The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

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My Nephews Are 21 Today

My nephews are 21 today. Obviously, they are twins, but they are two very different people…more on that later. I simply cannot believe they are 21 today. Come on…21 is an age that is easy for me to remember, even though it was 30 years ago. So it’s very difficult for me to believe these two young gentlemen are full-fledged adults…full-fledged adults.

How did we get here so fast?

I remember when they were born. I remember when they were afraid of Santa…and Cookie Monster. Their mother and I took them to see Cookie Monster when they were about three, and they were so excited on the way to Uptown Charlotte. They were even excited when we got there. But when it was their turn to sit on Cookie Monster’s lap…wow. Just wow. They freaked out. I have a photo somewhere, but I wouldn’t embarrass them by sharing it. You just have to trust me when I say it’s hilarious.

I remember how my brother would call me and tell me about their accomplishments…in fact, he still calls and tells me about their accomplishments. He calls me to tell me about nice things they have done for other people. They’re good boys.

My parents were crazy about them, but my daddy was insane over them. When we were growing up, he traveled with work, and he worked hard, so he wasn’t around as much as he might have liked. But he retired when the boys were little, so he was able to enjoy them. He loved playing ball with them. He loved having Easter egg hunts with them. He loved placing orders with them when they played waiter. He loved how they loved to run to the trunk of his car, because they knew he would have surprises for them. Of course, Mother helped him get the surprises, but he got full credit, and Mother was OK with that. She enjoyed watching him enjoy them. And Daddy always loved leaving them with WAM (walking around money) after visiting with them.

They were crazy over Daddy too. They were heartbroken when he died in 2012. He was larger than life to them, and they knew he loved them dearly. He would be proud of the young men they have become. 

One has mad artistic skills. He was blessed with great athletic skill, but that was not what he wanted to do. Now that he is in college, he is pursuing art, and we couldn’t be more proud of him. He is smart. He is handsome. Sure, I wish he would get a haircut, so everybody can see how handsome he is, but I accept the hair (even though, the last time I saw him, I jokingly threatened to cut it in his sleep). And here’s why: he is one of the most genuinely kind people I know. He and a friend were in Charlotte a few months ago, and they were looking to rent some scooters in Uptown. They finally found some, but before they could get to them, a homeless gentleman struck up a conversation with my nephew. Instead of rushing off to the available scooters, he stood and talked with him…and missed out on the scooters. He also “adopted” my mothers’s dog, who loves him dearly. That’s who he is.

As much as that nephew has mad artistic skills, his brother has mad speaking skills and mad writing skills. This nephew has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let it stop him from doing what he loves. He’s also handsome and kind. As a little boy, he loved baseball, but he realized his love for baseball would not manifest itself in playing the sport. He knows more about baseball than anyone else I know. I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates/Chicago Cubs game, and I started texting him about the game. He knew about each player, warning me the third baseman for one team would likely make an error soon. And he was right! He took that love for baseball to the press box and earns money announcing baseball and softball games. He writes sports pieces for a local online publication and works in publications for the city. 

I love them them both, and I love the men they are becoming. They survived childhood, the teenage years, and some hiccups along the way, but they’re going to be OK. They’re going to be great. My mother died last December, but she was so proud of them, and she’d be even more proud now. And Daddy…well, he would be bursting with pride.

And he would still be giving them WAM every time he saw them.

Happy Birthday to my nephews…you’re full-fledged adults.

Let’s Talk About Santa Claus

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “When is the right time to tell my kids about Santa?” She has two children under ten. Almost every person who responded said not to tell any child EVER that there is no Santa. Unless your child is about to be embarrassed by peers because he/she still believes in Santa, I agree.

What is more magical than waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve and then getting up to see what he left on Christmas Day?

Most kids figure it out before 10 or 11. I figured it out in 1976, at age 9, and though I thought I wanted to know, I really didn’t. Once the magic of Santa is gone, part of childhood is over. I know…Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but kids sure like the gifts.

I remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Spanish Fort Elementary School, talking with friends about Santa. Most of us still believed Santa flew around the world in a magic sleigh with reindeer and went down every child’s chimney in one night. We were a sheltered bunch. Oh, I was a firm believer, but someone must have created some doubt along the way, because, well, just read on…

About a month before Christmas 1976, my mother couldn’t find her car keys. She was searching all over the house, and in desperation, she asked me to go out to the car and see if they were in the glove compartment. When I opened the glove compartment, of course, there were no keys, but I did find an address book and diary that would be perfect gifts for a girl my age. I didn’t take them inside and ask Mother about them. Instead, I left them where I found them…as a test. My thinking? If Mother and Daddy gave them to me for Christmas, then Santa was alive and well. BUT…If Santa brought them on Christmas Day, then I would know he wasn’t real. So, I left them and waited for Christmas.

I have a picture of me from that Christmas morning, sitting on the sofa in our den, wearing my yellow nightgown with the number 12 on the front (Joe Namath’s number) and looking less than thrilled. Oh, I was thrilled with my gifts…a 110 camera with plenty of film and flashcubes (remember those?), a telescope, Yahtzee, some 45 records (KC and the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees singing Disco Duck, The Eagles), some clothes, some books, and yes…the diary and address book. The magic was over. I knew Santa didn’t exist. My heart was broken. But I didn’t tell anyone. I just sucked it up and enjoyed the day, but Christmas morning was never the same.

But that brings us back to the original question: when is the right time to tell  kids about Santa Claus? Most people would say never, and I tend to agree. I never told my own daughter, but she figured it out eventually. When she was 10, she still believed. I remember, because she came down with the flu in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and she was up sick all night. I had the hardest time figuring out when I would play Santa that night. Thank God I had wrapped all the gifts in advance. (She had asked Santa several years before to wrap her gifts instead of just leaving them out in the living room.) But by the next year, when she was  11, my daughter no longer believed in Santa Claus. She now tells me someone at school told her. And Christmas has never been as much fun.

But there is an exception to the “don’t tell” rule: your 13-yr-old child is about to do presentation to his 8th grade class about Santa Claus. You have to save him from himself. You have to tell him.

Finding out the truth about Santa can’t possibly be fun for any child. But there is something that’s more fun than believing in Santa: being Santa. Until I had a child, I had no idea that Christmas morning is a lot more fun as a parent than it ever was as a child. Sure, a lot of work goes into making it “perfect,” but seeing the excitement of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve and the pure joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning were better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Even now, when I know she knows Santa isn’t “real,” it’s fun to see her excitement as she opens her gifts.

I will be playing Santa till I can’t play Santa anymore.

She’s Growing Up, But She’ll Always Be My Baby

My little girl isn’t so little anymore. In fact, she’s the age at which she would be mortified if she knew I’m writing this. But she doesn’t know. Ignorance is bliss.

Right now, she’s upstairs with a friend getting ready for her last middle school dance. She’s finishing up eighth grade. Her school has two middle school dances a year, one in the fall and one in spring.

It’s hard for me to believe this is her last middle school dance. Truly, it seems like just a few months ago she was excited about her first middle school dance…in sixth grade. Afterward, she and all her friends could hardly wait to tell me how many boys asked them to dance! But it has been two years. Wow. She’s not even excited about this one. These eighth graders have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

As part of their upcoming eighth grade moving up ceremony (graduation), the school had parents send in pictures of the kids from kindergarten. Since my daughter started at the school in transitional kindergarten when she was four, I used that picture instead. She looks so sweet and so unjaded.

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September 2008, age 4 (almost 5!)

She started transitional kindergarten about six weeks before her fifth birthday. I remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I remember watching her get out of the car in carpool with her tote bag and walk up the sidewalk by herself. I remember trying not to cry.

Today, when I turned in the picture for them to use for the ceremony, I told the middle school administrative assistant how I had to convince my daughter to wear a bow in her hair on picture day in transitional kindergarten. My child was the little girl who at 18 months declared, “Ruffles are for babies.” She has always had very definite ideas, and she sticks to her guns. When she was two years old, her pediatrician declared her to be a “classic strong-willed child,” telling me, “it will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.” But on picture day in TK, I was able to convince her to wear a bow in her hair. I told her she didn’t have to wear it all day…just till after pictures. I reminded her that one of her friends (the daughter of my friend, Leah) regularly wore bows as big as her head…we are in the south, after all. When I picked her up after school on picture day that year, she didn’t have the bow in her hair, but she assured me she wore it for the picture.

I look at that picture and remember that sweet little girl who thought her mommy was the best mommy on earth and her daddy was the best daddy on earth. She thought we knew everything and could do anything.

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December 2007, age 4

Now, at age 14, she knows we don’t know everything, and she knows we can’t do everything. She’s more jaded than she was at four, because she has more life experience. She sees the world isn’t the perfect place she thought it was then. She knows the agony of defeat. She knows what it feels like to get a less than stellar grade. She knows injuries can end a sports season. She knows some people don’t have places to live. She knows there is no Santa Claus. She knows more about brain surgery than she should, because she watched her daddy suffer through it. She knows what it’s like to lose a grandmother. She knows what cancer looks like, since she has watched my friend suffer with it. She knows everybody isn’t nice all the time. She knows some friendships aren’t forever.

But as much as that life experience has jaded her a little, it has also made her appreciate the great things about life. She knows she goes to a great school in a fun city, and she’s fortunate to live in the United States of America. While she hates the agony of defeat, she loves the thrill of victory, and she knows it takes hard work, a good attitude, and confidence. She knows what it feels like to make an A+ and how great it made her feel when her history teacher told her he was impressed with the essay she had worked hard on. She knows there is a spirit of Christmas. She knows her daddy survived brain surgery. She knows sometimes kindness comes from  unexpected places. She knows most people are nice, and sometimes, friends we thought were gone come back around.

She knows that while parents can be embarrassing, we love her unconditionally. She knows we want her to live a good life in her own way. She knows experiences are far more valuable than things. She knows people may be able to take things, but they can’t take memories. She knows if she isn’t feeling well, her daddy and I will try to make her feel better…physically or emotionally. She knows we support her, but sometimes she has to be her own advocate.

As she finishes up middle school and prepares for high school, we continue to be her biggest supporters. We continue to tell her we love her every single day. We cheer her on at sporting events. We listen to her. We spend time with her and her friends. We read over her essays before she turns them in. We show her the world is full of different cultures and special people. We become her audience when she needs to practice a presentation. When she doesn’t feel well, we wish we could fix it. We remind her God will take care of us.

Tonight I will drop her off at her last middle school dance. The eighth grade girls don’t seem excited about it, but they’ll be glad they went. Like I said, they have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

And just when I think she is spreading her wings and flying away too fast, she surprises me. Last night, my husband was out of town, so our daughter crawled up into bed with me to watch TV for a little while. She cuddled up next to me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” She cuddled for little while, and she said it several times, reminding me of when she was four years old and thought I knew everything. While I make her hug me once a day, those impromptu moments are hard to beat.

Yes, I miss that little four-yr-old who didn’t want to wear hairbows, dresses, or tights with her dance leotard. I miss that little four-yr-old who was so sweet and innocent. I miss that four-yr-old who thought Mommy and Daddy were the greatest people ever. But I love the big person she is becoming. I love that she wants good things for people. I love that she is already talking about college but loves hanging out with me…sometimes. I love that she loves college football as much as I do…and knows way more about it than I do. I love that she has good friends. I love that she is athletic. I love that she loves rollercoasters. I love that she enjoys travel. I love that she becomes more independent every day. I love that she has an appreciation for music. I love that she discovered a passion for art this year in school. I love that she is compassionate. I love that she is outgoing. I love that we have real conversations. I love that she expresses her opinions. I love when I do something for her, and she says, “Thank you, Mama.” I love this 14-yr-old.

Every night when I go upstairs to kiss her goodnight and tell her to “go to sleep soon,” I sit on the loveseat in her room and have a quick chat with her to reconnect one more time. If anything’s bothering her, she will usually tell me then. If she’s upset about something, it can be a long conversation. But if all is well, after we talk a little while, I stand up and walk to the door, turning around to say, “Goodnight! I love you! You’re my favorite!”

And when I see her walk across the stage at the eighth grade moving up ceremony in two weeks, I will think of that little four-yr-old who made her mommy happy by keeping that bow in her hair till after pictures.

My mother used to say that her goal as a mother was to raise compassionate, independent people who contribute to society. That’s my goal too.

So far, so good.

She’ll always be my baby. She’s my favorite.

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