Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Mini-Poll: If you celebrate Christmas, when do you decorate? When do you take it all down?

I decorate whenever it's convenient, though always during Advent. I undecorate when it's convenient too, though I try to do it around Epiphany, 12th Night, the 12th Day of Christmas, January 6th, the day we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men with gifts for the infant Christ. Last year everything came down early because we were sure that Adelaide's arrival was imminent. We were, of course, quite wrong.

The first hurdle for me is removing all the autumn decorations and cleaning the house (straightening and dusting). Then we decorate all together as a family with carols on the stereo and eggnog in our cups. Well, that part's just for Ellie and me. And really Paul hangs most of the ornaments on the tree. I unwrap them and hand them to him or Ellie. Ellie takes what she wants and runs around the house with it, excited about all the new stuff. Ada just watches and plays with the wrapping paper at this point.

My mother's parents decorated on Christmas Eve, so that when she and her brothers came downstairs on Christmas morning, the newly installed tree was part of the big reveal.

We had a good Christmas this year, and a lovely visit with my family at my parents' house. We won't see Paul's family this year, which does suck, and all their gifts (so many!) are still piled under our tree. Maybe we'll dive into the pile this weekend, or maybe we'll celebrate on New Year's Day. Why not? It's a holiday and the tree will still be up!

Ellie was very excited about Christmas this year, lighting candles on the advent wreathe she made in Sunday School, opening doors in her advent calendar, talking about baby Jesus, and watching Shrek the Halls daily throughout December. I'm not entirely sure that she's differentiating between Eddie Murphy's Dreamworks character and Mary's transportation into Bethlehem, but more's the fun, right? I mean, don't you think Eddie Murphy's Donkey would be an excellent addition to the nativity?

Unfortunately, she was very sick on Christmas Day. I was really worried about her. She wasn't having GI issues, and she wasn't running a fever. She was, however, completely uninterested in food, touch, or interaction, and she was terribly lethargic. Just when we were about to start loading up the van on the morning of the 26th to drive back down to see her doctor, if not go directly to Children's Hospital, suddenly pink flowed back into her cheeks and lips, and she ate a little breakfast. She's a little whiny but otherwise back to normal now, and we're keeping an eye on her. Both girls and I are congested, but what could cause such a strange illness? I'm still clueless.

I had a little bout of illness myself; on Saturday night I developed mastitis. That afternoon, my breast started hurting. I just figured that someone had been a little too rough with it; my breasts are community property after all. But by dinner time it was hurting worse, and by the time our friends left that night, I was running a fever, shaking and miserable, and my breast was throbbingly sore.

I woke up Ada and had her nurse for an hour, then took some Tylenol (should have been Ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory effects; I switched over in the morning after my fever was decreased enough to allow internet research) and went to bed, sleeping with my breast on an electric hot pad. Set too high.

My nursing shirt must have slipped open, because I have an impressive blister on the underside of my breast, which I didn't notice for a couple of days until Paul pointed it out to me. I didn't even feel it, because my breast was so sore. But it was worth it; the treatment (ibuprofen, frequent nursing, self-breast-massage, and heat) worked: my fever never broke 101 and I didn't need to go to the doctor or get antibiotics. Hooray for my body!

Other than that, we're all tired, happy to be home, and ready for a little rest. I was thinking that if I had the sort of blog where I assigned nicknames to my family members, I'd call Paul Major Whiny. Or, maybe, Captain Passive-Aggressive. But then I realized that he could probably just call me "Ms. Pot" (as in, calling the kettle black).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Exposing My Ignorance

How does it work in political systems that have both a prime minister and a president? I understand the parliamentary system and how a prime minister is elected (at least in Great Britain), but how does a president fit in? What's the division of authority? Is it a little like having both a president and a CEO at a company? Actually, I find that a bit confusing, too. Do you have any suggestions for places to go do quick-and-very-easy research?

I am also lacking in hiring babysitter smarts.

I keep not thinking about New Year's Eve, because it's still so far in the future. It's after Christmas, after all, and that's unimaginably far away. Except that it's not. And our usual 13-year-old has all-night plans.

We don't have enough youth sitters. Finding kids you like and know and trust enough is hard, when your own kids are so much younger and most of the families you know well have children the same age as your own.

Also, the window for being a good sitter is so small. You're too young and possibly afraid of the dark or not allowed out after 9:00, and then suddenly you can drive and you're in drama club and you're way too cool for babysitting on Saturday nights. The 3-4 year window goes by so fast, and most people agree that younger is mostly better; younger kids are eager to impress, harder-working, less concerned with appearances. And less likely to bring over their boyfriends.

But I think our New Year's Eve job would be a pretty cool gig for some 12-year-old girl. We'll be going out after the kids are asleep, so if all goes according to plan, she won't have to actually do anything. She can just hang out here with a girlfriend, eating snacks, watching movies, and drinking sparkling grape juice while ringing in the new year. There's the fun of being away from home, the beauty of eating someone else's food and getting paid for it, and no real work! What's not to love?

Maybe I'll skip teaching Sunday School on Sunday in favor of hanging out in the Middle School classroom and looking for the kids who don't look quite cool enough to have been invited to all-night parties yet.

Any tips?

And the Girls Met Santa and All Was Good

I miss writing. I love December, but things are pretty uncreative around here if I'm not even finding the time to blog!

The silver lining is that January is usually cold and dark and depressing; the excitement of the holiday season is over and there's nothing immediate to look forward to. By "holiday season," I mean September through December, including my birthday, Ellie's birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. What's not to love?!

Wait, I forgot the lining. After all that excitement, January is a bit of a let-down. But this year I can promise myself that, amidst all the exercising I'll be doing, I will also be taking time to WRITE again, which makes me feel happy and good in ways that nothing else really touches.

So, yay for January!

In the meantime, here's a writer joke.
A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Catching Up With Me

This morning, I fell asleep sitting up. Holding Ada. Fortunately, I am good at this and neither of us was injured. I did have a weird dream, though.

Too many weeks of insufficient sleep have rendered me semi-human. And ah haf uh code. I've got a Kleenex affixed to my nostrils as I type this, which I'm sure you're glad to know. Worse, Ellie's got a little congestion too and Ada has that face-like-a-glazed-doughnut thing going on. Sorry to all we've germed upon. No one seems sick, though, just snotty.

Our open house was Sunday, and I think it went well. I was surprised that about 40 people showed up, given the weather and timing. Hopefully, many of them had fun! I found it humorous that most of our younger friends came and went early, and the last people here were some of our older friends. By older I mean our parents' age, so older than us, but very young-at-heart. Which was fun. And fie upon those of you who came, dropped your white elephant gifts, and left again without taking one of ours! On a related note, would anyone like a pizzelle maker?

My Christmas shopping is done (!) and we're addressing Christmas cards tonight; we're trying to pare the list way back this year and we've cut to 86 families, though that number will increase as we reply to cards we receive this week and next. Hopefully, soon we'll be able to sit in front of the TV and wrap more presents. It's nice to have the pressure off: the shopping's done, the open house is over, the cards are nearly ready to mail, the house is clean and decorated, there are cookies everywhere.

What am I forgetting?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Family of Origin

I am very close to my family. My parents are still married, and my grandparents were married, too, until, one-by-one, they each died. That sounds confusing. But I don't mean that my grandparents were in an unusual 4-way marriage. I think you know what I mean. Moving right along. I have two younger sisters.

We have each had our personal problems, of course. But up until relatively recently, I would have told you that as a family, we were pretty much perfect. Growing up, we had family game nights, and we still do. We had family bike rides, all in our matching helmets. (Oh, how I hated that. No one wore helmets back then.) We still go on family walks when we get together at the holidays, each sub-family - all three girls are married now - with its own dog loping alongside.

After I had Ellie, and she was so sick, and things were hard, I began to turn inward. Gradually, I began to define "family" as Paul and Ellie, and define "home" as St. Louis rather than my parents' family, my parents' house.

Perhaps I began this process when my mother insisted that we come to their house for Christmas that first year, when Ellie was 2 months old, had been diagnosed with failure to thrive, and had heart surgery scheduled for a couple of weeks after Christmas. Our house was clean and decorated - we hosted family for her baptism a few days after Christmas - but my mother wanted us to drive 300 miles with that sick little baby, through the snow, to her house for Christmas. In retrospect, I can't believe that we did it, but at that time, not having Christmas with my family seemed inconceivable.

Over time, I've begun to feel uncomfortable with other things about my relationship with my family, specifically about the role I play.

When we go to visit my parents, it's hard not to be lazy, to feel like it's a vacation and surely someone else can take care of . . . the cooking, the dishes, whatever. (Exception: the kids. I never expect someone else to change diapers, help Ellie onto the potty, or watch the girls, unless they offer. The girls are my - and Paul's - personal responsibility just like going to the bathroom and showering myself are my responsibilities, iykwim. Baseline expectation of myself: basic hygiene and taking care of my children. Though I do expect my family to want to spend time playing with my girls. After all, they don't get to see them every month.)

It's also hard not to fall back into the predictable patterns of interaction, especially when people are treating me like they expect me to react the way I used to. You know, when I was a kid. This is uncomfortable, because I'm not a kid, and I don't want to be the kid I was.

I also don't like the specific part I've been assigned. People like to do things; we all reflect back happily on fun things we've done as a family, and some people complain if we sit around and do nothing, but getting the large group of easily distractable people to mobilize in concert is a Herculean (or Sisyphean) task.

I am the cheerleader, the ringleader, the bossy first child, the A-type personality, the boss. Just roll your eyes and follow along, folks.

If I don't start the conversation and marshall it along, the conversation often does not happen. I'm not just talking about which movie we should see on a Friday night, I'm also talking about which dates everyone is planning to be there, so that we can adjust work schedules and overlap our visits to my parents' house. So it's chaos and last minute scrambling and lots of time just sitting.

And it's become a family joke that Sarahlynn always wants to play board games. Of course, everyone likes playing games, and they frequently play even when I'm not there to suggest it.

But when I'm around, it's done with a let's-humor-Sarahlynn attitude, because that's my role. I don't like that role. I don't like being cast as the one who wants, who needs, the family and its corny-but-fun activities more than everyone else. It makes me feel like the worst parts of being a very young teenager again, with the seeking to belong, the fear of rejection.

It's not like all these issues are new. Some of them have been around for a long, long time; I've just been denying them. One summer, when I was home on break from university, my middle sister kept her diary on my computer. She didn't bother to password protect it; she just typed out her thoughts and plans and frustrations into my keyboard all summer. "I hate Sarah," she wrote. "She's such an ugly fat pig." And so on.

Over Thanksgiving, I overheard her talking to my mother. (When will they realize that I have always had very good hearing?) "Sarahlynn is acting just like she did back in high school," MiddleSis said. "She's totally . .. blah blah blah." I don't choose to remember it anymore; it was ugly. Also untrue.

So I decided to leave that afternoon and come back to St. Louis early. (That wasn't the only reason; there were lots of good reasons to come back here on Saturday, rather than Sunday, and we were all glad for the extra night's sleep in our own rooms, the extra day's rest at home before Monday.) In the car, on the way home, Paul and I talked a lot about what happened, and the ways in which being with our families can be stressful. The end result is that we can't and don't expect anyone else to change, and that we're all imperfect people. We can only monitor our responses and adjust our expectations. Hopefully, the Christmas visit will go more smoothly.

It seems that, perhaps, my picture-perfect family never really has been so picture perfect underneath, no matter how much I wanted that to be so, and believed that it was so. Here I am, in my 30's, surprised that we're an ordinary family with ordinary problems, after all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

Well, not yet, he doesn't. But he wants one. See, I wasn't kidding a few days ago when I threatened to write about Paul's Christmas present.

Christmas 1997. I was making $8.81 an hour as an editorial assistant, and my student loan payments had just kicked in - I was 6 months past college graduation.

It was my first Christmas with Paul; we'd been together 11 months. I knew that he wanted a nice bag to carry to class and work, an over-the-shoulder bag rather than a backpack.

I spent what was, for me at the time, a lot of money at L.L. Bean or Land's End - I always get those two confused - and got Paul a great, personalized, leather-trimmed bag. He was suspicious and I believe in the importance of surprise, so I wrapped in a long, flat package along with several of my big college textbooks, but he knew what it was before he opened it, anyway. Disappointing. But he did like the bag and used it.

More disappointing was the fact that some months later, his parents got him a more expensive, all leather bag and he never used mine again.

This year he wants a new laptop bag, and he wants a backpack this time (after all, he's been carrying an over-the-shoulder bag for 10 years now). No problem, right? I'll tell his parents and they can get him a very nice new bag.

But no.

Paul wants me to get the bag for him, presumably to make up for ditching my last bag in favor of a nicer one from his parents. Sigh. You mean I'm going to have to let this go? After all these years?

Alas. I've looked around online a little but not fallen in love with any non-bulky laptop backpacks. Any suggestions? Do any of you have one that you love?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Our Fault, You Know

Why do so many toddlers live on french fries, cheese, pizza, pasta, and chicken fingers? It's seen as such an inevitable part of growing up, but it really doesn't have to be.

It's because we parents are lazy, we're weak, we confuse food with love, we confuse giving our children what they say they want with giving our children what they need, what will really make them happy.

Ellie has long been an unusually good eater. She didn't discover cheeseburgers and french fries until she was 3-1/2 (a feat that's practically unheard of amongst her peers). She still doesn't eat chicken fingers or toasted ravioli, though she really does love pizza and pasta these days. Fortunately, she still eats other things as well. She likes corn, she loves spinach souffle, and when I make crock-pot-roast, she'll eat the mushrooms and carrots all night long.

But I have become lazy. I've started feeding her foods that are easy to purchase, store, and prepare. I've started feeding her the foods that I like to eat rather than the foods that are best for her. Heating up a Lean Pocket for lunch is easier than, well, just about anything else, even a sandwich with healthful sides.

When Ellie started preschool, she was 15 months old and not yet walking. Later that year, she did learn to walk, but would plop down onto the ground whenever she got tired, no matter where she was, and her teachers were always trying to cajole her into walking a little further. Eventually, they hit upon broccoli bribery.

"Ellie, if you walk all the way back to the classroom on your own, we'll give you some broccoli!"


When Ellie was little, she loved purees (which Paul made for her from fresh, organic vegetables and fruits). Now she's slightly interested in them again as I feed them to Ada, and that's OK with me. Alas, poor Ada gets store-bought purees, which she frequently declines to eat, favoring whatever we're having, and I don't blame her one bit. Such is the plight of the second child.

But I'll feed my girls pureed vegetables until they're 18, if they'll accept them, or add them to their quesadillas, pizzas, and soups, as well as continuing to offer fresh fruits and veggies with meals. Keeping and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables is harder, of course, as fresh foods tend to spoil quickly, which is why we drift into "easier" patterns over time.

At least the girls are getting important nutrients on my lazy days, even if they're not developing the best eating habits. (Puzzler: how to convince a child who can't stand the texture of raw vegetables to eat them? Or the slime of fruit?)

But let's not look too far from home when looking for causes in today's obesity epidemic. Our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children are not so affected by commercials that they're driving themselves to McDonald's and buying their own junk food.

We're the parents. We stock the pantries, we drive the cars, we control the money, we should be monitoring the television. It's our fault.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Glamorous Vacation

I had some dental work done yesterday, the kind that involved 8 injections and some intimate time with a drill. Some of you might recall that I am a bit phobic about the dentist.

Don't feel too sorry for me, though; I only felt the first 3 shots in their full glory, despite the topical numbing agent. I didn't feel the next two at all, and the last three were but mere pinches. In my gums. And only the second filling got contaminated by those bleeding gums, requiring redrilling and touch-up work. So today my jaw is still sore from tensing it so hard while keeping my mouth wide open for two hours.

But I digress a little.

While waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, I managed to read the first three chapters of my new novel. Well, not my new novel, but you get the idea. I didn't have spend that time worrying about the baby, since Paul took the day off and stayed home with her.

And, for me, I was unusually relaxed. My fingernails didn't even draw blood while clenching into the opposite hand in my good luck squeeze position.

Even the dentist noticed.

"You know, I see some mothers of young children who say that it's actually a bit of a relaxing break to sit here and have a cavity drilled. It's funny that anyone enjoys this."

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was it. Sure, I was enduring one of my least favorite activities in the world, but, hey, I got a morning off!

And then Paul, the girls, and I all went out to lunch together, where I realized that I couldn't even slup water neatly, though I did manage my milkshake nicely, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Here, Fishy Fishy

Silly face:

Ada's a little scary. She's 10 months old. She talks some, uses some sign, looks very serious and wise, and seems to understand things that she should not. Like when she was 8 months old and someone across the room said, "Quack," and she replied, "Duck." And like yesterday, when she pointed to a picture of herself on the computer (actually, just a picture of her head - alongside her sister's, cousin's, and cousin-dog's, but she pointed to herself - atop an elf's dancing body) saying her name over and over. And like today, when she was happily chewing on a teething toy and occasionally holding it out to me, for my inspection.

"Ada, you've got a fish! Does it taste good?"

She looked at me like I was a little nuts, then crawled over to the fish tank and held her fish-shaped teether against the glass for a while.

I don't quite know what to do with this child, so I'm just enjoying her.

And her big sister, too, though I jinxed things by posting that I couldn't remember Ellie's last potty accident, prompting one accident a day for 4 days in a row. Whew.

Ada also plays "Where's Ada's nose? Mommy's nose? Where are Ada's eyes?" etc. I assume that's normal for this age. I'm really enjoying not knowing, not worrying, this time around. Ellie broke her brief cycle of daily accidents by initiating an entire potty cycle by herself and not telling me about it until afterward, including taking off her naptime pull-up and throwing it away. Amazing.

Huh. That's not what I was going to write about at all. This was going to be all about Paul's Christmas present this year. Guess you'll have to wait a little longer, honey.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas To-Do List

I love this time of year, but I'm also (always) a bit overwhelmed by it.

Chopping down the tree
Writing Christmas letters
Christmas pictures/cards
Assembling and addressing, etc.
Cooking, baking, cooking, baking
Cleaning the house
Decorating the house and tree
Favors for the open house
Shopping for the open house
Preparing for the open house
Parties to attend, Secret Santa surprises to coordinate
Advent lessons to prepare
Christmas shopping

I'm doing a lot of this in my own way. We have the picture (just the girls, this year) and are close to ordering the photo cards. I'm working on the letter, which we will fold into envelopes with the photo cards. Paul will do the addressing, etc. I like the idea of homemade cards, but that's just not feasible. How many end-of-year/Christmas/holiday cards do you send? We send 100. I've cut way back to get to 100, and have experienced squawking when I tried to cut further. So no new friends can get cards until older friends die. Sorry. 100 is the limit. Because I'm married to Paul, we have a fancy database that coordinates all of this. How on earth do people do this with paper and pen address books?!

I am working on Christmas shopping. I have a grid listing each person for whom we need a gift, with a column for gift ideas and another column for actual gift purchased. Some of these I delegate out to Paul, often with a suggestion, but request that he actually do the shopping. Mostly, I love Christmas shopping. But it's sometimes a little overwhelming, too, especially this year when I started late. Oops.

We have the tree hanging out in a bucket of water in the car port. I should be cleaning the house right now, but I'm not very motivated because everyone went to bed early tonight, and so my night feels . . . unstructured.

For our open house party favors last year, we created a CD of some of our favorite Christmas, winter, and Hanukkah music, complete with personalized labels. I don't want to do that again this year, but am at a loss for what to do. I thought of personalized cocoa packets, but Paul thought that maybe that's not lasting enough. Hmm. Suggestions?

I should go to bed, I suppose. I have an early morning appointment with a dentist's drill. Ah, a crying, teething baby. Perhaps I'll go tend to her, instead.

It's Time for Christmas Letters

I can't blog right now! I'm writing our family Christmas letter! This year, again, I can't bring myself to write neat paragraphs describing our year. (Sarahlynn likes to read. Paul has a new job. Ellie is cute. Ada was born! The end.) So I searched around online, and I'm trying to write a menu that describes our year, as though we're a restaurant.

For example:

Haggis, served family style (we took a 10-day family vacation to Scotland in June)

And so forth.

Do you know that some people think that writing longer things takes more time? Unless we're talking about a novel vs. a postcard, I find the opposite to be true. It's hard, very hard for me to edit, refine, pare down, keep the meaning without all the words. Words, words, words are easy.