Holiday Cuing

“Grrrr.  I’m a dragon,” Kyra scrapped her fingernails along my kitchen cabinets as she flapped her Night Fury pajama wings.

We heard Thomas and Ethan stumble down the hall to our master bedroom and dive under the covers.

“I’m going to get you!” Kyra threatened.

Ethan screamed.

Kyra giggled hysterically and ran as fast as she could toward her victims.

I sat down at our dining table cuing my family’s idea of holiday fun with MaMa’s.

In three days, we would be flying to California to stay at my dad’s house through the New Year.   Thomas, the kids, and my half-brother would help me set up a Christmas tree that MaMa bought before I was born and decorate it with ornaments that dazzled me as a child.   Parties would fill dad’s house with MaMa’s best crystal and his secret family Chinese recipes.  The night before Christmas, we might attend midnight mass.  Before tucking the kids to bed, we would set out milk and cookies for Santa Claus.  On Christmas morning, there would be presents spilling a few feet in diameter from the tree, with at least ten presents for each person to open so that it would be well past lunch before we finished tearing off all the wrapping.  At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, we would light candles in remembrance of all those who passed.

After MaMa died, I inherited these responsibilities.  I had always thought these traditions had to be sustained, no matter what, otherwise the backbone of the family connecting ancestors to descendants would shatter.  Besides, I did want my kids and my half-brother to grow up, like me, believing in Santa Claus and miracles at Christmas.  And maybe, I hoped some things from my childhood could remain constant between my dad and me.

But now that I am a mother, I simply don’t know how MaMa had the energy to keep these traditions going even after I entered college.  Up through high school, I wrote a letter to Santa and received a reply once a year.  When we vacationed, MaMa still managed to ensure that Santa Claus could find us.

My track record wasn’t too good.  Last week, Kyra dug around in my Explorer cargo space and found some Christmas presents that I hadn’t had a chance to wrap and hide.  This year, I can only afford three presents for each kid glistening beneath the tree.  Sometimes, Thomas has to entertain the kids on Christmas morning while I finish wrapping.  And my body almost always collapses the week after the holidays.

Last Christmas, my dad decided to take his family to Disneyworld and while I was appalled that he broke tradition, I had my first taste of a quiet Alaskan Christmas.  We still decorated a tree, but this one was alive and filled our lungs with the energizing effects of pine.  Kyra and Ethan set out their favorite snacks for Santa and stealthily snacked on it until only crumbs were left on the plate after they went to bed.  On Christmas morning, they fought over the replenished snacks that Santa nibbled and ignored his presents.  Most days, the four of us slept in and lounged in front of our wood burning stove playing games.

At the dining table, I looked out the window at a tranquil world coated in soft white powder. I couldn’t help feeling some regret that we weren’t staying home for the holidays.

In heavy pursuit, Ethan clamored into my lap, yelling, “Help!  Dragon!”

He buried his face in my chest and growled.  Kyra arrived on Thomas’ shoulders pretending to breathe fire, then sprang onto my head and tackled me to the floor.  We all laughed until our stomachs hurt.

When I could breathe again, I realized that it was important for the four of us to create own traditions too.

Ice ornaments, for example, was one that I really wanted to try ever since Jessica Cochran posted “Five Winter Crafts to Do with your Kids.”

Earlier that day, the kids had gathered a pile of rocks, twigs, and toys on the dining table.  I pointed to them and asked, “Are you ready to make ornaments?”

“Yeah!” they both jumped up and down.

We tried both the cookie cutter method and the bowls of water.  Kyra poured out a can of magnetic letters and dropped the letters of her name and Ethan’s into bowls of water.  Ethan studied the impact of yanking his Lightning McQueen keychain in and out of a bowl.  While I cooked, Thomas carefully carried each ornament outside to freeze on our patio.

The kids made a huge mess.  Their clothes were soaked.  Water had seeped beneath the glass top and ruined the cherry wood dining table.  Food coloring stained all of our hands and magnetic letters turned our living area into a mine field. It looked like a tornado struck our home, but this was how we rolled.

What traditions are hard for you to let go during the holidays?


Who’s the Alpha Now?

As I write this post, my son is sitting on my lap, driving Lightning McQueen up and down my right arm.  This is where he likes to sit during the day if I have some work to finish on my laptop, but now it’s three in the morning and I just sat down for my prized few hours of writing time, when usually all through the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.

My husband had established our alpha status earlier tonight by patiently returning Ethan to his bed at least ten times despite all his toddler tricks and tantrums.  We had cheered our victory when he gave up and passed out in his own bed.

With my husband asleep, I know it is up to me to exert our alpha role.

“Mommee, I hungry,” Ethan starts.

I kiss his peach fuzz head and say firmly, “No, it’s time for bed.”

Ever since Kyra taught Ethan how to climb out of his crib by throwing a leg over the bars and rappelling off the wall and onto the bookshelf, the Sleep Wars have begun again.

Tucked in a twin-sized bed, our two-year-old believes that once the lights are out and all is quiet in the house, he can do whatever he wants.

Sometimes, he crawls into his sister’s bed and tickles her all night long.  One time, her Kindergarten teacher called me and said that Kyra had a meltdown at recess and told everyone, “I’m exhausted.”

Other times, we find him curled up beneath the train table or outside our door.

I think we forgot how stubborn he could be.  When he was an infant, he used to cry for a solid hour despite every sleep schedule and trick we tried.  He wore our patience so thin that I remember throwing our copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child in the trash.

“But Mommee.  I hungry,” Ethan tries again.

I cradle him in my arms and bring him back to his bed.  He starts to cry.  Worried that he would wake the whole family, I climb in too.

A whisper of his kitty cat meow and “Mommee, I’m scared” and he’s snuggled into the crook of my left armpit.  He wraps his right arm around my head and gently massages my ear.   He rewards me with little wet kisses on my nose and my forehead.  His tiny toes grip at my side.  Then, for extra measure, he presses his cheek against mine.

I’m a sucker, I know.  I’m Play-Doh in his baby hands.

To make things more complicated, I did need his baby hugs.  Early this morning, my grandmother passed away in her sleep.  My mother’s mother had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t recognize me years ago.  However, I still felt a terrible loss.  I swallowed the thought that now I had no living grandparents.

Ethan asks me, “Mommee, sad?”

I laugh.  “Yes, my son.  Thank you for noticing.”

He says, “Mommee need band aid.”

I wrap my arms around him tighter and fall asleep in his pudgy arms wafting in a sweet baby snore lullaby.

What has your child done to achieve alpha status?

Doting Grandparents Wanted (won AK Professional Communicator’s Award)

After listening to Tuesday’s show, I considered placing an ad for a grandparent willing to make breakfast for my kids every morning or read them stories several times a week over video chat.

On a whim, I typed into Google “Grandparents wanted” and was surprised to discover I’m not the first one to joke about this.

Kristen, a reader of the New York Times Motherlode posted in “Absent Grandparents” that after her parents died she thought about placing this kind of ad in Craigslist.

She says, “Love is an incredible gift and an asset. I wish I could surround my son with more of it. No matter how imperfect, I wish we had others on our team, backing up our plays, pinch hitting for us when needed and most importantly, rooting us on in that special way that only family can.”

Living far away from relatives, I envy my friends who have grandparents backing up their plays.   Janis, my best friend in Washington, D.C., tells me that every day her husband’s parents pick her up from the metro after work.   In the backseat, her son was already fed and bathed from school.  In the summers, my bridesmaid Esther who lives in Washington State, flies her son to Los Angeles to bond with her parents and learn Korean.

Wow.  My mother died before my kids were born and Thomas’ dad died this January.  Their only chance to bond with Grandma Teresa on Thomas’ side and Grandpa John on mine occurs once a year at noisy restaurant dinners splintered by holiday chaos and jet lag.

My kids can’t speak Korean, the language that Grandma Teresa is most comfortable with.  She skyped with us twice, when Thomas’ siblings set it up, but only smiled shyly from the distance.  And Grandpa John, well, he’s probably pissed that I’m even calling him “Grandpa.”   Unfortunately, we have never been able to agree on a better name.  He thinks the Chinese word for Grandpa sounds even worse:  Wai Goon or Lou Goon Goon.  Wai means external.  Lou means Old.  Goon just adds further insult I suppose.  Once while bouncing newborn Kyra on his lap, he asked me, “How about if she just calls me John?”

Honestly, I haven’t tried very hard to find an alternative name for my dad because I’m still angry about these three awkward conversations:

LESLIE: So, I have some good news.  I’m pregnant again.

DAD: (Let’s out a sigh like a balloon losing air.)

LESLIE: You don’t have anything to say about another grandchild?

DAD:  Nothing to be excited about.  I’m getting older.  Life goes on.

LESLIE: So, I was thinking about visiting this Christmas, since it will be the first time everyone’s meeting Ethan.

DAD: That’s okay.  Save money.  Just send pictures or video.

LESLIE:  When we’re visiting, I need a babysitter for Kyra and Ethan for a few hours after we put them to bed.

DAD:  Did you ask your godparents?

LESLIE:  I did and they can’t commit right now.

DAD: What are you going to do?

I rub these exchanges like worry stones, until I’m no longer sure of their original form. It’s taken me a long time to understand that it’s not because he doesn’t love Kyra and Ethan.  According to Lisa Belkin of Motherlode’s  “Just Don’t Call me ‘Grandma’”  post, it’s a baby boomer thing.  Dad just doesn’t want to feel old.

What he doesn’t understand is that I worry that my kids are growing up untethered. Perhaps one day, they might wonder what place or culture or ancestors they belong to.

You see, Kyra and Ethan probably have more grandparents than most kids.  I’ve made sure of that, collecting over a dozen surrogate grandparents in addition to Grandma Teresa and Grandpa John, but they are all spread across the Lower 48.

And while my kids do receive tons of love from surrogate grandparents, I can’t help feeling a bit jealous when I hear their own grandchildren laughing in the background nearly every time I call.

The chances that these grandparents could read to them or tell them stories are rare.  Sadly, I fear that they will only be connected with slivers of materialistic associations, such as “This grandma sent you the ribbon dress.  That grandma gave you your favorite Lightning McQueen sleeping bag.”

Do you worry about your kids growing up untethered?  And if so, how do you weave a more durable thread between your kids and their grandparents?

The Alaskan Dad

My son peered out the window at a light fading down the driveway.  “Daddee!” he demanded and stamped his pajama sleepered feet, frustrated that he couldn’t be out there plowing with his father.

My daughter had already gone to bed and I teetered on a chair, stuffing foam backer rod into cracks on the logs of our cabin.  Even though Thomas devoted most of his weekends and vacations to chinking our log cabin home, we were getting worried about getting our energy improvements done in time for the rebate.

“Mommee, what’s that?”  Ethan gazed up at me.

“I’m trying to surprise Daddy,” I said.  “I want to fix the logs before Daddy is done outside.”  He had been down in the garage for a long time trying to get our darn snow blower to work and I knew he was going to be in a bad mood.  Our snow blower always broke on heavy snow days.   Then, I would get the car stuck at the bottom of the driveway and poor Thomas would be in the cold shoveling or slamming the car through a several feet high snow berm.

One winter, a friend lent us their ATV equipped with a snowplow. It sounded fun and the kids did enjoy riding on it, but it wasn’t easy to load it off and on a truck and figure out how to plow the driveway in the darkness and still make it to an 8am work meeting.

I never really thought about it, but living in Alaska does present a lot of challenges for my man, especially if he’s the manly kind of man.   Fortunately, he enjoys his Alaskan toys most of the time.  And what he might not realize is that the kids think he is a Superhero.

They still brag about the day Daddee saved them from a grizzly bear that decided to check out the neighborhood park behind our house.  “Daddee protect us,” Kyra would demonstrate by tucking her stuffed animal polar bear under one arm and her orca under the other and diving into Ethan’s Little Tikes Cozy Coupe and driving away like hell.

If they had a choice, they would prefer that Daddee drives them around town.  They complain that I’m too slow and I don’t have a truck and maybe, they just feel safer with him behind the wheel.  I do emit little panic yelps when I drive which cause my children to ask nervously, “What’s wrong Mommee?”

My son suddenly grabbed my legs in a bear hug.  “Mommee, careful,” he said.  In his hand, he waved his plastic screwdriver.  “DeeDee help.”

“No, DeeDee,” I gently removed his arms.  Even Little Brother, with his two-year-old brain, thinks that he is more capable than mom at fixing things.  That’s probably my fault, because if anything breaks in the house including toys that simply need batteries, I say, “Daddee will fix it.”

Or maybe, it’s because of the way I freak out and jump on top of tables when critters invade our house.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a mouse or gnat, the first sentence that the kids can understand amidst all the shrieking is: “Daddee will save us.”

Earlier this year, my kids finally decided that they could help Daddee with the Bug Crime fighting.  I guess they got tired of trapping bugs under cups and waiting for Daddee to protect us from “Fly Fly.”

My man does not like to be in the spotlight.  But today is his birthday, so I hope he’ll forgive me for celebrating all that he does for our family.

What hurdles has Alaska presented for the men in your house?