This week has marked the return of our family's favorite visitors: Max the Elf and Jolly the Reindeer. If you have children and enjoy stressing yourself out every night, you probably have similar visitors in your home this time of year. My good friend, Siri, has once again started reminding me every night around 9PM to "move the thing" (code for "get yourself out of bed and with ninja-like stealth, find somewhere different for Max and Jolly to hang out"). My yearly excel sheet is favorited on my computer again, complete with specific dates for when Max and Jolly will do fun things like leave snowmen donuts or make snowflake cut-outs or build a Christmas tree out of legos. And I have already found myself, on more than one occasion, threatening my children with statements like "Do you really want to be doing that in front of Max?" or "Max can totally see this behavior right now and he's probably going to tell Santa."
Do you know what else has made its return to our family's home this week? The magic of Christmas.
I know. Could I be any more hokey and cheesy?
It's true though. The first thing my children do each morning is look for Max and Jolly, smiling with relief when they see that they have safely returned from the North Pole. Christmas music is usually playing in the background at night and the boys rush to turn on the Christmas lights each afternoon. Last night my youngest even left a letter with some logistical questions about reindeer for Max and this morning he found Max's response. I think this is Max's 8th Christmas with us (as we resisted the thought of an elf at first) and his return each year helps illuminate just how much has changed in our family from year to year. His return also marks the return of many annual family traditions that I now cherish.
Max, Jolly and the idea of Santa bring a whole lot of joy to our lives this time of year.
If you know me or you've followed my blogs, you know that my oldest child is 11 years old now. He is perched on the fence between childhood and adolescence and when it comes to the magic of Christmas, he is firmly on the childhood side of the fence.
He still believes.
(Or, perhaps he is just an amazing actor and is afraid that he won't get presents on Christmas morning if he questions it too much.)
As more and more of my oldest son's friends, some older and some younger, have found out the story behind Santa and the Elf, I have begun to wonder if I should tell him or wait until he asks me about it. Should I let him go to school and talk about it, text his friends about it and continue to believe so strongly just as he did when he was 5 years old? Should I protect him from the risk of being made fun of by his peers? Should I make sure that I am the one to tell him the truth versus hearing it from someone else? Should I let him in on the secret and find a way for him to participate in keeping the magic alive for his younger brother?
After thinking about it for a few days, I have decided that I am in no rush to force him over the fence. While I don't want kids at school or on his sports teams to make fun of him for still believing in these things, I also don't want to make a decision about his life based on the mean actions of some kids. Plus, telling him won't protect him from being teased as there will always be something that children can tease other children about. What other benefit is there to telling him right now? It brings him joy, wonder and keeps the world feeling safe and fun. Right now, I don't think this is a bad thing.
I am always saying that I wish I could put my kids into a protective bubble sometimes to shield them from the difficulties of our world. This magic of Christmas that Max, Jolly and Santa usher in each year is a bit like that protective bubble. So, at least for now, I'm going to enjoy the bubble and I'm going to let my 11 year old enjoy the magic of Christmas for a while longer - even if it does mean I have to fine tune my stealthy ninja skills.
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.