A few days before Christmas, I was surprised to hear our 13-year-old daughter say what she was looking forward to the most.
“I can’t wait to crack mom’s code on the gifts,” she said.
About five years ago, I began replacing my traditional gift tags with a secret code. When the kids were little, I would write their names on their gifts like a normal person. But as they got older, they began going through the gifts, sorting them into piles by name.
Once they knew which gifts belonged to each child, the shaking, squishing and guessing began. They were usually able to identify with about 70 percent accuracy the contents of each package.
The first year I set out gifts without names, they were perplexed for a little while, at least. I wrapped each persons gift in a different type of paper. It didn’t take their curious minds long to decode that one. Just find the gift that shakes like Lego and start narrowing it down.
The next year, I mixed up the wrapping paper, but added tags in different shapes. The shapes didn’t correspond to a person, but the order in which they should be unwrapped. I added a number to indicate the name of the receiver.
My secret codes have grown more and more complex over the years. But this year’s topped them all.
As I was wrapping the gifts, I saw a little pile of cards sitting on the table next to me. On each card was written the name of a Christmas song. We had used these cards a week earlier to play a game of “Christmas Carol Pictionary” at a party we had at our house.
I attached a card to the front of each gift. In my notebook, I created a little spreadsheet of which Christmas song labelled each gift.
For several days, the kids had been trying to figure out my system. Did the Christmas songs indicate a certain person? Or were they a clue to the contents of the package?
On Christmas morning, they were excited to crack the code.
I started with the first gift for the youngest child and began drawing the name of the Christmas carol that labelled her gift. She had to guess the Christmas song, then locate the package with that tag.
Once she had opened hers, I whispered the clue for the next person, and she got to draw… just like Pictionary. We continued, with each gift recipient then becoming the artist.
“I so glad you did this!” our oldest son chimed in. “Usually, we open the gifts so fast, and then it’s over. This makes it really fun!”
We ended up having tons of laughs as each person drew clues like, “it’s beginning to LOOK a lot like Christmas” …
“Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem “…
“I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas”…
And “Oh, Holy Night”…
I love thinking of a new secret code every year to label the gifts. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to top this one!
Maybe Christmas label Pictionary will become a new tradition.
What about you? Have you ever done anything unusual with your Christmas labels? Leave me a comment and let me know!
A few days ago, our oldest son stopped me as he was rushing to head out for his early morning drive to school. He looked perplexed.
“Mom, why were you wrapping toilet paper around the Christmas tree?”
A few days earlier, our 15-year-old confronted me in a similar manner.
“Ummmm, Mom?” “Why did you come running down the stairs at 6 a.m., throw the elf in a bowl and pour Froot Loops on top of him?”
These kinds of crazy activities have become a new addition to my morning routine. I draw pictures on bananas. I set up fake Scrabble games. I stage dance parties in the Barbie dream house.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit to the world that I’ve become one of THOSE moms. After years of resistance, we have an elf.
I swore for years that this would never happen to me. I’ve always hated the Elf on the Shelf trend. It had to be the most heinous of all forms of distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. I have enough on my plate with four children, there’s no way I could take on the responsibility of setting up elaborate escapades for a stuffed elf. And… I know myself. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to go Pinterest crazy. I didn’t know if I could handle the pressure of being an Elf Mom.
When the older three kids were little, I really didn’t have to worry about stuff like this. We homeschooled, and then they went to a private Christian school. They weren’t surrounded on a daily basis by kids who talked about Santa Claus or their elves in such a profound, this-is-reality, kind of way.
Then, our youngest went off to kindergarten at public school. When Dec. 1 rolled around, an elf came to visit her school. She had fun searching for the elf each day and seeing what kind of antics he had pulled overnight. But then the conversations began. Each child in her class would tell about what his or her elf had done that morning. Our little 6-year-old was stuck in the awkward position of trying to explain why an elf had not come to visit her home.
“Mom!” she would question each day after school. “WHY am I the ONLY child in my entire class who doesn’t have an elf?!”
I tried to compensate by moving her stuffed animals at night. I created elaborate displays of them playing games or dumping cereal on the counter or getting into other sorts of trouble. I was dancing on the edge of the elf trend, but refusing to jump in. My daughter gave a half-hearted smile at my attempts to fill the elf void, but it was never enough.
Still, the more pressure I felt to participate in this elf religion, the more I dug in my heels. We are NOT getting an elf.
Our daughter’s birthday is Dec. 1, so the next year, I was so focused on getting ready for her first grade birthday party, that I didn’t even stop to think about the elf. She came home from school that day, not full of excitement that it was her birthday, but crushed from hearing all of the stories of how everyone’s elf had arrived with great fanfare that morning.
Dang. I forgot about the elf.
December dragged on with more tales of the amazing, crazy and exciting things that were happening with elves in other people’s homes. I couldnt even muster the energy to move her Beanie Boos. No matter what I did to try to make the season merry, the elf tales hung like a heavy shadow over all my efforts. I couldn’t wait for December to end.
By the time Christmas came and went at our house, I knew one thing was for sure. On our daughter’s 8th birthday, she would be getting an elf.
How could I do such a 180 on my anti-elf stance?
Our oldest son is a junior in high school this year. We only get one more Christmas with him living at home after this one. Seeing how quickly he has grown up has made me realize that some things aren’t worth fighting. These years are so short. Our little one will only care about an elf for a few more Christmases. Soon, I will be wishing she still cared about Barbies and Legos and elves. I know now how painfully condensed this short season of life really is.
I would rather she have fond memories of her elf messing up the house all of December, than memories of being left out of every conversation because she didn’t have an elf.
If I hadn’t made up my mind already, my new position was solidified in late November. She was about a week away from turning 8. That is the age we had told her she needed to be to have a sleepover. She told us that her friends had invited her for a slumber party — not because she was turning 8. Nope. They wanted her to sleep over so she could experience the fun of finding their elves the next morning!!
I have a tradition of decorating each child’s door with streamers and wrapping paper on the morning of their birthday. This year, I made sure an elf was part of the decor. She declared it the Best. Birthday. Ever.
Having an elf IS a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. But we spend lots of time talking about the birth of Christ and the things that truly matter. She knows how the elf moves at night, but she will never admit it. She staunchly obeys the rules of not touching the elf. She admonishes anyone who unknowingly tries to rescue the little stuffed guy from a bowl of cereal or being wrapped in streamers. She loves playing along with his silliness and searching for him the minute she wakes up.
My older kids aren’t sure what happened to their mom. They think the elf is ridiculous and can’t believe I’ve bought in.
My husband has tried to move the elf a few times to help me out. He quickly learned that simply setting it on the fireplace isn’t enough. Our elf likes to have more fun than that!
Well, it’s possible that I might be growing to like our elf. It turns out he hasn’t ruined our lives.
He’s cute. He’s always smiling.
And yeah… I can’t wait to see what he does next.
So, what about you? What do you think about the Elf on the Shelf craze. Have you bought in? Or do you hate the pressure?
The Christmas season is such a tricky time to be a mom.
It’s such a mix of wanting to honor all the traditions and do all of the things and cherish all of the moments and make every moment special. But in trying to make that all happen, ending up feeling stressed and defeated and sometimes even sad.
I love, love, love watching Christmas movies together as a family and having a hot cocoa bar and going out to see Christmas lights. As our children have grown older, it gets harder and harder, not only to make time to do those things, but to find activities that appeal to a wide age range, from a second grader to a 17-year-old, along with two other kids in between.
Every year, I promise myself that if I do nothing else right at Christmas, we will at least do a better job at focusing on the Christ part of Christmas. We have tried to do this in so many ways at different points in the life of our family.
Some years have gone great, and others have been hit or miss.
For years, when our big kids were younger, we looked forward to opening the doors of our big Advent book each evening. A few years ago, we tried going through the “Jesse tree” with our youngest daughter. I’ve created “Advent calendars” that don’t have anything to do with the birth of Christ, but focus on daily activities and surprises that we do as a family.
Other years, the season has literally just flown by and Christmas was already here and gone before I could even think about Advent.
It’s always interesting when a project goes from a concept that we are presenting to our congregation, to an actual tangible tool that I am trying to use on a personal level with my own family. The idea this year was to take our church through the Christmas story, not starting in the book of Matthew with the birth of Christ, but going all the way back to the beginning of time to the book of Genesis. The booklet we created looks at all of the “whispers” throughout the Bible that foretold the coming of Christ. (You can download one for free here.)
But would that really make sense to a real family sitting down around a real dinner table, trying to get four kids to focus after a long day at school and work? Could we really look at the Old Testament and have a meaningful conversation about the birth of Christ?
Our family sat down on Sunday evening for our first night of discussion. We were able to share our “greatest victory” during the past year, as we reflected on the hope we have that Jesus will eventually be the ultimate victor over sin.
We engaged in a conversation that was much longer than I had anticipated, then ended our time together by sharing prayer requests. Everyone in the family shared an area in which they needed prayer. Sometimes, the mom of the family falls into the role of question asker, but doesn’t end up being a question answerer. I was secretly hoping that would be the case this time.
But my family noticed I hadn’t answered, and they pressed me for my prayer request. The reality is that I’ve been struggling more than usual the past few months with my ongoing health issues. I feel like it’s all I talk about, and it has to be annoying and boring and basically old news. I want my kids to think of me as the fun mom who was always there for them. I don’t want them to remember me as the mom who was always sick or always made them eat crazy, healthy food or talked constantly about her health struggles.
I prefer to be the one who takes care of other people and prays for my kids. I don’t want them to worry about me or feel like my situation is to a point they need to pray for me.
But on this first evening of Advent, I guess it was time for me to be the vulnerable one. It was also amazing to see my situation through their eyes as they prayed out loud. Our 15-year-old son thanked God for my struggles because even though they are hard, they have brought us closer together as a family.
He went on to blow me away with his youthfulness wisdom.
Each time I see food that I can’t eat, he asked God to use that as a reminder of all of the blessings that I have in my life.Instead of seeing those foods as something that’s missing, he asked that I would be reminded of all that I have.
I was struck at such a deep level by his words. I realized in that moment that his prayer applies not only to me and my health situation, but to so many other areas of my life, especially this time of year.
I spend so much time thinking about all of the gifts I need to purchase and planning out special activities and events, that I often miss what we already have. While I fight my physical cravings for a sugar cookie or a piece of chocolate fudge, I also wrestle with the longing to see all the lights and do all the things that are “required” to truly make this time of year “special.”
What if each of those longings were a reminder of the blessings all around me?
Yesterday was the third day of Advent, but we are already one day behind on our study. So, we read from Day Two, which looked at the book of Exodus in which the nation of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the dessert, complaining even though God provided for their physical needs each day by giving them manna from heaven. We discussed how it gives us hope to know that because of Jesus we will never hunger or thirst.
My son’s prayer came back to mind. Like the Israelites who weren’t satisfied with the food God miraculously provided for them day after day, this whole season is full of cravings for more. I long to be filled by treats and hot cocoa and fun experiences.
I was reminded to be thankful that no matter how hard I try, all of my desires can’t be fulfilled. Instead, may they remind me of the blessing of the birth of Christ and the hope He brings this Christmas.
So, I’ve been trying to convince my seventh grader that we should have a talk show. You know… a show where we just talk.
Somehow, I tricked her into doing this with me while we were driving in the van. It’s an awesome episode where we talk about her life in middle school and my life in middle age. It’s called, “Life in the Middle.” Get it?!?
In Episode One, we talk about middle school fashion and middle age fashion. We discuss cafeteria food and health food. And we dig into entertainment and my middle age workout routine. We also give a shout out to our biggest (and probably, only) fan!
The show would be better if we had a logo and a theme song. But considering I had been out walking in the rain and she came straight from track practice, it just seemed a bit much.
We are really hoping to get at least three views of our awesome show, so we hope you will hit “play” and show us some love! We might even record another one, and hopefully, we’ll take showers first next time!
On Sunday afternoon, our 6-year-old and I were walking along the trail behind our house. She had her little arm wrapped tightly around my waist. I held her close with my left arm around her neck.
“Mom, this is the best weekend ever,” she sighed.
It wasn’t the fall festival we had attended the night before. Or the trip to the party store to buy her Halloween costume.
Nope. The title of Best Weekend Ever had been achieved when I stopped to pick up a bright red leaf on our path. “Look how perfect and beautiful it is,” I told her.
She found one a few feet ahead. We kept collecting as we made our way to the park. Three more reds. Then an orange. “I hope we can find some yellow ones,” I said.
She planned how we would press them all inside a book. We would need different pages for each color. One for red. Another for yellow. One for orange. And we would need a whole section for dark purple. We walked slowly, making sure we didn’t step on any leaves that we could add to our collection. The sun was shining brightly, warming up the crisp fall air.
Earlier that day, the two of us had sat on the front lawn carving pumpkins. She was finally old enough to create her own design and handle a real knife with only a bit of assistance. I fought the urge to help. To make the carving go a little faster.
I felt like the house was literally screaming at me with its piles of dirty laundry and counters covered in dishes. Messy rooms and dirty floors tried to convince me to come inside. Thankfully, I ignored all of their jeers as we separated pumpkin seeds, washed them and set them in the sun to dry.
Earlier in the weekend, I had convinced a few of my older kids and some of their friends to join us in making caramel apples. At first, I had decided just to provide a snack of homemade caramel sauce and some apples when they got home from school.
But then I realized I couldn’t even remember the last time we had made real caramel apples. I knew we had done this when they were little. But no one — including me — could remember unwrapping the caramels and cooking them over the stove to cover our apples. I couldn’t remember ever melting chocolate or buying mini chocolate chips and toffee bars to use as toppings.
“Why not?” I asked myself. Why do I want to hurry through this? Sometimes it seems like they are too old to start a new tradition. But these are the days they will actually remember.
I’ve reached the point in my parenting journey that I’ve realized these opportunities are numbered. We only have two more Columbus Days with all of our kids living at home to take a trip to the corn maze. We only have three more Christmases before our oldest son goes off to college.
I know I don’t have that many more Octobers until our youngest daughter won’t want to sit on the front lawn and carve pumpkins with me. How many more autumns will she see the joy in analyzing leaves for our collection?
With our three oldest kids, it can be a struggle to get them to participate in these seasonal rituals. I consider myself blessed that I still have one little one who wants to jump in leaves or build a sand castle.
Other times, I simply require it. “We’re going to have some Forced Family Fun,” I warn the older kids before we head off to the zoo or a family hike or the pumpkin patch. Even if it’s not their top choice of what to do, these adventures often result in hilarious memories together.
Sometimes I wish I could extend the time or put it in a bottle so I could pop it open and experience it again later. Instead, I’m learning to soak it up. We live in an area where we get the joy of changing seasons. So, why not?
Buy the real caramels. Drink apple cider. Walk slowly. Pick up leaves. Clean off the pumpkin seeds.
How about you? Do you have any October traditions? Have your kids outgrown any of the activities you used to love to do? How do you convince your older kids to take part in family traditions?