Friday, January 6, 2017

Plays, Planes, and Santa Cow

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you and your family! We enjoyed a wonderful yet hectic Christmas season before diving head first into a gigantic kitchen remodel as well as tackling the monumental task of house-breaking my Christmas present. I have been a terrible blogger over the past couple weeks and am just now starting to collect my thoughts and wits enough to finally type out a recap of all the happenings of the past few weeks.

Let's begin by reflecting back to the first week of December...

Matthew's first grade class put on a Christmas play and Matthew was very excited for the performance. For weeks leading up to the big show, he would hum the songs he would be singing around the house while telling us how excited he was for us to watch and how much we were going to love it. It was truly adorable and I began to really look forward to it. Then, Paul received a work assignment that would involve traveling for a couple weeks. The designated departure date was slated to be the day before Matthew's big play. Paul was crestfallen when he discovered that and, with the song "Cats in the Cradle" playing through his head, spent the next couple days frantically trying to negotiate a different flight time in order to see the play. He was successful and booked a flight leaving bright and early the morning immediately following the play.

We headed to the school approximately 1 hour prior to the beginning of the show. We attended Mass as a family for the vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and then decided just to head over to the school a bit earlier than stated in the school newsletter. Well, thank goodness we did because there were hardly any seats left in the gym. We managed to find a spot on the bleachers immediately to the left of the stage. And then the fun began.

We had to wait with a very impatient Emma and a very grumpy Lucy for the show to begin. The time was getting dangerously close to bedtime and both girls wanted nothing to do with sitting still or staying in the bleachers. Not to mention, bleachers are not the safest locations for toddlers, especially klutzy toddlers. Paul was going out of his mind chasing Emma out from under the bleachers and I was trying my best to keep Lucy from falling between the seats. After what seemed like hours, the lights dimmed and the show began. In marched a sea of little children dressed like angels in white robes and sparkling gold pipe cleaner halos. Paul got the camera out and started filming as I skimmed the mob trying to pick out the cherub that was our son. He wasn't hard to miss since he is the palest kid in the school - that and he was waving madly and at us instead of singing the song along with his classmates. Once all the students gathered in the front of the stage, we lost Matthew. He was smack dab in the middle and we could barely see him. Emma kept asking, quite loudly, for us to point Matthew out to her but it was nearly impossible for us to successfully do so and she began to suspect that Matthew was not there at all.

Can you spot Matthew?

The majority of the play consisted of the students singing various songs, both traditional and obscure, while various props and special characters paraded on and off the stage. Although the production was cute, I could tell Paul was tiring of listening to the sound of hundreds of tiny voices singing out of tune. When it came time for the kids to sing "Silent Night", he stopped filming and turned to me and whispered, "I just can't anymore. This is one of my favorite songs and it is being mangled." I think he was starting to reconsider rearranging his travel plans. After 30 minutes, we were both checking our watches and imagining the moment we could leave. Are we terrible parents? We just were not enjoying it as much as we thought we would. Emma and Lucy certainly didn't help. There was more than one shriek out of them.

Thankfully, it did end and Matthew was so happy and pleased with himself. that was the most enjoyable part for me! And I was very proud of him because, when his head did occasionally pop into view, I could see how loud he was singing. He was really into it. We celebrated his stage debut with some ice cream and our little thespian went to bed happy.

And the next morning Paul left for his long work trip. He did not return until shortly before Christmas Day.

So, the kids and I spent the time baking as many cookies as we could together, preparing the house for Christmas, and singing lots of Christmas carols at night around the manger scene. One of the activities the kids really wanted to do was build a gingerbread house. I had high aspirations of designing and baking my own gingerbread for an elaborate gingerbread village but I quickly realized that I had neither the time nor the energy. After speaking with my sister-in-law, she suggested that I use graham crackers in place of actual gingerbread. So, one night after the kids had gone to bed, I pulled out my serrated knife, whipped up a batch of royal icing, and then cut and pasted the crackers together to make a crude "village" of three homes with a modest sidewalk connecting them. The next day, Emma and I picked out all kinds of different gumdrops, peppermints, and m&ms to decorate them. When Matthew came home from school, I surprised him with the houses, set a large bowl of royal icing in front of him and Emma along with all the different candies, separated into different bowls, and let them go to town. They ate some of the sweet as they went along, but overall I think they did a fantastic job creating their little "gingerbread" village. We used it as our centerpiece for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner. I had to keep it high on top of one of our tallest bookshelves until that time because Emma kept trying to eat it.

I also took the kids to various Christmas themed activities around town. It was a little difficult doing so without him since several of the events were things we had traditionally done all together. One of the things Matthew kept begging me to do was take him to go see Santa. Now, Paul and I don't really do the Santa thing. The kids believe in the tradition on their own and we don't really dissuade them from it but we don't encourage it either with the exception of as a warning to Emma. Emma has been going through a very difficult phase as I alluded to earlier and Santa has actually been very helpful in correcting her behavior since her run-in with him at Toys R Us. We were rushing through the store one afternoon picking up a couple gifts for our godchildren when from across the store Santa Clause himself, seated on a red velvet throne and flanked by a couple elves, started waving at Emma: "Ho Ho Ho! Would you like to sit on my lap, little girl?"

I was in a bit of a rush and a little peeved at my little co-shopper for her churlish antics that morning, but there was no line so I let Emma saunter over to chat with him. She walked right up and immediately listed off the two things she wanted for Christmas: Paw Patrol toys and a little pink hippo that shoots.The first thing he asked her was, "Have you been a good little girl this year?" Emma looked over at me sheepishly and then turned back to Santa and answered truthfully: "No." Santa began to tsk and reminded her that "good little girls do not get any presents from Santa on Christmas. You need to listen to your Mom and do what she says because Santa always checks in with Mom and Dad before delivering presents on Christmas Eve."

Emma nodded solemnly, "Ok. I will, Santa!"

Since Emma was no fully aware that Santa was on my side, I began admittedly using that knowledge to my advantage by reminding her of it consistently throughout the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. It was actually very useful.

But, other than that, I really don't encourage the Santa thing. And I really didn't want to take Matthew on a special trip to the mall to stand in line and see Santa Clause and then get the pressure from the photographers on site about purchasing an image depicting this memorable moment in my children's lives. However, I did take them all to see Santa Cow at our local Chick-Fil-A. This outing was a lot of fun. We ate breakfast with Santa Cow, did a couple crafts together, and enjoyed the time together. The kids loved it. Lucy was especially enamored with Santa Cow for some reason while Emma was completely unimpressed. Every time Santa Cow visited our table, she visibly shriveled up and refused to look at or acknowledge him.

In addition to our Christmas preparations and activities, several good friends had us over for Christmas parties, dinners, and play dates. Within no time, two weeks had passed and we were ready to welcome Paul home again. Unfortunately, his return trip was majorly upset by weather across the country and he ended up stranded first in Denver then Chicago. From Chicago, he ended up swearing off getting a plane the rest of the way home and rented a car instead. He crashed at my sister Sophie's apartment in South Bend before continuing onward in the morning with his long car trip. When he finally made it home and pulled into the driveway, he was so excited to see us that he could barely wait to get inside. However, upon opening the door, he found only an empty house to greet him. Ironically, as he looked around crestfallen by the nonexistent welcome party, his cell phone beeped indicating the receipt of a text message from his mother that read: "Monica must be so excited to see you!"

Funny you should mention that, he thought.

The kids and I were at a party. I hadn't heard from Paul all morning about his ETA so I still decided to go. Plus, I knew Paul hadn't showered in over 48 hours and figured that he might enjoy unwinding and cleaning up before being accosted by the children. In the end, I think he did but he was initially disappointed. We made it up to him later by celebrating his return with lots of hugs and a delicious home cooked meal.

With our little family reunited once more, we were finally ready to start the final countdown to Christmas morning!

Lucy studying pictures of baby animals. This is what she was up to
while we were decorating the gingerbread houses.