Those words, those feelings. Those things you can’t say to anyone but your paper.

I was that girl. I still am. Before bed I scrawl a thought on a scrap of paper, sometimes never giving it another thought. Sometimes it’s the perfect ending I’ve been waiting for, for months, and it came to me while washing my face. I’ve poured my heart into journals. I’ve breathed life into dramatic teenage poems that I’d die if anyone saw. And I’ve shouted, “One more minute!” so I could finish a thought that just had to be written on paper instead of whispered in someone’s ear.

I’ve always thought that writing is a lonely life.

I hope she finds the courage to share hers long before I did.

keyboard

These days, most of my writing is done via keyboard.

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How My Husband Raised an Eagles Fan Born in the South

Growing up, I knew no other team than the Redskins. In fact, for a long time I thought they must play the Blueskins, the Grayskins, the Greenskins. I heard a lot of words I shouldn’t have heard and I learned to stay away from the den on Sunday afternoons. There was always a lot of screaming and cheering and the beating of hands on my dad’s old recliner.

If I had a favorite team, the Redskins was it. It was all I ever knew.

My dad walked me down the aisle only because I didn’t marry a Cowboys fan. My husband-to-be rooted for the Eagles, a true born-and-bred fan from Philly who watched the team lose its only Super Bowl appearance at that point in 1981.

When we had our son in North Carolina in 2003 and Eagles onesies started rolling in, I told my husband it was just possible our son could be a Panthers fan. I wanted to plant that seed early. I didn’t want him to get his hopes up.

Through those early years, my son changed favorite teams as often as he changed his favorite color. He liked the Buccaneers, the Titans, the Jaguars, and the Vikings. He liked nearly every team but the Eagles. He’d get excited about football on Sunday afternoons. His dad put game gear on—the same shirt and socks with holes in each foot—and pumped up spirits with “E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!” My son seemed excited about the prospect of watching football, watching TV. But ten minutes in, he climbed off the couch and found something else to do.

More than anything, my husband just wanted my son to watch football with him. “Be careful what you wish for,” I told him.

My husband told my son stories of staying up late watching Eagles football when he was a kid. He told him about crying when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl. He was in third grade at the time. He told him stories about the infamous crowd and how they were known for booing Santa one year.

It wasn’t until around second grade that my son started to pay attention to football. Each year he’d watch the games a bit longer, snuggled into his dad’s arm. Every whistle blown, every flag thrown, my son asked why. Every player down, every player on the bench, my son asked why. Every player’s name, every player’s stats, my son wanted to know how was that spelled again and where is he from? How much does he weigh? What team did he play on before this one?

I’d chuckle in the corner as my husband tried to watch the game and hear the commentators and refs.

During every halftime, every commercial if he had it his way, my son grabbed a football and asked his dad to go outside. He had to play his own version of a game.

The next morning, the first thing my son would ask was the score from the late game. In the car he’d ask me how to spell a player’s name or who I thought would make it to the playoffs. Did I know it was Ronnie Brown’s birthday? My husband had created a monster.

Over time my son began to favor the Eagles, wearing the jersey his grandparents gave him to school every Monday after they played, talking trash with the other kids about their favorite teams.

Now after school, I’m the fill-in for Dad. I can throw a pretty long spiral and it’s only taken two years to get there. My son is a pretty tough coach.

He mentioned the other day that he dreamed the Eagles won the Super Bowl. He keeps up with their stats and thinks they have a good shot at the playoffs this year. Nick Foles is doing pretty well.

He still watches every game on Sunday with his dad. He still asks a million questions. He still knows everyone’s name. Now he keeps an Eagles roster. And he still goes outside to throw the ball around with his dad during breaks. He wears his lucky Eagles jersey, shorts, socks, and underwear when they play. It’s been working, knock wood.

My husband didn’t create a monster. He created a fan. And a bond.

football

Down here, my son gets questioned a lot about why he is an Eagles fan. The answer is always “because of my dad.”

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Hold My Hand

We walk through the parking lot headed to dinner, a store. My son runs ahead, jumping, shouting, and getting off a bit more energy before being confined to a brick box and shushing and rules. Without looking, a hand slides into mine, never breaking the rhythm of my arms’ stride as I walk. My daughter’s warm hand fits perfectly, holds me firmly. I don’t look at it or say anything. I just take in the simple moment. For however long it lasts, she’s still my little girl and she still wants to hold my hand. Tomorrow she may not want to.

When my daughter was younger, I’d grab her hand to cross the road and she’d yank it away. “Let go!” she’d yell. She was a big girl at two. She could do it. It was always a battle. But I learned she wouldn’t run off. She stayed with us without holding anyone’s hand. I’d have to live with her independence, heartbreaking as it may be.

Sometimes I just wanted to hold her hand, to feel her still-soft baby skin nestled in mine, to feel her squeeze my hand tight and reassure her. Sometimes I just wanted her to reach out because I knew that whole handholding time was short. I didn’t want to be gypped.

But I let it go. That time came and went. It was never something she liked, not at two, not at five. Until now. Now, at eight, when I’m not looking and that hand slips into mine. For a moment, everything is good and she’s not too old just yet.

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A Mother’s Scary Halloween Story

“How about a football player? You could wear your Eagles uniform,” I suggested. Immediate head shake.

“What about a punk rocker? You could wear jeans and a white T-shirt and I could spike your hair.” I may as well have told him to dress like Elmo.

I was out of ideas. Halloween was in a couple of days. If my son planned on participating, he needed something easy to throw together with things we had on hand. But as usual, anything I suggested became automatically cursed.

It wasn’t just him. My daughter had just picked her costume over the weekend, landing on a wacky-tacky idea that needed nothing more than a quick rummage through her dresser drawers. It was like every preschool outfit she ever wore and it came together easily. I could breathe a little easier.

I had a feeling all this last-minute stuff was just payback for last year when my son decided to be Gimli from Lord of the Rings. I thought he’d change his mind. It was a costume that would require some effort. But 15 minutes to cut a beard? I had time. I procrastinated and on Halloween that 15 minutes turned into an hour as I tried to figure out how to get the beard to stay on. And that was my second attempt. I had no fabric left. It had to work.

While cutting the first beard, my son grumbled, “I knew you were going to mess this up.” I should have just told him to grow his own.

Maybe I could have made that costume earlier and not waited until the last possible minute. But my son is notorious for changing his mind every year. He’ll make a decision and then the afternoon of Halloween announce he’s going to be a pirate for the third year in a row. I just can’t invest much in his Halloween costumes. But I knew if I screwed up that costume, he wouldn’t wear it, even after hours of hard work.

Surprisingly, he did wear it. All of it. All night long. It was a Halloween miracle. A few weeks ago, my husband and son were cleaning and decided the beard and fur vest from last year wouldn’t be needed again. I almost spoke up, but the fur did shed a lot.

So the night before this Halloween, my son finally decided on a costume, not something easy—Radagast the Brown, a wizard from The Hobbit movie. And guess what he needed for his costume? Brown clothing. A beard. We searched the house for anything brown.

I woke at 5 a.m. on Halloween wondering how to make that hat out of a paper bag. And another beard. How did I make it last year? I’d have to measure his face before school. My son had awoken at 3 and decided on a zombie, trying to think of what that costume should be. I made him choose before school. As I crumpled a paper bag into Radagast’s hat, I still wasn’t sure he’d wear it. I bought a cheap brown sweater from Goodwill to make the brown cloak. He’d wear my husband’s old brown pants. I made a long, scraggly beard from hot-glue and an old brown T-shirt.

When dusk came and we put the costume together, it looked pretty good. I worried he’d look like he had a turkey on his head. I still worried he’d change his mind. As I feared, he didn’t want to wear the hat or the beard. Without them, he’d look like a kid in humongous clothes. I begged him to wear them just for pictures, so he did. He wore them all night. Another Halloween miracle.

I know I shouldn’t have saved him. I could have let him suffer for waiting so long. I didn’t have to work so hard. But at 10, how many more times will he go out trick-or-treating? How many will he remember? This could be the one he remembers most. This could be the costume he likes best—or probably least. Regardless, it’s a memory. For me and for him. And I think a little bit of my time was worth it.

radagast o lantern

Little boys who don’t share their candy with Mom turn into pumpkins at midnight, it’s true.

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Can You Still Teach This Old Mom New Math Tricks?

If you read my blog regularly, you may know that math is a bad word to me. Just when I think I’m done with it, it rears its ugly head. So how on earth could I have spawned a child who by some miracle is really starting to get it? A child who not only gets it, but was so excited about something new he learned recently that he wanted to teach it to me?

You may read about that episode, where I may or may not have squirmed a little, here. (It’s a guest post for a great local—to me—moms’ site.) And you may find out whether I am or am not smarter than my fifth grader. In math anyway.

It's deceiving, I say.

It’s deceiving, I say.

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