When Christmas doesn’t play out like a Christmas carol

I’m trying to get into the Christmas spirit, people. I really am.

But sometimes, despite how much I love the Christmas season, it also makes me a little grumpier. I think it’s because I love it so much that I also become more easily irritable and disappointed when life isn’t playing out like it is for those in my favorite Christmas carols. Things just aren’t fa-la-la-la-la-ing like they’re supposed to this time of year, you know?

For example, my Christmas tree (O Christmas tree). How lovely are your branches. Well, the ones that still have needles on them, I should say. Oh, and only when the tree is actually still bedecked in ornaments and tinsel, unlike the other morning that I came downstairs to find a half-naked tree and ornaments strewn about the carpet. The white tinsel was pulled partly off, and the star that was perched at the top of the tree when I went to bed the night before? Lying about 4 feet from the tree. At first I tried to blame it on my kids. (Yeah, that’s what a good mom I am.) But when I finally took into consideration that I went to bed after my kids and got up before them, I figured out that they probably really didn’t do it. (I’m known for my acute reasoning skills.) So then it was narrowed down to my dog or . . . my dog. I still have no idea why he attacked the tree, nor how he managed to topple the tree topper, but it wasn’t as much fun decorating the tree the second time around, especially when I found several of my favorite ornaments as casualties to the assault.

And then there’s the whole present-buying ordeal. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love buying gifts for people. In fact, you might even say I obsess a little too much about finding the perfect gift after analyzing a recipient’s personality, hobbies, health, habits and possibly even wiretapped conversations. Just kidding. (Or am I?)

However, as my boys get older, it’s becoming more challenging to buy gifts for them, for several reasons. One is because I have to give them the same number of presents to open. I keep finding “one more gift” for Boy #3 that I had bought earlier in the year and stashed away because, at 6, he’s just easy to buy for. But that means that I then have to not only find one more gift for the nearly 9-year-old, but the nearly 13-year-0ld as well. Great. Everything he wants is either expensive or something I don’t want him to have. He may be finding single socks (Not single pairs, single socks. One sock.) wrapped under the tree come Christmas morning. Oh, and he and Boy #2 both have birthdays in January, too, so that makes it even better. Such bad family planning on our part.

Another issue I’m having with gifts is that since I’m ordering the bulk of them online, they’re arriving in the mail and then being opened by the boys. Of course, my biggest culprit is Boy #1, who just today opened a package addressed to me that contained a present for his brother because “Oh, I forgot it was Christmastime.” Yeah, because the FedEx man is at our house this much any other time of the year!

And one last unChristmas-y thing I’m dealing with: the scents of the season. As Boy #3 and I walked through the Christmas aisles at Target earlier this week, I took in a big whiff of some sort of cinnamon fragrance that was wafting through the air. “Mmm…smell that,” I told Boy #3.

“What is that smell?” he asked me.

“It’s the smell of Christmas,” I told him.

And today when I got home from work and walked in the door, the scent that hit me was not cinnamon — but dog poop. Because The Dog had, of course, crapped himself in his kennel.

No wonder poor Boy #3 was confused. Christmas doesn’t smell like cinnamon and evergreens at his house.

What about you? Is it all “deck the halls with boughs of holly” at your house? Or are you feeling just a teensy bit Grinchish, too?

Post-Thanksgiving Notes to Self

I'm thinking I may need to wax my arms...

Note to Self: If you decide to be the lame-o family member who only contributes Chex Mix to the Thanksgiving dinner, at least remember to grab it off the counter before leaving town. Because arriving at Thanksgiving dinner with 5 mouths to feed and no food to share = DOUBLE lame-o.

Note to Self: Playing Loaded Questions with your older cousins is fun, and the laughter produced could possibly even count as an ab workout. BUT, playing Loaded Questions with your older cousins AND your soon-t0-be teenage son could get a little dicey if questions like “What is your least favorite dirty word?” come up. Something to keep in mind.

Note to Self: Next year, if you choose to go to Target in the wee hours of Black Friday morning, make sure you first check to see when WalMart opens. If WalMart opens later than Target, you will end up in line in what you believe to be Target but you realize is just WalMart in disguise. Signs to look for: a woman ahead of you who is missing her bottom teeth listening to her friend brag about how she cut to the front of the line; and another lady in the line beside you eagerly anticipating how it was going to “come to blows” when the two disorganized lines had to merge into one.

Note to Self: It is not cool to wear a mass-produced store-bought headband to an indie craft fair, no matter how cute it is. ALL the vendors will compliment you on it, and they will follow it up with this question: “I bet you got that here, didn’t you?” To which you will then have to admit that you are not really one of the “cool kids” who buys everything local but instead a corporate slave who purchased it at Target.

Note to Self: Next time you want to get a big project, like painting the bedrooms, completed over a long weekend, don’t actually say it out loud. Because once you verbalize it, you will undoubtedly get sick and spend a good portion of that weekend with your head poised over a plastic popcorn bowl, praying for Mt. Vesuvius to finally erupt so you can get some relief (Which, unfortunately, it never does).

Note to Self: If you ever decide to get rid of your 50-year-old Christmas tree that was your hubby’s Granny’s, do not get sucked into the hype of the “pre-lit” tree. Sure, it assembles in seconds, but it will take you at least two hours to figure out how to plug those lights all in to one another just to realize that the strands that encircle the bottom half of the tree do not work. It will then take another two hours to unwind those 7-mile-long strands from the tree just so you can put replace them with your own string of lights, you know, like we used to do in “the old days.” (However, the nonworking light strands WILL give your dad something to obsess about and allow him the opportunity to use his portable voltmeter while trying to fix them. This could be a temporary benefit, depending on how bored he has been lately.)

Note to Self: No matter how much you’ve missed the boys while they’ve stayed at their grandparents’ houses, they will proceed to fight the second you shut the van door for the ride home. A movie may temporarily subdue them, but this will only prolong the inevitable. It’s just a fact of life; try not to take it personally.

Image from garvee

Hoarders: The School Edition

Last week was parent-teacher conferences at the boys’ elementary school. Ahhh, conferences. A time to discuss your child’s insistence on having everything HIS WAY (*cough* Boy #3), see a myriad of test scores and more test scores (I’m lookin’ at you, No Child Left Behind!) — and snoop in your kid’s locker (not necessarily endorsed by the school).

First on the schedule was Boy #3. Why is it that Boy #1 and Boy #2 would have never DREAMED of throwing a tantrum in class (which in no way implies they exhibited the same proper behavior at home), but my last kid, you know, the one who’s supposed to be “easy-going” and “laid back,” leaped into Lake Tantrum with both feet? Fortunately, Boy #3’s teacher is a real gem and she really gets kindergartners, and boy kindergartners in particular. So although his conference was unlike any other conference I’d attended, it was still very positive, constructive and encouraging. At least Boy #3 seems to have the academics down, so we just need to tackle that social part of school and he’ll be good to go. (Thank God we didn’t send him when he was 5!)

On the way out of the classroom, I spied Boy #3’s locker and said, “Is it okay if I check his locker real quick before I go?” I had suspicions that at least one jacket was camped out in there, forgotten after a cold-morning-but-warm-afternoon day.

But when I opened the locker door, I realized I was not prepared for what I would find. There were several hanging on hooks and several on the floor, and they were all Boy #3’s. I was not only unprepared mentally for what I would find, but unprepared physically too. My face flushed as I passed a family in the hall, my arms loaded up with sweatshirts, jackets and mittens.

As I walked by the office en route to the parking lot, I noticed two long tables, beside which hung a huge sign: “Parents! If it’s not at home, it’s probably here. Please check our Lost & Found!” I felt my stomach sink as I glanced at the orphaned clothing items on display. Oh, how I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to stop.

The first thing that caught my eye was a navy blue jacket with “ENGLAND” printed across the front. An unusual jacket, and coincidentally, one that I had just found at a local thrift store for Boy #2. Hmm…what are the odds that someone else has this same jacket, I wondered. But when I spotted another sweatshirt of Boy #2’s, I knew that both jackets belonged to my kid. As did the stocking cap with a “C” on it. As did the navy blue gloves with the orange flames. As did the OTHER sweatshirt.

Since my arms were already full before, you can imagine the sight I made after adding the Lost & Found rescues to my pile. I shuffled to my van, barely able to see above the mountain of outerwear I was carrying, in what can only be described as “The Walk of Shame.” As other parents passed by me, I could imagine the thoughts running through their heads. Thoughts like, “What have her kids been wearing at home?” and “I’m so glad I’m not her” and “Call the police, this lady’s been looting at the Lost & Found!”

But, as you can imagine if you’re at all familiar with my life, it gets better, folks.

Yep, remember I had only raided Boy #3’s locker and the Lost & Found. I hadn’t yet made it to Boy #2’s locker.

Winter coat? Check.

Fall jackets in several different weights? Check.

Beach towel? Check.

Winter coat that’s two sizes too big because you had left all your other coats at school and so had to wear your older brother’s coat because there was frost on the ground and your mom didn’t want to get turned in to DHS for sending her kid to school without proper weather attire? And, check.

Think I’m exaggerating? Do 16 coats, 2 pairs of gloves, 1 single glove, 2 hats and 1 beach towel lie?

Am I the only one? Or is anyone else raising a brood of hoarders?

A Lesson in Genetics

The ride home from school today was a doozie. Boy #3 had lost his first tooth, and he had a treasure box, a sticker on his shirt AND a hole in his mouth to prove it. The minivan was full of excitement and happiness for a total of three minutes — until we pulled into our driveway, I put the van in park and Boy #2 slammed the van door on his finger.

At first I wasn’t sure what had happened. I just heard that ear-piercing scream, the one that makes a mom drop her groceries in the driveway and run to see what was wrong. (You know what I’m talking about.)

Fortunately, it wasn’t bleeding too much and is likely just really bruised. Unfortunately, it’s the third finger on his writing hand. And regardless, it still hurt a lot.

After we bandaged his finger and he stopped crying (and I picked the groceries up off the cement), I was able to step back and wonder how he shut his finger in the door. The boy is almost 9 years old and has shut that door literally thousands of time. How ever did he not move his finger out of the way this time?

And then my mind drifted back to earlier that day when I was in a store, bent down to get a closer look at a candle and speared myself in the forehead with a metal bracket sticking out from the display.

Oh, and then later in my kitchen when I whacked my forehead (again) on an open cupboard door. (And no, my cupboard doors are not made of plexiglass, but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.)

I tell Husband that he knew what he was getting into when he married me. He’s an athlete. I, on the other hand, am not. (And that’s putting it mildly.) He was warned that if we procreated, there was a chance our children would inherit the awkwardness of their mother instead of the athleticism of their father. I’m not sure he really believed it, however. I think he secretly believed his swift and nimble genes would overpower my off-balanced and sluggish genes.

We’ll consider this a lesson in genetics.

I think I made Boy #2 feel a little better when I told him the story of how I once shut my head in the car door. In college. Outside the library. With my boyfriend (now husband) in the car.

“Did it bleed?” he asked, wiping away tears.

“Nope, just severely bruised my ears,” I said, gently tousling his hair.

Clumsiness does have its merits — teaching humility and empathy. (It does not, however, help you run and catch a ball at the same time.)

Photo by Bubbels

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten—Really?

Last night I was reading with Boy #3. We were reading Math-terpieces (which is a really cool book, by the way). It introduces a famous painting and then adds math to the mix by pulling out a feature in the painting, such as a melting watch (think Dali) or a feature related to the painting, like soup cans (yep, Warhol) and asks kids to do some problem solving, combining groups to arrive at a certain sum.

I was focused on the math, and I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with how Boy #3 was doing with coming up with “7” or “9” several different ways. But it was when I turned to page 20 that he asked the question that completely blew my mind.

“Is that a Piet Mondrian?”

“What?” I asked, sure that I must’ve heard him wrong.

“Is that painting by Piet Mondrian?” he asked again. And mind you, it wasn’t just that he asked it, it was also the way the Dutch name just rolled off his tongue, like he’d been saying it since right after he learned “dada.”

Now, here’s the really sad part: I didn’t know. I had to look on the page and find the caption under the painting to see which artist had created the work.

Oh, yeah, Piet Mondrian. Of course it was.

“Uh, honey, how did you know that Piet Mondrian painted this?” I asked. (I didn’t pronounce it nearly as nicely as he did.) I knew he hadn’t had time to find and read the caption yet; I had just turned the page.

“I learned it in Art class,” he said.

“You did?” I asked, remembering when I was in kindergarten and how our entire Art curriculum seemed to revolve around a single standard: “Don’t eat paste.”

“Yeah,” Boy #3 said nonchalantly, sounding eerily like Cliff Clavin. “He only painted squares and lines. Well, except for one painting of a barn that he did early on. But the rest were just squares.”

“Is that so?” I asked, realizing I’d just gotten schooled by my 6-year-old.

I think Robert Fulghum may want to consider revising his book and adding a chapter on “Art History and Appreciation.”

Image: by Anonymous (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Halloween, ninjas and Cloris Leachman

Happy Halloween! Well, if you’re weird like us Central Iowans, you celebrated tonight with trick-or-treating. (We do “Beggar’s Night,” which is never actually on Halloween. Yeah, I know. Weird.)

Boys #2 and #3 were ninjas, and Boy #1 just hung out as his friend’s house and played video games. (Which I was really okay with.) It was a beautiful evening. High of 70 today with little wind. The boys didn’t even have to wear coats over their ninja costumes! In fact, this afternoon Boy #3 went outside in a sleeveless shirt and shorts and flew his Bakugan kite. Not many Halloweens here in Iowa that we can do that!

I don’t have photos uploaded yet, and I’m just too lazy to do it right now. (Possibly due to the sugar coma I think I’m experiencing. I was the one who handed out candy this year, and it went something like this: One for Batman, one for me. One for Mary Poppins, one for me. One for the little boy whose head looks like it’s split open with his brain exposed, one for me.)

So instead of photos, I have a clip for you from my new second-favorite TV show (after 30 Rock, of course). Please tell me you’ve seen Raising Hope. If you haven’t, go to Hulu right now and watch every episode. It’s hysterical but also smart and sweet. And I think that Cloris Leachman is now giving Tina Fey some serious competition to be my BFF. Is it weird that I daydream about having a slumber party with Tina and Cloris where we eat Funyuns and graham cracker-chocolate frosting sandwiches while we make prank phone calls and giggle until we finally fall asleep during a marathon viewing of “The Facts of Life”?

The half-star day

Three stars
Image via Wikipedia

Boy #3 has been having, let’s call it “issues,” in school. I told you a couple weeks ago that he’s been naughty lately. The little dude is still struggling, and so are we.

Last week, after getting an email from his teacher informing us of his little habit of “testing” her when she asks him to follow directions, Husband and I created a chart for Boy #3. For every day that he comes home with a good report, he gets to put a star sticker on the chart. If he comes home with a not-so-good report, he doesn’t get a star, and he also doesn’t get to watch TV that night. After 10 stars, he gets the pack of SpongeBob Silly Bandz I picked up at Fareway. (Oh, how those Silly Bandz are taunting him from their place on the counter…)

After initiating the chart, he did very well. He got a good report the rest of the week and happily gave himself his stars.

When he climbed in the van after school today, however, the story was not quite as good. I asked him if he’d had a good day, and there was a pregnant pause. Definitely not a good sign. I have to hand it to the little stinker, though, he did tell me the truth. Well, most of it, anyway.

“No,” he said.

When I asked him why, he answered, “Because I threw the cards on the ground.” Why did he throw the cards on the ground, you may wonder? “I didn’t get to play CandyLand 2!” he told me. Man, kindergarten is rough these days!

So we talked about it and I asked him if it was worth throwing the cards on the floor. Did it make him feel better to get into trouble? No, he said. He seemed to understand what he’d done wrong and feel genuinely bad about it. And I was feeling pretty good about it, all things considered.

That is, until I got home and read the email from his teacher. It seems Boy #3 had sugar-coated his misbehavior just a teensy bit. The first clue to that was the use of the term “very destructive behavior during center time” by his teacher.

It seems that he didn’t just throw the cards on the ground, but after repeated warnings, mixed up all of her decks of cards together and threw them on the ground and also was cutting other kids’ papers up (which they didn’t want him to do). And my favorite? During cleanup time, he proceeded to headbutt other kids in the chest.

Despite all this, Boy #3 still thought that he should get a half of a star on his chart. His reasoning:

“But I was good in the morning!”

If only life worked that way, dear. If only . . .

Needless to say, since this is the first we’ve had to deal with destructive and disruptive behavior with our kids AT SCHOOL (Please, they are destructive and disruptive AS A RULE at home!), I’d love any advice you could give, or stories of your own kids’ bad behavior just to make me feel better. (wink)

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“I’m a real mom!”

Okay, now read the title like Pinocchio says “I’m a real boy!” at the end of “Shrek.”

Now you’ve got it!

This is what I felt like yelling (the “mom,” not the “boy” one) Sunday night after managing to accomplish several “real mom” tasks that day.

First off, I was trolling through Michaels on the lookout for some sort of glueish substance that would hold on Boy #2’s badges now that he’s an official Cub Scout. I finally found something that looked like it would accomplish the goal, but after reading the instructions and warnings, I decided to suck it up and do the “mom” thing: I decided to sew the badges on myself. With a real needle. And thread.

How hard can it be? I thought. As I told my husband after he was unable to hide his surprise and amusement at the thought of me tackling a sewing project, “I can figure this out. I’m not an imbecile.” And he added, “Or an invalid.”

True. I am in relatively good health and have full use of my limbs. (Not that you need to be in good health or have full use of your limbs. My mom can sew me under the table and one of her hands is deformed. And no, she won’t care that I’m telling you this. We all love her crazy hand.)

So after staring at the sewing section of Michaels (which, fortunately for me, isn’t very big) for literally 15 minutes, I finally picked out needles, straight pins, and thread that I thought would work. And a thimble. (Do people really use those?)

It only took me an hour to sew two sides of a two-inch number patch on the shirt. That’s when I decided that black thread on a red patch is NOT cool. Especially when sewed on by a non-sewing mom. There was no hiding any mistakes or stitches-gone-horribly-wrong. Sadly, it only took about a minute to rip all those stitches out. Next purchase: red thread.

I moved on to the dark-colored patch, and after poking my finger numerous times (I couldn’t even move my finger with that stupid thimble on!) and nearly going blind, I got that puppy to stay. And it didn’t look half bad. (Note to self: Dark-colored thread on dark fabrics; light-colored thread on light fabrics. Who knew?)

I even took a photo to show off my handiwork. (The one I sewed on is the “Den 4” patch.)

Also that day, after realizing how incredibly nice it was outside and how my boys hadn’t ventured outside for nearly 24 hours, I told Boys #2 and #3 to get in the van.

I took off with no real destination in mind and ended up at a nearby lake. “Let’s look for leaves,” I told them, giving them each a plastic bag to collect their treasures.

They were gung-ho — until they saw the playground.

FINE, I said. You can play on the playground. (This was really cutting into the “cool mom who does nature things” rep I was going for, but I gave in for a little bit, thinking maybe I could just switch to the “cool mom who is so flexible she lets her kids have an impromptu go at the playground” rep instead.)

It was during my daydreaming about all the mom awards I was going to win that I noticed that Boy #3 was wearing two different shoes. Oh, they were both Crocs. But one was navy and red, and the other was light blue and looked like a pirate.

I realized, though, that the other mom on the playground probably wouldn’t either notice or, if she did, care, considering she had 5 kids ages 1 to 12, and the two oldest boys were playing “rock wars” the entire time. This, as you may surmise, consisted of throwing rocks at each other as hard as they could.

Yeah, don’t worry about the other kids on the playground, three of whom are yours and are barely walking. A rock in the eye never hurt anyone. In fact, it builds character…

Eventually my boys were persuaded to leave the playground and look for leaves. They were kind of excited at first but quickly became a bit bored by it. This became evident when I spotted the lone tree with bright-red leaves in the distance and pointed it out to them saying, “Guys, go grab some of those red leaves for our collection!” and they said, “Eh, you can go. We’re tired.”

I tried to point out the differences in the leaves, how some were big and some were small, some were red and some were yellow, some were rounded and some were pointed, and I think they actually absorbed a little of it. Really, I know nothing about trees, but it seemed like the “mom” thing to do.

When we got home, I asked the boys if they wanted to make a craft with the leaves. After looking at me quizzically for a few moments (Crafts are not something we routinely do in the Boogers & Burps household, at least not intentionally), Boy #2 said, “Naw,” and ran upstairs. Boy #3, however, was ready for some fun.

The fun didn’t last too long, though, because the “craft” I concocted was just to stick the leaves on some contact paper and then put another piece of contact paper on the other side, making a place mat, of sorts.

Luckily, since he doesn’t have much to compare it to, this craft was good enough for Boy #3, and he was proud of the result.

Sewing  AND crafts in ONE DAY? Man, I was on a roll.

Just as quickly as Pinocchio became a real boy, however, the Fairy Godmother’s renegade wand turned him back into the wooden toy.

And like Pinocchio, I gave a little sigh of disappointment when I woke up Monday morning and realized that I had only experienced a moment as a “real mom.” The spell had broken. I picked up my marionette-stringed arms, gave my boys a hug and sent them off to school — realizing as I dropped them off yelling ‘”Go! Go! Run so you’re not late!” that I hadn’t made them brush their teeth either.