April Fools’ Day

“Hey Hannah,” I said, motioning her over to her Easter basket loot. “Do you remember eating these?” I asked, pointing to the Cadbury mini eggs.

“No….well, kind of…” she replied.

“These are your dad’s FAVORITE Easter candies. I thought you’d really like them, too,” I explained. Ever trying to include a deployed parent into daily life is a hallmark of military life.

“Wait. So …YOU –  bought – these? At a store?” Hannah asked slowly.

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The jig is up. She knows. And I let it slip!

“I KNEW IT!” she exclaimed, eyes wide. “It makes no sense how a bunny can get all over the world and hide eggs. It just doesn’t make sense.”

I took a deep breath and sighed. Their days had been numbered. The past few years, my very curious and inquisitive (read: suspicious) children have been tiptoeing around the subjects of various holidays….and holiday characters. I had wondered how many holidays we had left where they still believed whole heartedly.  I knew it was coming. It was part of the reason I knew doing the elf this past year was a necessity, as they would soon cross the threshold of childhood and a layer of magic would disappear. When they asked questions, I would respond with the classic, “What do you think?” and they would hem and haw, just like I did when I was a kid, and I would fool myself into thinking I had bought them just a little more time on the innocence clock.

There was no more hitting the snooze button. Whether I wanted to or not, it was time for the conversation. I busted out the letter I had written (adapted from one online) and read it to them:

Dear Jacob and Hannah,

I heard you discussing the difference between magic and miracles a while ago and how Santa does what he does. (As well as the easter bunny and the tooth fairy.) You brought up some really good points. Your dad and I know you like to have the facts and answers about things. We have given it careful thought to know just what to say.

The short answer is you are right. There is no such thing as magic in the literal sense. Magic is an illusion. We are the people who fill your stocking and choose and wrap the presents under the tree, hide the easter eggs, and put the money under your pillow when you lose a tooth – just as our parents did for us, their parents did for them, and you might one day do for kids of your own. There is no one single Santa, or E.B. These holiday figures are lots and lots of people who keep the spirit of these holidays alive. It lives in our hearts – not at the North Pole.

Throughout your life you will need the capacity to believe: in yourself, in your family, in your friends, and most importantly, in God. You’ll need to be able to believe in things you cannot measure or touch – just because we cannot see them doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

You are also right in that there are such things as miracles – things that cannot be measured, held, or explained in a concrete way; things like love, gratitude, and hope. The idea of Santa represents the miracle of these unmeasurable things. It teaches children to believe in something they cannot see or touch, much like we cannot see or touch Jesus, or the wind, friendship, or love – we can feel it and know it is there. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas – the miracle that God came to Earth! Santa is a way for little kids to begin to understand such miracles.

We feel you are ready to know the truth. With full hearts, people like Mommy and Daddy take our turns helping complete the jobs that would otherwise be impossible. We celebrate Christmas and Easter using symbols and characters that represent hard-to-explain miracles.

Now that you know, you will get to carry on the spirit of these holidays with us!

Love,
Mom and Dad

Feeling a bit wobbly, I looked up from my screen after reading it aloud. Hannah was grinning, “It’s okay, mom!” she said reassuringly, trying to comfort me! I chuckled.

“I totally knew,” stated Jake. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Do you feel betrayed? Like we lied to you all these years?” I asked, curious to know their perspective.

“NO!” they both emphatically agreed. “It makes sense to explain things like that to little kids. We just aren’t little kids anymore,” shrugged Jake, always Mr. Matter-of-fact about things, while Hannah nodded her agreement. We continued discussing the secrets that Eric and I had kept from them all these years. With each new revelation, they would giggle and laugh at our craftiness.

“So, what about the Santa gifts?” Hannah asked. “The tags?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” I replied, smiling. “Your dad and I would buy one special roll of wrapping paper that you had never seen before. That would be “Santa’s Paper”. Then one package of tags would also be new. I would write Santa’s tags with my left hand so the handwriting would be just a bit different.”

“DUDE!” Jacob yelled, laughing. “That’s SO awesome! I never even noticed that!”

“And the elf?” Hannah asked quietly.

I braced myself. She LOVES the elf. Like really loves it.

“Me,” I quietly replied.

“YOU DID THOSE SNOWFLAKES!? And the little paintings?! Wow….” she marveled.

“Mom,” Jacob said distractedly while he continued playing his computer game, “You are really good. That must have taken a lot of work.”

While trying not to be pile of emotional mom-goo at their appreciation of my expert level of deception, I turned to Hannah and whispered, “Now you can be in on the fun, too! We can take turns with the elf, you and I can hide it for Jake and Daddy one day, then they can do it for us the next….”

“Oh yes!!! Can we plan it out right now?!” she asked, jumping up and down.

I laughed. “No. It’s April. We got time, sister,” I told her. This April fools’ day, the “fooling” may be over, but the magic will never end.

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Wonder and Joy

I need to say thank you.

Thank you to the internet for inspiration. Thank you to all the people who do the holiday season up big. Thank you to the Heather Lands of the world who make me belly laugh about our silly traditions. Thank you for the conversations of dear friends as we eat delicious food, do laundry, and find humor in our family and our work. Thank you for far away friends as we compare notes and ideas to make the holidays wonderful, and commiserate with us when they go awry. Thank you, Mom, for the conversation about the wonder of Christmas, and letting kids be kids.

And a special thank you to Hannah’s teacher.

You see, her teacher shared that she had said her home elf was quite boring. Dobby only moved around but never did anything funny or amazing like the elf in the classroom. She wasn’t shaming me or ridiculing me by sharing what Hannah had said, but was simply sharing the magic of the season…she loved how her students’ faces lit up each day as the elf did some new and crazy thing – even simple things – all by themselves.

It woke me up. Big time.

In a season where perfection abounds, it’s hard when things aren’t they way we’d like them. My person is deployed. (No, they don’t get Christmas off. Or New Year’s. Or the kids’ birthdays. Or their birthday. Or any of the other holidays this year.) The kids are missing their dad. It sucks. Yes, it’s part of it, but it still sucks.

And yet….it’s Christmas.

Hannah’s teacher sharing reminded me that even though it’s not an ideal holiday, that while our hearts are hurting, they can also be filled with joy.

And wonder.

And the magic of a silly elf on the shelf.

Not only did he do all these silly antics over the past month…

…he reminded us all that wonder and joy can still be found.

Kind of what Christmas is all about anyway, right?

❤️ Wishing you joy and wonder this Christmas season ❤️❤️❤️

Flow

Like any good road trip/family vacation, there are nuggets of joy tucked in amongst the agony of the drive, the “are we there yets?” and the hustle and bustle of traveling during the holidays.

We’ve been able to see Eric’s family, celebrate Christmas, and even Santa came and delivered his goods in our hotel room! Of course no family vacation is complete without the hotel pool, to which we have been nearly daily visitors. Enjoying the kids’ next level of independence as they can both swim has been especially joyful for Eric and I.

Christmas is wonderful, and one of the most anticipated holidays in our home, but is often rife with high expectations, anxiety, and of course missing far away family. Today, the day after Christmas, has been a really great day. We lowered our expectations. We took things as they came, had (mostly) more patience with the minions, and had loose plans to go skiing and tubing. Skiing (and skating tomorrow) are the two bucket list items that Hannah has been begging to do.


Hannah had her first ski lesson, and Jake and I tromped off to the snow tubing park!

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It may not look like much, but it was quite the hill! Above is looking up to the top, and below is the bottom straightaway.

When we hopped onto the conveyor belt to take us to the top, Jacob stated that “this was not what I expected” and that he “would not be doing this”.

“Okay,” I said. “But we have to do it at least once, because that’s the only way down.” I told him to take his time, and that when he was ready we’d do it. Giving it some thought and watching 3 or 4 people gleefully fly down the hill, Jake decided he was ready. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

At the bottom of the hill, he was grinning ear to ear and yelling, “That was AWESOME! We are doing that AGAIN!”

And we did!

Two hours later we were tired and cold, but had a blast! Jake and I took solo rides, and then at the end we rode tandem and giggled all the way down!

At the end of our time, we met back up with Eric and Hannah and went to the lodge to warm up and grab some dinner.

It was just one of those days that could have gone wrong in many ways, but didn’t. Hannah went skiing and did fantastic! We all got to play in the snow and had a wonderful time. It was a day that had joy woven through the decision to simply go with the flow and have no expectations.

I need to remember this day when I get caught up in the busy and the to-do list. Going with the flow always beats the alternative!

Resolutioners

I love this season. Reflections, taking stock of accomplishments, setting new goals, appreciating the good of the past while looking ahead with anticipation of what the next year might bring.

Lately much of what I hear at the gym is, something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, just wait until January! All the New Years’ resolution makers will be in here making the place packed…”

I love a new year. Why not make a plan to achieve a goal? Even if the goal isn’t completed, isn’t it better to make steps in the direction of your dreams than to not try at all?

How about this: instead of eye rolling the new members of the gym, why not smile? Why not give them a nod of encouragement?  What does positivity cost you?

Nothing.

Maybe if we are kinder to people, they won’t find the gym such an intimidating place. Instead of complaining about a lack of parking, let’s be a community of encouragement.

Let’s make one of our resolutions to be welcoming rather than arrogant. Remember how scary this stuff was when you started?

Perhaps this really is the year.

Their year to make lasting healthful changes.

Your year.

2016. Let’s dream some big dreams and chase them with abandon!

Halloween

I LOVE Halloween.

Like, a lot.

Probably more than most people. More than Christmas and my birthday put together. It’s one day a year where you can dress up like a lunatic, act crazy, get candy from strangers and it’s all perfectly acceptable! What’s not to love, right?!

Previously I’ve been Cat in the Hat and the minions were Thing 1 and Thing 2. cropped-img_4310.jpgThe hubby and I have done the Outlet and Plug in (and will reprise our roles this year while trick or treating with the kids). Dressing up is just fun and we get into it big time. Even as a kid, I remember dreaming up all kinds of craziness with my parents each year.

At the gym, we had a Star Wars-themed dress up day a few days before the main event. I still had clients to train, but I came armed with my buns and a borrowed-from-my-son light saber.

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Those buns, however, did not come without some work!

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It’s been about 10 years since I’ve done this….and I quickly remembered why!

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Dead animal, anyone?

We were told that we could of course dress up on Saturday – the big day. I hadn’t given it much thought, other than going trick or treating with our kids in the evening. I hadn’t planned on dressing up that morning for spin and training sessions…but then I got to thinking….

What could be fitness related, but allow me to actually train?

Enter the grand-daddy of fitness costumes:

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“Let’s sweat to the oldies!!!!” Thank you Richard Simmons!

I didn’t know it was possible to love the holiday more than I already did!

Happy Halloween!!

Making Memories

I have visions; ideas about the way things should go. I’m sure we all do to some degree. I thought it would be fun to drive around looking at Christmas lights, which is something we do every year. We’d drink some cocoa in the car, I would introduce the kids to more Christmas carols while oohing and ahhing at all the festive decorations. A fun evening out of the house, or so I thought. We had the cocoa, the carols were queued up, and for about 5 minutes my plans for a nice evening actually matched reality. They got a kick out of The Twelve Days of Christmas (I think they liked the repetition and the fact that I kept flubbing up the words!) There were some festive displays (some a la Christmas Vacation) and tons of blow-up yard “art”. Then, as if they’d been injected with the crazy minion-making serum from Despicable Me 2, things took a turn.

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Suddenly, my pleasant car ride turned into songs (screams, really) about all things toilet, which is what they currently think is beyond hilarious. Pee, poo, toots, boogers, burps – essentially any and all bodily functions are fair game. Yes, these things are funny, but that funny?! Really?!

I know, I know, it’s their age. It’s all a phase. I should really dial down my expectations a bit. Even if they aren’t the picture perfect memories I envision, at least they are making memories. Memories about how they drove their mother crazy, perhaps, but memories all the same.

What traditions do you do with your kids around the holidays? Ever have plans that failed miserably? Share your holiday “joy”!

Questioning Tradition

We all have that friend. That person in your world that bucks the mainstream and does their own thing. Recently such a person in my circle posted about how they don’t celebrate many national holidays, but instead, as a family have chosen to make new traditions that align more with their values. I have to admit, my initial reaction was somewhere along the lines of, “Oh, come on. What’s the big deal about celebrating gratitude with a meal surrounded by loved ones?” I read the post a few days ago and find that I am still thinking about it as well as the online conversation that followed. Linked to her thoughts was an article about the Wampanoag side of the First Thanksgiving.

Knowing that much of what we were taught in grade school was watered down, polished up, and neatly packaged, I read the article and followed the conversation as others chimed in. Despite various opinions, the general consensus was that it’s good to question why we do the things we do.

Are we really celebrating Pilgrims, or Native American culture on Thanksgiving?
Are we celebrating a kick-off to excess spending and holiday shopping?
Are we just there to catch the game, a retail parade, and some food?
Are we celebrating a posture of gratefulness, gathering with loved ones for a meal?
Are we only getting together because that’s what we’ve always done?
Are we staring at our phones waiting for the time to tick by until we can leave a place we really didn’t want to be?
Why do celebrate the way we do?
Should we celebrate at all?

As a military family, it just isn’t possible for us to do things the same every single year. Often we have to make up new traditions for our children because who knows where we will be stationed next. (In Hawaii, for example, it’s kind of hard to build a snowman!) As a family with little ones, we’ve decided that we will mostly not travel on holidays. (It kind of ruins Christmas for a kid who spends the day in the car house hopping for hours on end.) But that’s just us, and our doors are always open for any family and friends that would like to join us. We evaluated what works and what doesn’t and made our own tradition.

In the same vein, I found myself over the past few years reevaluating our traditions around food, in part because our son doesn’t eat a large variety of foods, but also because over the last few years, we have converted to a generally more healthful diet. This year we did a smoked turkey breast (because it’s essentially 2.2 people eating it, why do we need an ENTIRE turkey?), roasted garlic green beans, rustic potatoes (rustic=mashed with skins on), some chopped salad, and diced canteloupe. No gravy (we just don’t eat it). No store-bought dinner rolls. Do we need to make apple pie AND pumpkin pie AND cheesecake? No. So we didn’t do it. Last year we did all the traditional dishes (green bean casserole, dressing, etc.) but made everything from scratch. No matter how our menu changes from year to year, what I keep coming back to, is: if I wouldn’t buy the Stove-Top canister of “stuffing” any other day of the year because I don’t eat like that, why would I do it on a “special” day, just because that’s “what we’ve always done”. Will it cease to be a special day if I don’t gorge on food that makes me feel gross?

Most of us rarely question the why of what we do. We go through the motions of our lives, ticking the seasons down the calendar and it never occurs to us to take a moment and ponder the point, or the even the benefit, of our celebrations. While we personally celebrate Christ at Christmas and Easter, we don’t have to buy into the consumerism of these or any other Hallmark holiday. We can gather around a meal with loved ones and give thanks. We can use Santa as a metaphor for the wonder, innocence and magic of the Christmas season. We can do it however we like. Traditions can be comforting, sentimental, and wonderful, but if it no longer serves a purpose, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.

What’s your favorite tradition? Have you ever considered “swimming upstream” to buck tradition and do your own thing? Do you have a person in your world that does life a little differently? Does that cause you to reconsider how you do things? Please share in the comments!