Of Presents and Children

As you are all aware, Christmas, and its entire season, has since passed. But, I had written little about our holiday experience, and still wanted to share. And so, like Rip Van Winkle, better to show up late than never.

Christmas gifts! Yay!

Christmas gifts! Yay!

Continue reading

Timber!!!

Alas, the Christmas decorations have finally come down. I know many people take them down the day after Christmas. Lots of Catholics try to leave their decorations up until the Epiphany. That is the day the Wise Men found Mary and Joseph, twelve days after the birth. While a few folks wait until just before the Fourth of July, it would seem that they feel that Christmas lights are unsuited for our nation’s birthday. The catalyst for our decoration cleanse came in the form of a one year-old.

Timber

Timber

#8, acting like a miniature Paul Bunyan, took it upon himself to topple our Christmas tree. Without an axe at hand, he laid his bare hand on it and pulled. Success, the tree had lost its balance and was on its ways down. Timber! Wait, no! With unanticipated horror, #8 realized it was falling in his direction. Before he could retreat, our little lumberjack found himself trapped by his own mischief.

Need a hand?

Need a hand?

Hearing the screams of #8, and the giggles of our daughters, Wife rushed into the front room to find her son lying underneath our over-decorated tree. He was squirming, screaming, and scratching his way out of his prickly prison. And when he saw his mother, his screams picked up in volume, his release was at hand.

In little time #8 had been extricated, and the Christmas decorations had been stowed away for the next year. It’s quite a change for me to leave the house in the morning covered in Christmas splendor, only to return to stacks of boxes, baskets, and bins waiting for me to store away.

Our Christmas Eve Package

Over forty-one weeks in the making, arriving twelve days late, with an overall weight of nine pounds and four ounces, our package finally made it home. #9 joined our clan. With his contribution, for the first time ever, the boys out number the girls. And after four girls in a row, that’s something I thought I would never say.

#9’s entrance into the world was without complications; however that is not to say it was without anxiety and a good deal of pain. He was due mid December, and Wife had all the symptoms of early labor. We were ready for his appearance at the end of November, but our boy had other ideas. Either he was very comfortable where he was, or he really didn’t want to face the world, in which case I can’t blame him. After several weeks of false labor, it continued to be false labor.

STILL pregnant...

STILL pregnant…

I’ve already written about how Wife had prepared for Christmas, so that when the baby came she would be able to recover without any worries about any of the Christmas details. About a week and a half before Christmas, she ran out of things to organize for the big day. Then she started to pace.

Have you ever seen a woman pace when she is over-due? She holds her belly with all the tender love and affection that makes a mother’s love incomparable. She strolls around with the comical waddle of a penguin. Her eyes dart back and forth seeking any mischief or mess-makers with the directness of a tiger. And the whole package has enough force to rival a typhoon.

At long last, after a full day of doubtful contractions, Wife’s mother made the call, she was definitely in labor. I met them at the hospital after work and thought that the twenty-third of December was a good night to have a baby. It was not quite as good as the twelfth, but it was better than the twenty-fourth. And so Wife labored into the night, until the twenty-fourth rolled around.Who You calling ELF?

Yes you read right, a Christmas Eve baby. He was a great gift, but his timing was about the last thing I expected. I’ve often heard of Christmas babies, and always thought it was a bad date for a birthday. I would never do that to one of my children. I mean, what are the odds? But then my sister pointed out, “Well, the odds for your family are about one in nine.”First Christmas

The Wrapping Was Upon Us

The wrapping was upon us. Need I say more? Ah, I see I do. Then let me explain. With all the attitude of a kingdom under assault, Wife barricaded herself in her bedroom and prepared. The scissors came out. The scotch tape came out. Finally, the Christmas paper came out. And woe to any child who attempted to enter her domain.Wrapping

Gifts were laid out on the bed. She had to see them all set in rows to make sure of the proper value of each child, godchild, parent, grandparent, and an assortment of siblings. Like a merchant with his scales, she weighed each set of gifts, all the while making certain no one was under valued. If a discrepancy was found, I would receive a phone call that very moment, for here was where she and the merchant part ways.

A greedy merchant would pinch a little off of one to even the scales out, giving everyone involved a little less. Wife would hear none of that from me, for I am more the miser. She instead would add to whose ever pile was less, so I received her calls, kindly asking me to release the funds she wanted. As it was for Christmas, and for the children, I found it difficult to refuse her.

In past days she would have extended her gift piles across the entire bedroom floor. But the pregnancy stopped that this year. So her scales were confined to the bed, which made her weigh and wrap in batches, as our bed was too small to contain it all. It took her longer, but she was able to muscle through it.

In conclusion, Wife successfully had all the presents ready for Christmas well before the new baby was due to arrive. And there was only one true discomfort for me. After clearing all the wrapping off our bed, I was unable to find the scissors. For several nights after that I slept very gingerly.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

We have no snow, nor any expectations of sleigh bells, or even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Yet, our simple tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung by the fireplace with care (we can’t claim a proper chimney), and a profusion of electric lights have been strung around the house, both inside and out. In short, and to borrow the famous phrase, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”A trimed tree

The time of giving is upon us, and Wife takes her giving very seriously. As all her gifts are purchased and tucked safely away, she turned her eye to help our children make their presents. Let the crafts begin!

At one point, Wife went where I would dare not, the paint and brushes came out. Child-safe paint though it was, it just goes to prove her bravery and devotion to the Christmas spirit. As the art supplies came out, the children flocked around her like chicks around a hen. Even #8, though he is only one year-old, rushed the table so not to be left out.

Wife laid down the news paper on the table and began the shifts. In twos and threes she set them at the table, teaching patience to those who waited. She then furthered her instructions of patience by only allowing one color of paint to a child at a time. If #1 wanted green, she could not use blue until she had finished with the green and her brush was washed. While at the same time, if #4 wanted the green, she would have to wait for #1 to finish with it. So like a little factory of “paint-by-the-numbers”, the children steadily cycled through.

The girls pained without incident. So there is no point in relating that to you.

The boys’ performance was fair. #5 could manage pretty well on his own, as long as he didn’t get too excited. Reaching across the table, he would completely ignoring whatever was between himself and the object of his desire. #6 and #7 were each given a brush, but only after Wife had dipped them herself. And #8 was set on Wife’s lap so she could control his painting, and more importantly, what he painted.

She lightly dipped the brush in the blue, and then carefully placed it into the toddler’s hand. Ready for his overflowing enthusiasm, Wife had moved everything out of arms reach from the little boy. Nothing would get knocked over if he flailed his arms around with excitement. However, instead expressing his excitement by banging on the table, in the blink of an eye, he turned the paint brush around and chomped down on the bristles.

And he's already had a mouth full.

And he’s already had a mouth full.

If I had been in Wife’s place, that would have been the end of gift making. No, that may not be true. Either I would have stopped it all out of frustration, or I would have waited to see if #8 took a second helping. Fortunately, Wife was in the Christmas spirit, and with patience unusual for this late in her pregnancy, she quickly extracted the paint brush, and then guided her baby boy until his work was finished.

So, for those who sneer at the Christmas season, who say “humbug” at the Christmas spirit, who call December a commercial endeavor; I say you are dead wrong. And to prove how Christmas inspires charity, provokes “good will toward men,” and brings out patience for all; I show you the joyful smile and blue teeth of #8, and behind him the amazingly good humor of Wife.

Merry Christmas to all!

The finished project

The finished project

Advent Anticipations

Advent

For those not in the “know,” this is how we celebrate St. Nicholas’ Feast Day… Put your shoes on the table to receive your candy and fruit.

For us Catholics, we are in the season of Advent, a season of joyful anticipation for the celebration of Christmas.  And with eight small children, it is definitely full of anticipation.

I have been asked almost every night since Thanksgiving, how many days there are until Christmas, and to the children’s relief, the numbers I give have been steadily decreasing. Lately I have been questioned less. I think the reason is a string of numbered stockings that was given to us. As they are numbered one through twenty-four, they are a kind of count-down from the beginning of December to Christmas morning. So the Baby Jesus from our Nativity set is slowly making his way from stocking to stocking until on the big day when he is placed, with all the excitement of children, in the manger.

Our Nativity... minus Baby Jesus until the 25th.

Our Nativity… minus Baby Jesus until the 25th.

Now the girls have a special kind of anticipation. All four are old enough to have been invited to help Wife wrap the gifts intended for me. So from time to time,

I am met with a giggly little girl who tells me, “Daddy, I know what we got you fo’ Christmas.”

To which I respond, “What did you get me?”

And to show their loyalty to their mother, they say back, “I’m not tellin’.”

All those gift are intended for me! I kinda feel a little guilty now, because I didn't get Wife nearly that many presents.

All those gift are intended for me! I kinda feel a little guilty now, because I didn’t get Wife nearly that many presents.

And I am left where I started, neither more informed nor more ignorant. But I’m about to make my own circle of secrecy. When I get Wife’s presents, I’ll also invite the four girls to help me wrap them. Then they will go to Wife, and with a smugness less than what they would show to me, they will inform their mother that they know what she is getting for Christmas. But unfortunately, unlike myself, Wife loves it. Come to think of it, this may backfire.

For Wife thrives during Advent. With saints, feast days, and Advent candles, she is in her element. I think she likes having a real reason to keep secrets from me. She claims they are “surprises.” A whole season totally devoted to “surprises!”

I like to claim my favorite holiday as the Thanksgiving weekend. The children’s is Christmas. But Wife has the whole Advent season. Leave it to the Catholic Church to give my Wife an entire season all to herself.

A Christmas List Problem

Halloween has passed. For most people that means autumn leaves, baking turkeys, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. In short, it means Thanksgiving. But for us, it means infant diapers, pulling the infant’s clothes out of storage, cleaning out the baby tub, and transforming the diaper changing table from a catch-all back into a usable station. In short, it means the new baby is just around the corner. And as he is due at the beginning of December, Wife is concerned about getting the children’s Christmas gifts. She is determined to have her Christmas gifts bought, wrapped, and hidden by the week after Thanksgiving. Now, there is only one problem in accomplishing it that way, the children don’t know what they want.

A magazine inspection

A magazine inspection

But as they are good children, they bent their minds to the difficult task with a will. With paper and pencil they sat around the table, looking through toy magazines, and attempting to narrow down exactly what they want; and that is the hardest part of all.

I thought to help them by sitting down with a magazine and flipping through it with the children. As I did not pick out specific children to look through it with me, they all gathered around. In little time, I was surrounded by excited squeals, pointing fingers, and bumping heads. I was also unaware that their little bodies could block the light so effectively. By the time we finished, I was unsure as to what was in the magazine, but the little ones were all sure of what they saw, and quickly informed their mother so she could write it down.Writing Christmas lists

The older girls were having a harder time deciding. When #1 was bent over her nearly blank paper, I could almost see the battle for wants above her head. Her head would tilt up as something caught her fancy, then something more practical or skeptical inside of her would shoot it down, like a paper airplane in a thunderstorm. The last time I checked, she had two or three things written down.

#2’s trouble was different. Her list filled a page, top to bottom.  However, she was practical enough to realize she wasn’t going to get all her booty. So she leaned close, her nose nearly touching the paper, and began to insert dashes next to the items she wanted most. And when most of the items had dashes next to them, she had to revisit her list again, this time writing stars by the things she really, really wanted. And I think her list was still too long.

#3 supposedly wrote her Christmas list, but like fairies, gnomes, and President Obama’s birth certificate, no one has seen it.

Now #4 finished her list, and even showed it to me. Then she lost it, and had to start over. Then she found it. And when it was finally ready, waiting for Wife on the table, #7 discovered it, and scribbled all over it.

But in the end, the only one who truly has a say about the Christmas gifts, who truly understands the gifts, the reasons, the repercussions, is Wife. So children, be nice to you mother for the next two months.

Christmas Concert

It just can’t be helped. No matter how hard you try. No matter how much you cry. You could reason. You could bargain. But in the end, the real cost of piano lessons for the children, is going to their Christmas concert at the end of the year. Like most of the other parents present, I listened to twenty-five songs, of varying quality, just so I could watch my two oldest perform. To be fair, of which I am nothing but, most of the kids were quite good. There were few mess ups, and only one off-stage melt down, who I felt very sorry for. My little ones did very well. #1 and #2 played “We Three Kings” on the piano together. They plunked along in harmony until #1’s solo at the end. In a slight pause #2 leaned into her sister and asked if they should start over. #1 gave a brief shake of her head as to say, “We did fine, now I got this.” And finished the piece as good as any eight year old could. Like most parents there, I thought my children made the concert worth it. I suppose there was some kind of congratulations given out afterwards as both girls were sporting bouquets at the reception. However, that was the point #7 decided to overfill his diaper into Wife’s lap. That put #8 in my arms while Wife rushed out to the van. I had the key in my pocket and so I had to follow her out to let her in. Luckily the mess was contained and we were able to join the reception. We parents congratulated one another on the performance of each other’s children. We exchanged complements, and generally visited with friends. All the while small children rushed in between legs from one side of the room to the other in a mad game of cat and mouse, or cheetah and gazelle; however, in that game the mouse was just as likely to chase the cat. And the final destination was always the table full of treats. Wife has always been a big proponent of green foods. While I would rather dine on potatoes and steak, Wife pushed salad; and the children listened. Right before we left, #5 rushed up to me asking for something I could neither hear nor discern. I saw he was pointing at the food table and figured whatever it was it couldn’t hurt. After I gave him the green light, he rushed off to the tray that had until lately been filled with sandwich rolls. He looked over the empty platter and grabbed the only food that was left on it, the lettuce that the sandwiches had been setting on. With relish he ate two leafs before he was satisfied.lettuce before cookies I marveled at the sight, as I always did when one of my children turned down sweets for greens. Between the salads and piano, it appears that I will have quite a group of aristocrats for children.

Organized Christmas

For those of you who were faithfully waiting up late for my weekly post last Sunday (all two of you); firstly (to be polite) I offer my profound apologies, secondly (to be honest) you may want to think about taking up a hobby. Come on, it was practically Christmas Eve, and Father Christmas had a lot to assemble. Have a little sympathy for me.

Christmas morningThis year we had a very special surprise for Christmas, Wife got morning sickness. Yes, you read correctly. We are expecting a new baby. And I do mean “we” very liberally, really Wife is doing all the heavy lifting. Come late next year (September) we will welcome another member to the family who will be named, predictably, #8.

The blessing of another child is simply unparalleled, and never gets old. It seems fitting that we should learn about our good news just before the day celebrating the birth of the Good News itself. Needless to say (though I will anyway) the whole family is looking forward to the new baby.

When I was a boy, Christmas morning was a mayhem that started at about 4:00am. Wife claims her Christmases were completely organized (something I doubted until recently). Wife has so subdued my Christmas that I have felt the urge to get a cup of coffee in the middle of it. We do it something like this:

#1 opens a gift, picked by her mother. After the gift is opened, “Show it to me. Very nice. Give it to your father to open for you. Now everyone pick up the wrapping paper.”

plastic knightsAnd the formula is repeated down the line until all the presents are opened one at a time. The first time Wife attempted this, I nearly pulled my hair out, which in turn resulted in a Christmas day blowout.

We have come a long way from that first Christmas, just me, her, and her pregnancy. The children conform nicely to her conceptions of the Holiday. They patiently bounce up and down around the tree like a kind of cross between a bunny rabbit and a vulture. When their turn comes they swoop down to ravage the paper and then bounce away with their prize.

I can claim one total victory with the Christmas day customs. The children decide when we start opening up the gifts, or at least when they wake up and wake up the house hold, then we start. That was my Christmas boyhood memories: waking up at 4:00 in the morning, waking up the other kids, and finally waking up my parents. Now my children do the same.

Christmas morning little voices whispered at our door until Wife and I were awake. I rolled over to open my bleary eyes at the face of the alarm clock. It was 3:30am. At this point I started to wonder about the custom I had insisted on in my inexperienced youth.opening presents