Thursday, December 31, 2009

New memories made with toddler-proof tree

Post-Crescent column: Dec. 19, 2009

For the past couple of winters, my husband, Josh, and I have been trying to embrace a more child-friendly way of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree.

Our toddler daughter Mihret has had no problem getting her arms around what to us is a major change in tradition.

When we first got married about 10 years ago, we delighted in heading to Wal-Mart and picking out our first boxed evergreen. We'd each brought ornaments to our new home and couldn't wait to see them up on the tree.

Every Christmas after that, when the tree was twined with tinsel and lights, we'd turn back the years with our decorating. Each trip around the tree with a carefully chosen ornament in hand was like another step down memory lane.

We good-naturedly bickered over where to display the toilet-paper-tube-and-glitter cylinder that Josh crafted as a preschooler. We hooked and hung the glass balls that are heirloom ornaments from his family.

From my box, I pulled out a unicorn, a praying girl and others I'd received as gifts while growing up.

The bookworm that reads nestled inside a hollowed-out plastic apple ... the USS Enterprise that perches on a branch ... the theater masks ... the pianos. The tree practically shouts out "Patterson." One by one, the ornaments reveal the days of our lives, first apart and then together.

Because Mihret, who's very curious, still puts lots of little things in her mouth that aren't food, our tree won't see the light of day until next year.

Our replacement is a plush tree with oversized, colorful buttons. Recently, we helped Mihret loop plush nativity and winter-themed figures around the buttons.

I miss curling up on our couch and staring into the Christmas lights. But I have to say it warms my heart to watch Mihret hugging her very own little tree.

By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer/

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Santa Thoughts, of the Mama Variety

This year Mihret is starting to really get into VeggieTales.

She loves to watch Larry the Cucumber, Bob the Tomato and all their talking and singing veggie pals tell Bible stories and other great stories with lessons behind them, and sing "Silly Songs."

One of her favorite VeggieTales DVDs, from Nona and Papa in Indiana (Thank you again!), is about the legend of St. Nicholas, VeggieTale-ized. Mihret asked for it again and again in the days leading up to Christmas.

Josh and I both like the research, detail, clever dialogue and song lyrics by the VeggieTales creators and staff. Mihret is mesmerized by the animation and music and can explain parts of the story in her own way.

We purposefully didn't focus on Santa this year, and we're purposefully considering _not_ bringing Santa home, in the conventional sense.

But for me, what it will be important to tell Mihret is the story of St. Nick - the generous man of long ago who is the inspiration for the Santa story.

We'll tell her that St. Nicholas was inspired by the words and teachings of our greatest Teacher ever, the one whose birthday we symbolically celebrate on December 25, Christmas day. Because of this, St. Nicholas (before he became "St." Nicholas) thought about those in need and gave to them despite hardship for himself.

Mihret needs to know that we give out of the love that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have placed in our hearts. That's why we open gifts (like VeggieTales DVDs :) ) from loved ones on Christmas.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Happens

This year, due to the fact that Kara and I now have a daughter capable of understanding basic concepts, we had to deal with the question of whether or not Santa exists.

Believe it or not, this is something we started struggling with before we even had a child. We'd put up the tree, and lay the gifts underneath it, and more often than not the gifts contained few surprises.

In fact, one year, we stuffed the majority of the gits into one large gift bag, and pulled them all out on the correct day.

I suppose this kills some of the "magic" of Christmas, but it worked for us. We lived in an apartment for the first six years of our marriage, and frankly, trying to buy and/or order gifts, and then find a place to hide them for days, weeks, or months was far more work than the "moment of surprise" was worth. It also led to a couple of mix-ups, like the year I got her the same book for Christmas twice.

But I was talking about Santa.

For the last three years, we've done gift-opening at our house with the small child present. The first year, she was more interested in playing with the paper. Especially the whole putting-it-in-her-mouth kind of playing.

Last year, she didn't quite get the idea of unwrapping gifts, so she opened two or three and then wandered off. A month later, on her birthday, she seemed to get it a little more, and opened all the gifts. She played with them for a few minutes, and then wandered off to do other things.

She was, after all, a new two, and they aren't exactly known for intense periods of concentration.

Since Mihret barely got the idea of presents, Kara and I opted out of emphasizing, or de-emphasizing, Santa. Not that we had a problem with the guy, but it struck us that telling our daughter a story about a guy that doesn't exist when she barely gets the idea that a book has to be read in a certain order was probably not going to accomplish much.

Then we got to this year.

It's clear, at this point, that Mihret gets the iconography aspect of Santa. She can point him out to you in a store.

Of course, she can also point out penguins and snowmen. Which don't bring gifts. Unless I missed a Christmas special, which is always possible.

And this year, like the last few years, Kara and I didn't feel compelled to buy a lot of gifts. We had a few coming from the grandparents, and frankly, she has a ho-jillion toys, and games, and various and sundry other things that she is only just starting to understand.

(Games are still something of an issue. My mother kindly gave us a memory game. It had fifty-some cards. I took Mihret to her room, where we had some floor space, and started setting up the cards. After I got about twenty cards down, she kicked them, which scattered them everywhere.

I told her that they weren't supposed to be used that way, and set up all the cards, while watching the little one closely to make sure there would be no more kicking.

Then I tried to play Memory with her. I'd pick up two cards, and say, "They don't match." and then put them down. She'd pick up four cards in a row, and then I had to put them back because she didn't get that there was a pattern.

Finally, I got a match. Then I helped her get a match. Then she picked up two random cards and tried to keep them, even though they didn't match.

I had her put the cards back. I got three matches, and she got two. Then she came over, and stole all my cards, and walked out of the room. Game over. Clearly, my little one is not Memory-ready.)

In the midst of all the gift-setting-up, Kara and I debated the idea of Santa. We read about him a bit in some books for the kiddo. We considered talking him up.

And in the end?

We just didn't bother to mention this guy this year.

Having talked to various people over the last couple of months about Santa, we just aren't sure what the point of the big red guy is.

Well, okay, we found one: You can use Santa to keep your kids in line for a month or so.

Sometimes, anyway. At least, my memory is that mom and dad would sometimes pull the "Santa is watching!" card. Which would make me behave for perhaps five minutes.

But for all that, I'm not sure that I got anything out of the Santa mythos. Today, I don't remember "who" I got most of my gifts from. Even items from my grandparents vs. my parents are a blur, much less the collective figment of everyone's imagination.

And while "losing" Santa wasn't all that traumatic for me (at least, not as I recall), I know that a lot of parents spend years trying to ascertain where their kids are on the Santa spectrum. Is it time to tell them? Do they already know?

Trying to explain where babies come from is hard enough. Why add another story that you eventually have to explain away?

Ultimately, all the gifts in our house came from a living relative, and with any luck, Mihret will remember who got her some of the gifts so she can thank them.

Eventually, of course, Mihret will go to school, and her friends will start telling her how awesome Santa is. And if we need to change our tactics, Kara and I can talk about it then.

But for now, Mihret is Santa-free, and aware as she can be that her family and friends love her very much. And that's good enough for us.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bring On the Night

A lot of conversations Kara and I have with other parents are about our nighttime schedule.

The first question we always ask is, "What time do your kids go to bed?" Then we get the answer, and we weep inside with envy.

Here's why:

Just about everyone we know, with kids under age three, put their kids down at 8 PM. 8:30 at the latest.

Why do we weep inside with envy?

Because on any given weeknight, the little one is awake until 9:30 PM.

When people hear this, their reaction is often mild shock... as if we keep the kid up late into the night, playing poker and watching late-night cable.

But no. Trust us, we'd love for the kid to head to bed at 8. And in fact, on weekends, when the little one refuses to take a nap, she'll often conk out somewhere between 8 and 8:15, tiny dark circles dancing under her eyes.

No, our options, as far as bedtime goes, are:

1. Try to put the kid to bed before 9:30. Then get up every five minutes to give mama a hug, go potty, get water, wash our hands, or some other such task that if you say no to, she'll scream, cry, and fight until she's EVEN MORE awake, thereby making bedtime 10 or 10:30 or 11 instead of 9:30.


2. Put the kid to bed at 9:30.

Even that, however, comes with it's own set of troubles.

First, there's the bath. We do one every night, since it's supposed to help calm the kid and, frankly, she's still in diapers and wipes can only take off so much... uh... matter. As it were.

Secondly, we do lotion. Gotta keep the kid moist. Especially now, as it's getting colder and dryer, Mihret tends to get ashy if we don't lotion her up every night.

Third, we put on the pajamas. Sometimes, this is easy. Sometimes, Mihret wants to get down and dance on the floor. Have I mentioned that even if I'm putting her into pajamas at 9 PM, she's often still WIDE AWAKE? No? Because she totally is. She's raring to go.

Then, we're off to mom and dad's bedroom to read stories. We do this for as long as it takes to get to 9:20.

Then we have two options.

1. I take the little one to her room, where she asks to get up to go potty every three minutes, because she's in the middle of potty training and KNOWS we will not deny her. Plus she's figured out how to hold back some widdle, so that she can go over and over again. Six times in one night, even. She's done it.

2. Or, we can flick off all the lights upstairs, and wait for the little one to fall asleep on our bed while the family cuddles. Which is what we do, because this takes a LOT less time, and also, I don't have to sit on the floor for twenty minutes waiting for the wee one to pass out.

This takes about ten minutes, at which point I can put her in her room, turn on her night music, and close the door.

Only this, too, is not the end of the night.

Because, somewhere between 2 and 6 AM, our daughter will wake up, and mosey into our room.

Sometimes, I wake up, and stick her in our bed.

Sometimes, I don't wake up, and still manage to stick her in our bed, allowing me to wake up with a tiny warm spot in my back that doesn't feel Kara-sized.

Now, for the longest time, Kara and I were anti-child-in-bed. And then one day we realized, we could either (wow, check out all these numbered lists!)

1. Bring the little one in our bed and get some sleep.

2. Put Mihret into her own bed, often kicking and screaming, and sit there for an hour, until she falls asleep, and then stumble back to our own bed, and pass out, until an hour later when we either had to get up or, more likely, Mihret would get up again and once again come into our room, so we could lose another hour of sleep trying to get her to go back to bed.

Now, I'm not complaining too hard. At this point, we've at least got a pattern, which is more than some folks got.

But is it so wrong to want that 8 PM bedtime all week? Is it wrong to want to tell the day care to stop making our kid nap?

Because if that's wrong, I don't want to be right some mornings.