there is no naughty list

Here is my standard disclaimer about all things parenting related: I merely share what works for me, resonates with me, and interests me. Talking about what works for me is by no means a judgment about what works for other people, unless what works for you is abuse. 

Trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas with your own kids is fraught territory, especially in the age of Pinterest and Instagram. This is especially true for people of faith who are concerned about the commercialization of our celebration of the birth of Jesus. I find myself smack in the middle of tension between my desire for a meaningful time that reminds my family of who Jesus was and why he was born an also the traditional, but rather irreligious, magic of Santa and reindeer.

While we incorporate an observation of the liturgical season of Advent, a Jesse tree, and making sure to give back to others, I didn’t want to wholly ditch Santa and have my kiddos be the ones informing all their elementary school classmates that the man in the sleigh is a lie. I wanted to find a balance somewhere in between, one that involved celebrating Santa as an embodiment of God’s love and generosity to us, without actively lying to my kids or using Santa to manipulate their behavior.

I am also, admittedly, kind of freaked out by the Elf on a Shelf. I read enough crit theory in my English MA program to feel that the whole thing is rather Foucaultian, a panopticon for children. My general parenting approach is not to coerce good behavior out of my children through a surveillance state or through bribery or threats. I have largely been a student of the “peaceful parent” school, though I admit I have always yelled more than I want to. I think my kids behave best when they feel we are in a warm, loving, and cooperative partnership to have our best days together, and when missteps and misbehavior happen, it is a time for emotion coaching and learning. I just can’t find it in me to be all “SANTA IS WATCHING YOU” in order to get them to behave.

But kids absorb things in our culture, and this week, my kids have been asking me, “Mom, is there such thing as a naughty list?” As I pondered my answer, and clarified my “theology of Santa,” I decided this might be worth firing up ye olde blog and writing about.

My answer is this: there is no naughty list.

First of all: why does Santa give presents at Christmas? Why do any of us give presents at Christmas? Santa gives because Santa (a real man and saint!) loved Jesus very much, and wanted to share that love for others. Just like God freely gives not just the gift of Jesus to the world, but all good things to all people, Santa has a spirit of love and generosity and gives to share the love of God with the world. We, and Santa, give gifts at Christmas because we believe Jesus was a great gift to the world, and because we believe God is a generous giver of gifts.

And if Santa gives and loves like God gives and loves, how does God love? The God I know gives and loves unconditionally. There is nothing you can do to earn or un-earn the love and generosity of God. God lavishes love and gifts on us because of who God is, not who or how we are. Would it make sense for a Santa who gives in the spirit of God’s unconditional love to be doing it conditionally? If I believe in a God who does not keep a record of my wrongs but pours out forgiveness, then how could I teach my children about a Santa who keeps a naughty list?

I never want my kids to doubt for a minute that they are worthy of love and acceptance and belonging. People who believe they are loved and accepted act in loving ways toward others. People who think they are constantly working against a cosmic balance sheet of naughty or nice live in fear and strive to prove their worthiness.

Santa is pretend. A fun myth. Good fun. But the stories we tell and the myths we share shape the way we see the world, Christmas, and God. On Christmas morning Santa will fill my kids’ stockings (in our house, Santa only does the stockings) because he is sharing the love of God with them, a love that in turn should inspire us to love and give to others.

Advertisements

to kindergarten they go

Today, Etta and Claire headed off to kindergarten, two tiny girls with giant backpacks. This year, they will be in different classrooms, but they will be right across the hall from each other, and will have recess and lunch together.

fullsizeoutput_440a

There’s another set of twins in kindergarten this year, two boys, whose blond hair seems to have a counterpoint in each of our girls. They are both in Claire’s class. Their mom, and many others, asked me if I chose to keep the girls together or apart. The truth is, we saw a lot of benefits in both options and decided to let the school handle it. They’ve done great together at Montessori, and all of their teachers there remarked on how they are neither clingy or dependent on each other, nor antagonistic and fighting– they just kind of coexisted like any other two kids in the same class. They are also very different little humans, though, and I think being on their own could give them each a chance to shine and grow in a way they can’t together, and I’m excited to see how this will go. We’ve been reading a great little book called Twindergarten about a set of twins who are in different kindergarten classes, right across the hall from each other, but who are together for recess and lunch, and it’s really helped them prepare for this change.

IMG_5495IMG_5511

I realized at Back To School Night that I’m mostly just excited for them as they embark on this big journey. Their teachers had big sheets of paper on the wall where we answered questions like what we are most proud of about our children, what they are curious about, what they like to read about, etc. To me, the most interesting question was what our hopes and dreams are for our children in their kindergarten year.

I want this to be the year they fall in love with learning and school. I want them to be, like I was, excited to learn and to be with friends. I am excited to watch them learn to read and have the world of books unfold for them, a world that has always been my happiest and safest place. But most of all, I hope they continue to grow and stretch their kind and loving hearts. “Brave” and “kind” are much higher on my list of desirable traits than “smart” or “successful.”

I mostly don’t feel sadness that my “babies are growing up.” I am so thrilled to see them becoming who they are. I am so excited for the adventures that await them. I woke up before my alarm, just buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to pick them up (about to head out on our bikes to get them!) and hear how their day went!

fullsizeoutput_4409

out came the mama bear

It finally happened. Someone made fun of Claire because of her disability. | erniebufflo.com

It finally happened. Someone made fun of Claire because of her disability. | erniebufflo.com

It finally happened. Someone made fun of Claire because of her disability.

I was sitting on the couch, drinking wine, folding laundry, enjoying some quiet while Jon supervised the kids out biking and scooting with some of the kids on our block, all of whom are older than our girls, but are generally quite sweet to them. Then Claire and Jon came in the door. “Why don’t you tell your mama what they said?” Jon said.

“Those big girls said my diaper isn’t cool and that they don’t want to hang out with me because they don’t want to hang out with babies who wear diapers. Can I please wear some undies? I want them to hang out with me.”

My face got hot. Claire wasn’t crying. She seemed very matter of fact. “Just a second, baby. Mama’s going to get some shoes and go talk to them.”

I slipped on my wicked good slippers, and in my pjs strode down the street. The two older girls saw me and started running. They knew what they said had been unkind. They ran into their yard. I kept walking calmly down to their house. They hadn’t made it into their houses yet.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

“We’re so sorry, we got carried away, we know what we said was rude, and we’re sorry,” one said.

“It was unkind,” I said, “But I want to tell you something you don’t know about Claire. Claire was born with a disability called spina bifida. She had a great big hole in her back, and she had to have surgery when she was only one day old. Claire is actually amazing. Claire is one of the strongest people I know. People said she wouldn’t be able to walk and now she walks, and runs, and ride bikes out here with you. Claire is AMAZING. And she wears diapers because of her spina bifida, and NO ONE should ever make fun of her for that, because Claire is amazing.”

“We’re so sorry.”

“Thank you. Can you tell her that when she comes back out here?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. Have a good night.”

And then I walked back down the street. Claire had sat on the potty and changed out of her diaper when I got home. Jon talked to her about how she can wear undies some day, but she’s got to get better about sitting on the potty, which is something she currently refuses to do a lot of the time.

I sent her back down the street on her bike. “I’m going to go talk to those girls and tell them I didn’t like what they said,” she said. She is still one of the strongest people I know. She stands up for herself. And I will always stand up for her too.

oh to preschool they went!

IMG_9685

This week, Claire and Etta Jane started school for the first time. We found them the school of our dreams– a Montessori in an old house in a historic neighborhood. The classroom is calm and airy. The staff is warm and caring. There’s a giant outdoor classroom where the kids spend a lot of time. It’s homey, sweet, and peaceful, and we’re really excited to have found it and gotten in despite our late-summer move. I had been convinced there would be mile long waiting lists at any school we actually liked, but we ended up finding 3 good options to choose from.

IMG_9547
Purchasing uniforms with Claire, who is not a ham at all, why do you ask?

One thing I really liked was they allowed us to choose if the girls were in the same classroom or not. I know people have lots of opinions about separating twins in school or keeping them together, but I think it’s one of those decisions individual twin parents should be able to make for their unique kids. Etta and Claire have a special relationship. They are best friends (they not only share a room but sleep in the same bed), but not overly dependent on each other, so we didn’t think them being together would be a disruption, nor did we think separating them would be particularly traumatic. It’s just…they’ve always existed together. And when they embarked on their own into school for the first time, it felt natural and right that they would do it together. I love, for example, that they can look out for each other. Etta’s had a rougher transition than Claire has, but Claire has assured us that Etta does just fine at school and has a great time. They were scheming in the car today to get all the girls to sit at the same table for lunch. Another upside? This scatterbrained mama only has to keep up with one class’s crap.

IMG_9563IMG_9573

It feels pretty strange to suddenly have 4 hours a day to myself after 4 years of 24/7 twins. I’m really glad we skipped preschool for their 3 year old year. We had a really wonderful year together going to the zoo, library, and children’s museum each week. And yet this summer I think we were all feeling that we were ready for some space from each other. They were bored with me, and I was frustrated with them, more than before. If I had any doubts that they were ready, the Open House at their school alleviated them. They happily entered their new classroom, pulled out some Works (it’s a Montessori thing), and got busy. They didn’t want to see the playground, they didn’t want to leave, they just wanted to work. On the first day of actual school, Etta was ready to leave us at the curb, and Claire, our sensitive little heart, shocked us by not even crying (EVERYTHING makes Claire cry). When it came time for pickup, Claire didn’t want to go home!

It has also been amazing for my mental health (more on the anxiety thing in a future post) to have some time of my own. I can grocery shop by myself! I can run errands at super speed because I don’t have to constantly put kids in and out of car seats. I can blog! I can read! I can sew! (I’ve already been whipping up headbands and am thinking about selling them.) I can get lunches packed for the next day, dinner prepped, and even do some actual housework (if you think my floors like, ever, got swept with those two underfoot, think again)! I can even volunteer for the Clinton campaign! (More on that later, too)

IMG_9695

Now I think I know why my dad always sang “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as we shopped for school supplies. School is wonderful. The girls are thriving, learning, and making new friends, and I GET TO HAVE SOME SEMBLANCE OF MY OWN LIFE.

a spanking for frances?

We have the book Bread and Jam for Frances. It’s a book I remember loving as a child. A picky-eating badger turns her nose up at her mother’s cooking a few times too many and finds herself eating bread and jam for every meal, until she gets sick of it and decides to try new things. Luckily our girls haven’t been particularly picky, but they seem to enjoy the story, even if to them “bread and jam is just for breakfast.”

bedtime for frances

Today at the library, I saw some of the other Frances books. I asked the girls if they’d like to try them, and they picked out Bedtime for Frances. In this story, Frances keeps coming out of her room after bedtime, because of tigers, giants, and scary cracks in the ceiling. Her parents are at first bemused and then increasingly frustrated. And then all of a sudden, Frances’s father says that if she comes out again, she’s getting a spanking.

“What’s a spanking?” sweet four-year-old Claire asked. “Well, sometimes parents hit their children on their bottom when they do things they aren’t supposed to do. Kind of like how you sometimes get time outs. We don’t like to hit, so we don’t do that,” her dad explained

I’m thankful my kids have made it to four years old and find it unthinkable that an adult would hit a child, that they’ve made it this far and don’t even know what a spanking is. I wish I could say that I find the idea of hitting my children unthinkable, but the truth is, I have wanted to. Children have their ways of pushing you to the limits of your energy, patience, empathy, and self-restraint. I have been so tired, angry, and frustrated with my children that I wanted to hit them, that I felt that impulse. But that’s what it would have been if I had given in: impulsive, angry, and wrong. It wouldn’t have been about teaching them, it would have been about me lashing out in my anger. The only thing it would have shown them is that I am no more capable of managing my emotions and impulses than they are.

I am not one to say “there but for the Grace of God go I” very often, but this is one of those areas where I really do feel it’s only grace that has kept me from that brink. It’s only the whisper in my ear that tells me to walk away, take a breath, make a different choice, hide in my room if I have to long enough to cool down. Because maybe giving a kid bread and jam for every meal for a while is creative parenting, but bedtime spankings don’t make sense to anyone in my family, even in my tiredest, most rock-bottom moments. Thanks for the reminder, Frances.

*Note: I’m not interested in debating spanking with you. I only presume to know what is best for my family.*

can it be? a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is THREE?

EttatudeUsually, I am not one to cotton to other parents who tell those with littler kids “just you wait, it gets worse.” Because each stage in this journey has its own set of hard and its own type of beauty, and there’s no use worrying about the next stage when you are already knee-deep in the current one. But one of the best things anyone did for me was to tell me that the “terrible twos” are a myth and three is where shit really gets real. Because OMG. The last year of three squared has nearly killed us. Thank God I didn’t go through two thinking we were in the worst of the toddler years, only to get walloped by three. Three. GOOD LORD. THREE.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.
This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

Three has been emotional. Three has been obstinate. Three has been irrational. Three has been straight-up exhausting. It has brought us to the edge of our patience, ability to form rational thoughts, and self-control. Three has made me want to run away screaming more than a few times. Yes, three has had some magic in it, as imagination has continued to explode and the twin bond has gotten tighter and they’ve been oh-so-eager to be big helpers, but mostly three has been the hardest year of our lives.

Claire tude.

But lately. Lately we see glimpses of the promised land: FOUR. It’s three months away, and we’re getting close enough to see some landmarks. Four seems less ruled by emotions. Four seems silly, always looking to make us laugh. Four is playful and imaginative. Four is independent and actually becoming capable. Four can make a sandwich! Four can put on her own coat! Four is getting better about putting on her own shoes! Four is really affectionate, and comes up with new ways to “show love” every day. Four is obsessed with “ballet music,” and will listen to Beethoven in a ballgown while playing with LEGO. Four loves snuggles with mommy and park time with daddy.

IMG_2241

IMG_3221

I’m sure a lot of the time four will also drive us right up the freakin’ wall, but it finally feels like we’re reaping some rewards from all the hard work three has required. And if four is actually a nightmare, please don’t tell me. I can’t handle the news. I’m still recovering from three.

one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

IMG_2980

Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

IMG_2979

Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

IMG_2989

 

The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

IMG_2988

IMG_3017

We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

IMG_3020

I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

IMG_3018