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Chandra's Blog


Entries in magic (4)


Still a believer

Max, (middle) downing today's 2 cups of green veggiesLast night, Max (8) crawled into my bed and asked me to hold his hand. In the dark he whispered, 

"Mom, are YOU Santa?"

He's too old and clever to lie to, so I turned the question back on him.

"What do you think?"

There was a long pause. 

"Nah," he said, somewhat shakily. "I mean, there's no way you and Dad could afford to buy all those presents, and the ones under the tree too."

I was a little taken aback by this, because while J and I try to instill the value of a dollar in the boys (and those who know about Max and money are aware this is not lost on the middle son) we don't want them to think we can't stuff a few stockings. 

In the dark, I weighed my options. Hayden learned the truth about Santa from a classmate four years ago and has worked hard to preserve the notion for his little brother and sister. As he told me this year, "You know how I felt when I found out? My stomach went like this," and he made a fist and squeezed it until it trembled. We've talked often about how short the years are when you get to be on the believing side of the magic, instead of the making side. While I welcome Hay's help keeping our Elf on the Shelf on the move and even let him sneak out on Christmas eve to help with a few tasks, he has told me sometimes he wishes he didn't know. 

So I said to Max, "Honey, there are all kinds of miracles and magic that happen around Christmastime."

"That's what I thought," he said drowsily, and rolled over and fell asleep.  

* *** *






It's a Christmas miracle. Again.

Let's be honest. Every Christmas is riddled with miracles, not the least of which is that we pulled it off, again. Moms and Dads (and grandparents and generous aunts and uncles everywhere), we did it. This was what J said as he raised his mug of late night coffee to me. We did it. This time last night, we were creeping upstairs knowing the kids were waking up to this:


Christmas eve 2012

I don't just mean the STUFF--the tree and the nativity, the advent stockings, the Elf, the wrapped books and art supplies, the coveted goalie pads and iPads.

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs. I carefully consider the impact of gifts, from every aspect. Equitable, environmental, developmental, and of course, the WOW factor.

So when I say we did it, I mean that we followed our family rituals in hopes of creating tradition and maintaining a sense of the magic. This year, that felt extra miraculous. And not for the obvious reason that we hit the ground running from our Utila Vida Tranquila three weeks ago. 

In a whirlwind short span of time, we went from lazy days of hermit crab races, slow snorkeling and boat commutes to fast food, a dozen hockey games and a tank of gas in two jam-packed weekend days. 

Piper, back on the ice

The first wrench in the holiday works was Sampson, who must have gained twenty pounds (fifteen of it fur!) under the loving care of Aunt Kim and Uncle Matt. What's Christmas without a little dog blog drama? 

A week ago, we experienced some unseasonably warm weather and hockey practices were canceled, so the kids took Sampson fishing. What is more idyllic than kids and their dog, fishing? I put down the presents I was wrapping, opened the window and snapped a photo. Shortly after the below photo was taken, Hayden came running to the house and confessed tearfully that as he was changing his tackle from catfish bait (hot dog and hook) to bass lure, Sampson lunged and swallowed the bait--literally hook, line and sinker. 

I'm going to give away a little free veterinary advice, in case this horror happens to any of my dog-loving friends: if your dumb dog swallows a fish hook, you do not rush him to the vet for emergency surgery as we were imagining. Instead, we were instructed to feed Sampson a dozen cotton balls slathered in peanut butter. And bread too, if we could get it into him, also with the peanut butter and American cheese. The idea being that these items would form a protective barrier around the hook and it would pass through safely.

freshwater fishing--kids and their dog




Then, you wait. And watch. And sift hopefully through every cottony turd. Hayden took on this task with me, and sometimes as we shivered outside with a flashlight and some plastic forks, mouth breathing from the steaming stench of it, he would say that this was all he wanted for Christmas, for Sampson to be okay, for the hook to pass through without damage. A Christmas miracle. 

As of Christmas eve, the last time we officially looked, we had not found the hook, (non-chrome hooks can actually be dissolved by a dog's stomach acid) but it looks like Hayden may have gotten his wish, freeing us up to enjoy Christmas. 

This morning, when the kids crept up the stairs and into our bed to wake us for stockings-breakfast-presents, Piper did not say, "Merry Christmas," but instead, "My stomach hurts." We led her down the hall, video camera rolling, to show her the big gift, what had kept me and Mr. Claus up banging around and socket wrenching until all hours of the night, taking the king size family bed out of her tiny room and assembling her new bed. The boys, who were in on the surprise, threw open her door for the big HGTV reveal, and in what is destined to become a home movie classic, Piper promptly threw up.

From then on, Christmas took a slight veer off the predicted path of our usual ritual. Instead of stockings-breakfast-presents, everything was punctuated with vomiting. Poor Pip insisted the show go on, with her bravely participating. She would open a present, give a weak smile, and then yak a little more foamy barf into her bowl. Midday, the two patients retired to try out her new bed. This is how they spent the rest of the day:


The three boys went off to play some family hockey, and I rattled around the house, reflecting and cleaning up. Peeking in on the two of them, counting my blessings that Sampson and Piper both seemed to be resting comfortably, I said a small prayer of gratitude.

We did it. Again. Another year; Christmas miracle. 

* *** *




MONDAY MUSING--Is the magic in the ritual?

Christmas is all packed up here, less than 48 hours after the event. Part of this is because we are taking our annual winter journey to worship the sun and sea in Grand Cayman before New Years. But another truth is that I can't stand having the accoutrements around after the magic has happened--it's like being the person who comes to sweep the set of a beloved stage or screen show, to see that the furniture and props are just... things. When they are part of the magic, the buildup, the advent stockings hanging on my staircase are festive. When there are no more anticipate-the-holidays activities scribbled on slips of red cardstock and chocolates tucked inside them, they are just drugstore felt stockings stapled to ribbon cluttering up my house. 


And as you know from my post on Christmas books, we pack these and their friends the holiday movies away with the ornaments and nativities. I am militant almost about safeguarding the 'magic'. To be honest, there is a part of me that is completely cringing about writing about Christmas on December 27. Shouldn't we be moving on, writing about resolutions or our new snowfall? part of me thinks. But I have been thinking about the ritual of Christmas a lot this year.

My sister and I were up texting after midnight on Christmas eve, our sewing machines humming along. Her two-year-old had sleepily said she hoped Santa would bring her a snowman, so Linden (who lives in the Caribbean) was up making a snowman for Quinn out of felt and buttons. On my end, I had sewn a modified "Ugly" doll for Hayden out of his old hockey pants--part stuffed animal, part hot-water-bottle holder for his night pains, and when I saw it set out by his stocking, I just knew Max was going to feel gypped, so I was whipping up a blue fleece bat/owl type creature. We were texting back and forth photos of our projects, and expressing the hope that the Christmas magic we grew up on had been created. 

For us, a huge part of this magic was the heavy, unaltered and beloved ritual my parents created around Christmas.

The Christmas of my childhood has weeks of lead-up that I won't bore you with--everyone has things that bring the season to life for them. We did too; songs, Tableaux, and the traditional goose dinner with my grandparents on my mother's blue and gold wedding China, new Christmas flannels, and reading aloud from Clement Moore. But the real ritual began Christmas morning, in a near-sacred order that stretched every Dec 25th until mid-afternoon.

My four siblings and I woke each other up and waited in our bedrooms, peeking across the hallway at each other, until the appointed time. I made sure everyone had brushed and gargled--my hyper-sensitive sniffer wanted nobody's morning breath wafting my way on the next part: waking my parents with a serenade of "Merry Christmas Bells Are Ringing." A quick cuddle in their bed, and then on to stockings in the living room. My mom knit all of our stockings, beautiful, matching and personalized, but they were never where we hung them on the fireplace. They were tucked into a pile, a bounty of stuffed animals and presents and extras. These we opened as my Dad laid a fire in the fireplace, calling out grateful 'thank you Santas'.


I marvel about the next part of the ritual as a mother: breakfast. Somehow, my mother managed to clean up from a full goose dinner for at least ten people on Christmas eve, and on Christmas morning, the table would be re-set with that same classic China, grapefruits halved and sugared at each place setting, holly sprigs in the napkin rings, homemade sticky buns in the oven. My dad made coffee and scrambled eggs with cream, and there was stollen and bacon. My sister-in-law and I were shaking our heads over this as we cleared the table Christmas eve this year, my mom shuffling around, HELPING, with her walker as she learns to walk after her shattered femur last June. How did she do it, all those years? How did she prepare these incredible meals, and clean, and do the wrapping and the stockings, and make all that magic? A wonder woman, we decided, who was also willing to do what we are not: all-nighters. 

After sit-down breakfast, we had worship--a reading aloud of the Christmas story, a few carols. If someone had learned a religious piano song (seven years of lessons, and the only piano song I can play from memory is Greensleeves) they played it. 

Between stockings and a sit-down breakfast, by the time worship was over, it might be ten, or even eleven. At long last, the deliciousness of presents could begin! We had appointed places in the living room where we sat, year after year. The elves--my brothers--would distribute the presents from under the tree to each person's station, careful to avoid or sometimes employing the aid of the clickety-clacking LGB train. 

Presents were opened in specific order, SLOWLY, one at a time, youngest to older, in repeating circles, until we were finished. With an original family of seven, this could go on until the afternoon, when the ritual ended with wrapping paper tossed in the fireplace, and my mom doling out our laundry baskets to carry our loot back to our rooms. 


Magic. Memories. Ritual. One Christmas four years ago, when there were just the two boys and my in-laws were here for the holidays, we let Hayden and Max tear through stockings and presents in a hazy, frenzied, fifteen-minute blur. No appreciation, no thanking the giver, adults milling around making coffee and trying to get the boys to eat something other than chocolate Santas for breakfast. No candles lit, no reading of the Petersham's The Christ Child, no carols. Just hysterical, rampant gimmes. 


I felt sick afterwards, stuffing torn wrapping paper into trash bags, the boys looking up at me like, "that was it?" It was barely eight-thirty. I took a walk that afternoon and vowed that I would bring the ritual, the magic to my children. I've been doing it ever since. As we set out the stockings on Christmas eve, I heard my oldest, my nine-year-old fellow Virgo reminding the other two how it would go: stockings, then breakfast, then worship, then presents, ONE AT A TIME. 


I don't do China or a big sit-down breakfast--our wedding China is still in its original packaging in our basement. And we've added our own flair; letters from Santa and reindeer chow debris greet them first thing, and a departure note from "Cheese", our elf on the shelf. I light candles scented like pine and poinsetta. My Dad comes over and makes scrambled eggs with cream, Jon brews excellent strong coffee and we have gluten-free sweet potato waffles with Nutella. This year, for the first time, my kids were so much more excited about giving than getting, desperate for everyone to open the gifts they had made or selected. Slowly, (okay, semi-slowly), one at a time, in order of age, while the LGB clickety-clacked around the track.




I think now, that the magic is in the ritual, and in the sentiment, maybe, in the care of creating and preserving tradition. I hope your Christmas was merry. Now, pack it up and let's move on. 







MONDAY MUSING--Christmas books

Over the past few years, I have started a collection of books that get packed away with our Christmas decorations. They come out of the ornament trunk in early December bearing the scent of pine and beeswax from the candles that are nestled beside them. As my boys set up the G scale train that is also a Christmas-only treat, I put these special books out in a basket by our fireplace. We read them for several weeks and before the newness or magic of them is gone, they get packed away again on the 26th of December.

Here are the Hoffspring cozied up for a story, and some favorites from our fireside basket: 

Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury--this classic, weighty collection with it's gorgeous colors is a decoration all in itself. Between the covers are a smattering of stories that you may know from other times of year, like "The Mitten" and "The Hat". But there are some special holiday favorites, like "Trouble with Trolls", about Treeva and her dog Tuffi who encounter rascally but dim trolls as they try to scale Mount Baldy. When Treeva has outwitted the trolls the final time, when she sighs,  "Okay, I'll hold the dog," and zooms down the mountain on her painted skis, my kids always collapse into laughter. "Christmas Trolls" features the same girl and a new set of naughty, bickering trolls.

The collections has Brett's trademark rich illustrations and corner details on classics like "The Night Before Christmas" and "12 Days of Christmas." 


The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey--My aunt introduced us to this gorgeously illustrated story of a widow and widower in Pioneer times when Christmas could carry with it the sadness of those lost, "Because those were the days before hospitals and medicines and skilled doctors." It is a love story with hauntingly realistic illustrations that highlights the innocence of children, and the possibility of miracles. Every time I read this, I am awed by both the simplicity and complexity of this tale, the weaving of objects and symbolism. It reaches each of my children on a different level.

The Christ Child by Maud and Miska Petersham-- We grew up on this version of the Christmas story, illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham and adapted from various parts of the Bible. The illustrations are so nostalgic and touching--the animals couldn't look more benevolent, and Mary and Joseph are as radiant as Herod is sinister. 


Pippin The Christmas Pig by Jean Little -- I picked this up at a book fair the year that we had our own little Piper, who sometimes goes by nicknames like Pippa, Pippi and even Pippin. It is an odd tale of a little pig who wants to know the true meaning of Christmas and is shunned from the barn by the boastful animals as one who has nothing to offer. Pippin the pig is leaving her barn in shame and sadness when she encounters what my sister and I interpret as a woman and baby girl fleeing a domestic violence situation in the middle of a snowstorm. Pippin leads them back to her barn and gives them shelter, the animals own little nativity. It gets more bizarre when the farmer and his wife discover this woman under the donkey's blanket and the baby girl asleep in their hay manger, and the story ends without us ever knowing what happens for any of the humans in the story. Because of this, I would have long ago donated this book to the thrift barn if it weren't for a snip of dialogue between Noddy, the curmudgeonly donkey and innocent little Pippin as she is ordering all the animals to help the woman and baby who stumble into the barn on the wings of a blizzard:

"But that's not a special baby," Noddy protested.

"Of course she is," said Pippin. "All babies are special."

Noddy gazed into the small, sleeping face.

"You are right," he said. "I'd forgotten."

Somehow, it is hard for me to read this aloud without choking up. All babies are special indeed. 


My latest addition to our Christmas basket is an out of print story by Leon Garfield: Fair's Fair. I remember hearing my Uncle Dean read this story aloud to his children as we lolled in the bunk beds in the Catskill mountains one Christmas, haunted by his deep baritone and the story of a huge black dog who seeks out starving, homeless orphans in the the middle of a blinding snowstorm and leads them to a mansion the week before Christmas. It took some digging to find a battered, retired library copy of the book, but it has quickly become one of my kids' favorites. A big black dog? Rescued orphans, a blizzard and a mansion? How could it not be? 


Question: I would love to hear what holiday or Christmas stories your family cherishes?