Thursday, December 29, 2016

Another Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

On the piano is my cherished ceramic nativity set. It's the same style as the one my mom hand glazed many years ago, which was the same as the one her mother had. Colorful and shining, Joseph and Mary kneel in the stable next to a beautiful manger with a cherubic Christ-child, surrounded by quiet, clean, glazed animals.
Gazing at it, I slip into thinking the first Christmas was like that: perfect.
Perfect? To walk or ride 200 miles while nine months pregnant? To give birth in a stable?
Perfect? For the Son of God to sleep in an animal trough?
Yes, it was perfect. Perfectly imperfect. The King of Kings needed to descend below all things and take upon himself all our sufferings, so all of those seeming imperfections served higher, perfect purpose.
So you might say imperfection -- perfect imperfection -- is one of the most enduring Christmas traditions, predating even the gifts of the Wise Men.

What Made This Christmas Perfect?

Little Q using a sticky candy cane as a stylus on my phone
His joy and delight at seeing his Christmas Eve pajamas 
covered in construction vehicles
*  *  *  * 
The broad smiles and "Merry Christmas!" greetings when we went to church Christmas morning
That I had to spend most of the service wandering the halls 
because Little Q was too excited to sit quietly in the chapel
*  *  *  *
The joy of decorating gingerbread cookies together
The pile of dirty dishes that was still there Christmas morning
*  *  *  *
That the stockings didn't seem quite as full as last year
How beautiful the tree looked as we came down Christmas morning
*  *  *  *
That I missed the sale on what could have been the perfect gift
The joyful, unexpected, spontaneous hugs of appreciation the 
children gave each other after opening gifts


I don't plan on imperfection each December. Somehow or other, it always comes. Movies, books, and my Pinterest feed give me such unrealistic expectations for this most sacred of holidays. Each year is supposed to be perfect; the best Christmas ever. I think it is good to remember that one or two or ten moments of catastrophic imperfection doesn't wipe away all the peace, goodwill, and joy of this season. There is room for a little, or even a lot, of imperfection in the perfect Christmas.
Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Toddler Gift Guide: Consumer Reviews by a Two-Year and His Mom

My little boy just turned 2. With Christmas coming, I thought I would share a few of the birthday gifts he liked for those who might still be Christmas shopping for a young child.
Here are a few of the gifts he loved:

LEGO DUPLO Cars and Trucks Building Blocks
I've seen and fiddled with a number of build-a-car sets. This one knocks them out of the water. First of all, because all of the blocks fit between the wheel bump, toddlers don't have to find the "right" pieces in the right order to build a vehicle. This is truly a mix and match set. Most build-a-car sets I've seen are like puzzles--if you lose one piece, you might as well throw out the whole set.
What takes it to eleven is the parts that pivot: a ladder that articulates *click-click-click* as it is positioned higher or lower, a tow hook that can move back and forth, and a dump truck that really dumps.
I was concerned the blocks might be a little too hard for a two year old to take apart and put together, but after a few days he stopped asking for help.
With hours of play following a price tag of less than $16 (current Amazon price) this gift has had the most bang-for-the-buck of the birthday gifts this year.
Below is one of the many vehicles my two-year old has made without any help at all.

Brio Classic Figure 8 Set
There are cheaper train sets on the market, but if you want (and can afford) quality, Brio comes highly recommended, and the Figure 8 Set is a beautiful starter set. Q loves to sit either inside one of the loops or next to them and pull the train along the track. The magnets that connect the train pieces are strong enough to keep the train together with a little rough handling, but not too strong for a toddler to separate pieces when desired. Little Q has figured out how to connect track pieces, but it never ends up as a finished loop when he does it, so he frequently asks for help: "Hep. Hep."
Before Q got this train set, my husband pointed out one of the table train sets. No, thank you. This beautiful toy can be put in a shoebox in the closet when we want to play with something else. The table train sets would take up precious floor space all the time. It's a personal choice, but I definitely prefer the flexibility this allows.
The company recommends this toy for ages 2 and up. Brio is a Swedish company. Like other European toddler toys, small parts are consider okay at a younger age than they are by US standards. If your little one still chews and sucks on their toys, I would certainly recommend waiting for them to grow out of that phase before getting a toy with small parts.

Balance Bike
The jury is still out on this set of wheels, and may be until spring when it has more opportunity to be used. It's nearly impossible to find a toddler-size peddle bike, but a number of companies do make balance bikes. There are no pedals or training wheels. It's like a cross between a scooter and a bicycle that has gained a loyal following. Other parents have claimed that, while this ride on toy takes longer for the kids to get used to, it makes that transition to a two-wheeled bicycle a breeze, with kids as young as four learning to peddle without training wheels in one afternoon.
Based off of consumer reviews, we went with a Strider Balance Bike (one of the most expensive brands). We chose to buy this expensive bike used, and I'm glad we did. A few scuffs in the paint is completely worth it to save $50 on a toddler toy. If you just search for "balance bike" you can find other brands that have a cheaper price for their new bikes. Just be sure to read the reviews and compare.
Our fabulous UPS delivery man came to our door empty handed because the box it shipped in had a picture of a bicycle on its side, and he wanted to let us know before he left it on the porch where the kids might find it first.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What We Read at the Hospital

After we set-up the Christmas tree on Saturday, our family went out to play in the common area. It was sunny and around 52 degrees, which seemed inviting at the time. We ended up around the play set. Little Q was showing off how he could climb ladders without help (but with lots of spotting) and M had crossed the monkey bars once already.
She lunged from the play set and caught the third rung out. Another time she missed and landed on her feet. She went right back up to try again.
I turned back to Little Q, who likes to tease me by walking closer to the openings on the play set than he knows I like. It's a game. He holds the bars, leans back, and puts one foot out in the forbidden space off the play set. I clap-growl, and he backs off, laughing. He had all my attention when I heard a heavy sound behind me, followed by a faint whimper, and turned to see M crumpled up on the rubber bark. She had missed.
Cory and I were beside her in an instant, asking her again and again where it hurt, ready to help the moment we knew our touch wouldn't dislodge something broken. "My arms!" she finally articulated. "My arms hurt!" We helped her stand and walked her straight home (it wasn't far). She walked slowly, as if each step caused more pain. There was no question about it. She was going to the ER almost immediately. At the house I collected a change of clothes with wide sleeves, her purple fleece blanket, two picture books and my iPad.
Usually I have a rule: no one under the age of 12 is allowed to sit in a front seat when I'm driving. M has another year to go, but the front seats are heated, so I insisted she sit there. 52 degrees quickly turned from pleasantly adventurous to unpleasantly cold for her, and she was shivering. She whimpered when I accidentally brushed against her fingers, and I didn't dare slip her hands through coat sleeves, so we spread a blanket across her lap and turned on the heated seat for the drive.
In the waiting room she was shivering again and had rapid, shallow breathing. I hoped they would bring her a heated blanket soon. I pulled out the first book I had brought and began reading Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. Once we finished that, I began reading Mad About Madeline* (a collection of all the Madeline picture books). I've found that rhyming couplets can be a soothing distraction to people in pain, similar to rocking back and forth and stroking their forehead. Madeline is completely written in rhyming couplets.

In the first story, our adventurous Madeline "sat in bed. Cried and cried. Her eyes were red." A doctor determines she has appendicitis and "in a car with a red light they drove out into the night." We are spared all the scary details of her surgery, but her 11 visiting friends are surprised to see a scar, along with toys and candy and a dollhouse from Papa. The final page begins with the soothing words "'Good night little girls. Thank the Lord you are well. And now go to sleep,' said Miss Clavel."
This isn't the only Madeline book with sickness and healing. In Madeline's Rescue, the adventurous little girl walks on the railing of a bridge and falls into the River Seine. "Dear Madeline would now be dead, but for a dog that kept its head." After warming Madeline up safe at home, the book focuses on the beautiful stray dog that rescued Madeline and comes to stay at their school.
Madeline and the Bad Hat is a story about the Spanish ambassador's lonely and mischievous son Pepito who lives next door. Thanks to a bad decision involving one cat and all the dogs in the neighborhood, Pepito is visited by the doctor and left in a four poster bed, covered in bandages. This isn't the end of the story, just a turning point. When we see Pepito next, he is well and whole again, and displaying his reformed behavior.
Reading picture books like that helps children realize that their terrible experience is just a page in their story and that they actually will get well soon and have happy things in the future.
By the time they moved her from her check-in room to the larger room they would set her bones in, we had completed the entire thick book, which had given her something nice to focus on, while she was trying to ignore the pain.

Choosing Books for a Child's Hospital Visit
1. Choose a book that your child would have enjoyed if they were a couple years younger. A young adult may prefer middle grade novels, and elementary kids may relax best with picture books.
2. Choose books with happy endings. Children's literature is famous for happy endings, but there are a few tearjerkers to watch out for.
3. Try books with a healing theme. Older children may enjoy The Secret Garden. The Madeline books are great for younger children.

To finish M's story: yes, she did break both arms. Yes, they are healing nicely and she won't need surgery (a specter raised at the ER, after three failed attempts to set and cast her right wrist).
Yes, she missed school for a week. Once the swelling went down and her fingertips were less sensitive, she regained a lot of her independence.
Yes, she will get better. Her cast is scheduled to be removed two days after Christmas. It will be okay.

*Note: Mad About Madeline seems to be out of print and replaced by the nearly identical A Madeline Treasury. Some reviewers note that there is a typographical error on page 300 of this edition (in Madeline's Christmas).