Tag Archives: holidays

Portrait of Christmas Past

I bought the first stocking long before we were even trying to have a baby. Red felt with white snowflakes across the top, a happy reindeer, and one word across the toe: JOY. When we finally had our very own bundle of joy, we put his chubby, four-month-old self right into the stocking and used the photo for our Christmas card.

It was fitting, because stockings have always been my favourite part of Christmas morning.

The next year, he couldn’t fit IN the stocking of course, but we dressed him in some festive jammies and a Santa hat, and he held the stocking that once held him.

It became our own little tradition. By the fourth year, there was another baby boy, and another stocking: a sweet snowman with bell at the top of his jaunty red hat. The brothers wore matching pjs: blue, with red santas. Big brother’s smile in the photo that year revealed a grey tooth, which he’d bruised in a fall. Little brother, barely two months old, had no visible neck.

Each year it continued: different jammies, same stockings. Digital photography meant we could take as many shots as necessary to get the perfect one. Which was good, because some years it took more than 100 to get one where both boys were smiling, had their eyes open, and weren’t making a goofy face. The outtakes are as precious as the final portrait. But the best part was always seeing my two beautiful boys, arms around each other’s shoulders.

This year, I let the boys help me choose the pajamas they would wear for the photo. And though they went with “cool snowboarder” over “cute snowman”, it seemed like at 8 and 11, they were still happy to continue the tradition.

But cue all the versions of Landslide, because the annual photo shoot didn’t go as planned, and I don’t think there will be another sitting.

Just like that, things change.

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This is 40

I had my first child just weeks before my thirtieth birthday. It’s a decade later, and that baby just pointed out that I am now four times older than him. My thirties were unquestionably all about my children, and have therefore gone by incredibly fast.

My husband would tell you I tend toward being a pessimist, so I could whine about getting older, declare that I will no longer have birthdays, start looking for wrinkles (I’ve been finding white hairs since I was twenty-six so…) But it is Thanksgiving here in the Great White North, so instead I’ll focus on being lucky to have reached forty. I’m healthy, have a great husband, amazing kids and a supportive family. What’s to complain about? Sure we’ve spent ten years in our “starter home”. In the meantime I’ve gone back to school, started a new career, been able to stay home with our kids at least part of the time these last few years. It’s all too easy for me to be envious of others, but the fact is we have all that we need, and more. Besides, forty is the new thirty, right?

This weekend we took the boys to an amusement park, and while on one of the rollercoasters I couldn’t help but think of the movie Parenthood. I may not run for the biggest, fastest coasters these days, but I’m not restricting myself to the merry-go-round either. And I’m pretty sure that being “over the hill” just means there are more ups, downs, twists and turns coming up a little further along the track.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 32)

“What is the other name for Santa again? Nick Fury or something?” BB#1, 9 years old.

Clearly we have failed in our Christmas teachings.

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Who Cancelled Halloween?

Being the new kid is always hard, but when friends of ours moved out of the neighborhood recently, their two girls looked on the bright side: they would finally be allowed to wear costumes to school on Halloween! Their previous school is notorious for not allowing observation of any holidays, and even schedules picture day on October 31 (I can only guess to discourage kids from skirting the rules by wearing orange and black or any other Halloween-themed items). While I get why the administration might have done this, to be honest, I’ve never met parents of kids attending this school who are happy about the complete absence of celebrations there.

Meanwhile, my children have attended two different schools only minutes away, and have always been allowed to wear costumes to school on Halloween (though the ban on masks and weapons and weapon-like accessories has meant BB#1 has worn a plain black robe twice now, once as a wandless Ron Weasley and once as a sytheless grim reaper). Same neighborhood, same diverse population, same public school board—different rules.

I’m not certain how I feel about banning Halloween in public schools. Like many others my age, I remember being excited about going to school in costume, doing Halloween-themed activities and basically goofing off that day. I’d like for my kids to enjoy that too—what’s wrong with having a little fun now and then? But if it means other kids feel excluded, or some families feel they must keep their children home for the day, is it really worth it? I’m not so sure.

It’s not like my kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to dress up if they weren’t allowed to at school. Halloween isn’t cancelled. Families can still decorate at home, carve a pumpkin, hand out candy, go trick-or-treating if they choose to. I also loved Christmas Concerts back in the day, but have absolutely no problem with schools today having more inclusive Winter Concerts. Again, it’s not like families can’t still observe Christmas if they wish, however they wish—last I checked, schools still close for two weeks around this one day! And while I am personally already looking forward to having the boys home in December, [opens another can of worms] I have to wonder how appropriate it is to continue to build the school calendar around Christian holidays—is that truly reflective of the Canadian population today?

Fortunately, instead of banning holidays and celebrations in an effort not to exclude anyone, the schools my boys have attended take the opposite approach: they celebrate and encourage discussion of a variety of religious and cultural days. And I’d like to think that through learning some of the ways we’re different, children will learn to appreciate the ways we are the same.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to help my kids figure out costumes that are both cool, and acceptable for school…

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Trapped in Candyland

The other day BB#2 came home with a little baggie of plastic “jewels” from a classmate, with a note attached saying “Happy Ayyam-i-Ha”. One of the things we love about our neighborhood is the diversity, and the fact our kids can learn about cultures, traditions and celebrations my husband and I never even heard of growing up (in fact, I was inspired to look up Ayyam-i-Ha, which is a Baha’i festival of gift-giving and acts of charity. Lovely!)

It also came with a lollipop.

This went straight into the bucket holding the lollipops he brought home for Valentine’s Day, and the remainder of his Christmas candy (his brother has his own bucket). Well, not all of their holiday candy is in the buckets—there are two solid chocolate hockey sticks and pucks in the freezer. And in the cupboard are some Pez dispensers still in the package, a couple Kinder Surprise eggs (each), and boxes of Lifesaver rolls and bags of Skittles. And it’s not as though they haven’t eaten any of the treats they received two months ago…

You’d never know that Santa actually cut back on the sweets in the stockings this year, knowing full well how much additional sugar the boys would be receiving from other sources. Fortunately, I had already disposed of the leftover Halloween candy. Normally I would do the same with the Christmas candy before February 14th, and the Valentine candy before Easter, the Easter candy when the boys aren’t looking…

With Easter on the horizon, I’m at a bit of a loss what to do. Normally, the bunny leaves plastic eggs with a few small candies and coins inside, and notes leading the boys to their baskets. In those there might be a small toy, stickers, a small chocolate bunny or egg. But I know from past experience that this relatively modest haul will be supplemented, and though (confession time) we’ve even tried accidentally-on-purpose leaving the chocolate eggs from the hunt at grandma’s house behind, the end result will be a) eating too much candy or b) throwing a lot of it out. So as I reach for the bag of MiniEggs, I wonder if maybe the bunny should go candy-free this year? And if so, what would she bring instead? The last thing I want to start is giving big-ticket items like bikes for Easter—I know some families do, but that’s not somewhere I’m willing to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-candy. Our kids get plenty of treats, more than enough I’m sure. And I’ll admit that sweets were (and are) a beloved part of holidays for me. But it’s to the point where we’re curbing treats we might gladly give them because they are sure to get a bag of candy from a birthday party here, several lollipops from their classmates at school for a holiday there, and so on. It’s not just “once a year”. It’s neverending.

My younger son’s school once had a “no outside food policy” that I appreciated. A few things still trickled in, but I didn’t feel obliged. For some reason they’ve reversed it this year. Maybe for other parents? I’ve heard some complain about their schools not allowing birthday cakes, because they remember celebrating at school when they were young. I absolutely do not remember this. You had a birthday party at home when I was a kid. Maybe you got a paper crown at school and the class sang Happy Birthday. No cake. No candy. And this is fine as far as I’m concerned!

Even if a class does celebrate every birthday and holiday, why does it need to be with food—especially when many of those occasions are going to include treats at home? Aren’t costumes at school on Halloween enough to make the day special? Isn’t exchanging cards enough on Valentine’s? Isn’t a little baggie of sparkly beads enough on Ayyam-i-Ha? Why does it always have to include sugar, sugar, sugar?

I’ve read a few blog posts lately that convince me I’m not alone in being overwhelmed by all the “occasional” treats:

The Exhausted Dietician Mom

Why is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?

I’m tired too. I’m tired of being the “ungrateful” mom who doesn’t appreciate the ten “it’s just one” lollipops coming home in my kid’s backpack. The “cheap” mom who doesn’t reciprocate. The “uncaring” mom who doesn’t send anything special to school with her kids on their birthdays. The “stingy” mom that says yes to dessert one day and no the next simply because I don’t want it to be a daily thing, or to ever tie treats to behavior. The “mean” mom who always says no to treats when we’re out because we’ve got buckets of sugar at home. The “wasteful” mom who prepares for each holiday by pitching the candy leftover from the last one.

But what to do? Do I stop buying my own kids any kind of treats, because I know they’re going to be kept in sugar by friends and relatives? Do I immediately toss anything and everything that comes into the house from other sources? Do I continue eating from my kids’ candy buckets while telling myself it’s “so they won’t eat it all themselves” and disappearing whatever is left after a suitable interval?

What do YOU do?

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Santa is Not Watching

We have an elf on the shelf–but not for the reason you might think. This elf belonged to my grandmother, who passed away during the holidays last year. My boys played with it whenever we visited Nana at Christmastime, so BB#1 asked to keep it as a memento. The little guy has been on the shelf in our living room ever since.IMG_5772 (1)

The elf is older than I am, possibly older than my dad, and was familiar part of the festive decorations in my grandparents’ apartment when I was a kid. He puts me in mind of Perry Como and real Scottish shortbread. So it’s funny to me that in the last few years a similar style of elf has become popular as Santa’s spy – if that’s what this one was originally, I don’t know. For us, he’s just a decoration, a reminder of Christmases past, and of Nana.

I understand that a lot of parents have fun with their own elves, moving them around from place to place each night. I hear kids enjoy it too. Hey, your elf, your shelf, your rules! But we’ve never done the whole “you better be good or Santa won’t bring you presents” thing here, so Santa doesn’t need a spy in our house. I don’t do empty threats any time of the year, and that’s exactly what this would be; I would never actually follow through on giving my boys a lump of coal for some random “misbehavior” leading up to the holidays. And I don’t think I know any parent who would. What would a child have to do to deserve that anyway?

We also talk a lot with our boys about how fortunate we are, and we donate gifts to make sure other children have a happy holiday too. While I know my children already question why Santa can’t just give a gift to every child, rich or poor, I certainly don’t want them to think he doesn’t visit children in poor families because they are “bad”. Or that their own friends who don’t celebrate Christmas don’t deserve presents. Or that the reason for “good” behavior is to get stuff.

I get that the whole Santa story usually includes a naughty or nice list (it’s in the songs, after all). It’s so accepted that other parents have no problem telling my children they “better be good” because “Santa is watching”. And I may well be a humbug, but that’s not cool with me. In our house, Santa doesn’t hold grudges.

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Killer Costumes

When he was in JK, BB#1 chose his own Halloween costume: Super Why. We put a pair of blue shorts over top of his green pajamas, used a blanket for a cape, and I made a paper Super Why crest that I pinned on his chest. His dad’s ancient Game Boy was his Super Computer. I was so impressed he’d come up with this idea on his own, and wanted to dress up as a super hero that loves to read! I knew he’d be the only Super Why in his class, if not the school. But when he got home from school he promptly started bawling because his teacher didn’t know who he was, and all the other boys had cooler costumes (most of them were store-bought Spider-men). He claimed no one made any negative comments, but I guess he saw a difference.

I felt so bad that HE felt bad that I ran out and bought him the only superhero costume left in the store: an adult-sized Batman. But the hood bothered him, so he wore a black cape and gloves for trick-or-treating, and whenever anyone (which was everyone) asked what he was supposed to be, I held up his mask.

Much has been said about the current trend for overtly sexy costumes for women, and increasingly, girls and teens. But what about the boys’ rack? Yes, lots of gender-stereotypes going on there too, what with the plethora of superheroes and villains, plastic weapons and fake muscles. When my guys were little and I got to pick their costumes, I went for fairly gender-neutral and cute: pumpkin, plush purple dragon, green frog. Since then, the boys have chosen to be Winnie the Pooh, a cat, a zombie, a vampire, a knight. Last year BB#1 (a ginger) wanted to go as Ron Weasley while BB#2 (who wears round glasses) would be Harry Potter. I placed a rush order for the robes. And then when BB#2 got home from school he decided he wanted to go out trick-or-treating as Puss in Boots instead—so he wore the cat costume again, with a belt and boots this time.

This year, even as they poured over costume catalogues, I tried to encourage them to choose costumes from our overflowing dress-up bin. Right now BB#2 is supposedly settled on being a ninja, which is good because we have a hand-me-down costume and a balaclava he can wear.

BB#1 didn’t go for it. He had a new idea every couple of days, some do-able, some not so much. I put off buying anything in case he changed his mind, yet again (and I’m just not the mom that makes costumes. That’s my husband’s department.) One idea I shot down as inappropriate was the killer from Scream. Now don’t get all upset: he has not seen the movies. And he doesn’t understand why I said no (he also claims he doesn’t find the ghostface mask scary, which to me sort of misses the point). I explained that I didn’t think it was appropriate for a child to dress up as a serial killer, especially for school.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I was overreacting—or if I’ve under-reacted to other choices. I mean, zombies and vampires, not really friendly, loveable creatures! In our dress-up bin alongside the ninja (trained assassin) costume, we’ve also got pirate (pillaging, anyone?), and Darth Vader (world’s worst dad) get-ups. And I know there will be plenty of Anakin Skywalkers at school. Even if they have to leave their lightsabers at home during the day due to the no-weapons rule, the fact is, those boys will be dressed up as a character who is responsible for massacring a lot of people—including children (never mind the damage he did to the Star Wars franchise…)

These creatures and characters have something else in common: they are all made up. Just like the killer in Scream. In fact, Scream is a spoof of horror flicks. So, if I have or would let my boys dress up in these other costumes (with no fear they are going to actually BECOME vampires, pirates or Sith lords), why is my instinct to veto the ghostface? Do I need a logical reason to say no, or is instinct enough? Or are my (probably low) standards too arbitrary? Perhaps I am a hypocrite for allowing my boys to dress up as one violent, uber-masculine stereotype but not another. Perhaps I am just thinking too hard about Halloween.

So what does BB#1 plan to dress up as now? A ringwraith from Lord of the Rings. Perhaps ghostface was less terrifying after all…

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