Happy Halloween

Pumpkin with a Brain. For instructions, click here.

Note: This column is printed in the October 31, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Once a couple creates a family, they realize that family life is full of harrowing moments and howls in the dark. Little monsters — ahem — Lovable little monsters invade their lives…

This will be my sixth Halloween with children, and in that time it’s become my favorite holiday.  The fact that it’s also my birthday might play a part in that too, but really, it doesn’t have the stress that comes with Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Stress shouldn’t come with any holiday, but unfortunately it does.  Halloween…it’s just fun.

The weather is beautiful. I love autumn temperatures, changing leaves and the opportunity to make soup. We can get outside frequently, do some gardening and pull out the hiking boots.

Costumes are fun, though sometimes a challenge.  At one-year-old, my sons were both too young to protest the pumpkin costume I made them wear.  As they get older, they are more opinionated.  At two, my eldest liked the Peter Pan costume I picked for him, but I knew better than to try to put anything over his head.

At three, he had his “not interested in Halloween” year.  The decorations in the stores scared him, and my husband ended up treating him to McDonalds on the night of Halloween while I stayed home to greet the trick or treaters.

Last year my three-year-old also went through that phase, and he wanted nothing to do with trick or treating or a costume. I don’t know which way he’ll go this year, but I haven’t bothered to buy him a costume. I can’t get him to wear long sleeves let alone a costume (and coincidently his brother dislikes short sleeves – go figure.)

My six-year-old is all into Halloween costumes now, and this year he made it easy on us by not having any pre-conceived idea of what he wanted to be. He just wanted to go to the store and look.  We were there quite a while and almost came home empty-handed. Why do costume makers think all little boys want to be super heroes?  My son is not into super heroes at all.

Finally I spotted something we had overlooked, and my son grabbed it right away – an extraterrestrial!  It’s a green costume with three-fingered gloves and a mask with big, black eyes. The torso has a faint outline of the internal organs of this alien. Simple, yet very cool looking.

All children should be encouraged to play make-believe, and I consider Halloween a celebration of that.  As with any holiday or ritual, each new family has to create their own traditions and meanings.  Sometimes we keep old traditions, tweak them, or change them altogether.  For me, Halloween is for the children.  It’s a chance for them to be whatever they want and continue the play as they step out into the community.

It’s also fun for me because I get to watch how excited they are, and I get to accompany them on their journey around the neighborhood – a good excuse to get out and say hello to the neighbors too.  The candy is another story, especially since I end up eating so much of it, but that’s a small price to pay for a day of play.

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy Halloween.

January / February Activities with Small Children

One of my goals this year was to plan a lesson / activity around each of the holidays, and I wanted to try to start some new traditions too.  Unfortunately, I have not started off well in this 2012 New Year.  Though I’ve done a few projects for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and even Groundhog Dog, I didn’t feel very prepared, and I didn’t do anything for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Washington’s Birthday.  Oh well.  I plan to do this every year, so I’ll make up for eventually.  Since my boys are so young, I have probably done just enough anyway.

To help myself, I’ve just looked up and bookmarked some sites that will tell me the holidays.  Here they are:

2012 American holiday schedule:

Here’s a few visuals and notes about what I did accomplish these past two months. (I’ll repost this next year before the holidays.)

January 1, 2012 – New Year’s Day

For New Year’s, I thought it would be a good time to go over the months of the year with my five-year-old.  He has already learned the days of the week on his own.  I think he’s motivated because he likes to know what our plans are, and he understands that some of our routines happen on a weekly basis.  He almost knows the months of the year, but not quite.

I made these calendars with the boys and laminated them, but I admit, it was more for me than for them.  They had fun creating a list of their “favorites” for 2011, though.  It’s a great item to put into their keepsakes box.

We put a 2012 calendar on one side and their list of favorites for 2011 on the other.  I invited them to decorate the calendars, but the five-year-old wasn’t really into it.  (This seems to be typical of him.  I think decorating is more of a girl thing.)  He did want to cut out his calendar and list and paste it to the construction paper, though.  He also picked the color black – one of his favorites.

I also made this peace dove for New Year’s.  Again, I thought five-year-old might enjoy making it since he likes making so many animals out of paper, but it turned out I did the creating here.  And it turned out rather blah too.  Oh well.

February 2, 2012 – Groundhog Day

If it wasn’t for checking the Internet on the morning of the 2nd, I would have missed Groundhog Day altogether.  Athens has a pretty fun Groundhog Day celebration with Gus, the groundhog who resides at Bear Hollow Zoo.  We may have been able to make it there that morning, but it was cold, and I wasn’t feeling that energetic.  So, I turned to the Internet to help me.

I printed off some fun sheets to color, which you can access by clicking here.  Whereas in the past my boys have not been into coloring at all, I’ve noticed that changing a bit.  They had fun with these sheets, and we hung them on the bulletin board.

I told my five-year-old what the holiday was about, and we watched several videos about groundhogs and Groundhog Day on YouTube.  Here’s a couple, and you’ll find many more on YouTube.

  • Ground Hog Day (2012 HD) – watch a real groundhog take a peek outside his burrow.  I enjoyed the music on this one.
  • Groundhog Day – Get some more information about groundhogs and Groundhog Day history on this one.
It happened to be a lovely, springlike day, so we also went outside to see if we could see our shadows!!
Despite my lack of preparedness, I could tell that my five-year-old enjoyed learning and celebrating Groundhog Day.  At the end of the day, I said, “I’ll have to check the newspaper to see if Gus saw his shadow today.”  The five-year-old said, “I just don’t understand…..groundhogs don’t understand like people do.”  He’s a smart little guy.  I told him, “Yep. The groundhog has no idea what all the fuss is about.  This holiday is just for fun….”
February 14, 2012 – Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d get an early start (unusual for me, if you can’t tell), so we started making crafts a week or two early.  I made this Valentine’s mailbox, and the five-year-old helped me decorate it.  I wrapped a box with some old paper that they had already drawn on.  (I try to recycle whatever I can.)

The best part of preparing for Valentine’s Day was teaching my five-year-old how to make a heart: by folding a piece of paper, drawing half a heart with its center on the crease, and then cutting it out.  Once he opened it up, he was so happy to discover a perfect heart!

However, he couldn’t quite draw half a heart very well, so my five-year-old was very disappointed with his first attempts.  Since he can be quite a perfectionist, he usually gives up when this happens.  I was pleasantly surprised to watch him keep trying this time.  Soon, he mastered heart making, and once he could make some good hearts, there was no stopping him!  We strung his hearts up along the doorway to our activity room and also pinned them to our bulletin board.  It was really fun for me to watch him do the decorating on his own!

We’re lucky to own a few Valentine’s Day books, so we read those too:

  • My First Valentine’s Day Book – This a great book for 2~3 year olds, and my 5-year-old still likes it too.  It consists of simple rhymes, and there are little cards on each page that your child can take out of an envelope and read.
  • The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson – Also for youngsters. A cute book emphasizing how we make our own Valentines and give them away.
  • Valentine’s Day by Cass R. Sandak – This is a great book, but I got lucky and found it at a library sale. It has the history and customs of Valentine’s Day throughout history. It’s for older kids, so I only read my five-year-old a few pages.

We also made (and bought) some Valentines for each other.  I made each of the boys a special card with their names on it and described their personalities and things they like to do.  Similar to the calendar, and it’ll go into their keepsakes box.

Unfortunately, on Valentine’s Day, I was extremely sick with a bad cold and fever, so some other things I had wanted to do will have to wait until next year.  😦

So please tell me, what kinds of traditions do you have during January and February?  Do you celebrate these holidays and/or celebrate other holidays / traditions this time of year?

December & Christmas Activities with Small Children

These are snowflakes that we made last year for the tree. I hung them up in the entrance way of our activity room. They make a pretty decoration.

A while back I wrote about my desire to make new family traditions for my family, and December seems like a great time to do that.  However, I have to admit, I have kept this December extremely simple and I’ve done nothing to intentionally start anything new.  This might also be laziness on my part too.  But right now with a 5 and 2 year old, it feels like an accomplishment to get our regular chores done let alone begin new projects!  So I haven’t stressed.  I’ve just done what I could do easily and what the boys were receptive to.

(However, part of the reason I haven’t had to do much is because my husband initiated a new goal for the family!  I’ll be writing about this in an upcoming post. You can read about that here!)

So let’s see.  What have we done?  We have done what we’ve always done…..

  • We decorated a Christmas tree.  And this year, my five-year-old put all the ornaments on by himself!  That was special.
  • We also put a small tree in the five-year-old’s room.  We’ve done this the last few years, so I think we can call it a tradition.
  • This should have been written up under my “November Activities” post, but in early November, I always help my son write a letter to Santa Claus. This year I forgot to put a stamp in the envelope, but if you put a stamp in the envelope and address it to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” you’ll probably get a reply like we did last year!!
  • My five-year-old and I decided to make puppets with some extra cardboard I found and popsicle sticks.  We drew pictures on the cardboard, cut them out, pasted a popsicle stick on the back, and voila! a puppet!  We made some for my little nephews, and then my son wanted to make some for his friends. (A proud mama moment!)
  • We have been reading our Christmas books.  (I keep all the seasonal books tucked away so that we can pull them out around the holidays and they seem like new.)
  • Yesterday I baked one batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with the five-year-old while the two-year-old was napping, and yep, that’s the extent of my baking for the holidays.
  • This week I’ll let my boys watch some Christmas specials on T.V. if they want to.  We own the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
  • We strung up frosted Os for the tree.  We also did this last year, so maybe we can call it a tradition.  Frosted Os (or some kind of generic version) are big and easy for a little one to hold and string!  (That is, if he’s willing to do it.)  (Also, word to the wise: do not put them low on the tree if you have a dog.  Also don’t leave them on the kid’s activity table while the dogs are in the house.)
  • For an easy craft, I cut out the shape of a Christmas tree out of green construction paper, and then I cut out different colored shapes such as a star and circles, squares, triangles & small rectangles to make ornaments.  (My intent was to help my 2yo learn his shapes, but the craft didn’t hold his attention for very long.)  I put all the shapes and bits of paper into a plastic bag with a glue stick and a few extra Christmas stickers, and I told my boys they could make a Christmas tree whenever they wanted. I wasn’t sure my five-year-old wanted to do it, but he finally asked for it today.

So that is what I have done this December. There’s also a few things I didn’t do:

A simple craft: cut out the shape of a tree and several different shapes to use as ornaments. Stickers are also fun to add.
  • We didn’t decorate the outside of our house.  (Except for a small wreath on the door.)
  • I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. (Needed to save time and money.)
  • We didn’t do a lot of baking. (Except for that one batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.)
  • We didn’t drive around looking at Christmas lights.  (This was a favorite tradition of mine growing up.)
  • I didn’t buy a lot of presents (don’t have the money anyway), make any presents (except for the easy puppets), or invite anyone over for a Christmas get-together.

My main goal this December was to just enjoy the time with my boys, husband and keep up with our daily routine because when I don’t do that, we can all get quite frazzled.  Like I said above, with a 5 and 2 year-old, it’s an accomplishment to get anything done, and routine is important to them.  As their mom, I have to be ready for their mood changes (which can be swift), illnesses or whims (“I don’t want to do a craft, Mommy!”)  I also want to honor daddy’s ideas for family outings while he’s home on winter break.  So, not overwhelming myself with extra chores or expectations is key to making me a good mother.  (At least, most of the time.)

Whether you celebrate Christmas, another holiday, or none at all, I hope this winter season is warm, happy and peaceful for you!  Please leave me a comment and tell me what celebrations or activities you are participating in this December.

Creating New Family Traditions

 

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

Note: This column was first printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011.  You can also view it online here.

And I hope all my American friends have a happy, warm, loving Thanksgiving!