We Are Both Right

Best of: Bringing Tears to Our Eyes

tears of joy

What makes you cry tears of joy? ©davidlat/stock.xchng

For my mother it’s the song “Pomp and Circumstance.” She could hear the hopeful notes being played as far away from a graduation ceremony as could possibly be (think Musak in the elevator), and she’ll still find herself welling up, imagining polyester gowns, squared-off caps and optimistic speeches that take too long.

Tears of joy — a phenomena that you’ll (hopefully) experience a lot as a parent. And the thing about crying happy tears is that you never know what will set you off. Maybe it’s a sweet homemade card or one of your kids doing something uncharacteristically nice for their siblings.

Whatever it is, despite you tears, you feel good inside and you are once again reminded how lucky you are to be a parent.

So in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday we’re sharing our favorite ways our little ones bring tears to our eyes. Pass the tissues!

  • First steps
  • Preschool graduation ceremonies where they sing songs you wouldn’t expect — ask Suzanne about “I Believe I Can Fly”
  • Dance recitals
  • Watching a child sleep
  • Solos at the school band concert
  • School-sponsored Mother’s Day teas, complete with crumbly homemade cookies and watered-down juice
  • Watching your little athlete be handed the game ball
  • Thinking back to the delivery room
  • The Song “Five Days Old” by the Laurie Berkner Band (gets Amanda every time)
  • When they brush my hair
  • The last day of school (and camp) goodbyes with friends
  • Pictures of my children giggling and playing, full of love
  • The special moments when you see siblings really connect (and dare we say, adore each other)

What about you? What makes you cry happy tears?

Preserving Memories – What’s Your Style?

old family photos

What are your family's memories made of? ©Jean Scheijen/stock.xchng

The other night, while I was rearranging the game closet (because it was about time) my daughter came up behind me and asked for her special pink book. “The one that’s all about me,” she said.

I reached up two shelves and handed over a fuzzy covered photo album that contains about two hundred pictures of her first two weeks of life. Yes, I take a lot of pictures. And my kids love me for it. ;-)

Actually, I have archived so many pictures that my husband jokes around that when we’re both gone someday, our son and daughter will be sitting in our house, looking at a room full of photo albums and portable hard drives, saying: “What are we supposed to do with all of this?”

But hey, it’s my memory-preserving style of choice.

Kids grow up so fast. There are so many special moments that I’m always thinking, I wish I could bottle this up and take it out down the road. The color of my daughter’s hair as I put it into pigtails for the first time. My son as a toddler digging into his favorite vegetable — corn on the cob. The looks on their faces the first time each of them rode a pony. Family gardening days out in the yard. Trips to the beach. Visits with great-grandma.

All of the random stuff that makes our family’s world go ’round. And so I take pictures. Lots of them.

There are so many other ways to capture a memory:

Keeping a baby book (although most moms feel a slight tinge of guilt when they think about their unfulfilled wishes for their baby book).

Blogging. I’ve gone so far as to print out most of the blogs I’ve written about my children, but somehow I don’t see them paging through these as much as they will our photo albums.

Scrapbooking, whether digitally or traditionally.

Logging highlights on Facebook–which our kids will probably hate us for someday when their potty training progress (and hang-ups) is still on full display for their prom date’s reading pleasure.

Videos–which are probably the best way to go back in time, if we could just settle on a format that’s going to last a lifetime!

What’s your memory-keeping style of choice?

Coming Up for Air

This is the type of coming up for air we wish we were doing right about now. Maybe next year. ©Juan Velasquez/stock.xchng

MYTH: Amanda and I have escaped to a tropical island with our husbands and are now sitting on teak beach chairs, pink drinks in hand, while we let this site accumulate dust bunnies.

FACT: The slow, quiet post-holiday weeks we anticipated have swallowed us alive. We are each ear-deep in science projects and laundry, work deadlines and stomach bugs. Dinner is pizza more often than not and by the time we’re each done wrangling the kids into bed, there’s just enough time to cap off the night with a melatonin cocktail. And maybe a quick phone call between us to say, “Yeah, I think I might be able to post something this week. Maybe.”

Just when did winter become the busiest season of all? I guess I should ask the same people who decided that the nice little rotation we had of baseball in the spring, football in the fall, and basketball in the winter should morph into each being a three season venture. Oh well. It’s all for the kids, right?

Anyway, as much as I’d love to chat, it’s time for me to take down my Christmas tree. The fake one. The real one came down January 2. I’m not that bad.

But I promise we will be back real soon. We have to. For sanity’s sake.

In the meantime, please tell us how you are coping with getting back to normal in this new year? We’re all ears.

Our Two Cents: Regifting Etiquette

As tempting as it is to regift, make sure you read these rules of engagement first. © jaylopez/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Last week, we had our office holiday gift exchange and while the cute scarf and glove set that I received was great in theory (and very thoughtful of course), I really don’t need it.

Besides that, I have quite a few other miscellaneous gift items that I’ve accumulated over the last year or so, still in boxes and taking up space. Some of the things are doubles that the kids got from their birthday parties but that didn’t come with a receipt to return or exchange.

I’m thinking of the money I could save and how easy it would be just to find a new home for these things by recycling them as holiday gifts. But how much of a faux pas is regifting these days? Would you do it?

–Regift or Buy New

Suzanne: There’s actually nothing wrong with regifting as long as you follow the same rules that apply to buying a “new” gift to begin with. Most importantly, make sure that the gift is a good match for its recipient. In other words, don’t regift just for the sake of regifting and to unload something you don’t want.

Sure you would like to free up some closet space, but if your child’s bus driver comes equipped with her own hat and gloves, then maybe a coffee and donuts gift card is really the better bet. Then again, if your friend’s child is a year younger than your own, and doesn’t already have the full collection of Thomas the Train cars that your son does, then why not pass along the doubles from that birthday party that you can only return without a receipt for pennies on a dollar.

Amanda: My name is Amanda and I am a regifter. (And to my friends and family who read this — clearly I didn’t regift to you, nor did I ever regift something you gave me or my family. Just so we are clear.)

I say go for it.

Look, money is tight all around these days. If you have something of value you can’t use, it makes perfect sense to pass it along to someone else who can. It doesn’t matter how you received the item in question (unless you’ve stolen it), it’s yours to do with what you like.

Like Suzanne says though, make sure the gift is a good fit for the person and not just a square peg you are trying to fit into a round hole. Particularly with gifts for children, double check the suggested age, being aware of little pieces and other hazards that aren’t appropriate for little little ones.

To save yourself some embarrassment, make sure what you are regifting is free of any tell-tale signs — a card tucked into the corner of the box or slight tears on the package from old tape for example. And never regift something you’ve already used. Also, make sure that the people you are regifting from and to will never find out.

I know the thought of regifting makes many cringe, but I think as long as the intention is pure — to give something to someone that they will truly like and not to just unload something we don’t want anymore — it’s perfectly fine.

It’s tempting to regift and in some cases, it makes a lot of sense. Do you do it? How often? What rules do you follow?

***************

For double doses of advice, all you have to do is send just one e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

The Stuff Legendary Gifts Are Made Of

Holiday memories come in all shapes and sizes. ©We Are Both Right

Childhood memories fascinate me.

I love to ask my children what their first permanent memories are — things like the earliest point in time they can remember, what they were wearing or who they were with. My daughter’s is from last year’s vacation in California. My son’s earliest memory is playing with plastic dinosaurs in his room.

So no sooner than the first Christmas decorations appeared and pushed the Halloween candy into the clearance aisle, I was inspired to poll everyone I know about their most memorable holiday gift as a child.

The best reaction I got was from my husband. In less than a second he was telling me about a blue hockey helmet with a white cage that he went to the store a few days before Christmas to pick up with his dad. He brain-dumped so much detail on me about that Christmas that I felt giddy for him.

It made me recall the Christmas when I (or maybe it was my brother) got a magic kit. Even though I can’t remember whose name was on the tag, I have vivid memories of playing with the retractable wand and pulling a rabbit from a top hat. Also memorable is the year I got an electric Brother typewriter with the correct tape built in! Geeky, but oh so prophetic for this writer.

Still, the holiday that stands out most in my mind is the year that my brother was born just three weeks before Christmas. Now before you jump to any sappy conclusions, my kid brother is merely an accessory to this memory. (Sorry T., I know you thought I was about to publicly make up for my wrongs.) Anyway, that was the only year that my extended family let my mom off the hook for the huge family dinner that she usually prepared for 30 every Christmas Eve.

Instead, we celebrated a quiet evening at home with just our immediate family. We were lucky enough to have Santa stop by for his (her) cameo that evening, although I don’t remember any of the gifts he brought.

What I do remember is the gift I received from my maternal grandmother that year. It was a mushroom crate — the wooden, woven kind, held together with wire. There were two in fact — one for me and one for my sister — each with red gingham fabric sewn to fit inside the crate and draped over the sides to make a doll cradle. When I placed my favorite doll inside, it hugged her as snugly as my newborn brother in my mom’s arms.

The simple things.

For his own reasons, my nine-year-old also remembers his sister’s first Christmas. He was five and the unexpected jealousy following the ending of his only-child reign had just about worn off.

His big gift under the tree that year was an Xbox 360 (can you say parental guilt?). But the part he forgets (phew!) is that when we plugged it in that day, we quickly discovered that it had been used and broken, and then repackaged. My little guy (and his deflated dad) didn’t get to play with it until a big box store made good on Santa’s damages.

I wonder if it’s “the thing” he’ll tell his family about one day in so much detail that they feel like they were there with him. Or maybe that memory is yet to be made.

How about you — any big holiday surprises from childhood that still make you smile?

It didn’t take Amanda long to remember that special gift she wished for… and got!

All I Wanted for Christmas

bicycle for christmas

This isn't the bike I got that Christmas, but I bet there is a kid out there who is wishing for it very much! ©Schwinn

“A big blue bike with a basket and a bell.” If you had asked me when I was seven years old what I wanted to Christmas, that is the response you would have gotten. Even now, some (gulp) thirty-odd years later I can still remember the mantra — the cadence, the intonation, my fervency of delivery.

“A big blue bike with a basket and a bell.”

And that Christmas morning (ahem, night) when I came down the stairs, there it was. A shiny, sparkly blue Schwinn with a banana seat (this was the mid-’80s remember), basket and bell, just like I had wanted. Oh, I was so proud and so happy. And when I got to take it outside and actually ride it? Woo hoo!

Why that particular present out of all the gifts I have received over the years sticks with me more than anything, I’m not sure. I certainly asked for enough things and was lucky and fortunate enough to receive them (who else got a Cabbage Patch Kid?), but it’s that bike that always springs to my mind first when I start to reminisce about special gifts given to me throughout the years.

I’ll be curious to see what it is that my kids remember most about their Christmases when they get older and which gifts will stand out in their minds the most. Santa’s no slouch when he visits our house, and despite my grumbling every year that everything costs way too much and they have too much junk and we need to simplify already, there always seems to be a huge pile under the tree every year. I worry that maybe by giving them so many things and nearly everything they ask for (sorry C., no Air Swimmer for you), it waters down the specialness of it all.

I wonder too, will it be the gifts they longed for that their brains will conjure up fond memories of receiving or the ones they were totally not expecting? Or will their most treasured gifts be something altogether different — the moments that made the holidays special? Like last year when Santa came Christmas Eve afternoon while we were out ice skating because Daddy had to leave early for work on Christmas Day, or the year the big guy in red tracked us down in a Miami hotel room on Christmas morning after we had spent the day before riding a bicycle built for four under palm trees?

Honestly? I hope it’s a mix of both.

What was your favorite Christmas gift given to you as a child?

Suzanne has a few fond memories of Christmas gifts and also wonders what her kids will look back on the most.

Our Two Cents: Less Gifts, More Cheer

Try these tips for trimming the holiday gift list without looking like Scrooge. ©Christy Thompson/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

In the last few years, my holiday gift list has multiplied exponentially. There are lots of little nieces and nephews to buy for now, and my siblings still insist on exchanging with each other and me.

I would be happy to not get a thing while trimming the list wherever possible. Any advice on how to scale back without coming across as Scrooge?

–Santa’s on a Budget

Amanda: I’m a big fan of the round robin method. Suzanne and I have done it with our group of friends from college and their kids and I’ve done it with my family. The important part of the round robin is that in order for it to work correctly, you need to set some parameters — how much will be spent per person (and people have to promise they will stick to that amount!), whether or not the children are a part of it (or maybe you have one round robin for the kids and one for the adults), will it be a secret process, etc.

In the gift exchanges I’ve done, every person buys for one other person. So if there are five members of your family, you buy five gifts (and will receive five in return). Deciding who gets to buy for who is part of the fun and there are many ways you can figure that out. I’ve employed a few:

  • Alphabetical — Anna buys for Craig who buys for Jennifer who buys for Sam who buys for Anna
  • Age — 2-year-old “buys” for 7-year-old who “buys” for 15-year-old who buys for 26-year-old who buys for 2-year-old
  • Random — pulling names from a hat or stocking
  • Use an online site like Elfster to handle the gift assignments

To really add to the fun, consider introducing a theme — maybe the gifts have to be a book or something that starts with the first letter of the person you are buying for.

Suzanne: Here’s how we did it in my family a few years back. My sister and I agreed that there was no need to exchange gifts among the adults when we each had a niece and nephew to buy for. So we focused on the kids and left it at that. My brother who is seven years younger than me and doesn’t have children wasn’t quite on board. Of course, I was still buying gifts for him and his wife since they didn’t have any little ones, which meant that he felt the need to reciprocate for me and my husband — in addition to buying gifts for my son and daughter. I think we finally got it straightened out last year and everyone is happy now.

Another idea for forgoing gifts is the tradition we started with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. Instead of waiting for them to catch up to us with children (we just made it even this year) we agreed to pick a date between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go to a really nice steakhouse — just the four of us — and enjoy a night of good food and conversation instead of exchanging token gifts.

So you might consider something along those lines to help in trimming your holiday gift list. And if all else fails, be brave and take the initiative to skip the gifts for a year even if there’s not a consensus. They’re bound to follow your lead next year.

***************

Has the gift-giving spun out of control at your holiday celebrations or is your thinking that more is better? How do you and your family handle gift exchanges?

Looking for advice two times over? Just drop us a note at advice@wearebothright and we will serve it right up.

That’s my iPad! Mine, mine, mine.

Forget planned obsolescence. It looks like technology manufacturers have thought of one better.

Just put your saved-all-my-latte-money-and-rewards-points-to-buy-this iPad into the hands of a toddler and it’s all but guaranteed that you will have to buy another sooner rather than later. Whoever thought of that plan is genius.

At least that’s what I’m thinking after reading about all the new apps and attachments that are coming out just in time for the holidays. Can you say crayon stylus?

Even the Brookstone catalog that arrived in the mail today has an iSomething accessory for kids on almost every page. Everything from a toy helicopter, sing-along microphone to spy robot offers the bonus of being operable via Mommy’s iPod, iPhone and/or iPad.

In other words, they are forcing us to share. Whether we like it or not.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I like to keep my pricey technology to myself. My children have plenty to keep them occupied that they don’t need to be half-owners of the phone, iPod or laptop that my husband and I just about managed to get ourselves into. It’s bad enough that our three-year-old iPod got corrupted over the weekend. I don’t think a preschooler who likes to rip it off the charger had anything to do with it, but it pains me nonetheless.

How do you feel about sharing your technology? Are you happy to hand it over once and a while? Or is it just easier to get them their own (and hope it doesn’t break too soon)?

One last question, and I guess this is my underlying hesitation about the whole thing: Do kids really need all this technology at such a young age? Sure, it’s how they will grow up, but does every toy have to be an app?

The Spirit of Christmas Pageants Past

It might not have been the role I wanted in the Christmas pageant, but one I'll never forget. ©Oriental Trading

Baa-baa.

Talk about memories. Thirty-two years later, and I remember my line from the Christmas pageant in kindergarten like it was yesterday. (I can still do my Copacabana tap dance recital number from that year too, but that’s neither here nor there.)

What is most amazing to me is how vividly I remember that day. It was my first year of Catholic school and the teachers were assembling us outside the gymatorium. Our parents were in folding chairs getting their Polaroid cameras warmed up.

Behind us in line was the afternoon class and I could see my cousin if I turned around and stood on tippie toes. They looked so cool in their drummer boy costumes, with construction paper hats they had made themselves. Not to mention that their song rocked.

And me? Well I was a sheep. Lamb. Whatever. No drum to bang. Heck, no human words to even speak.

Looking down at my costume, I wondered if I could go through with it.  My five-year-old Christmas spirit was sagging beneath the white batting my mother had secured to the fabric shirt, pants, and mitts that she lovingly sewed for me.  And at that moment, I didn’t feel any better than the lamb girl in front of me whose cotton balls were falling off before we ever made it to the stage.

I thought about being a rebel and walking in, instead of crawling on all fours as we had practiced.

Why couldn’t my name have been Mary and snagged me the starring role?

I looked sideways at the angels’ tinsel halos, wishing I was them.

And then it was go time.

Not one to shirk a role, I did my part. I smiled. And we sang:

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb: Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear what I hear?

Still to this day, when I hear that song, I smile. And sing along. Because by the time we left that stage, I had a change of heart. It could have been the rows of smiles in the audience or the Holy Spirit getting a hold of me, but I was Scrooge no longer.

At the end of the play, I crawled out while the other lambs opted to ditch their character and walk.

And then we sat stage right while the drummer boys did their thing. They were good. So I sang along to their act too.

Parumppapumpum. On my drum.

Just like I do now whenever those two songs play.

What takes you back to your childhood holidays? For Amanda, it’s a bit of time travel.

The Christmas Mornings That Weren’t

It should come to no surprise to anyone that when it comes to Christmas, there are certain (ahem) secrets that we parents keep. Aside from the big guy in red, there are presents to hide, special Santa wrapping paper to buy and other assorted tips and tricks we employ in order to ensure that our children have the happiest of Christmases and memories to look back on.

Growing up, my parents were so determined on making us have a wonderful and magical holiday season, they even dabbled in a little time travel.

christmas present MeiTeng ©/stock.xchng

The truth about Santa Claus wasn't the only secret my parents kept from me. MeiTeng ©/stock.xchng

Every Christmas Eve, it would go the same way. My maternal grandparents (Memaw and Bepaw) would come over; we’d eat; sometimes we would visit other relatives; my sister, brother and I would sing a few carols; we would call that 800 number where you could “talk” to Santa and the elves; and then it would be off to bed so the magic could happen.

And as hard as it was to fall asleep, in what seemed like no time at all (heh) I’d hear it: a booming “HO! HO! HO!” coming from the living room. We’d wipe the sleep from our eyes, race downstairs in the still-dark early morning and “wake up” our parents and grandparents (who had slept over the night before). The next few hours would go by in a blur — a riot of noise, wrapping paper, food and  of course, gifts.

Once everything had been opened, my parents would announce that it was time for a little nap and that we kids should go back into bed for a little while. Memaw and Bepaw would head home to freshen up and we’d wake a short time (heh) later, nice and refreshed for the rest of our Christmas Day.

Sounds like a lovely, typical celebration right?

It does and it was. But there was one important fact that I got completely and totally wrong. For years. And years. And when I found out the truth, boy was I traumatized (to this day, my sister still rants about it).

We actually weren’t waking up Christmas morning to open our gifts. It was still Christmas Eve night. My parents would send us to bed and then wake us up once everything was set and Santa had come to visit. Our “nap” was actually everyone going to bed and we’d wake the real Christmas morning some six- or seven-odd hours later.

Why? I’m not sure. My mom says it’s just how they did it then. That’s fine, but still, it was just a bit disconcerting to learn that the precious holiday memory that I had, wasn’t exactly what I thought it was. (Seriously, I’m 50 miles away from her and I can hear my sister starting to howl as she reads this.) Even so, the truth doesn’t change the important part of my cherished memories — that I can still hear perfectly Santa’s big voice waking us up and feeling those butterflies in my stomach as I saw the tree laden with gifts (I still get them to this day although my excitement is for my children).

These days Christmas Eve night is spent with my husband. After we finish our magic elf work, we turn off the house lights and leave on the tree ones. We pour two glasses of wine and simply sit quietly, side-by-side on our couch, reflecting on the year and our kids. The next morning will be filled with laughter and pandemonium, but in those moments I get to really focus on how lucky we are and how much love is all around us.

No matter what time we celebrate.

When do you open gifts with your children? Is there a part of your childhood Christmas memories that aren’t what you thought they were?

While we aren’t exactly disagreeing this time around, Suzanne’s most favorite holiday memory definitely happened when she thought it did.