Category Archives: Celebrating Holidays

Celebrating the First Year– Excess is Okay

There’s a long-standing debate about birthday parties for kids who are turning 1—one side says keep it low key or don’t even have one, don’t waste your money because the child won’t remember it; the other says, have a big blow out.  And as I watch my niece and her family prepare to have the latter for her son (yep, yet another family birthday falls during the holidays!), I must admit I’m in the latter camp.  Because, as I saw it when I did the same for Allison, it’s not so much whether the child will remember any of it, or will any of their pint-sized guests—it’s about the parents, especially the mom, being excited to have a child, and to be able to throw a party for a child for the first time. 


And I say, for all that we moms (and dads) go through during that first year, let the celebration begin.  Bake that cake (or order it) and get party hats; blow up those 16 inflatable guitars or put together those child-safe noisemakers; take a lot of pictures and have a great time.  And don’t worry that if you have another child, the “first” celebration may not be as grand.  That child won’t realize it, at the time, nor will they suffer mental damage when they look in the family photo album and compare parties.   Just explain to them that the first party also celebrates parents getting through the first 12 months of sleepless nights, dirty diapers, projectile food, nervous doctor visits, and the aches and pains from  toting car seats and strollers every day.  (And that by the second child, you’re “pros”, not to mention that you’re juggling so much that it’s hard to even think about planning a big party!)


So Happy Birthday, my great nephew Evan.  And Happy, Happy First Birthday Celebration to my niece and her husband!!!!!

Putting Cheer (and Maybe Even Love) Back Into Kids’ Holiday Parties and Gift Exchanges

If the holidays and holiday parties are meant to be infused with joy and cheer, it’s ironic that sometimes, thanks to gift exchanges, people can leave those parties feeling kind of…well…mad, or at least a bit sour.  Kind of like Jim Carrey’s Grinch when he receives a used electric shaver at Whoville’s Present Pass-it-On…I’ve seen these emotions a few times at adult parties and a LOT at kids’ parties.

First of all, most gift exchanges I’ve seen or participated in have gone like this: Everyone brings a gift and everyone participating in the exchange grabs a piece of paper with a number written on it, usually from a bowl that the host passes around.  The person holding #1 goes first and gets to open an unwrapped gift.  The person holding #2 gets to either steal the gift from #1 or unwrap another unclaimed present. If they steal #1’s gift, #1 gets to unwrap another present.  Then #3 goes, and #3 may steal a gift from #1 or #2 or unwrap one.  Usually the host or the “game-meister” sets a limit on the number of times a gift may be stolen before it’s “frozen” (unable to be stolen any more). And the “game” continues that way until all the numbered guests have taken a turn and all the gifts have been unwrapped.  Sometimes with adults, this kind of gift exchange can be hilarious, especially when everyone has had to bring a “white elephant” gift, i.e. garage sale-bound junk found around the house. The laughs continue as people drink more wine and steal more tacky gifts that somehow have become desirable.  But when it’s a gift exchange where everyone has to buy something new (usually worth a pre-set value, like $10), things can get kind of ugly when the stealing starts.  And some people, especially kids, just aren’t mature enough to “roll” with it. They end up mad with what they end up with, mad at the person who stole their treasure, and envious of everyone else’s cool gifts…


 


Interestingly, yesterday I participated in a gift exchange and observed another (both were the kind where there’s a pre-set spending amount), and both were conducted so sensibly, I just had to pass on how they were done.  At the first party, we all just grabbed a gift from under the tree and opened our gifts, and kept what we got. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Hasta La Vista! I loved it.  At the next one, everyone with gifts stood in a circle.  The game-meister had me read a fun story about “Lefty the Elf” which involved multiple uses of the words “left” and right”, and every time I said either of those words, the gifters passed their gift to the left or right, and when the story was over, they kept what was in their hands.  There were lots of laughs as the “lefts” and rights” came faster and faster and the gifts got passed and re-passed, like playing “hot potato”.  While I’m not sure if everyone liked what they ended up with, I’m pretty sure everyone had so much fun passing the gifts that I don’t think the gift mattered. 


 


Later when I got home, I Googled “Lefty the Elf”, and it turns out there are lots of left-right gift exchange stories that can be used—here is the link to the one I read at the party last night.  While it won’t prevent all gift exchange disappointment or “gift envy” among kids and teens, it at least takes away the “stealing” aspect.


 


Of course, kids usually get presents from their families anyway, sometimes plenty, so eliminating gift exchanges at kids’ holiday parties isn’t such a bad idea, either.  What about everyone bringing a new or gently used stuffed animal for a local children’s charity? Or bringing school supplies, candy and small toys and assembling gift boxes for children in other countries? Operation Christmas Child is a good option for this (even though their national shoe box collection week is in November, they take mailed-in boxes year-round).  Or, every child could bring 1 or 2 items of used clothing to give away, and divide into two teams.  Have team members put their clothing donations into their “team pile”, and have a dress-up relay where each team has to figure out a way to get the lead person on their team dressed in the items (on top of what they’re already wearing) without hurting the items, then they run across the room (or grass, or gym) to a certain point and come back, take off the clothes, then the next person has to get dressed up and run. Depending on what the team has brought to contribute, the “dress up” can be pretty crazy.  (All shoes? Underwear? Hats? Baby clothes they have to hang on their arms or tuck in their shirts?) Then after everyone has had fun, all the items are donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or another charity that takes clothing.  How fun would that be? And if it becomes an annual tradition, people can plan ahead and contribute even more “challenging” clothing items for next year’s relay… 


 


Definitely a party even a Grinch would love.

Starting Christmas Early– Crass Commercialism or Common Sense?

I’ve got to be honest– I haven’t really enjoyed the holiday season in a long time. The last two years were especially Bah Humbug times for me, as the usual busy-ness of my life got cranked up several notches.  I couldn’t wait for it all to be over and the new year to begin.  Too much shopping to do, too many end-of-year kid performances to attend all at the same time, too many potluck parties, too many charity drives being shoved in my face all at once (one day the school is asking us to bring canned food; the next, a new pair of shoes; the next, a new unwrapped toy— and if we don’t, our kid doesn’t get to participate in “school dress up day” or whatever…).  There’s more intense house cleaning to do as we usually have a few overnight guests in December, and more yard work to be done, as the leaves fall in Texas this time of year, rather than snow.  I was pleased that we got our Christmas tree set up on Thanksgiving weekend last year… but it sat undecorated for three weeks.  I didn’t even have time to send out holiday cards.

This year, my Bah-humbugs have already begun, as people seem to be starting the season earlier than usual—more stores were decorated with reindeer before their ghosts and goblins had even been marked down, and I started seeing homes festooned with holiday decorations two weeks ago. It seems the ads for holiday sales started earlier than usual, too… Oh, sure, I’m all for finding the right holiday gift for someone any time of year, even if you buy it in June… but…full-blown holiday preparations in early November? Even the nut jobs who camp out at Best Buy pitched their tents earlier than usual this year…When I was a child, we never started holiday decorating until Dec. 1st, and somehow that mindset has always stayed with me, that that was really the official start of the season.  Then this morning, it hit me. Maybe if I took a tip from some of these “holiday pushers”, I’d have a less stressful holiday. Maybe if I got out of my old way of thinking and started preparations a lot earlier, I might actually have a more meaningful, more spiritual Christmas. I mean, think about it. Life does have more “stuff” in it than 40 years ago, even 10 years ago. People have invented more ways, more traditions, to fill up the season.  Yet there’s still only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a short time to do everything needed for a modern family’s biggest celebration of the year—and feel warm and fuzzy at the same time. Getting in the mood for Christmas soon after Halloween really isn’t such a bad idea after all.

True, I’m late in latching onto this idea this year, but what do I have laying out before me on this day, the day before Thanksgiving? A five-day holiday weekend, one in which I don’t even have to host a Thanksgiving meal. I just have to show up, salad in hand.  So while I’m not going to camp out at any stores (even though our exchange student, Cleo, wants to, as she thinks it would be a quintessential American experience), and I refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day (God bless those folks who have to work then), I am going to use this weekend more wisely than I ever have before. I am not going to complain if Allison wants me to take her to the mall today—I’m going in there, too.  And with five able bodies at home for the next five days, we ought to be able to get some major house cleaning done. And some twinkle lights put up outside.  And not only get the tree up, but maybe even the ornaments on it as well. And for inspiration, I’ll even get out the holiday CD’s, something I never usually do until December.

Only I better crank up the volume. It’s 11:30 a.m., and the teenagers are still asleep…

Starting Christmas Early– Crass Commercialism or Common Sense?

I’ve got to be honest– I haven’t really enjoyed the holiday season in a long time. The last two years were especially Bah Humbug times for me, as the usual busy-ness of my life got cranked up several notches.  I couldn’t wait for it all to be over and the new year to begin.  Too much shopping to do, too many end-of-year kid performances to attend all at the same time, too many potluck parties, too many charity drives being shoved in my face all at once (one day the school is asking us to bring canned food; the next, a new pair of shoes; the next, a new unwrapped toy— and if we don’t, our kid doesn’t get to participate in “school dress up day” or whatever…).  There’s more intense house cleaning to do as we usually have a few overnight guests in December, and more yard work to be done, as the leaves fall in Texas this time of year, rather than snow.  I was pleased that we got our Christmas tree set up on Thanksgiving weekend last year… but it sat undecorated for three weeks.  I didn’t even have time to send out holiday cards.

This year, my Bah-humbugs have already begun, as people seem to be starting the season earlier than usual—more stores were decorated with reindeer before their ghosts and goblins had even been marked down, and I started seeing homes festooned with holiday decorations two weeks ago. It seems the ads for holiday sales started earlier than usual, too… Oh, sure, I’m all for finding the right holiday gift for someone any time of year, even if you buy it in June… but…full-blown holiday preparations in early November? Even the nut jobs who camp out at Best Buy pitched their tents earlier than usual this year…When I was a child, we never started holiday decorating until Dec. 1st, and somehow that mindset has always stayed with me, that that was really the official start of the season.  Then this morning, it hit me. Maybe if I took a tip from some of these “holiday pushers”, I’d have a less stressful holiday. Maybe if I got out of my old way of thinking and started preparations a lot earlier, I might actually have a more meaningful, more spiritual Christmas. I mean, think about it. Life does have more “stuff” in it than 40 years ago, even 10 years ago. People have invented more ways, more traditions, to fill up the season.  Yet there’s still only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a short time to do everything needed for a modern family’s biggest celebration of the year—and feel warm and fuzzy at the same time. Getting in the mood for Christmas soon after Halloween really isn’t such a bad idea after all.

True, I’m late in latching onto this idea this year, but what do I have laying out before me on this day, the day before Thanksgiving? A five-day holiday weekend, one in which I don’t even have to host a Thanksgiving meal. I just have to show up, salad in hand.  So while I’m not going to camp out at any stores (even though our exchange student, Cleo, wants to, as she thinks it would be a quintessential American experience), and I refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day (God bless those folks who have to work then), I am going to use this weekend more wisely than I ever have before. I am not going to complain if Allison wants me to take her to the mall today—I’m going in there, too.  And with five able bodies at home for the next five days, we ought to be able to get some major house cleaning done. And some twinkle lights put up outside.  And not only get the tree up, but maybe even the ornaments on it as well. And for inspiration, I’ll even get out the holiday CD’s, something I never usually do until December.

Only I better crank up the volume. It’s 11:30 a.m., and the teenagers are still asleep…

To Invite or Not To Invite? The Birthday Party Dilemma

Yes, it’s birthday time again, and for those of you who don’t already know, ALL of our family birthdays fall within 6 weeks of each other—yes, even our foreign exchange student’s! First comes mine, then a week later it’s Emmie’s, then 13 days later it’s Cleo’s, two days after that it’s Allison’s, and two weeks later, just in time for Christmas, Andy gets his big day.  And once again, we face the timeless “birthday party dilemma”: your child is having a birthday party, and either you or your child or both do not want to invite everyone in the class.  The reasons can be endless: budget, space, personality, so and so blew out the candles on the cake at our last party…and you revisit the issue every time your child has a party, as friends change and new ways to celebrate are invented. Your child is saying “It’s my party, it’s my birthday, and I don’t want her to be there…she’s been mean to me every day for two weeks.” But you’re friends with the child’s mother…and the child is a sensitive kid…



Then there’s the child who says, “I want to invite everyone but the new girl, because I don’t know her at all” and the parent who’s saying, “But this would be the perfect opportunity for everyone to get to know her.” Do you invite children who didn’t invite your child to their own birthday celebration? Do you invite someone just because she did? You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, yet someone just might end up in tears after this decision is made—either your child or someone else’s… 
Gee, aren’t birthdays supposed to be a time of celebration?


 


Here’s my take on it:


 


I think it all depends on a child’s age and whether they’re a part of a daily class or not.  For example, five-year-olds probably won’t care too much who they invite and mom can decide the whole thing—unless they’re a part of a preschool or kindergarten class that gets together daily.  Then you may want to think more about it.  How do the kids interact? Are there already “friendship issues” in the class? Will some children make others feel bad if they’re not invited?  Kids at this age (and other early elementary grades) really can’t understand the issues of budget and space, they’re me-centric and take everything personally.  Because of this, sometimes rather than having our own parties, I brought the party to the class.  For example, the man who would’ve brought his guitar and puppets to our house and sing “Gonna Get Dressed All By Myself” to a limited audience, simply came to school and entertained the whole preschool class instead.  The cupcakes that would’ve gotten mashed into my carpet got mashed on their perfectly-sized low tables instead, as the children sat at 10 perfectly sized tiny chairs.  The teacher was thrilled, and so were all the kids.

As kids get older and the drama heats up (those with girls know exactly what I’m talking about), we’ve at least cut the birthday party problems in half due to our “a party every other year” policy. On the off years, our children get to invite one friend to go to dinner somewhere special—and thank goodness our kids (thanks to our encouragement) have often chosen a child who is outside the realm of the daily classroom—a special friend, for example, who moved to a nearby suburb or one that we met at summer swim lessons .  It has been a fun way to foster connections and help the kids “catch up”.  But when it’s time for a party with tweens and teens, we’ve either had it in the budget to invite all the girls in class or we’ve chosen parties with activities where we just can’t– but I firmly believe it’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t get invited to a party, and parents need to stop helicoptering to “protect feelings” once a child gets above a certain age, say, about third grade. By that time, kids should start understanding about budget and space and also why they didn’t “make the cut”, and a good parent will sit down with their child to discuss all three. Rather than try to soothe the child and “soften the blow” by telling them the birthday child is wrong, or “not a friend”, it would do parents good to seize the opportunity to help the child do some self-examination. Sometimes, not getting invited to a party is the best behavior modification tool around, better than 100 parental lectures or Sunday School lessons about being nice. 


 


I will never forget the time I was the only kid in my entire grade who wasn’t invited to a birthday party, and not just any party.  Two girls with birthdays close together were having a combined celebration, and budget was not an issue.  It was the party to end all parties, truly the party of the year.  I mean, even people they hardly knew were getting invited.  But not me.  And my mom sat me down to discuss why.  At first I was very upset– I thought she sounded like a traitor, wanting me to “fit in” too badly and not recognizing my own opinions on the party givers. “I don’t like them,” I told her, “and I don’t hide it.” Well, I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but I do know she thought it would be wise if I made some changes, and never gave me specific instructions on what to do– she wanted me to figure it all out on my own. So I asked Dad for advice, did some reading…and made it a point after that to lighten up and look for the good in everyone.  Not only did those party givers become my friends again, but decades later, I count them among my lifelong best friends.  I probably would have missed out on other wonderful friendships and getting to know other fabulous people had my mom not made it a point to talk to me that one winter day. 

And had my friends’ parents forced them to put me on their guest list.


 


 


 

Helping Kids Appreciate Veterans

When was the last time someone told you they’d die for you? Before you start thinking back to some star-crossed ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, think broader. (Hint: It’s Veterans Day.)  People may argue about the pros and cons of this or that war but I hope that on this day everyone will at least be in agreement on one thing: our veterans have all served under the premise that if necessary, they’d die protecting us, without expecting us to do the same in return.  Pretty humbling, I think, and it makes me get teary-eyed when I wave at veterans in parades or read about the suffering they go through, even when their duty is finished.  I don’t think my kids quite “get” it, but there are a lot of things available to them lately that might help. 
 


My younger daughter’s Girl Scout troop is socializing with veterans at a local retirement center later today; our elementary school PTA invited veterans to eat lunch with the children and also planned a care package party after school, so that the kids can make care packages and cards for veterans living in a state veterans home. My drill team daughter marched in a neighborhood Veterans Day parade yesterday, and this weekend, she and her friends in National Charity League will be out at the airport, cheering returning soldiers and shaking their hands (DFW airport is often the first place of entry for service men and women upon returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan, and citizen volunteers, as well as some very dedicated veterans, have been greeting them every weekend for several years.)

Another way to mark the day is to gather clothing and household items for Paralyzed Veterans of America and set them outside—here in the Dallas area, PVA has regular pickups throughout the year and it’s a great way for kids to clean out their rooms and help veterans at the same time. PVA has a great website (
http://www.mission-able.com) where you can help your child send an e-card to a veteran or active service member and can also make a monetary donation (especially good if your city does not have PVA pick-ups!).

And of course, there are movies for teachable moments. (I wish our family also had time today for a movie, but that will have to wait.)  I found
http://www.parentpreviews.com/the-big-picture/post/war-heroes for ideas on G, PG and PG-13 movies which teach about WW I and conflicts thereafter (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one and Dear John is another.)

I hope everyone will find a way to honor veterans today, even if it’s just to call up a veteran friend or relative and say the words “thank you”.  To all the veterans out there, Happy Veterans Day– and THANK YOU!!

Trick or Treat, Smell My…After Shave?

Ah, the topic of age and trick-or-treating has been in my life a lot these days.  First, I heard the story on the radio last week about Mark Eckert, the mayor of Belleville, IL, who has banned teenage trick-or-treating in his town (as some other cities have done). Although Belleville rarely issues the fine for this, it’s $100 if anyone over 12 is caught trick-or-treating.  I didn’t give the story much attention.  Like the newscasters, I thought, ‘Hah—that would be a tough code to enforce. Will kids be stopped for proof of age? Will they have to carry birth certificates?’ No one’s ever put a limit on trick-or-treating before…stupid law…

 

A few days later, our French exchange student and her friend, another French exchange student, were thrilled to discover that teenagers trick-or-treat in America, whereas in France, it stops at a younger age.  “We can be a kid again!” her friend announced to me, joyfully.  They put together costumes yesterday and filled their treat bags so full, they will probably still have some candy left next June when they return home…and a lot of happy memories of Halloween to take back as well.

 

But as I talked to my friend, Meg, yesterday at a neighborhood Halloween potluck, I decided that Mayor Mark was onto something.  Meg and her husband only allow trick-or-treating for their kids until 6th grade.  Then the kids can go to Halloween parties as they get older, or to haunted houses, or help pass out candy to the little ones.  “I think it’s creepy when a kid with a moustache is standing at my door with a treat bag, you know?” she said.  “And I don’t want my boys to be one of them.”  Suddenly I was reminded of last year, when I wanted to get rid of all of our Halloween candy, so I was answering the door past 9 p.m. on Halloween night all by myself, and Andy was still out with Emmie, and Allison was at a party…Halloween fell on a week night last year, so lots of working parents got a late start with their kids, and we had many families coming to our door later than usual…and, a couple groups of “boys” wearing ghoulish costumes, who looked like they were old enough to have kids of their own.  It was creepy.  I mean, normally I don’t answer the door to any strangers—and there I was on Halloween night, all by myself, opening my door and handing out candy to tall strangers wearing MASKS!? I turned out the porch light and kept my candy. I can see why single parents and senior citizens get scared, too.

 

This year, Andy was home, so I didn’t feel as scared—but it was still weird to see kids as tall as Andy (and twice his girth) ringing my doorbell.  Should we put signs on our door that say “No trick-or-treaters over 12”? That’s about as unenforceable as the Belleville law. Or how about one of those wooden height measurers, like they have at theme park ride entrances? Someone could make cute Halloween ones with a scarecrow holding out his hand, or a ghost or witch.  Nah.  Discriminates against kids who grow faster than their peers. Wait—I know.  All the kids stick out their bags and say, “Trick or treat!”– right? We can give treats to the little ones—and tricks to the really big ones, the ones who only trick-or-treat with other big ones. “Tricks” meaning something they weren’t expecting.  Maybe a used classic paperback? Literature on how to write a resume’? Gideon Bibles? A Beethoven CD? By golly, if these kids are going to come to my door years after it’s “cool” to do so, it’s time to give them something different than candy.  And maybe they won’t come by any more.  Or, maybe they will—  to thank me!