Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas "Break"

Mama needs a break.

You know it's bad when I start referring to myself as a child-bearer in the third person.

I adore Christmas...truly adore it. Both for what it really stands for and also for all of the tinsely, lit up splendidness of it all. However, somehow this year, I went into the Christmas holiday on a deficit and I'm having trouble catching up. Between my work schedule and Charles' work schedule, it has been double duty on passing the baton- which has meant little, to no, time together and little, to no, self-time. I have realized that I am not really "great" at anything- being a good Wife, a good Mother, a good Teacher, a good Businesswoman- when I haven't had some alone time to recoup.  Christmas was full of all of the traditions I enjoy so much, and seeing the joy my boys were experiencing was very heartwarming, but it didn't quite hold the magic I'm used to...because I'm tired. And Mama needs a break. There are a couple of spa gift cards with my name on them from last year and I am planning on cashing them in. Stat.

The very, very best part of Christmas, though, is seeing it through my boys eyes...

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Santa filled the stockings...and even "George" got a Paw print stocking filled with goodies.

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Santa delivered our first Christmas train! We have all had dreams of an adorable battery operated train set to circle the tree and have been enjoying this one immensely!

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The view after Santa had visited on Christmas Eve, along with my beautiful table setting. (This year, through my Event Design business, I created some floral arrangements and tablescapes that we sold to add just a little ease and beauty to people's holiday tables. I loved this "Glam Christmas" version we did, and made an extra for myself!)

Christmas morning arrived, but luckily my boys are sleepers and woke at their regular time...

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On Christmas morning, Christian got the drums he had been asking for from Santa! Yes. I might be crazy. Please refer back to sentence number 1 from this post.

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But, just look at his face...sheer happiness.

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Elijah tore through the stockings and loved every minute, but his favorite toy was the Alphabet Train Santa brought.  He loves, loves, LOVES this thing...

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Our big gift to ourselves this year was "George".

IMG_0859 This dog has really captured our hearts, but the most amazing gift came the day after Christmas.

The Rescue that we got George from (called Mutt Match LA) requires you to have a recommended trainer come to give you some help training your dog. George is a good natured, easy going, loveable dog, but he's also young. He is persistent around food and has been chewing quite a bit. (In fact, we had a song started to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It went something like this: "On the fifth day of Christmas my dog chewed up for me: Five... Precious... Binkies...   Fo-ur pairs of shoes, three plastic cows, tw-o tupperware, and a string of  lights on the Christmas tree!")

 But, on the day after Christmas, a true "Dog Whisperer" walked into our house, showed us how to speak to George in his language (body language...not barking language) and we instantly watched George transform before our eyes. I have never seen anything like it. Now, George sits in front of the door when we eat and even if I threw a scrap of food near him, he wouldn't move a muscle to get it until I tell him it's okay. He's completed connected with me now when I take him for walks and it has been a ton of fun taking him out for a couple of runs lately. The trainer told us that when George starts to see us as his "pack", the destructive chewing is likely to diminish or stop. I'm still knocking on wood, but it has been two days since he's chewed anything up!!

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School starts again for Christian on January 2nd. On one hand, I'm sort of looking forward to the school schedule again, but on the other hand we were having so many problems with one of the kids at school, that I'm kind of dreading it. My plan was to get Christian together with another boy from his class to help encourage a newer friendship that might not be so dramatic, but it hasn't happened yet. With all of the commitments and the busyness of the season, I just haven't been able to make it happen. We still have a few semi-relaxed days left, so I'm hoping to still pull it off!

Tomorrow, I have big plans for a yoga class in the morning as a first step in re-grouping. Sunday I have big plans for a spa pedicure and a girls night. And somewhere thrown in there, I plan to pack up the Christmas decorations and enjoy the feeling of a fresh start, a scaled-down living room (sans Christmas tree), and the whiff of a New Year and all of the adventures waiting for me.

I love Christmas time and all the hominess and warmth that it brings, but I also love the anticipation of starting something new. A new year. A fresh start. A little break to regroup and then pick up my pace again. Hey...if my dog can be transformed with a perspective change, then I'm pretty sure I can too...



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Believe...

The season is upon us and I'm embracing it wholeheartedly. It's easy to do that when there is a five year old and 2 year old in the house. Last weekend we decorated the Christmas tree, got our holiday cards ready to go and began the talks about what Christmas is really about. My five year old, Christian, asks tough questions. I'll admit that I felt more comfortable sticking to the made-up legends of Santa Claus coming down the chimney, than to screw up on the big questions about Jesus that he is bound to have...

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And let's face it, Santa is great bribery. He knows when you've been naughty or nice.  And if you're not nice? Well...no good comes from that- Santa will be sure. Right? Well, Christian didn't seem to be buying it. He wasn't to be deterred on his questions: How does Santa know if we've been naughty or nice? How does he get to all the boys and girls in the world? Why can't I see him? My pat answer of, "Well, It's magic..." just didn't seem to cut it. He kept looking at me like, "So that's your answer? That's all you got?" I turned to Facebook for some help: Apparently, the "help" comes in the form of the popular book and toy, "The Elf on the Shelf". Everyone assured me that it answered all of the questions and left the biggest skeptics believing well past the assumed years of "Belief". The idea behind the "Elf on the Shelf" is that you each get your own personal elf who keeps watch over your behavior and flies back to see Santa at the North Pole each night. He reports on your behavior and then flies back to your home...only he never seems to land in the same spot. This is where the parents come in. Our job is, of course, to move the Elf each night until Christmas. I have avoided the Elf this long because of this very responsibility. It seems that the stakes just keep going up for these Elves. It's just not enough to place him on a different shelf each night. You've got to come up with "scenarios" and "shenanigans" that are convincing enough to keep your kid(s) in line til Dec 25th. Oh...and if you touch the Elf? Well, it loses it's magic and it can't fly back to Santa anymore.

So. I don't make a full commitment. I borrow the book and give new life to a small Elf I received on top of a Christmas package one year. I read Christian the story and the first order of business is to name the Elf. I look at Christian and ask, "So, what do you think? What should we name him?" He thinks for a moment and says, "Van." Van??! Was he looking at out my car when he came up with this name or does the Elf look slightly Nordic to him...? I tried a little encouragement. "Are you sure you want his name to be Van? He's going to be our Elf for a very long time." He was sure, so "Van" it is.  I suggested we start by telling Van what he wants for Christmas, so that when he flies back to the North Pole, he can let Santa know.  We approach Van, who already happens to be sitting on a shelf. I looked at Van and then looked to Christian, "Well...go ahead."

Christian simultaneously takes a giant sigh and sits down on a nearby table. "Mom." He says. "Mom. I need to tell you something."
Me: "Okay...what do you need to tell me?"
C: "That, (pointing at the elf) is not real." "You and I are real." "That is just a....Christmas thing."

I played it cool. "Okay. Well, that's what the book says, Christian.  I guess we'll just have to see."
And there hence started the upping of the Elf stakes. All to get him to Believe...

The first night Van was hanging upside down from the dining room chandelier. The next night, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on the fireplace mantle. Then, rappelling down the blinds and sleeping in a bed of cloth napkins.  All is going well...and finally, Christian seems to Believe!

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Christian's tree in his room. He decorated it (and his room) all by himself. And, Van rappelling down the blinds.

 Kindergarten was a challenge this week. Christian has become close with a boy from his class named Elijah (I know- go figure.) I've met Elijah and he seems like a sweet enough kid. But, all I've been hearing about this week is how Elijah says that Christian isn't his friend anymore. It was all Christian could talk about, so come Wednesday, I decided maybe it would be best to have a talk with the two boys and help to model how to solve friendship problems. All I can say is...it didn't go well. I sat down with both boys, kept my mood light and cheerful and said, "So, Elijah, Christian tells me that you don't want to be his friend anymore? Do you think you could tell me why?" Elijah wouldn't look at me. He said, "Well my brother doesn't want me to be friends with Christian anymore." To say that was the last thing I expected to hear, would be an understatement. I've met his brother who is only a few years older...maybe 8 or 9?...so, I tried: "Well, do you like Christian?" He said yes. So I said, "Okay. Well maybe you could tell your brother that you really like Christian and you guys have a lot of fun at school together, but that he's your brother so he'll always be a best friend to you?" (Thinking maybe it's a jealousy thing??) Elijah still wouldn't look at me. He said, "Oh, I don't think I could do that because my brother is in charge of me and he would slap me." At this ;point I didn't quite know what to do. This isn't a typical response. I've met Elijah's Mom and Grandparents and brother and while I can't know for sure, I'm not getting an abuse vibe going on. I'm not even 100% sure of how I left the situation. I think it might have been something like, "Okie dokie. Well, we better go. See you tomorrow!"

On the way home from school, I played up the idea that maybe it was just best to focus on the friends that DO want to be your friend and to try not to worry about Elijah.  But, the very next day on the way to school, the subject came up again. Christian said, "Maybe Elijah will be my friend again today!" I said, "Maybe, sweetie. But, I would try not to worry about Elijah. Why don't you spend more time with your other friends?"  Christian got very quiet and then in the saddest, most tearful voice I've ever heard said, "I must be the worst kid in the whole world."  I thought I might crash the car, so I pulled over. "No sweetie! No. You're a great kid and there are lots of friends who really, really like you. If Elijah doesn't want to be your friend, then that is his loss."  Christian seemed a little bit pepped up by the time we got to school, but I still saw sad shoulders as he walked into the play yard.  I couldn't stop thinking about it all day. When I went to pick him up, I decided to talk to the teacher first to see if there was anything else I could do. She basically said that there was nothing else I could do, that having a friendship was very, very challenging for Elijah. She didn't mention diagnosis or any specifics, but it seemed clear that we were dealing with a child who has some pretty big social challenges. Christian was upset again when I picked him up, saying that Elijah had called him a "Baby head". I tried to explain to Christian that Elijah has a hard time with his friends. I explained to say that he has a lot of feelings and maybe it's hard for him to show those feelings properly.  I tried saying that I know it doesn't feel good- that it's happened to me too, but I just don't know how much of the hurt it takes away.

Ugh- it's so painful to watch your kid struggle with this. I never feel like I'm saying the right thing, and no matter what I do say, I can't take away all of the pain for him. It sucks. We walked away from school on Friday, with just one small bit of good news; "Guess what?" I said. "It looks like we are going to finally get George tomorrow!!"

We have been in the process of trying to adopt a dog, "George", since October. But, there were gates and fences to fix, winter colds and flus thrown in and here we are in December, only now finally trying to finalize the adoption.  George came over on Saturday, all shiny and black, with his wagging tail friendliness. Christian was in heaven. A boy and his dog. We received some great suggestions, a bag of his dog food and a warm goodbye from his foster Mom. If there is anything that can heal the wounds of a difficult friend week at school, it has got to be time to run and just be "a boy with a dog". George is one of the most patient, friendly dogs I think I've met. Nothing seems to rile him. He's not a barker, he's easy going and he's just energetic enough to keep up with the demands of a 5 year old ("George come here! Come here George! Catch this George! George come here!") They already look like peas in a pod. Christian was very serious when he asked me, "How am I going to get George to follow me around? I need him to follow me around." I reminded him about all of the ways we need to take care of a dog and that makes them trust us and want to follow us around.  I asked him, "Hey. Do you remember what kind of dog George is?" He thought for a second..."a Fat Robe Catriever?" When my brain processed what he meant ( A Flat Coat Retriever), I couldn't stop laughing. A boy and his Fat Robe Catriever.  It has a good ring...

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We spent the weekend in a relaxed state- all tired (and sick) from a long week. Christian played outside with the dog from morning til night...working on his bond so that George will "follow him around". We hung Christmas lights on the house, made Oatmeal Raisin cookies and didn't get out of PJs until well after noon. It was well needed.  Just before bed, Christian had a special art project he had made for Santa that he wanted to give to Van the Elf. He insisted on putting it near Van himself and swore that he would be careful not to touch him. Two minutes later, Christian came out. "I accidentally touched Van." I saw it as a test, because there were no tears, he wasn't devastated. So, I said, "Uh oh. We better go online and see if there is anything we can do." So I Googled, 'What happens if you accidentally touch the elf on the shelf?' For real. I really did that. And you know what? There were answers. I found one blog and read it to Christian as if it were fact. "Well, it says here that if you accidentally touch the elf, you have to email Santa to let him know. Santa will then mail you some magic dust to sprinkle onto the elf to give him back his powers."  So...tonight, I will not have to up the ante. Tonight, Van will remain in his Harmonica-playing-Shelf-position for an extra night while I fashion a letter sent from Santa containing some sort of magic dust...which I'm assuming looks exactly like iridescent glitter, which I just so happen to have! Voila!

Because if I can't take away all of my son's friendship "hurts" then I can at least lie my ass off to  create an air of Christmas magic to help him....Believe...


Monday, December 3, 2012

Oh, Patience, Where Art Thou?

We've disembarked from a month full of Thankfulness, as my friends on Facebook reminded me of every day in the month of November. Little messages of thankfulness were posted during the last 30 days for everything from "great family" to "a functioning DVR player that allows them to catch up on Empire Boardwalk episodes"...My thankfulness was present, but my demeanor a little weary. We, like many families who live in Los Angeles, have been struggling for a few years. We do what we love, we work hard, and we practice patience, but every once in awhile I struggle to stay optimistic. Charles and I literally cannot work any harder than we already do. My brain spins as to how to make our life work, how to be creative and ingenious about making an income while still being the primary caretaker of my boys. Usually, I rally. Usually, I can find the silver lining and focus on the positive, but I'll admit that leading up to the holidays this year, it's been a little harder to brush away the nagging fears.

Focusing on the positive is a choice. I absolutely know that there is no good that comes out of being sad or depressed....those things don't solve anything, and then you're just...sad and depressed. So, I put one foot in front of the other and I practice patience.

Because of the stress I've been under, I've found my patience waning. My temper is shorter and I've found myself shouting more times than I care to recognize. Sigh. My 5 year old is part of my heart. I can't even explain the love and bond I feel for my firstborn (though, I'm sure I don't even have to explain to those of you who are there with me...) But, Christian is a challenge at times. He is strong willed and smart...a fairly lethal combination. When he has a "bad day"...it is a BAD day. Like today. When I arrived to pick him up from Kindergarten, he was sitting inside the classroom reading a book while all of the other kids argued over who got to ride the tricycles outside (He's usually one of them.) For a moment, I thought, "Aww...why is my sweetie reading a book inside instead of playing?" And then I realized...oh. yeah. And his teacher approached. We talked. Christian looked sheepish. There were meltdowns. There were shenanigans. There were consequences. And, unfortunately, after a day like that, I didn't feel that I could take him to see "Santa's Helper" at the mall, as I had suggested before school. Therefore, there were more meltdowns. And more shenanigans. I found myself having a little self-talk: Calm down, Jen. ...What would Jesus do? ...Well, Jesus didn't have kids. Plus Jesus was perfect. And I am not, and I have no clue what to do... Deep breath. Pull it together. Be patient. I'm trying by re-invigorating our existing chart and adding a few extra incentives to it. I even gave Christian a do-over option today: If he was a great listener at his swim lesson, then he could earn a point toward seeing "Santa's Helper" (who will now require a point total of 7 in order to be earned, by the way.) We talked, he agreed. He was going to make good choices in swim lesson and be a great listener.

From minute one in swim lesson all I heard was, "Christian!" "No, Christian!" "Christian, I need you to listen!" "Christian!" I was seriously ready to lose it. I marched right into the office and asked for a different class- one that is earlier in the day, because clearly at 6pm at night, my kid cannot handle it. Not even when a trip to see "Santa's Helper" is at stake. Frankly, I didn't do well today either. There was some yelling, for sure. There were things said that probably don't come out of a "How to be a Better Parent handbook". So, I put the boys to bed and I vow to do better. To be more patient. To try again. Tomorrow. ...And hope that I am not the main and primary reason they end up in therapy down the line....

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Elijah has been my little rock star lately. His receptive language seems to be exploding, and he is incredibly motivated by people. We had a home visit with some of the therapists from his school on Friday. They came to see him in his home environment, and applauded his every attempt. For a moment I thought, "Wow. He may have a rude awakening one day when people aren't applauding every single thing he does..." But, I think he actually might live his whole life with people applauding him all along. That's just how he is. People root for him. He roots for himself. And it's contagious.

On Saturday, we attended his friend Nathan's 2nd Birthday. Nathan also has Down syndrome and there were a lot of the other kids and parents from the Jump Start program at the party.  Elijah was crawling over toward Nathan's Dad and seemed to decide that it might be better to stand up and trying walking over there instead...he planted his feet and STOOD UP. No assistance necessary. Then, promptly fell down to thunderous applause and me screaming, "Oh my gosh!!!!! He's never done that before!!!!!!!!!" The coolest thing was that everyone there "Gets it". They were celebrating right along with me. It's not like Elijah stood up and did a back flip, but for him, just standing up independently is about as hard at this point in his life.  He was absolutely thrilled by his attempts (He did it 3 or 4 times in a row) and by the response he got from everyone. I tried to take a picture, or video or something, but my brain went into temporary shock and I ceased to know how to work my camera.  Here's a photo of him enjoying some time in the bounce house instead. That's all I got.  But there are witnesses. :)

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I was waiting to blog until I was feeling optimistic and positive again. But, you know, I'm just not there YET. I'm a little impatient and my fuse is a little short. I still have a lot. I still have so much to be thankful for. But, there are also a few things that I have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other on. There are some things that I just have to vow to try again for a little more patience tomorrow.

I was reminded of an experiment the other day. It's the one where a professor fills up a jar with golf balls and asks his students, "Is it full?"  They all reply Yes. Then he pours sand into the jar and it fills in the crevices between the balls and asks again, "Is it full?" The students again reply Yes. He says that we should view life like the jar. The golf balls represent the big things- friends, family, love. The sand represents the little things- the "stuff" that we want, but don't necessarily need. The professor reminds his students that if he were to have filled his jar with the little things first, there wouldn't have been enough room for the big things...the things that matter. I've thought about this a lot the last few days as I've been trying to rally back to my optimistic place, and it's true. I also have to remember that sometimes when you are going without the "little things" it easy to forget about the big things- the ones that really matter. I decided to write tonight, not because I am in a great place and feeling wise and patient. I wrote because I'm not feeling either wise or patient, but the act of admitting it and putting it in writing always seems to have a balancing effect for me.

I may not have patience today, but tomorrow is a new day to try again...

Some of my "big things": (From Thanksgiving Day)
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