Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Family for Christmas

Get the tissues handy...


Sadly, I have no Thanksgiving pictures to share with you today. Seth's curiosity about our camera caused him to extract the photo card, and it was still missing when we had to leave.

Our family traveled to Ohio for Thanksgiving, for the first time in the 12 years we've been married. Since our families aren't close, we are required to travel for most of the holidays, so early on in our marriage, we staked our claim on Thanksgiving as a day for us to celebrate at home. When we were first married, we were both working retail, and as you all know, no one working retail gets the Friday after Thanksgiving off. (BTW, has it always been called Black Friday? I'd never heard that term before until this year, and I heard it everywhere.) So who wants to travel all over, only to have to leave on Thanksgiving Day to return home in order to get up at unheavenly hours to work the following day? Not us. So we didn't.

And then we had kids, and I loved celebrating Thanksgiving with them. We invited people to come to our home for years, mostly college students and single friends who weren't able to travel home for Thanksgiving. This was also great fun. Some years no one comes, but I stil put out a huge spread...and then we eat turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes...and lots of pie! for days and days afterward. It's the feast that keeps on feeding, really.

But this year, Rob's mom and step-dad moved into a much smaller house, and they were wanting to distribute some of the things they didn't need to their kids. Thanksgiving seemed the best time for us to get away, so we went.

Now usually, I spend the first weeks of November menu-planning. I LOVE to try new recipes, especially on Thanksgiving. I know, all the cooking gurus tell you never to try something new on a big holiday; stick to what you know or your're asking for disaster. Phooey, I say. There will always be turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, so the basics aren't going to be ruined if the new recipes don't work out so well. Which has happened, but it wasn't the disaster Rachael Ray said it would be if a new recipe flopped.

This year, however, I was told to bring my broccoli salad. That's it. I almost didn't know what to do with myself. I did end up making a couple of pumpkin pies, too. Gasp, they weren't going to have any! Gotta have pumpkin pie. It's a family fav. I think the boys were more excited about the pie than anything else, so I'm glad I made them.

We had a great time with Rob's family, not all of whom were able to make it, and we christened Rob's mom's house with laughter and family and food. It's now officially Papaw and Grandma's house!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Discovery

No, Caleb didn't find a Santa suit stashed away in a bottom dresser drawer. But true to his skeptical nature, all along he suspected something was up with the big guy dressed in red.

"Mom, I don't think Santa Claus is real," he stated matter of factly last week. Gabe stood beside him, his brown eyes as big as chestnuts.

When Rob and I first got married, long before our firstborn made his entrance into our Christmases, we had a Santa Claus discussion. His position: He grew up with lovely, childhood-belief-in-Santa memories, and he wanted his kids to have that same kind of wonderment and magic at Christmastime. My position: What if once our kids figured out that Santa wasn't real, that we lied to them, they begin to question whether or not God is real before their spiritual foundation has solidified? What's more, I never believed in Santa, and I was FILLED with Christmas magic and romance, long before December hit each year.

We finally came to a compromise: we would allow our kids to believe in Santa, but we would not tell them false stories. Of course they were going to see him riding his sleigh on cartoons and Christmas movies. They would see him sitting on his throne in stores, waiting with candy canes to hold little children and listen to their wish lists. So we let our kids' imaginations grow and sparkle like magic Christmas snow. Everytime a question came up, like, "How does Santa know where I live?" we would ask them, "Well, what do you think?" And then, "That sounds like a great idea!"

Every Christmas Eve, we put out their stockings and filled them with goodies after they went to sleep. In the morning, after they delightedly dug through their sock from top to toe, we'd ask, "Where do you think all those presents came from?" "SANTA!!!" They would squeal. We would smile and ooh and ahh over the little gifts they received.

This seemed to work for us, and I never had to feel guilty about lying to them...because I didn't.

***Disclaimer: For those of you moms and dads who do tell your kids all about Santa, PLEASE don't think that I look down on you or think of you as bald-faced liars! Not at all!! This is just the plan that lets ME sleep at night! Letting them believe something that is not true is basically the same thing as telling them it is true...just passively. Remember, I'm a storyteller at heart anyway, and I don't think this really is lying after all. :o) ***

Okay, so back to last week.

"Mom, I don't think that Santa Claus is real."

"Why do you say that, Caleb?" (See how passive?)

"Well, if he had to visit all the kids in the world, he would have to sleep during the day and be awake all night. So Santa would have to be nocturnal." (Okay, I was trying REALLY hard to hold back the laughter on the nocturnal part. But it was SO hard...

"And, I don't think he could live all year on the north pole. Plus, how would he get into our house at night? If he came down our chimney, he would burn his booty, and I KNOW he doesn't have a key to our house." (Now, I'm SHAKING with laughter by this time and I have to turn away to wipe the tears from my eyes.)

"I just need some evidence," Caleb says. (Is he really only in 2nd grade?)

Caleb and Gabe are looking at me intently. They still think I have all the answers, though Caleb is starting to want to read and research for himself.

The gig is up.

"Follow me, boys," I tell them and lead them to our computer where I look up and read to them the true story of Saint Nicholas, a rich young man who loved God. He learned of a father who was about to sell his three daughters because of the family's extreme poverty. So he sneaked into their house at night and left gold coins in the girls' stockings to keep them from being sold into servitude. He did this all in secret to protect the pride of the father and so that he would receive none of the glory.

"So, Santa Claus is another way of saying Saint Nicholas. And he was a real man who gave real gifts to real people." I pause. "But Saint Nicholas lived a long time ago, and he's not alive anymore."

"Santa Claus is dead?" This from Gabe, who looks partly bewildered but partly tantalized by this dramatic turn.

"We'll see him in heaven one day, because he loved God," I told him. "But we tell the story about Santa Claus because it's fun for little kids to believe in his magic. But really, it's God's love that Santa Claus is all about. And God wants us to give to others the way that Saint Nicholas did. And we celebrate Christmas because God's love gave us the greatest gift of all."

"Jesus!" Both boys chime in.

The boys were surprisingly excited by this story, and I felt good about sharing with them the real meaning of Santa Claus, not to GET gifts or to send him their wish list, but to have a giving heart.

They walk away from the computer, satisfied, promising not to tell Seth and Lily, just yet. Because it's fun to believe in Christmas magic.

Later that evening, I find Caleb at the computer. He has found his way to ask.com. He's written, "Is Santa Real?" He wants to read it for himself.

This weekend, our town hosted its annual Christmas Open House, and there in the middle of the square was a lovely, old-fashioned, Victorian Santa, sitting in a horse-drawn carriage, waiting with candy canes for the children. Caleb and Gabe excitedly sat across from him in the carriage and chatted with him about some things they might like for Christmas. They came down with big grins, and Gabe asked, "Is he real?" I looked at him, and he answered his own question, "No, the real Saint Nicholas lived a long time ago."

But still he glowed with excitement.

Yes, Gabriel, there is a Santa Claus!