The Best Christmas Ever

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.

Gingerbread cookies.

Best clean up crew ever.

Gingerbread houses.

MORE gingerbread houses.

A field trip to see all the holiday windows.

Henry’s favorite window

Jack’s favorite window

Mommy’s favorite window

Sophie’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.

An Attitude of Gratitude

This has been a wild and crazy fall. The sweet, sandy days of summer are long behind us, and the frantic pace of September’s start-of-school hasn’t let up yet, despite the fact that we are closing in on December. The transition from September to October was so busy that we forgot to update our calendar for a full week. It’s a wonder anyone got to where they were supposed to be. But if I’m being honest, that fact is a wonder most days. Even with a carefully crafted calendar (or three).

For a long time, the simple logistics of going anywhere with three toddlers (much less going in different directions) was too much to navigate. But now, in the height of preschoolerhood, we can count ninja class, sports class, and musical theater class among our ever-growing list of activities. Because, you know, it’s important for little people to individuate. And when you have three little people, that means three individual activities. Add in swimming (an essential life skill if you’re going to spend your summers on Long Island at Nana’s) and soccer (because…have you met their dad?) for everyone, and suddenly, we are one of those Upper East Side families whose preschoolers’ schedules are more complicated (okay, not really…) than their parents’.

 

 

Top that with a Manhattan kindergarten admissions process times three, and well, I probably don’t need to say much more.

Amidst our busy schedules, we’ve had a fair amount of heartbreak and stress this season. In the past three months we’ve lost two people near and dear to our hearts. In the past two weeks, we’ve spent two nights in the hospital. We’ve managed two terrible cases of croup (when will they grow out of this?!?!), two x-rays and one broken arm. We’ve been to the pulmonologist, the endocrinologist, and the allergist. And we’ve endured an awful lot of poking and prodding for flu shots, blood draws, and IV medications. Not to mention about a thousand colds.

But we’ve also had about a thousand adventures. I can’t describe them all here or even post all the pictures, and I doubt you’d have the patience to scroll through them all anyway. Perhaps I should try to be a bit more regular about this whole blogging thing? But here’s just a taste (seriously, this doesn’t even begin to cover it!) of all the adventures we’ve been lucky enough to have over the past few crazy busy months.

We’ve fed the animas at the Bronx Zoo, seen the Statue of Liberty up close, and explored the many exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History.

We’ve run around just about every playground in Manhattan, chased bubbles in Central Park, and spent countless hours at the New York Public Library.

We’ve eaten a ton of cheeseburgers and two tons of French fries.

And we’ve located nut-free donuts. Only two subway rides away from home.

We’ve played a hundred board games and done a thousand crafts.

We’ve enjoyed getting lost in the ball pit at The Color Factory, trying on witch hats at “The Craft Store,” and watching the trains race by at Grand Central. And most of all, we’ve enjoyed each other.

And then every night (okay, not every night…see our crazy schedules above) when we sit around the dinner table together, we each list two things: 1) Our favorite part of the day and 2) One thing we are grateful for.

In the midst of all that is crazy and busy and hard and sad, we insist on an attitude of gratitude. You may already know I’m a bit of a gratitude fanatic. You may have seen my Friday Five social media posts. You may know that I force my sixth grade homeroom students to partake in the Friday Five practice on a weekly basis.

What you may not know is that this attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to me. I’m a glass half-empty kind of gal. I’m an “expect the worst, hope for the best” kind of worrier. My childhood drama teacher used to have to beg me to smile when I got on stage to play the ingenue. “I’ll smile on opening night,” I’d say.” And then, I wouldn’t really. (Sorry, Helene)! My tennis instructor used to call me “Smiley Gillespie,” his tone tongue-in-cheek, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

It turns out, even for those of us who have a million reasons to be grateful every day, this gratitude business is pretty difficult. One of my students asked the other day, “Can we list the things we’re not grateful for instead?” “Why would you want to do that?” I asked. “Because it’s easier.”

Yeah, kid, you’re right. It IS easier to recite our long list of gripes each day. To dig into all that is frustrating, exhausting, unpleasant, or even downright miserable. To complain or whine or wallow. But that’s the point of a gratitude practice, isn’t it? To retrain your brain to see the bright side? To look for the silver linings among the cloudy skies?

It still takes some effort for me, particularly when we’re having the kind of fall we’ve been having, but at the top of my gratitude list is the fact that my kiddos are learning early that being grateful is going to be the norm in our family. Even if it takes a little effort and reflection.

And then scanning through our photos and looking back on all the memories we made this fall, I’ve found about a hundred other reasons to be grateful.

I am also so very grateful for the friends and family (not pictured here) who have lifted us up and supported us during difficult times. The ones who check in via text twenty times a day to see how we’re hanging in. The ones who reach out in the middle of the night when they see we’re in the hospital and ask what they can do. The ones who stay at our home past midnight, holding down the fort so that Will and I don’t have to divide and conquer for the really hard things. The ones who come by on a Friday with pizza, or wine, or dogs. The ones who ask over and over and over, at work and at home, “How can I help?”

We Strumolos aren’t big on asking for help. All five of us could probably stand to shore up our self-advocacy skills. But what we know is that if we do ask for help, we’ve got an army of people ready and willing to pitch in. And that? Well that’s is pretty freaking awesome.

I am grateful for our family, near and far. And as I type this, I am especially grateful for Nana and Grumples who are hosting our kiddos for Thanksgiving this year, while we fly across the country to surprise the other half of our family. I’m grateful for Henry, Jack, and Sophie who didn’t bat an eyelash when they heard we’d be skipping out on Thanksgiving in Southampton, and went to bed last night saying, “Love you, Mommy. See you Saturday!”‘And I am grateful for the members of Strumolo clan who helped coordinate our surprise trip out to Seattle (and of course for those members who were out in Seattle waiting to be surprised)! I am grateful for the chance to celebrate birthdays and meet our nephews. And if I’m being completely honest, I’m grateful for six hours on a plane to read, to blog, and to soak up a little peace and quiet, even if it is from 35,000 feet up.

It is apropos that I am especially grateful today, but I aim to cultivate an attitude of gratitude daily. So for all of you reading this who have helped make this fall a little more bearable, thank you.

I may not say it enough, but for you, I am

Every Night a Slumber Party

This. This was somewhere in the realm of 8:45pm. An hour (or more) past bedtime and smack dab in the middle of the “grown-up dinner” we were all trying to enjoy. Our first night at Nana and Grumples’ for the summer.

I am often exasperated by their bedtime shenanigans. The mess that they make. The noise that they make. The fact that I KNOW they are tired. The fact that I know they will be up and ready for tomorrow before 6 a.m. (and before their clock “turns green”).

In fact, facing bedtime alone more often than usual is the thing I dread most about the summer. (I don’t dread a whole lot about summer, but solo bedtimes can honestly be often panic-inducing).

So last night, when I stood up from my dinner and trudged upstairs for what felt like the fifteenth time, I was ready to yell (even though I know that just makes Sophie laugh and the boys cry and is rarely effective).

But then, I opened the door, and I found this. Amidst fits of giggles, there they all were, snuggled together for “camping” on the floor in between their beds. And I couldn’t help but snap a photo and smile.

I closed the door, and of course, ten minutes later there were shouts and tears and cries of, “They’re kicking me!!” And “She’s scratching me!”

But for a few minutes, the thing that exhausts me most about having multiples was also the thing that made my heart swell. How lucky they are to have each other, and how lucky we are to have them. Even when they’re not sleeping. Even when they’re making a mess. And yes, even when they’re bickering (though it is MUCH harder to find gratitude in those moments). So here’s to longer days, later nights, and a summer full of slumber parties.

P.S. If you are eager to see more Henry, Jack, and Sophie she shenanigans, you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@estrumolo)…many more adventures await there, and I’m a little more regular about posting.

Might Just Be The Most Nutritious Meal They’ve Had All Week…

Pasta (with meatballs and sauce for one of the three), shredded carrots (for two of the three) a cheese stick (or two) for one, guacamole for one, and chips for everyone. Including Mom.

I’m pretty sure everyone got at least one bite of a fruit or veggie. Some days, that’s the best we can do. Sometimes that’s better than the best we can do!