Last May I put a note into my little schedule program to remind myself to take portraits of the kids each year. I was reasonably happy with the pictures of the baby and the boys that I got last time, and in the absence of school photos, I thought some kind of regular portrait tradition wasn’t a bad idea.

In fact it’s probably a pretty good idea, but not always the most relaxing. This time around I found Ryan to be wonderfully amenable to the process and very photogenic. On our initial shoot, outside on a beautiful November day, I got multiple great pictures of him.



Nathan was upfront about not wanting to do the exercise at all, however. “I don’t like having my picture taken,” he told me multiple times, and it showed. As for Mica, she is just old enough to be busy doing other things and just young enough not to understand directions. Not a single shot of either of them did them justice.



My next attempt was somewhat later, inside, and that went better in the sense that Nathan had decided not to be quite so anti-photography. Maybe he clued in to the fact that we’d have to keep doing this as long as I was dissatisfied with the results.


Mica, on the other hand, is desperately interested in the camera and in seeing pictures on the little screen in the back. Getting her to sit still in front of the camera is a tricky and inevitably brief prospect.


So now I have to decide… Do I really need a portrait of the baby? I mean, two out of three isn’t bad, right?


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…And Done

The presents are gone; the stockings are empty. There is that languid December 26th feeling in the house, which I can best describe as “absence of anticipation.”

There are still traditions to come, of course. This year in addition to my taking-down-Christmas frenzy which I still hope to do on New Year’s Eve, I’ve also scheduled a Family Meeting. The topic is “What new things did we try this year, and what do we want to make happen next year?” I’ve no idea how that will go for the rest of the family, but it’s getting my brain going.

And I’ve done my other traditional post-Christmas task: creating a list on my computer for next Christmas. Next Christmas I’ll be totally organized, have all my ducks in a row, presents completed by October, advent calendar out on December 1st… You know the drill. The routine may be futile, but I find it comforting.

Week Of Christmas: The Finale

For years I’ve pursued a policy of gradual present opening. In other words, I count the kids’ gifts as Christmas draws near, and for every day up to and including Christmas Eve, they’re allowed to open one gift. If I’ve timed it right they open their last gift on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day is all about the stockings. This spreads out the Christmas joy and means that each gift gets a chance to be the center of attention for a day.


In theory this practice should lessen the impact of Christmas Day, and I suppose in a way it might; but there seems to be something magical about stockings and the small, individually wrapped things they contain.


Speaking of which, I completed Mica’s stocking on Christmas Eve, which means that she gets a stocking at an earlier age than either of the boys did. This either means that I’m getting more organized as I go along here, or that occasionally the stars line up despite me — sort of an “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” concept.



For its inaugural use, Mica’s stocking contained a little chocolate, but was mostly filled with the blocks from a toy train set that we received years ago from my dad. I rotated it out of active toy duty a while ago, as the boys had seemed to lose interest, so it was new to her. It had also been gone long enough that both boys felt it necessary to take a turn with it.


The boys’ stockings held a great deal more chocolate, a candy cane (specifically requested this year), some legos, and a few other sundries that I’d picked up. Honestly, I think filling the stockings may be one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Week Of Christmas: The Great Cookie Construction

This year one of the two Christmas activities the kids requested was making a gingerbread house. (The other was putting up Christmas lights outside. I totally didn’t do that. I think I’ve only managed it once since we’ve lived here.) How this gingerbread desire started I can’t actually remember, but if I had to guess, it probably involved some beautifully decorated, mouth-watering image of a gingerbread house on a box in a store.

And I’m totally up for adopting that tradition, and weeks ago googled gingerbread recipes and house-building tips. And then, during my pre-Christmas grocery shopping, I bought a Dancing Deer kit. Because it just sounded easier, less likely to end in a crumbled ruin of a house (I could just picture myself trying to sell it to the boys as what happens when a gingerbread house falls into a state of neglect), and because frankly they wouldn’t care whether it was homemade. I’m palliating this choice by promising myself that I’ll do it properly next year — although in fairness, I could be lying.






I call that a Christmas Eve success. More specifically, a sweet, sticky, plunk-the-kids-straight-into-the-bath success.

Week Of Christmas: Dave’s Gift

Just because Dave is apparently too cool for Christmas doesn’t mean he escapes entirely unscathed. He still has to save his presents until I say he can open them, which he does with almost entirely good grace. And this year I wanted him to get one from his children.


Last year I never took them shopping for him; instead he took them shopping for me, and the resulting drama was impressive and may have put him off that exercise altogether. I know that Dave doesn’t really need presents to enjoy his very-laid-back Christmas, but let’s face it: this isn’t about him. It’s about the kids, and giving them that delightful warm sneaky feeling of having a nice surprise for someone.

I directed them to the Science Fiction section of books in the store, and they each selected something they thought Dave would like. (Conveniently, both of their choices were very plausibly things Dave might like, so I didn’t need to coax them in another direction.) Back home I helped them with tissue paper and bows and tags, and then suggested they show the gifts to Dave and put them under the tree.



But that was more anticipation than they preferred. Instead they showed the gifts to Dave and insisted that he open them right now, please; and, after I agreed that was reasonable, he opened the gifts and was suitably grateful. The whole thing took perhaps an hour, including travel; I don’t think they had much chance to savor the gift-giving spirit. But that’s okay. Baby steps.


Week Of Christmas: What Christmas? Where?

For most of December I felt like I was scrambling — and not with holiday things, which seems to be the stereotype. No, it was other stuff: a visit from my grade school friend, all the extra Drama Club rehearsals, and lots of gluten-free cooking. All good stuff, but I came home from the last day at VFS feeling drained, a feeling that was not alleviated when the whole family promptly came down with a cold.

So it was that I looked at the calendar and realized that hey, it was already December 21st… and oh my gosh, I forgot Christmas. I mean, I didn’t really forget it. There are various gifts awaiting various small children, stashed carefully away from their notice, and I even remembered to buy chocolate for their stockings last time I did errands. But a tree? Decorations? Cookie-making? Not so much.

This was terrible, not so much because the kids had complained — they too have been busy, not to mention ill — as because the anticipation of Christmas was itself one of the Christmas traditions when I was a kid. That slowly building bubble of excitement, drawn out over the entire month, sweet and glittering and tortuous, was part of the pleasure of the day itself. Dave likes to downplay Christmas just like every other holiday, so there’s no help there; if Christmas is going to happen in this household, (cue heroic holiday-themed music) it’s up to me.


There was one week to make Christmas happen. We plunged right in by heading to Frog Pond Farm for a Christmas tree. The actual tree selection was quick (Nathan wanted whatever tree we were currently looking at, and Ryan was just trying to avoid the mud), and we spent most of our time there looking at llamas, camels, chickens, and adorable baby goats.



Memories of last year had faded a bit, so I was surprised when Nathan and Ryan were phenomenally helpful with setting up and decorating the tree. They even anticipated that we needed water in the tree stand; they plugged together light strands; they correctly identified non-breakable ornaments and began hanging them. Mica was exactly as helpful as one would expect a one-year-old to be: if helpfulness can be rated between one and ten, she was at negative two. She was fascinated by this tree-inside-the-house concept, and wanted to explore it — before I had it properly screwed in. She loved the lights, and wanted to explore them, which produced a few impressive tangles. And she still thinks the ornaments are an awesome idea, especially the little elves I inherited from my grandma, which migrate all around the house before she brings them to me and asks me to hang them again. I do — down low. She isn’t tipping the tree or ripping open presents; stealing a couple elves is fine. Nana would be amused by it.

Frankenstein Slept Here

Last year the boys had a little trouble integrating in the Village Free School. This is a apparently not uncommon for part-timers; most of the students are full time, and it just makes a difference if you’re around every day. But this year has been going much better, and Nathan has even been doing Drama Club. (There are apparently 21 students in Drama Club, which is about a third of the school.) He originally got involved in it because his friend Violet was doing it, but eventually he seemed to enjoy it for its own sake; during the last few practices he was loathe to leave at the end.

The holiday play this year was “Frankenstein Slept Here For The Holidays,” a short, very funny play populated by characters like the Baroness Frankenstein, a mummy, The Invisible Woman, a werewolf, etc. Nathan was part of the stage crew — specifically he was in charge of the lights, while Violet did sound effects. I’d read some of the script (old copies tended to get reused as drawing scratch paper) but hadn’t seen any of the practices, Mica being too disruptive an element to have in the room.


For the last two weeks of school Drama Club took us out nearly every day, attending practices both at the school and at the church where it would be held. This was a bit wearing and involved some long drives through rush hour, but Nathan’s excitement made it totally worth it. And it was very fun to finally see the production on the night of the VFS Holiday Extravaganza (play, art show, and pie sale). I kept to the back, managing the baby, who was not too keen on sitting quietly in a pew, and in fact felt that perhaps she needed a closer look at what was happening on stage — this unfortunately kept me too busy to take any pictures other than one of Mica enjoying her before-show treat. Even so, I really enjoyed the play and thought that the cast and crew did a great job. (During intermission some of the other free schoolers led the audience in a few Christmas carols, and Mica ran up to sprawl on the stage and smile at the audience. This had an excellent reaction, so she hung around.)

The next day, when we went to VFS for an end-of-year group lunch and movie, the Drama Club facilitator came up to us. She just wanted to let us know that she’d loved sitting next to Nathan for the show; she felt like they were sharing each others’ excitement at how well it was going. “You’re not sitting here to tell me what to do, are you?” Nathan had apparently asked her, and she’d said that no, she was only there to tell him when to start. Would Drama Club continue in spring? Nathan asked her now. Most definitely. I’m so excited to see what they do next.