December 31, 2011

Catching Up on Christmas

Wow, three weeks away from the blog and so much to catch up on!

Our Christmas was just perfect! We spent the weekend before Christmas in Columbia celebrating with my extended family, eating lots of food and opening a million presents for Mac. And a few for us too!

That night we made a little change in Mac's room:

That's right, friends: Mac is the proud owner of a new big boy bed.

With the exception of one or two naptime hiccups, the last two weeks have gone very well! He loves it so far and asks to read and sing and just plain hang out in his "bebo" bed quite often.

Once we finish up the final touches on his room, I'll do another before and after post with the full scoop.

Too excited to open his eyes!

The following weekend, after a nice lazy "Christmas break" week, we kicked off the celebrations by having my parents up for Christmas Eve.

They brought Mac (more) presents and even his stuffed-to-the-gills stocking from their house. I really need to do a separate post about their stocking traditions and creative stuffers; they set the bar high!
Can I interest you in some hand sanitizer?

I'm glad our Christmas tree's theme this year was "unbreakable," because it proved to be quite necessary.
Mac kindly undecorated the bottom two-thirds of our tree, assisted with ribbon removal and also lent a hand with present arrangements. It was a hands on Christmas all around!
Candy canes, many smashed and broken by the time Santa came, were the most appreciated piece of decor in our home. Ahh, two-year-olds.

After a beautiful Christmas Eve service at Grace's downtown campus, Santa B and I stayed up far too late staring down this:

Clearly my "I'm tired, my back hurts, are you almost done?" glances contributed significantly to Bradley's efforts, because by Christmas morning this is what Mac saw in the sunroom:
Our little chef was beside himself! The first thing he wanted to do, as any culinary professional would, was wash his hands before prepping the food. Such a silly boy!

Then he got busy with the real cooking, pulling every last piece of Melissa & Doug food (thanks, Mimi and Grandpa!) out of each cabinet, stacking them into baskets, microwaving them as needed and creating original dishes like ketchup on loaf bread with a side of onions. Mmm.

After playing for a bit, we made our way to Bradley's parents' house, just an hour or so from ours, for more Christmas fun. Our six-month-old nephew and his parents were in town, so the fun was multiplied!
The adults had fun even if the kids didn't. Control your excitement, Mac.

Uncle Todd and Aunt Laura saved the showstopper for last, though, when they gave Mac a shiny new ride-on tractor! He was beside himself.
Mac zoomed around at 2mph and dumped that gold bow out about ten million times.

All was right with the world until it was time to come in for supper.

That's essentially how I feel about Christmas being over, too.

We're moments away from 2012 and I'm doing one of my least favorite things - undecorating.

Mac, I feel your pain. (Although he's spending NYE with his grandparents in Columbia tonight, so I guarantee you there are no tears. Or naps, but that's another story for another day.)

We hope your Christmas was every bit as sweet!

December 9, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Other Insults

Last night Bradley and I rewatched a 30 Rock episode that included this gem:
"What Christmas card did we end up sending out?"

(Reads front) "Happy holidays..." (Opens card) " what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!"
That punchline packs a whopper because it's totally true. Not that we know what terrorists say come December, of course, because who'd want to make small talk with such folks? The kicker is the idea that we can get so up in arms about the semantics of holiday greetings.

I've heard lots of talk lately about the words we use to wish each other well this time of year.

I can see the issue from a number of perspectives. As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas. I wish people I know Merry Christmas because they too are celebrating Jesus' birth.

That said, I don't find it an insult if a cashier wishes me Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or plain ol' Happy Friday.

Sharing one's best wishes for this season is hardly akin to a put-down. And while I don't celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Boxing Day, for that matter, I don't wince at the words.

Like individuals, businesses select their own festive decorations and should have the ability to recognize whatever holidays they wish. After all, we do celebrate more than one holiday this time of year, even if Christmas is our main focus.

I just wrapped up Thanksgiving, am excited for Christmas and plan to sleep right through New Year's. I think an enthusiastic "Happy holidays!" covers all of those occasions perfectly.

On the other hand, I don't want to be held back from wishing others a Merry Christmas if those are the words that flow from my pen or come out of my mouth. There's nothing unkind or untoward about that sentiment, particularly when said with an impossible-to-misread kind of smile.

I love living in the South, but around here we sometimes take for granted that everyone believes what we do. If you don't celebrate the birth of Christ, please don't take it personally if I wish you a Merry Christmas. Besides Easter, which really is the completion of Christmas and the crux of our faith, Christmas is the happiest time of year for believers. Take that wish as an extension of our joy.

As a child, I was thoroughly confused by a neighbor who put up a Christmas tree but said his family didn't believe in Jesus. The two seemed intrinsically linked to me.

Nowadays, schools have 'holiday trees' and many cultural traditions (stockings, trees, gifts) are celebrated whether or not a family believes in the religious significance of Christmas. So it goes.

For my family, the Advent season is a special time of year because of Jesus. For others, it's not. I won't be offended if they wish me Happy Holidays and I hope they won't crinkle their noses if I unknowingly wish them a happy holiday-they-don't-really-celebrate.

Don't we all mean well?

Another blogger summed it up perfectly in a post you must read:

"Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I wonder if the best thing that could happen to this country is for Christ to be taken out of Christmas—for Advent to be made distinct from all the consumerism of the holidays and for the name of Christ to be invoked in the context of shocking forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love. The Incarnation survived the Roman Empire, not because it was common but because it was strange, not because it was forced on people but because it captivated people.

Let’s celebrate the holidays, of course, but let’s live the incarnation. Let’s advocate for the poor, the forgotten, the lonely, and the lost. Let’s wage war against hunger and oppression and modern-day slavery.

Let’s be the kind of people who get worked up on behalf of others rather than ourselves."


Ben Stein, who does not celebrate Christmas, had this to say:

"I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away."

If you're tempted to boycott a department store because their banner celebrates more holidays than just yours, please don't. Bestow all the Happy Christmases (if you're British, of course) you can, but take the meaning of what you're saying to heart.

Would it be a victory if we pouted and stomped our feet and got people to call their decorated trees (nowhere to be seen the night of Jesus' birth) by the name Christmas just to please us? Would it bring anyone closer to Christ or draw them to the Gospel? Hardly.

So, from us to you, happy everything, friends. And Merry Christmas in particular. We're celebrating for a reason in our house, but wherever you are, we hope you spend this season grateful and happy. Thank you for all of your sweet wishes this season.

December 8, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Mac-Mac the not-so-excited reindeer

Growing up, my family had a number of fun, meaningful traditions surrounding the Advent season. Christmas was such a celebration, something I eagerly anticipated each year.

Some of our traditions were small, far from significant to the meaning of the season - just little habits we incorporated into our Christmases. Others were lined up to build into Advent's meaning and remind us of the real reason for Christmas.

As Mac grows and we prepare to welcome another little one, I'm excited to start our own Smith family traditions.

A few of my favorite Christmas traditions as a child:

  • We had an Advent calendar every year. Sometimes there were chocolates in it, sometimes other small treats (Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers!); either way my brother and I so looked forward to opening them as we counted down to Christmas. Because it was just the two of us, I opened the odd-numbered days and he opened the even-numbered ones.

  • Each year we'd select a child to buy for, typically sharing our respective genders and ages, and go pick out gifts with our parents. Selecting and wrapping everything meant a lot more than just donating money; I loved having a hand in the giving and imagining what these gifts might mean to someone else. It instituted a real sense of gratitude in us.

  • Our stockings had, and still do have, little bells on them so you could hear if they were, um, inspected. My parents take stocking stuffers very seriously, so it was quite tempting to peek or rummage around inside before Christmas morning.

  • Every December my parents, far craftier than I, would help us with some Christmas-related project. Making our own ornaments, creating a nativity scene, painting faux Christmas windows (these must be seen to be understood), decorating plates, cutting potatoes into stamps and making our own wrapping paper - the list goes on. My brother and I always had a hand in creating something to commemorate the year; I may still have the glue gun burns to prove it!

  • On Christmas Eve, after my family got home from our church's candlelight service, my dad read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke 2. As we got older, my brother and I got to read part of the story as well - something that felt like a big honor on such a special night.

  • After we read Luke 2, my brother or I (always alternating - Mom's big on fairness!) would place baby Jesus in our nativity scene. As children it didn't make sense to us why baby Jesus was already in the manger all month, so that issue was nipped in the bud by waiting 'til his "birth night." It was such a thrill be the one to place him in the stable, signifying that Jesus had come, just as we were promised!

  • On Christmas Eve, we were each allowed to open one present, and it was always the same: Christmas pajamas. (Oh how I need new pajamas now! May have to start this tradition back up.) We went to sleep covered in flannel snowflakes, which made for very cute pictures the next day.

  • On Christmas morning, we couldn't come out of our rooms until we put our robes on (over our new Christmas pjs, of course) and made our beds. Our bedrooms were upstairs, so we had to dress, brush our teeth and get presentable before coming downstairs together. This part was agonizing! I suppose the point was to make sure no one slid down the bannister at dawn to peek at Santa's presents solo?

  • Speaking of presents, Mom and Dad wrapped their gifts to us, but Santa's were beautifully laid out, unwrapped.

  • Dad set up a video camera most Christmas mornings. I'd pay money never to have to watch the videos from 1993 to 1996. Eep.

  • We didn't have a ritual for opening our gifts one by one, but as we've gotten older and the frenzy around Christmas morning has died down, we have tried to take turns and see what everyone else got. After all of our presents were open, we'd move to the den to open up stockings.

  • Our stockings were so much fun! Candies, CDs, sweet treats, lip gloss, lotions, candles and fun stocking stuffers were a given, but every now and then a surprise (a watch! new earrings!) was thrown in to mix things up. You never know what to expect, and I am glad Bradley has his own stocking at their house now so he can participate. Our stockings are woefully empty here at chez Smith...

  • Mom would make coffee, holiday cider and sweet rolls for us to eat after all of the present-getting hoopla was over. Then it was time to celebrate Christmas all over again with each side of the family!
I'd love to hear what your families do for Christmas and any meaningful, simple or downright childlike ideas you're putting into practice this year. No time like the present to start making memories!

December 6, 2011

Don't Call Me Mama

I'm not unique in that I wear many different hats; we all do.

Just today I overslept and rushed to make breakfast, pack a lunchbox, restock a backpack diaper stash, brush teeth, dress a toddler, make myself presentable, let the dog out, grab an umbrella and drop Mac safely off at school in forty minutes flat.

While he was gone I scrambled to pick up Christmas clutter for a visitor who's not coming 'til Thursday. Oops.

I fielded client emails, worked for a bit, called the home warranty company, the doctor and the pharmacy, then looked over paint chips and fabric swatches for our little girl's nursery.

After crunching numbers and finding some papers, I skipped lunch to meet an accountant about my first full year of small business taxes. Said meeting ran five minutes over, so I barely made it to school in time to get Macky - who is now refusing to nap.

My remaining to do items for this afternoon include meal planning, grocery shopping, making soup (what else on such a gray day?) for dinner, preparing to host a small group Christmas party, folding ten billion loads of laundry, hanging out with my husband and resting my heavily pregnant self.

What am I getting at? Like you, I do a lot of things. I am a lot of things. I work at home as a wife and mom; I work from home, too.

It took this big talker 16 months to squeeze "Mama" into his massive vocabulary.
I still revel in it.

The things I'm most proud of in this world, however, are my marriage and our son. Hands down. These are my people, the one I've chosen and the one I carried.

I'm tied to these two in every possible way, and I find a strange freedom in that. This is the life I've been given and, on an hourly basis, the life I choose. I am so grateful.

(Even when I'm frustrated, behind, exhausted, confused, under-organized, frazzled, at a loss, overwhelmed or having one of "those" days, weeks, or months, I'm always thankful. Even if it's masked a bit by all my whining.)

Then I read this piece last week about a woman who fought back tears and hid her flushing face after a hairstylist identified her as a "mom," demographically speaking. I was a little puzzled.

The author suggests that women drop the identity of motherhood, one that is far more permanently and powerfully branded on us than on our male counterparts or even our husbands.

In a way, I understand. No one wants to be that mom, the slovenly and flustered woman sprinting three yards behind her kids, screeching at them to behave. Always late, never showered, rarely able to discuss anything besides the gory, disastrous details of childbirth or potty-training.

No woman wants to feel that she's "just" a mom or "just" an anything, for that matter. We're all busy, growing, multi-faceted beings.

But I think the writer missed the mark. While there are few labels I'd want to wear as my only identifiers, there would be no shame in one of those being mom. Or believer, wife, daughter or friend. The parts of my life I'm most passionate about and engaged in are going to be the easiest to identify me by, and probably the most accurate.

I think what she's hinting at is the fear that women, unlike most men, are minimized by parenthood. Do people see me differently now, especially pregnant, than they did three or four years ago? Sure.

My body, my personality, my life, my age, my "cool" factor - everything has changed these last two or so years. Why wouldn't they view me differently? People who judge me or minimize my abilities because I have a child are missing out, though.

From my point of view, I've been given a gift and am in a very specific season of life where I'm needed. In twenty years, I won't be a mom in the same way I am now. I'll be a hands-off counselor mom, not a find the shoes/kiss the boo-boo/change the diaper/ward off the tantrum mom. This time is fleeting, and it's a privilege no matter how bleary-eyed or short-fused I get.

For people to believe I can contribute anything less to society because I am a mother makes little sense at its heart: if anything, I am contributing society. Little people. A future generation. The folks who will take care of us when we're all past our "worried what my hairstylist labels me as" days - if we're fortunate.

I've walked the line, especially in my first weeks back at full-time work after Mac was born, between proud parenthood and concern over the perception that raising a child will overtake my life.

But you know what? It can't overtake my life because it is my life.

Even if I were in Beijing brokering the sale of a billion dollar company, my thoughts and my heart and my concerns would lie in the care and well-being of my children. (Typing that in the plural still makes me tear up.) There might be a million other facts tumbling around in my brain, but I'd still drop everything in a heartbeat for the role that matters most, the one only I can fill.

So, moms, don't feel belittled. Even if you do wear yoga pants to the grocery store after a full day of not doing yoga. Even if your business suit has spit up stains or your under-eye bags need a luggage rack and you have no idea what movies won an Oscar this year.

And non-parents, take a moment to think about how many things you do well. Don't fall into the trap of presuming a person can only be defined by one task, even if it's her biggest and most important role.

So that's my diatribe today: Mom shouldn't be or feel like an insult. And even if it is, it's still a gift.

May Mac never doubt that, even covered in his drool or tearing him, weeping, away from the "race car" grocery cart, I am proud to be his mom. I hope he can be as proud to be my son - at least 'til middle school rolls around...

December 1, 2011

Daddy's Boy

Mac has entered a total Daddy's boy phase.

He wants to dress like B, talk like B, hang out in "Daddy's shop" and build furniture, ride the John Deere lawnmower ("Daddy's tractor") and generally engage in tiny testosterone-building activities. The era of Mama is over.

I have found a way to capitalize on this, though, by coming up with utterly ridiculous nicknames and having Mac repeat them just to prove he's Daddy's bugaboo/handsome boy/chunk-chunk*, not Mama's.

(Excuse the grainy, about-to-die camera footage.)

To add insult to injury, Mac now responds to my "I love you" with "Yeah." I'm working on that, with mixed results. (I've warned B not to respond like that, either. Not good for a girl's ego, y'all!)

*To be fair, I called Mac "fat-fat" and "chunk-chunk" when he was in the 3rd weight percentile at nine months old. These days he tips the scales at 37 pounds, so it's a more accurate description - but it has always been a term of endearment. And it just sounds so cute coming out of his mouth!


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