Santa Claus is Coming: Please Consider This!

dec10_button1This is a letter to parents of young children who are so excited that Santa is coming to visit.  Santa is just amazing, isn’t he?.  He allows us to focus on the spirit of Christmas: kindness, giving, and some old fashioned magic.  But, this is a letter to parents asking that we look at Santa through different eyes.

This is such a busy time of year, I hate to even suggest that you think of one more thing. However, this is important to me and has been weighing on my heart.  I just want to join my teacher friends in raising awareness and sensitivity.  Every community and every school, no matter how affluent or how poor, has children living in homes from a variety of financial levels.

I live and work in a community where about 75% of children live in poverty.  However, that leaves 25% who are not living in poverty.  Now, I want you to think about this scenario: Johnny, Luis, and Latricia are in the same class.  They all celebrate Christmas and Santa visits each of their homes.

Luis is an only child; his family has a lovely, decorated tree. Under the tree there are lots of presents from family and extended family.  Santa will come to the house, and as is their tradition, Santa will leave just one gift.  Santa has an iPadPro and an Apple Pencil (cost = around $1000) for Luis this year.

Latricia is one of three children. Her mom and dad both work, but money is always tight.  Nevertheless, there are presents under the tree for all of the children. Under the tree, there are lots of little presents for the children from mom and dad (pajamas, books, dolls, crayons, action figures).  This year, the three children will have a visit from Santa and he will leave an expensive gaming system for them to share along with some games (cost = $550.00).

Johnny is our third student. He is one of four children living with a single mom who is out of work and depends on welfare and occasional part time work to make ends meet.  They have a small tree and a few presents.  Santa is coming to Johnny’s house too. However, Johnny will find a new pair of much needed sneakers from Santa (cost = $20.00).

Now, travel forward with me to January 4, 2018.  The children are back at school and excited to share about what they got from Santa. There is a big difference between what Luis got and what Johnny got.  My fear is that Johnny is left wondering why Santa likes Luis so much more than he likes him.  He worries that he was not a good boy or that his is not smart enough or didn’t do a good enough job helping his mom around the house. How sad!  We know that Santa loves all children equally.

So, here is my request.  Please think about all the Johnnys in your child’s school.  When it is time to put out the cookies and milk for Santa, please leave a note asking him to leave small gifts for your child.  This will not diminish your Christmas morning at all since you can proudly put your name on the big ticket items for your child. I promise that Santa will appreciate how you are helping him look out for the happiness of all his boys and girls.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

Holiday Lights: More than just Twinkle!

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 4.37.56 PMWhat is it about the lights? At this time of year, I love driving around the streets to see the holiday light displays.  The minute I wake up in the morning, I turn on the Christmas tree lights and the lights across the mantle above the fireplace.  My house is filled with candles that flicker during these long winter nights. I can sit in a trance for hours in front of the fireplace watching until the last ember dies. Yes, I admit it; I am a light junkie.

Lights can brighten even the darkest times in our lives; they have always figured into human history. Our ancestors lit candles and fires to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Today, candles and lights play an important role in Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Lights, twinkling like stars, remind us that we are part of the Universal Spirit; they remind us to find ways to light the world around us, bringing joy to others.

As I enjoy the Christmas lights scattered across my community and throughout my home, I realize that each light flickers to remind me of treasured past memories, but also with the promise of precious memories still to come. And so today, as I sit sipping hot chocolate by the fire, I can’t help glancing at the twinking Christmas tree lights. They remind me to think about those who are gone, of their love for me and mine for them. But I am also mindful of how blessed I am to be surrounded by loving family and friends and of the wonderful memories we will continue to make together.  So thank you all for being the light in my life; my days are brighter because of you. Merry Christmas! I love you.

Choose Kindness

When children are “given”, it can create a sense of entitlement. When children “give”, psychologists tell us that human bonds are strengthened. There is greater joy in giving than in receiving and this is a lesson we should allow our children to learn.

This activity works for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa; actually it works any month of the year! Here is my proposal: Give your child a blank calendar page. This simple page becomes a journal or record of kindnesses. Each night at bedtime, ask your child to record an intentional kindness they performed that day. This few moments allows your child to savor joy in the kindness they performed. It also allows you a moment to look your child in the eyes and genuinely say, “I am proud of you!”

That moment when you really look at your child and tell him or her you are proud is powerful and profound…this is a message that helps forge a strong, resilient, loving, lifelong bond.

Here are a few ideas to get you and your child started on this journey of giving:

  1. Do a chore for a family member.
  2. Hold the door open for someone.
  3. Recycle.
  4. Pick up litter.
  5. Feed the birds.
  6. Give someone a compliment.
  7. Let someone get in front of you in line.
  8. Set the table.
  9. Send a Thank You note to a service member or first responder.
  10. Say, “I love you!” first.
  11. Read to your little brother or sister.
  12. Play with someone new on the playground.
  13. Write a Thank You note to your teacher.
  14. Help make dinner.
  15. Donate a toy so a less fortunate child can receive a gift.
  16. Bake cookies for a nursing home.
  17. Clear the table after dinner.
  18. Load the dishwasher or wash the dishes.
  19. Clean your room without being asked.
  20. Give a compliment.
  21. Offer to play with your little brother or sister.
  22. Write a Thank You note to your postal worker and leave it in the mailbox.
  23. Share a toy with your brother or sister.
  24. Help carry in groceries and put them away.
  25. Fold the laundry.
  26. Help your little brother or sister with homework.
  27. Share your umbrella space.
  28. Listen to your little brother or sister read out loud.
  29. Get a haircut for Locks of Love.
  30. Use sidewalk chalk to leave a positive message for others.
  31. Smile!!

 

KINDNESS CALENDAR

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Where have the toys gone?

Have you looked at your child’s holiday wish list? I talk to the kids here at school all the time and I have noticed that Santa’s lists have really changed!When I was a kid, I wanted a Barbie® or a Tiny Tears® doll. I wanted doll clothes, marbles, doll furniture, a paint by number set, Pick Up Sticks®, and a Chinese Checkers® game, wooden puzzles, and a bike. When my son came along, he wanted HeMan/Masters of the Universe® action figures, Match Box® cars, most anything Star Wars®, model trains, a painting/drawing set, Silly Putty®, a cowboy outfit, Legos®, and a bike.

The thing that amazes me is that kids don’t want toys anymore! Technology is really changing our world. Our kids want iPads, Nintendo®, Xbox®, cell phones, Blu-ray players, robots, drones, droids, and virtual reality systems. Yikes! What is a parent to do?

First of all, set your budget and stick to your limits. It is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive. Even Santa is feeling the recession these days and teaching your child about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING! I try to focus on buying just one electronic gift and then giving lots of little things, even some that don’t cost money. For example, homemade gift coupons can be lots of fun. “What can I give my kids coupons for?” you ask. Well, how about a coupon to have a friend spend the night. Coupons for a free pass out of chores for a night is always popular. Coupons to rent a movie or to stay up an extra half hour are also big hits. Kids like coupons to get to pick the dinner menu for a night. My son once got a coupon to have a night off from vegetables. He especially did not like spinach. Even Popeye himself couldn’t convince him to swallow the spinach!

I also like to give inexpensive things that encourage creativity. Clay, scissors, crayons, colored pencils, markers, drawing paper, finger paint. Add some sparkle to art projects with glitter, ribbon, lace, and buttons. Old fashioned floor blocks are terrific for encouraging problem solving and creativity. Some of your old clothes, shoes, and hats can be cleaned and boxed; they make wonderful dress up and make believe items. Older children love having a diary where they can record their hopes and dreams. Finally, there are books. Make sure that the books you pick spark your child’s interest and tap into their imagination.

One thing that adds to the fun is putting things together to create a “kit”. For example, a few blank books, some colored pencils, a pretty fountain pen, erasers, and even notebook paper can be put together in a festive box as a Future Author or Future Poet kit. Those cleaned and polished dress-up items can be put together with an kid-friendly camera to become a Dream It ~ Believe It ~ Be It kit. Canvases, paints, a sketch pad, crayons, colored pencils, fun craft-edged scissors make a perfect gift kit for your artist. Do you have a budding chef? A quick trip to the grocery store will yield lots of treasures for a Cheftastic kit.

So, get creative. You can think of lots of things to give your children that don’t leave you with a stack of bills once the holidays have passed. Share your ideas by leaving a comment here on the blog. Happy Holidays!

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part IV

x1_elf2So by now you may be asking, “How do I know when I’ve had enough?” and “What can I do about it?”  Hmmm…Stress.  We all have stress. They say that feeling overwhelmed or depressed is an important sign of stress.  Well, the holidays seem to ramp up that feeling of being overwhelmed  astronomically.  The expectations are enormous, and holiday stress begins, thanks to our big retail chains, around October 15th.  This year, the Christmas sales began before Halloween here where I live.  And, if you are a parent, you know what happens…the holiday season of over-the-top, too excited kids begins and continues all the way to Christmas. Then, the post Christmas morning let-down ensues.

Yup…stress.  There are so many layers of it at this time of year.  For example, there is the baking expectation for the kids’ holiday parties at school, the cookie swap, and after school snacks.  Let’s see, what else?  Parties to attend…what will I wear and will it fit in with what everyone else is wearing?  Shopping for food, for gifts, and for decorations.

Why, I can’t tell you how many friends I have this year who are stressed out about finding the most creative, innovative, exciting ways to position that famous shelf-sitting elf!  If you start with the elf on December 1st, that’s 25 days of stress right there.  I was laughing over one mom that got so stressed about the elf that she wrapped his leg in a fake cast and stuck him on the bookcase with a note that said “Skippy had an accident and can’t move around until his leg heals.”  BWAHAHAHA!

And let’s just talk about gift wrapping for a moment…am I the only one that thinks this is a huge chore? I spend hours cutting, folding, taping, coordinating bows, finding cute gift bags, and worrying about whether or not Santa has all the wrapping paper he and the elves need for their gifts.  Then, those hours of careful wrapping translate to a pile of shredded mess in the middle of the living room floor in no time at all.  Sounds like stress to me!

So, how do we know if we are stressed?  If all of the above hasn’t convinced you, there are some signs of stress, and we all need to be aware of them. You’ll know you’re stressed when you begin losing sleep. If you’re lying awake at night worrying about all the stuff that isn’t done yet…that’s stress. Loss of sleep makes you irritable. If you find yourself snapping at your children, your boyfriend, your husband, your mom, or your boss…that’s stress. If you have lost your appetite and are losing weight… that’s stress. Now another sign of stress is a sudden weight gain, but I don’t know how reliable that would be around the holidays when everywhere you turn someone has something yummy and fattening for you to try!

Are you having aches and pains? What about muscle aches? If your neck hurts, back hurts, or you just ache all over…that could be a symptom of stress. When you’re stressed, you’re tense, and all that tension can make your muscles think they’ve had a real workout. They get sore.  Or, if you are taking aspirin for frequent headaches…that could be from stress too.

Well, now that we’ve talked about what stress is, the next question is, “What can I do about it?” First, eliminate some of the things around you that make you stressed out and add some much needed time for you. For example, you might want to take a quick bath before bed to try to unwind. Pamper yourself with bath salts, a candle or two. You may even want to put on some music to help you relax, or you may need to shut the music off if that reindeer has been running over grandma all day, or if Santa’s Coming to Town has been blaring non-stop at work. Make sure you eat…real food. Don’t skip meals or try to live on snacks and half stale Christmas cookies. Feed your body.

You can try to cut down on the amount of things you do. One of the things that makes us feel stressed is that we try to create holiday moments for our families that are just perfect, like the families you see laughing and smiling in their beautifully decorated homes. The problem is, they are all in commercials or made-for-TV movies. I confess, I have a holiday movie addiction; it is a love/hate relationship. I love that they always have a happy ending, they always have beautiful decorations, and there is always snow. I live in the Deep South where there is never snow, so it’s a treat.  However, I get depressed when I look around my home and every inch of it isn’t festively twinkling with holiday decorations. So I have to limit my viewing so I don’t get too stressed!

I need to remind myself that they aren’t real families who have cats shedding, dogs chewing the baseboards, kids fighting and crying, a batch of burnt cookies, a Gingerbread House with no roof because it is lying half-eaten  in the toddler’s room,  or a Christmas tree that just got knocked over. That sounds more like real life to me. So set realistic expectations. Santa will still come to your house if the cookies are a bit burnt around the edges, if the tree is crooked, or if there are a few dust bunnies in the corner. Pinky swear!

So, take a moment, breathe, and relax. Ask yourself what will be important when twenty years have flown by and your children have children of their own. Do you want them to remember you being stressed, tense, cranky, and frantic?  Probably not. When your children are grown and they talk about their Christmas memories, they will not remember that the floor was perfectly waxed. They will remember how special they felt when you spent with them.

I hope that your feet are up and that you are sipping a nice warm cup of hot chocolate while you read this.  Remember, the time you spend together with your children snuggling, reading a bedtime story, or building a snowman will become their best, most treasured memories. You, just you, are the best gift of all, so be present in your own life and theirs. Merry Christmas to all of my readers.

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part III

dec10_button1Holidays can be expensive, and most of us have to be cautious about what we spend. I know I’m not the only person out there who is bothered by the commercialism of Christmas. My goodness, the Christmas “season” is in stores before Halloween and “Black Friday” has become “Black Week” followed by “Cyber Monday”, which is now followed by “Green Monday”.  Yes indeed, corporate America is encouraging us to spend, spend, spend. Our children are watching endless toy commercials on TV, the radio, and social media.  Greed is running rampant; how many times have you been in a store and witnessed a child crying and having a melt down because, “I want…”. You can fill in the blank.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to cut corners financially while keeping the true meaning of the Holidays front and center for my family. In my mind, the truth behind Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa is all the same: Faith ~ Family ~ Friends ~ Fun. When my children become adults, I want them to look back on their childhood Christmases and remember these core values

I spend time each year thinking about how to balance giving and getting. My belief is that when children “get”, they learn entitlement; when children “give”, they learn generosity. One of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that the greatest, most precious gifts come to us when we GIVE. The story of Christ begins with an act of  giving; we are taught that God gave us the gift of his Son. Soon after His birth, the Wise Men came bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Indeed, the joy of giving is a life lesson that we can begin teaching even our youngest children.

So many of us are busy working moms and dads. As a result, one of the most precious things we can give is our TIME.  Time spent together is what creates the memories we carry with us for a lifetime.  I promise that twenty years from now, your children will not look back on the 2017 holiday season and remember that the tree skirt matched the color theme of the room perfectly. And even though they have begged for it endlessly since October, they probably won’t remember that they got that Star Wars toy either.

They will remember that they had fun spending time in the kitchen baking cookies, snuggled on the couch reading with you, making homemade cards, secretly delivering batches of cookies to the neighbors or caroling at a nursing home.  Take a moment and think back on your own memories.  What stands out? See, I’m right…you remember TIME too, don’t you?  Anyway, I have decided to focus on giving and I’m doing that by spending TIME on the traditions that don’t cost a lot.  Here are some suggestions:

~ spend a quiet afternoon baking and decorating Christmas cookies with your child/ren.  Even your youngest toddlers can help in small ways.

~ make some homemade gift wrap; again, let kids use markers, crayons, colored pencils, or even paint and potato stamps to decorate plain paper.  Will you have the most elegant tree on the block?  Probably not, but your child/ren will have a wonderful memory to store away.  Remember, Beautiful House magazine is not coming to take pictures at your house.

~ ask your child/ren to spend an afternoon going through the toys and outgrown clothes.  You may find things to donate to a woman’s shelter, a foster program, or a church that supports needy families.  Focus on the joy that comes from giving.

~ get together with friends and neighbors.  Plan an evening of Christmas caroling.  Take the carolers to a nursing home, the local hospital, or just around the neighborhood.

~ remember, it is okay to tell your child/ren that something is too expensive.  Even Santa is feeling the recession and learning about the value of things is actually a GOOD THING!  Managing finances responsibly is an important life lesson we must teach our children.

~ if you live where it snows, build a snowman; if you live at the beach, build a snowman out of sand!

~ visit the local library to check out some Christmas books; bedtime stories are such a positive bonding activity for you and your child/ren.

~ let your child/ren decorate some pretty stationary and then write a thank you letter to a soldier or first responder.

~ make homemade ornaments to decorate the tree, string popcorn, cranberries, make paper chains.  All of these are fun and keep little hands busy.

~ make homemade Christmas cards for grandparents; they will treasure them!

~ snuggle up with the book or movie, The Polar Express.  When you finish the story,  go to the kitchen for some hot chocolate and have a jingle bell waiting there with a pretty red bow.

~ cut paper snowflakes to decorate the home, porch, windows.

~ watch a favorite holiday film as a family.  We love Elf. Which is your favorite?

~ plan snacks for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer.  What will they eat? Where should the snacks be placed?

~ make photo props for the family to use in pictures this holiday season. Use words like JOY, FAMILY, HO HO HO, MERRY…

~ pile the whole family into the car and drive around the neighborhood enjoying all the festive Christmas lights.

You get the idea…Each of these ideas means TIME spent with your child.  TIME is one of the most precious gifts of all.  Trust me, childhood goes by so quickly.  You and your child will treasure these memories of simple fun.

These are just a few ideas.  I know you will have some of your own. I’d love for you to send along a comment letting me know some traditions you and your family share.  MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part II

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I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays.  I LOVE the music, the lights, the TV specials, spending time with family and friends.  I HATE the stress, don’t you? Social media certainly doesn’t help; no one takes pictures of the cake that collapsed on itself, the toddler having a temper tantrum meltdown, the lopsided tree, or the cat batting the ornaments all over the house.

Nope, the pictures we see are all the best of the best and sometimes make me feel as though everyone has it all together…except me. I bookmark pictures of perfectly decorated trees, smiling children dressed in holiday party-best, gorgeous rooms with nothing out of place, and party food displayed in an appetizing assortment of colors and tastes.  My Pinterest account is overflowing with “should do” ideas and my camera is loaded with a laughable assortment of what I lovingly refer to as “Pinterest-fails”. Just keeping it real here, folks.  LOL!

Part of my problem is that I’m trying to do it all myself.  I have come to realize that the holidays are not just for me, but for everyone, and everyone can take part in the preparation and the celebration! This was a huge shift in my thinking and has helped me relax and focus on what is important. Here are some tips that helped me make it all more manageable.

If you’re like me, you want everything to be extra nice for the holidays.  Don’t try to do it all yourself, share the jobs.  My son is grown now, but I used to make a list of jobs that needed to be done. I learned from experience that you have to be specific – put down details of how it should be done, the supplies needed to do the job, and when it needs to be completed. Now cut the job list apart, fold each piece of paper, and put them in a hat, a basket, or a job jar.  I have the cutest job jar all decorated for Christmas. Each family member reaches in and selects a job or two, or even three; somehow this became a tradition that we looked forward to. Finally, each person tapes their jobs next to their name on a chart on the refrigerator.  Getting ready for the holidays has now become a family affair and everyone will enjoy the results as you get things ready for a wonderful holiday!

Remember to give yourself permission to let it be less than perfect. My family constantly reminds me that a house and garden style magazine crew is not coming to photograph my home. Bet they aren’t coming to yours either! So just take a deep breath, relax, take lots of pictures, and gather precious memories. When you look back on the 2017 holiday season, you won’t remember if the throw pillows were perfectly fluffed; you will remember the magical, joyful moments you shared with your family.  So, from my slightly messy home to all of you, Merry Christmas!