I see a mom (me) who had a long and stressful day at work yesterday and was too tired to cook.
I see three kids I would call (though I shouldn’t, because I know you’re not supposed to label your kids) “extremely picky eaters.” Especially if I tipped the bag and revealed the two barely eaten burgers because…well, I don’t actually have any clue why, but apparently last night’s Shake Shack burgers were in some teeny, tiny, infinitesimal and unidentifiable way, “different.”
I see a mom (again, me) who lets her kids eat French Fries for dinner sometimes. A mom who didn’t even order a third source of protein because she knew Miss S wouldn’t eat it. And a mom who didn’t even try to convince any of her children to add a vegetable.
I see a parent (or two) for whom nutritious eating is unfortunately ranked pretty low on her list of priorities.
I see a fast food chain (@Shake Shack) that follows good food allergy practices and is a place we feel safe eating out with our highly nut-allergic child.
I see the rotten bananas I haven’t thrown away because we keep thinking we’ll make banana bread, and then we don’t.
I see our messy apartment that I swear was clean yesterday, or five minutes ago. It’s all the same. It will be messy again in no time, so why bother keeping track?
In case you ARE keeping track, you might have realized that I see, in that picture, several ways in which I am falling short of my parenting goals.
And I see, in that paper bag, all the guilt and shame and frustration I feel due to what I have deemed my greatest failing as a parent: the fact that our children do not have a healthy and well-rounded diet because we do not prioritize one.
But that’s not all I see. Because this bag tells two stories: the more blatant, obvious, surface-level one that I fed my children Shake Shack last night and all that entails (including, perhaps, the assumption that I feed them Shake Shack often…which is not exactly untrue even if there’s hardly enough evidence here to support that conclusion) and another, far less obvious one about who these kids we are raising really are.
Spoiler Alert: they aren’t what they eat.
Because this bag also tells the story of my three kids who, as we were leaving the restaurant, said, “Mom, can we buy a burger for the homeless man outside and then give it to him?”
So you see, this bag is simultaneously a source of my greatest self-criticism and my greatest pride as a parent.
It’s true, we need to work on their nutrition. And please know that I do am not pretending that what they put in their bodies is trivial. But their hearts? That’s what really matters to me. And these hearts? These not-yet-six-year-old hearts are very full. So full of love and kindness that it’s overflowing. And they are looking for a place to send that love, and they are not only willing, but eagerto send it out into the world for strangers.
And that’s why I pick my battles. I cave about food ALL. THE. TIME. But the messages about love and kindness and generosity? I don’t ever get tired of teaching them that. And it never ceases to amaze me how much we grownups have to learn from them.
The homeless man had moved on by the time we got outside with his burger. But wouldn’t you know that this trio was ready to wander around the UES looking for the next person in need. It didn’t matter that it was nearly their bedtime. It didn’t matter that they’d put in a full (I’m talking ten hour) day at school and after school programs. It didn’t matter that it was freezing, and they were tired, and we’d missed the bus so we’d already walked a mile to get where we were. And you know what else didn’t matter? For those few minutes while my children led with love? How tired and stressed and sick this mama felt.
She was fairly easy to find. One of our three has been keeping a catalogue of the men and women in our neighborhood as we pass them on our way to and from school each day. We knew exactly where to look because our kids, our quiet, don’t-look-you-in-the-eye kids, may not say much, but they see everything. And everyone.
Anyone who has ever met our kids knows they don’t like talking to strangers. In fact, they’re often not too keen on talking to people they recognize. But they didn’t need to speak to this woman last night to let her know they cared.
It’s true what they say, you know: actions speak louder than words. Their actions spoke loudly last night. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the message they were delivering.
So this greasy paper bag on our messy kitchen counter? It’s a reminder that we may not be doing everything right, but I am pretty sure we are doing some things right. And I am pretty sure you are too.
The plan was that they would all sing together. The first I heard of this was yesterday morning. ‘There’s a talent show at camp,’ they told me. ‘We’re going to sing “Let It Go,”’ they said.
He woke up this morning at 6:15 and told me he didn’t want to do it. He told me every twenty minutes for the next three hours that he “didn’t want to do the talent show.” I kept saying, “Just wait and see how you feel when the time comes.”
When the time came, he reminded me again. I arrived at camp at 2pm, and he turned to me and said, “I don’t want to do it.” “Okay, I said.”
Their group performed The Macarena (see below). All three got up there and did the moves like any obliging rule follower would.
As the show wore on (and on), several potential performers bowed out. Their nerves mounting (if I had to guess), as they watched their fellow campers do cartwheels across the makeshift stage, tell knock-knock jokes, or perform skits. One of our three drew closer and closer to me where I sat and finally said for the first time, “I don’t want to go up there.”
And then it was finally their turn. “Are you going to do it?” the counselors asked the one who had been saying all day he didn’t want to. He shook his head. “Ok, so just you two?” they said to the others. And the second one said “No, not me.”
“He’s not going to do it,” Sophie said, confirming for the counselors what she had only just learned three seconds ago: this would not be a trio or even a duet.
“Do you want to do it by yourself?” they asked.
She nodded. Resolute. So brave. The tiniest camper of all, no doubt, and as nervous as ever. But yes, she would do it.
He REALLY didn’t want to do it. But when it turned out she was headed up there all alone (as brave as she was nervous), he (quite literally) jumped up to join.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a five-year-old having that much empathy. Having so much love in his heart for someone else that he will jump up and do the thing he REALLY doesn’t want to do even when all the grownups are telling him he doesn’t have to. And despite the fact that she didn’t ask. She didn’t have to.
You can hardly hear the two of them, but his love for her rang out loud and clear during this, their first talent show performance. They did it together. And I couldn’t have been prouder had they belted it out in two-part harmony and performed a choreographed dance. This triplet bond is real, people. And it runs deeper than any nerves or apprehension or introversion. It’s the kind of thing that makes a boy who might otherwise prefer to avoid the spotlight jump up and sing in front of a crowd of nearly a hundred people, just so his spotlight-seeking sister can breathe a little easier.
Last, but certainly not least: Henry’s trip to the 143rd Westminster Dog Show. I am NOT a dog person. I know, I know, if I’ve learned anything from “Friends,” it’s that you’re never supposed to tell people that you don’t like dogs. Or ice cream. Just to be clear: I LOVE ice cream. And it’s not that I don’t like dogs. I am just mostly terrified of them. At least the big ones. And definitely the jumpy ones. I’ve been bitten as recently as last summer, and I had two somewhat traumatic experiences as a child, so I think there’s probably some legitimate reasons why I am “not a dog person.” But, I’ve got a kid who is decidedly a dog person. And I figured the safest place to interact with a whole bunch of dogs would be at the Westminster Dog Show, where they are all committed to being on their best behavior!
The agility competition was our first stop (and finding Aunt Addie, of course). These dogs are all so fast!
Over at the big dog agility competition, H made friends with a border collie. I don’t have any footage because I was a little preoccupied with the fact that there was a rather large dog licking Henry’s face (fear of dogs, remember?) but Henry didn’t seem to mind. At least, he didn’t seem to mind too much.
Next stop was finding the requisite snack and souvenir. Henry had it in his head (for WEEKS) that he would get M & Ms at the dog show. I am not sure why, except that we never have them at home due to Sophie’s allergy. But Henry got his wish (and I was relieved we didn’t have to come up with an alternate snack option) and we were off to to the souvenirs. Henry perused all the booths and took his time deciding on a stuffed Dalmatian to add to his ever-growing dog collection at home.
True to form, Henry later demanded that we “return” the stuffed dog for a pair of men’s dog socks he had seen later and also wanted. But we took Dooley (the new stuffed Dalmatian) to meet the REAL Dalmatians at “Meet the Breeds” and that was pretty special.
Dogga and Dooley ready to meet the Dalmatians
Matching real dogs and stuffed dogs!
How do you do!
The face of pure bliss!
These are not the greatest photos, I know, but everyone was so excited it was hard to get one where the people AND the dogs stopped moving. But that one at the end? That’s Henry’s happy face. The face of pure bliss.
And of course, we had to check out the pugs for Mom. I know they are ugly, but they are so ugly they’re cute. I am not really a dog person, but my love of pugs goes WAAAAAAAAAY back. Back to “Eloise” and her pug, Weenie. And then of course there was Bruiser. This pup is Ginger. We met her AND her mom, which convinced Henry that we actually need to get TWO dogs, because you HAVE to have a mom AND a baby.
And then Henry’s eye caught this: FLOWER DOGGIES! And cats! H thought this was hilARious. It kind of is. Also kind of impressive. I mean, REALLY impressive.
Several hours and about a hundred dollars later, we made it back to our neighborhood for lunch. That dog show is WAY out there, folks. And the new cab surcharge is NO joke. But with the -10 degree windchill, I couldn’t face the crosstown bus. I may never take a cab again though!
This is the face of a guy getting a MILKSHAKE for lunch. Enjoying a meal with just one of my little people is really just that: ENJOYING a meal.
We had a great time, and even though Hangry H assured me as we were leaving that he DIDN’T have fun at the dog show because he didn’t want that Dalmatian pup (he wanted the socks), I’m pretty sure H loved it. And I think he was pretty happy with his new “pet” when we got home.
It isn’t easy finding time and opportunity to spend time with just one of our kiddos at a time. It is SUCH a luxury, and it is so dang wonderful. I will definitely be reprising this idea for next Christmas. More memories, less stuff. Ok, we still have a TON of stuff, but you know what I mean.
A couple of days ago, I asked the kids, “What was your favorite part of Christmas?” And despite the dozens of new toys they received and the daily desserts they enjoyed, not one of them mentioned anything that has to do with either.
We’d been anticipating December 25th for at least 24 days by the time Christmas rolled around. Probably longer since the kids knew that “Christmas comes after Thanksgiving,” and the first “When is it going to be Christmas?” queries began on Black Friday.
We started decorating immediately. The ornaments weren’t even out of the box (nevermind the fact that our tree wouldn’t arrive for another couple of weeks) before the kids started decking our halls. They adorned their desks with ornaments and figurines. We made a “Merry Christmas” banner.
Here we are in action working on the banner.
Homemade banner hung? Check. Pentatonix Christmas special streamed? Check.
We live on THE prettiest block in Manhattan during the holiday season, and nothing says, “It’s nearly Christmas!” more than your ENTIRE street being aglow with lights.
It’s kinda hard to convince the kids to contain their Christmas frenzy when the thousands of twinkly lights from the street below are literally brightening up their bedroom each night.
Our Elf on the Shelf, Meatball, made an appearance on December 1 (after we feared we had lost him), and I thought these kids were going to lose their minds.
Guys, we barely even try at the elf thing. We manage to remember to move him each night at some point after the kids fall asleep and before they wake up, but that’s about the extent of it. Half the time Henry would say something like, “Meatball told me he was going to be hanging from your medals tomorrow.” And then we’d just make him hang from the medals. That’s 1) totally obvious and 2) really freaking lazy. But it didn’t matter. Every morning they were racing around like chickens with their heads cut off, “Where’s Meatball?!? Where is he?!” And, “SEE!!! I TOLD you he told me he was gonna hang from the medals.” Oh crap. I just realized that if our kids learn to read before they figure out this whole Elf on the Shelf deal (fingers crossed!) that I’ve kind of just ruined it for them.Oh well. Cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess!
And then they’d race over to their advent calendars to open the day’s window. And it didn’t even matter that two of them were the same. They were just doubly excited. And then they’d argue over whose turn it was to put up the next wooden block (our fourth…count ’em, FOUR) advent calendar.
And you know what? I barely even blinked at the bickering. I barely even cared. Because they were just so gosh darned excited about this whole “Christmas” thing. And we loved EVERY second of it. Will just kept saying, “Is this the sweet spot? I think we might be in the Christmas Sweet Spot.”
Each weekend was another Christmas-themed adventure.
MORE gingerbread houses.
A field trip to see all the holiday windows.
Henry’s favorite window
Jack’s favorite window
Seeing OURSELVES in the holiday windows.
Posing with this Christmas tree…
and that Christmas tree…
Watching the ice skaters (real and not so real).
Trips to Target and Flying Tiger and CVS for Christmas crafts, holiday place settings, and about a gazillion Santa-themed window gels.
And yes, we were serving tacos on those holiday plates 🤣
This year was the first year everybody bought a gift for everybody else, and those trips became part of our holiday-themed adventures. Picking the store we wanted to go to (CVS, Barnes and Noble, Target, Flying Tiger). Roaming through the aisles looking for the perfect thing (within our price range) for Henry, Jack, Sophie, or Dad. Then racing into Mom and Dad’s room as soon as we get home for a super secret wrapping mission to get the presents wrapped, labeled, and hidden before your siblings can deduce what’s inside. And finally, working VERY hard to keep the surprise a secret until the big day. This was, for sure, our greatest collective challenge 😝.
These kids were so danged thoughtful. When you’re at CVS and they have only two of the Paw Patrol watches you and your siblings love? What do you do? Buy them both and gift one each to your brother and your sister. Clean up in aisle five, please. I think my heart just melted all over the floor.
Having our own Christmas tree hand picked and hand delivered by Grammie and Nonno.
Decorating the tree.
And at this point, we were still two weeks out from the big day. I don’t know if it is because we were coming off of a pretty miserable fall, or because I love Christmas as much as I do, or because we just really had hit the “Christmas Sweet Spot,” but these last few weeks really have been all things merry and bright.
Well, aside from the lice breakout, but hey, you win some, you lose some, right?
We didn’t lose any steam in the days leading up to Christmas.
There were carol concerts to attend.
Classic Christmas movies to watch. About a billion Hershey kisses to consume.
There were snowball fights to be had and sleighs to ride.
Ice box cakes to be made and more trees to be trimmed.
Oh, and more window gels. Always more window gels.
And then, of course, there was Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and all of the traditions, new and old, that come with it.
Stockings hung by the chimney (er…TV?) with care.
Cookies and notes for Santa.
No-hay hay rides with Nonno on the tractor.
Making our own pizzas for dinner.
And presents. Yes, there were presents. And despite our best efforts to keep our intake low this season, between brothers, sisters, moms, dads, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, these lucky kids cleaned up. Oh, and don’t forget Santa. Santa who usually brings only one gift each but who this year brought two. Perhaps Meatball reported back on the perpetual good moods these kids were in for the entire advent season. Or maybe he took note of how thoughtful they were being in their efforts to give to others. Or maybe the two head elves neglected to communicate clearly with one another and there was a mix up at Amazon, er, I mean, the North Pole.
But either way, these kiddos made out like bandits.
EXHIBIT A: Paw Patrol Lookout & PJ Mask HQ
EXHIBIT B: Pink talking monkey 🐒 that is almost as big as she is.
EXHIBITS C – M: ALL THE LEGOS (plus the Elsa dress)
EXHIBIT N-Z not pictured here, but I’m pretty sure they scored at least 26 presents between them 🤦🏻♀️.
So when I asked the kids, “What was your favorite part of Christmas?” they had a LOT of things to choose from.
But you know what? Nobody said anything about any of the presents. Not one word. Because it wasn’t really about the presents for them.
We had gifts wrapped in our closet all month, and every once in a while, the kids would catch a glimpse and say, “I can’t wait to open my presents on Christmas.” But that simply wasn’t the point for them this year. (Although it was a pretty awesome perk, don’t get me wrong).
Jack was the first to answer the question: “Hugging Sophie and yelling, ‘Soph!!!!!!’” he said.
Sophie went next: “Seeing everyone,” she reported.
And if I’m being honest, I can’t remember what Henry said (#tripletmomlifeproblems), but it could have been “building Legos with Dad,” or “going for a tractor ride with Nonno and everyone,” or “making our own pizzas.” Because it was definitely about a memory made and not about a gift he got.
We grownups know Christmas isn’t about the presents. But I was pretty surprised to find out that our four-year-olds had figured that out too.
Even when it was about the presents, it wasn’t. They watched with such excitement and anticipation as their family members opened up the gifts they had bought them. They filled my stocking up with the PERFECT things, all hand-picked by them: a pug keychain, blue sparkly earrings, a Starbucks gift card, an insulated wine glass (don’t judge)! And they COULD NOT WAIT for me to find them all. And to tell me how they had picked them out. They raced towards each other with arms flung open for hugs after opening their gifts from each other. I wish I could bottle their joy in those moments. Save it for a gloomy February day when we all need a pick-me-up. I can’t, so I’ll just leave you with a few clips right here.
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” -Dr. Seuss.
I guess if the Grinch can understand that, we all can.
So as we head into 2019, we’ll look back at this past year. We’ll celebrate the highs and learn from the lows. We’ll remember our wins and mourn our losses. But I will always, always, look back on Christmas 2018 as the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. At least to date. Perhaps we just hit the “Christmas Sweet Spot” this year. Perhaps not. But if future Christmases are all whining and bickering and moping and pouting, we will always have Christmas 2018.