We Are Both Right

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.

Best of: Reasons Why You’re the Meanest Mom

mean mom glanzerr©/stock.xchng

Sorry kid, if you want to go outside, you'll need to put your coat on. glanzerr©/stock.xchng

There’s an interesting little aspect of parenting that no one tells you about. Your kids may love you, but it doesn’t mean they have to like you. Especially when you are in “mean mom” mode — telling them not do something that they want to do or making them eat their vegetables or coming up with some other ridiculous “mom” rule that is completely unfair in the oh-so-silly interest of keeping them safe and healthy.

You know what we mean. One chilly morning last week (34 degrees fahrenheit), Amanda’s 11-year-old son stormed off to the school bus stop in a huff because she made him put on his coat. The horror! What’s next? A hat? Some gloves?

And that’s not all! Here are some more seemingly-obvious little rules that we’ve actually found ourselves uttering and, according to our kids, make us the meanest moms that ever lived. (Please save your phone calls to the authorities until you have reached the end of the list.)

  • No bare feet on the dinner table. (No feet on the table period.)
  • No using your little brother as a ball.
  • Your test is a week away? Great! Start studying now.
  • Jell-O is not a fruit.
  • Yes, you have to take a shower every day.
  • The ceiling fan is not the same as the monkey bars and should not be treated as such.
  • Please stop jumping on the trampoline, um, I mean couch.
  • The dog is not a horse.
  • No more slap shots with the hockey puck down the hallway.
  • You’re nine now, it’s time to use a fork.

We know we aren’t alone. Share your favorite “mean mom” moments in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

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.

Best of: Things Parents Say

red barn

"Whaddya think, we live in a barn or something?" and other great parenting one-liners... ©Robert Walker/stock.xchng

You promised yourself it would never happen. And then one day it does.

Your parent’s words come out of your mouth.

Maybe it’s a phrase that makes you sound like a cranky pants instead of the progressive parent with a degree in positive reinforcement that you are. In some cases, it’s a saying that your kids won’t have a hope of understanding now (i.e. “You sound like a broken record.”)

But the first time it happens, it’s almost like a rite of passage. You have officially adopted the universal, age-old vocabulary of parenting. And when you hear other parents using the same lines as you (like my husband and I often do), it makes you wonder if somewhere along the way there really was a parenting handbook that had to be memorized.

I never got a copy, but it’s not too late to start the e-version. So here goes…

Why do I think that you just might have a few to add?

  • She’s not my kid, you are.
  • What do you think, we live in a barn?
  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • I’m going to make you friends (perfect for siblings who are anything but)
  • Just wait until we get home.
  • I don’t have a refrigerator in here (my mom’s famous line that I’ve pulled out whenever my kids ask me for a chocolate milk, peanut butter sandwich, or a piece of cheese while we’re walking through a store and it’s obvious that all I have on me is my purse).
  • I’ll give you something to cry about (my personal favorite).
  • Hold your horses.
  • As long as you’re living under my roof…
  • Someday you’ll thank me.
  • Someday I hope your kids act like this for you.
  • You should be a lawyer (my Dad’s career advice to me at the age of five).
  • Don’t make me stop this car.
  • Why? Because I said so.
  • Watch out or your face will freeze like that.
  • Hay is for horses (handed straight down from my mom to my daughter, who thinks this saying is the cat’s meow).
  • This isn’t a democracy. It’s a dictatorship.

I haven’t had to use them all yet, but you just never know when these words of wisdom might come in handy. In the meantime, what are your favs?

Never Mind Finishing School for Manners-We Haven’t Even Started Yet

Should my daughter ever become engaged to a prince someday, I think we’ll all be in trouble. The Queen of England surely won’t approve of her habit of stirring her drink with a parmesan cheese covered fork. Or the way she turns her soup-filled spoon upside down on its way to her mouth.

Perhaps Her Majesty will be distracted by the fencing match between the fork and knife in my son’s hands. And then once he falls off his chair because he only bothered to pull it out at a 45 degree angle, the contents of the chalice carelessly left in front of his plate will spill on the 16th century antique dining table and the whole palace will be in a tizzy.

It’s not even like we can depend upon our beagle’s English roots to pull us through. Her incessant barking will add another layer of madness to the event and she’ll likely only stop long enough to sniff the Queen’s corgis and dorgis.

And there I’ll be, with my phone under the table googling which of the eight forks should be used for pheasant — too busy to notice or be embarrassed by this display of poor table manners.

On second thought, maybe instead of junior year abroad, I should send my kids to finishing school for remedial table manners. Because as much as my husband and I try our best to model good table manners and etiquette, we sometimes worry (possibly prematurely) that our children will be destined for a life of social missteps.

Not too long ago, I read an article about a weekend course for children that focused on the etiquette of meeting and greeting, answering the phone, and of course, table manners. All I could picture was kids walking 40 yards with a stack of books balanced on their heads and then sitting down for tea. It seemed a little much.

pnijhuis/stock.xchng

But during meals when I get so frustrated with my kids’ disregard for the most basic of table manners, I have been known to threaten that instead of football practice we’ll send our son to “manners school” instead. He always objects with a groan and sits up straighter.

Right now we’re working on encouraging him to shore up his social etiquette skills, especially when it comes to meeting and greeting people. The warm welcomes he gets from his former day care teachers when we drop his sister off are all too often met with blank stares in the other direction. On a good day, they’ll get a belated and cursory “hi” when we’re halfway down the hall. Part of it is the shyness gene he inherited from me — but knowing how that held me back, I want him to work through it now and realize how his response in these settings is a reflection on him (and us as parents).

On my bookshelf, I have a tattered copy of Emily Post’s book of etiquette circa 1945 (curiously enough found at the home of my non-English speaking grandmother who didn’t arrive in America until 1955). I read it for a good laugh — especially the parts about men needing a collapsible high hat should they happen to be seated in the orchestra versus the boxes at the opera and tips on how to space place settings with a string in lieu of a less-than-accurate eye.

Etiquette sure isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t aspire to have my children constrained by these standards, but there is definitely room for improvement.

How far do you have to go on table manners and etiquette with your kids?

Originally published November, 2010

11 Years Later, Still Parenting by the Seat of My Pants

There is a small potty chair in the middle of my living room. Not surprising when you consider we have a two-and-a-half-year-old living here, but downright shocking if you know my take on potty training.

No potty seats and certainly not in the living room. You learn to do your business on the toilet on a potty ring. In the bathroom.

So why do I have a toddler watching television as he attempts to go to the bathroom?

Because he’s my third child and I’m tired and desperate.

To be fair, I didn’t buy the potty seat. It was sent to me to review for one of my other writing jobs. I had considered passing it off to someone else, but then I re-evaluated my stance when S. took an interest in the box.

Now our living room is one step above a public restroom, but at least he’s sitting on an actual toilet with his pants down, which is something he wouldn’t do yesterday. (Small victories people. It’s all about the small, strange victories when you’re a mom.)

potty training chair arm and hammer potty munchkin

We do need a new chair for the living room, but I was thinking recliner. ©Arm & Hammer/Munchkin

The potty ring isn’t the only way I’ve changed in my style of mothering. With nearly nine years separating kid number one from kid number three it isn’t surprising that we do things differently (and a are a bit more relaxed). As a one-week old, youngest child S. was being carted around to Little League games where I would nurse him in the stands and chat with the other moms and dads. When our eldest C. was a week old, we would maybe, possibly venture out for a walk if the weather was just perfect. If we were in public when it was time for him to nurse I’d whisk him away to a private place where we would be left alone.

Obviously, my thoughts (and consequently my parenting style) have changed on lots of things — some major, some minor — and while I’m not shocked by it, I am interested in my evolution from a know-it-all-yet-panicked first-time mom to a quite zen, oh-let-him-drink-soda-once-in-a-while third-time mommy.

And apparently a woman who encourages public urination.

How has your parenting style changed over the years? What is one thing you swore you’d never do that you do now?

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary (Toddler Edition)

©the_franz/stock.xchng

If my toddler had his way today, I would have been spending a lot of my time in the naughty chair. ©the_franz/stock.xchng

I love annoying my kids. I’m a mom, it’s my right to do it and I take full advantage. I turn the radio up in the minivan and sing my favorite ’80s hits to my heart’s content. Now that my older two are 8 and 11, I happily beat them in every board game we play.  I openly steal candy from their Halloween bags. When it’s time to wake them up in the morning I turn on the lights and sing joyful tunes.

Yep, I’m that person when it comes to my kids and I’m proud.

The great thing is, they are never really angry with me — they may roll their eyes, but usually it’s all good. Until today when my toddler decided that having me as a mom wasn’t as peachy as it usually is.

I don’t know why, but he was in a bad mood all day. Maybe he was tired, hopefully he’s not getting sick — whatever, he was just really cranky and no matter what I did he was not happy about it. The thing was, his reactions to me were hysterical and I would laugh. Which would make him more mad.

It started early in the day. After his siblings got on the bus we headed out with a small to-do list — Kohl’s and then the park. “Kohl’s first,” I told him, “and then we will go to the playground.” His response was quick and cross. “NO! Park first, Kohl’s second.” We went back and forth for a few minutes with our bickering and then pulled into the shopping center parking lot. Sorry buddy, mommy always wins.

That I made him ride in the store stroller made him all the more mad. He complained the whole trip until we hit the registers, when another mom asked if she could have our cart when I was done. We were heading to the parking lot and I only had one bag so I took S. out right away and let her put her daughter in. Oh the horror. My son, who had just been whining for the past half hour about having to stay confined while we shopped suddenly wanted back in. “MY STROLLER!” he yelled all the way to our car. “NOT FOR GIRL! MINE! I SIT! NO GIRL, YOU NO SIT!”

I thought the playground would cheer him up and it did for a little while (although he wanted to go to one park and I took him to another). Until I had to repeatedly scold him for playing in the dirt. After the third time I told him if he did it again we were going home. He stood up angrily and marched over to the slide. “YOU NO LOOK AT ME MOMMY. YOU NO LOOK AT ME ANY MORE.” Anytime I would turn to face him he’d screech, finally causing him to bring him home anyway (we might have been garnering a little bit of attention).

The rest of the day was more of the same. I’d say something or do something (wrong) and he’d pitch a fit over it. For me it was like taking care of a pint-sized Sybil, for him it was like having Joan Crawford for a mother.

At lunch, I didn’t put enough peanut butter on his peanut butter crackers. At naptime, I put the wrong books in his crib. After dropping his sister off at religion, when I told him not to take off his sneakers in the car, he told me I was being naughty and I needed to sit in the naughty chair. Tonight when I put his (usually beloved) fire truck pajamas on him he screamed because they have buttons and he wanted to pull up the zipper.

Today was just one of those days for S. I could have brought Elmo to our house for a party and he would have yelled that he wanted Cookie Monster. He’s entitled though — I certainly have enough cranky moments. Just because a person is two it doesn’t preclude them from being in a bad mood. And while I didn’t like being on the receiving end of his tirades, I certainly found some of his frustrations to be adorable.

Does your toddler ever have bad days? How do you help him through it?

Thankful for a Thanksgiving Table with Room for Everyone

© We Are Both Right

© We Are Both Right

My 7-year-old self would have been very lonely at a kids’ table on Thanksgiving. Every year we celebrated at my maternal grandparent’s house (Memaw and Bepaw) and I was the only grandchild on that side of the family at that time (my sister is nine years younger than me, my brother 11).

But not only would my younger self been sitting by my her lonesome at a table, she probably would have been pretty annoyed too. My Memaw and Bepaw made a big fuss over Thanksgiving, always including me in the preparation process. I can remember spending many “Thanksgiving Eve’s” at their home helping to get everything ready. After a big slumber party, we’d all wake up early and put the turkey in the oven. I’d help snap string beans and set the table while we waited for the other guests to arrive. And when it was time to carve, I’d dutifully stand by my Bepaw’s side as he worked, happy to accept any samples he was willing to slip me (lots).

The Thanksgiving meal, and the buildup to it, was (and still is) always about family. If after spending all that wonderful time with my grandparents I had been relegated to sit away from all the grown-ups, I think I might have been a little hurt. Now obviously our situation was different as there was only at most on any given year, three children at our Thanksgiving table, but still, I liked being with the grownups. Being a part of the conversation. And the family.

And even if the house had been teaming with kids, I’m still not sure the idea of a kids’ table on Thanksgiving (or any holiday for that matter) would have been a good fit for us, then and now. I mean, in our family anyway, we make a big deal about eating dinner together every night. Why, on what is arguably the most special meal of the year, would I separate myself from the people I love the most?  (Wow, that came out a lot more heavy-handed and judge-y than it sounded in my head.)

It’s true though. For me, Thanksgiving is about family and three-fifths of my immediate one all happen to be under five feet tall (although my 10-year-old is closer and closer to negating that  by the second) and are too young to know what a VCR is. Does that automatically mean they should have to sit by themselves? (Only if they start making fun of us for having to fast-forward to get to the good parts.)

And from a practical standpoint, I think a kids’ table is actually more stressful for parents, especially if younger children are part of the dining entourage. I’m constantly being asked to cut up food, mop up milk, pour more milk — the closer the proximity to the children and their places, the faster I can put out fires and get back to my own meal (and if there are lots of other adults at the table, that means there are lots more hands to help).

In any case, for our family, this year there is no need to even question the need for a kids’ table. We have a lot going on later on in this holiday season so in the interest of maximizing our family time,  T. and I decided that the main part of the Thanksgiving meal will be spent at our home, just us five.

And when we are finished, we will head over to my sister’s house for dessert  – where the little ones will be happily dispersed amongst the grownups.

Where do your kids sit for the Thanksgiving meal?

Originally published November, 2010

It’s Always More Fun at the Thanksgiving Kids’ Table

When I was a kid, with nine cousins over a fifteen-year age span, the kids’ table at holiday dinners was the hot spot.

It was the stuff memories are made of — clams oreganato eating contests, smack talk about the Monopoly game underway, and brainstorms for yet another original theatrical performance which we would always make the adults endure before coffee was served. (I still remember being pretty bummed when I finally graduated to the adult table as a senior in high school.)

The tradition of a holiday kids’ table still exists in our family, although most of the time now it’s an appendage to the main dining table as opposed to the exclusive seating we had at my parent’s house. There are also less kids overall, with the max being four on either side of the family.

Not quite the level of excitement it used to be — but for me the kids’ table is always more fun. Since this is a holiday from work, I would much rather be debating our favorite episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba (and whether Lance Rock was wearing the orange sneakers or the white) than haranguing about mid-term elections.

falconreid/stock.xchng

For Thanksgiving this year it will just be my two — so we’re planning to take the far end of the table which actually juts out into the foyer of my in-laws’ house. It will still be decorated with linens and china, but we skip the wine glasses and keep the bowl of cranberry sauce snuggly planted at the other end of the table. This arrangement also allows the kids a quick escape when they’ve had their fill on the first course and we excuse them until the turkey comes out later in the afternoon.

Mainly it was out of necessity that my husband and I started sitting at the Thanksgiving kids’ table when our son was a toddler. Someone had to take the place of honor at the far end and it might as well have been us, since we needed to hop up and down on a moment’s notice.

But neither of us seemed to mind the “preferred seating” and we plan to keep our spots until the incoming nieces/nephews bump us over to adult territory.

For reasons that include peace of mind, I hope the tradition of the kids’ table lives on until my children pass the final exam at the etiquette school I keep threatening to send them to. (Or until there are enough other little kids running around that no one can pinpoint just who spilled the ketchup on the new, creamy white, fabric-covered dining room chair.)

Will there be a Thanksgiving kids’ table at your celebration next week? Was there one when you were a kid?

Originally published November, 2010