Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas 2012 Warm Fuzzies

I love having a wide age-range of children...but especially at Christmas time. Because then I get to experience the magic of this glorious season through such a variety of eyes...eyes that send signals to such a variety of brains and therefore show me a variety of ways to process the joy of Christmas. ;)

With the holidays so full of expectations, emotions, and long to-do lists, my brain gets a bit overwhelmed sometimes.

But whenever the Bah-Humbug virus started attacking me this year...all I had to do was find one of my children to pay closer attention to (which wasn't very hard...there's typically at least two vying for a leg to hang on). Whenever I paused from my daily frenzy to examine Christmas through my children's eyes, their innocent joy and happiness washed through me like a warm cup of chicken noodle soup.

So I never forget these splendid years, I've recorded a few Christmas 2012 Warm Fuzzies:

Starting with...the annual "Kids-gather-'round-so-Mom-can-snap-a-Christmas-photo-before-the-season-passes-by" picture.
These classic shots are worth a thousand words to the mother of these children...I'll always remember that my growing Kenny needed new church socks this year (which Santa did deliver) and that Cienna felt quite confident her pink and navy ensemble would appropriately accent the surrounding Christmas colors of the others (I didn't disagree because color choosing is not my forte and I find much joy in the opinions of children) and that Allison jumped for joy when receiving her red dress from a friend (a surprise hand-me-down brings greater joy than the standard ones passed down from older siblings, I guess). Thank you for indulging me for this impromptu photo shoot, Kids. It turned out perfect.

On an unusually warm day in November, we surprised the kids and decorated early with the hopes of extending the Christmas magic and leaving extra space on the calendar in December for other important memories.

The older kids were incredibly helpful in this endeavor. It's hard to believe we have fewer Christmases with Kenny and Diggy left before they leave the nest than we've already had with them. They are such great big brothers. I miss them already.

 And for the younger ones...having large and small decorated trees in the house provides waaayyyy more living/playing options for Bunnies 'n Friends.

When MaryAnn saw our big tree in the living for the first time, she opened her eyes wide and her voice inflection said, "Ohh! There's a tree in our house!" It seemed every time she walked back into the living room throughout the entire Christmas season, she expressed the same it was a brand new discovery. In fact, she spied Christmas trees all over the place...everywhere we went. Because of my 18-month-old, I increased my Christmas-tree-noticing capacity this year, too. And they have deeper meaning for me now.

This was MaryAnn's second Christmas. But because she had very few long-term memory cells operating last year, I'm pretty sure she didn't know Christmas from Halloween back then. With a tad more awareness neurons and more experience with emotion under her belt this year, MaryAnn was more prepared to soak in some details...the lights, the decorations, the gifts...and she could spot a Baby Jesus a mile away...
This was taken at the hardware store. We sat there for at least 10 minutes admiring the "Baby".

And whenever we dig out Christmas decorations, out come the elf costumes as well...with enough enthusiasm to do whatever Mrs. Claus asks.

Hand-Crafted Presents
My heart sang every time I noticed my many young, but capable hands crafting something special for someone special...each with their own unique touch.
This clay Christmas tree is a Diggy and Brent special.

Kirsti has spent many hours in recent months learning to sew (from Grandma) and crochet (from an older woman at church), so she led the way in making doll sleeping bags for some cousins and hats for others and headbands for others.

 Kenny is the mastermind behind transforming Starburst wrappers into bracelets and belts...

Brent and I were each lucky recipients of one of Allison's hand made cards:

and one that Kirst had all the kids sign for us (in secret of course *tear*):
It reads: Dear Mom and Dad, We love having you as parents. Have a very Merry Christmas. Love the kids...and signatures.

Our favorite gift-giveaway this year was semi-hand-crafted: We took turns highlighting our favorite verses in one of our favorite books and gave it to one of our favorite people. Oh how the kids (and we) were so excited to share something near and dear to us with someone they love.  I can still feel the energy in the room as they gathered around our friend and presented her with a very heart-felt treasure.
Cienna...hard at work highlighting something about obeying the Lord's commands.

Chiming (as opposed to Caroling)
Because my children have a former percussionist for a mother, we bang instead of sing.


The first time we showed up on our neighbors' doorsteps clanging away "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"a few years ago, they were...ah....surprised. Now, their Christmas isn't complete without the Smith Family chiming a few carols. Some laugh. Others cry. It's a good time had by all.

Concerts Galore
Choir, orchestra, band (middle school and elementary)...we heard our share of festive music. 
To keep things interesting, I knowingly refrained from squelching Allison's and Cienna's desire to wear their elf apparel to the middle school orchestra concert. (present, but not pictured: matching elf hats complete with elf ears). Their festive innocence lightened our busy schedule.

Nativity Adventures
We love Nativity sets. We have at least ten that get scattered around the house each year. Even though many sets are ceramic, I haven't set any limits on little fingers touching them. We've lost a few donkey ears because of it. But I also lost count of how many times I entered a room this year and saw Allison or Cienna or MaryAnn crouched over Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus...chattering away while maneuvering them around.

We also have a family tradition of acting out the Nativity on Christmas Eve. This year we added some musical numbers to it and "performed" it as a gift to visiting relatives on Christmas Day. 

Holiday Food 
Few things are more exciting when for under-5ers than mimicking every cooking move Mom and Dad make. MaryAnn and Cienna were all over peeling potatoes for Christmas dinner. The older minds, however,....they're pretty past that stage. Focus is more on eating...and mostly dessert. 

Planning the menu took a slightly different, more challenging turn this year. We've discovered MaryAnn is allergic to dairy products. And we decided to get strict about eliminating dairy from her diet about 1 month ago to see if it eased her constant itching. Because I'm still nursing her, I decided to take the no-dairy plunge, too....right before Christmas...when ALL the special treats and sweets that have dairy in them come marching through our front door and cover our kitchen counters...for weeks. MaryAnn and I watched everyone eat treat after treat after treat. My mouth especially watered when Grandma brought her nostalgic stash of goodies over. I was sooo tempted. But we didn't eat a single treat. (If it was just my own diet, I probably would've caved...but because the prefrontal cortex is extra powerful when it's intended to help someone else, mine did a great job of keeping my sweet tooth in line...thank goodness.)
Above: A sample of what MaryAnn and I couldn't eat.
                                                     Below: A sample of MaryAnn and I craved in order to survive. 
 Cooking for three vegetarians, two non-dairy-ans, and a few "normal" eaters is perhaps one of my biggest daily challenges lately. But we managed over the holidays. Phew.

I bought some vegan chocolate ice cream made from coconut milk so MaryAnn could have a real dessert on Christmas Day. She sat and licked the bowl for at least 30 minutes. 

She loved it so much, I think I might just go and splurge on 10 more outrageously expensive half-pint containers...and have them keep her busy while I'm cooking dinner every night. ;)

A White Christmas?
The kids prayed for a white Christmas. We checked often and prospects weren't looking good. When flurries fell to the sidewalk (and melted right away) a few days before Christmas, the kids jumped up and down and sang, "Santa Clause is Coming To Town" at the top of their lungs. Then Cienna very sincerely suggested that they all get their snow pants on (because they're not called snow pants for nothing). Even though my brain knew those few snowflakes would not amount to a white Christmas, I let myself get caught up in their enthusiasm and I felt my heart dancing along with them for a few minutes. A day later, one-eighth inch made a tiny white blanket over the ground. Most of it got stomped away by Christmas Day, but I think it still counts as a White Christmas. 
Contrary to this deceitful picture, MaryAnn was the biggest fan of tromping around the yard in snow boots.

Sharing Presents
Observing my children think of, shop for/make, wrap, guess, (secretly tell), and exchange gifts at Christmas is by far my favorite tradition. 

**Starting with MaryAnn: Present opening is a strange experience for most toddlers...there's so much energy to process from smiling people who are prodding and urging and hoping as they push a bright colored package in your lap...and then hover and reach to tear paper right under your nose...with excitement levels then soaring to record highs....I get exhausted just thinking about it.
So we tried something different this year for our youngest Smith. MaryAnn watched us wrap her presents. She played with a few of them. Got to know them. Discovered she liked them. And when she was done, she helped us wrap them up to join the others under the tree. We kept saying the word 'present' to help her get a clearer picture of what the older kids were always so excited about. Tearing the paper off a few days later became an exciting game of peek-a-boo. Her ball from Kenny (that she knew was a ball) was a huge hit. Personally, I love that my older ones witnessed and 'got' that younger minds think differently and therefore should be treated differently...and that's okay.
And what should Santa bring a little one who is the fourth girl in her family...where dolls and fancy dresses and ponies and stuffed animals are abundant?

How about First Thousand Words in Chinese?
Score! (There's a rubber ducky hidden on every page and MaryAnn has its placement on each page memorized because of the library book version we had in our possession not long ago. She was thrilled to go-a-searchin' again. Yes those memory cells are working fine this year...she points to every tiny duck faster than her slow-poke parents.)
See Mr. Ducky poking out behind the TV? She squeals with delight when spots him.

**Cienna enjoyed playing among the presents more than wondering what was inside them. Sometimes I conspicuously sat nearby (pretending to read a book) so I could hear whether or not Dragonfly made it safely to Ladybug's house before the storm hit. Don't worry. She did.  

**Cienna felt proud to be numbered among those who received an electric toothbrush this year.

**Allison observed Diggy racing some cars one day and thoughtfully whispered to me her desire to buy him a Piston Cup (for the winner). She brought her purse to the dollar store...She was right. He loves it. 
**Allison loves flowers and was thrilled to have Santa surprise her with a few. 

**Every year Kirsten says, "I'd be happy with anything." This year she said the same thing. Except she also wanted a rag doll that she could make clothes for...that would remind her of American Girl Doll Kirsten's rag doll. Speaking of her Kirsten doll, Kirsti spent many thoughtful hours hand-crafting a quilt to give her beloved doll for Christmas. I watched Kirsti help Kirsten (the doll) open it. They were both thrilled. Their emotions were contagious.
Kirsti (the girl) pictured with the quilt she made for Kirsten (the doll).

**Diggy is a planner. He has informed us about what he wants for the next three Christmases (and birthdays...mostly specific Lego collection additions). He gave me a convenient list with correct product numbers. I never question whether or not he's thought something through. I admire that trait in him. Diggy is also incredibly thoughtful and content with whatever he's given. 
** With his thoughtfulness and creativity, Diggy spent ample time pondering what to give his pet giraffe Garry (pronounced Jerry) for Christmas. After careful consideration he decided money would be best so Garry could decide for himself. Apparently Garry is planning to pay tithing first, give a few dollars back to Diggy to put in the bank and then take a trip to the dollar store... I so so so love that imagination. It's refreshing and I keep thinking Diggy's going to grow to be just like our smart, funny, thoughtful, and creative Uncle Ron who owned an imaginary horse for the longest time...maybe still does.   
This is Garry with the Christmas tree that Diggy purchased for him a couple of years ago. They decorate it together.

**I wondered how Kenny would enjoy the magic this year. As a pre-teen, he has one foot in family affairs and the other in a social world beyond our walls. His best gift to me was happily (really) participating in so many of our family traditions...playing chimes, performing music, acting out the Nativity, exchanging dollar store gifts with siblings, joining the Christmas Eve slumber party all together (despite the big argument among younger ones about who should sleep where that almost deferred this tradition...but we're a family, so we worked it out), etc, etc.  A true Christmas Champ.

**In general, the oldest three kids experience a different kind of Christmas than the younger ones. They're mature enough to add logic into the mix regarding Santa. They've each asked a few key questions (separately...over the last few years) that have led us to share with each of them the original Santa story and how we can share in that magic by giving anonymously too...without any expectation of receiving something in return. They feel pretty cool helping with the important job of making life Merry and Bright for the younger ones. 

**Brent and I do minimal gift-exchanging with each other. We buy practical things. Usually there are no surprises (because we purchase things we need or ask each other for approval before wrapping). It's our style. We like it fine. Our fun is in enjoying the one time of year (besides birthdays) when we purchase a few frivolous things for our kids. We plan together. Wrap together. Give together. 
"Christmas is for children," says my 91-year-old grandmother. I think she's right. When we focus on giving our children a Merry Christmas...they give one right back to us.  
My favorite gift from my Arizona-bred adventure man this year was watching him take multiple trips up and down our Midwestern sidewalk with our four girls, snow gear and all, because Allison got a new bike for Christmas. What a Dad!! Oh how I LOVE that man!!

Wow. Another Christmas came and went.

Thank you for helping us clean up, MaryAnn.

You can rest now. 

And we'll do it all again next year.