We Bought It

To school, or not to school… That was the question.

For the past two days, both Annie and Ella have been home, sick… but it was that kind of sick where you wonder if they’re pulling early Ferris Buellers on you or if they’re really down and out enough to stay home.

Don’t get me wrong – I would not wish serious illness on either of my children – but when that temperature rises over 100*F or there’s vomiting going on, at least you can be sure of whether or not they really need to stay home. Other times – like these past couple of days – it’s a lot more nebulous.

On Friday, Annie began showing signs that she was coming down with something. As we went out that night with a few other friends and their moms, I told them that I suspected that Annie’s cough was more than just an annoyance. Sure enough, 36 hours later we found ourselves in our pediatrician’s office during their Sunday morning emergency visiting hours with a diagnosis of bronchitis (or possibly walking pneumonia).

Y’all, Annie was miserable. There were times when she coughed so hard and so uncontrollably that I was actually worried she might break something. Two inhalers, Delsym doses, Benadryl, pain relievers, honey, tea, and Vicks VapoRub did almost nothing to alleviate her symptoms. The poor girl was coughing too much to sleep; after crawling into my bed at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning following a horrible night, she caught only an hour of fitful sleep before awakening and rushing to the bathroom to be sick. She coughed so much and so violently during the day, she became totally exhausted; she physically hurt. We knew she wouldn’t be in school on Monday.

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Little sleep on Saturday night leads to napping on Sunday.

{Side note: is coughing not the absolute worst? I mean, it’s not quite plague or pestilence or freakin’ measles (I can’t even begin to get into that whole fiasco; the selfishness of these people completely astounds me), but coughing is an enormous pain in the ass. I hate coughing, I hate coughs, and I hate listening to people cough. Mark my words: the person who develops a cure or an effective treatment for your plain old run-of-the-mill cough will become a gazillionaire. Or at least be Time‘s Person of the Year.}

Ella, by contrast, did not have anything so easily diagnosed. Her throat hurt and her nose was crazy stuffed but the pediatrician confirmed that it didn’t look like strep; lack of a fever or any other strep symptoms all point to a regular head cold. Colds are tricky, though; like prairie dogs or TV shows on Nick Jr, they’re deceptive – one moment, you think they’re harmless, and the next they’re destroying your lawn, causing your children to speak in nonsensical and exceedingly annoying catchphrases, and making your nose run so much you go through an entire box of tissues.

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When I picked up Annie’s antibiotics on Sunday, I decided to stock up on any and all accoutrements we might need to get the girls through the next few days. The pharmacist asked if I was purchasing the entire OTC aisle; I said I was and he agreed it was wise.

Yesterday morning, Eleanor bemoaned her achy throat and can’t-breathe nose but, without a telltale fever or spreading rash or oozy eyes, Nick and I couldn’t really see any reason not to send her to school; just not feeling good is hard to quantify and even harder to use as a definitive get-out-of-school-free card. We told her that we believed in her – she would be okay! Ibuprofen and kids’ generic Cold And Sinus medication would help her out! – but if she really felt awful, she could go to the nurse and have her call me (I’d be home with Annie, after all) and I’d go and get her.

When the phone rang at 10:08 a.m., I knew immediately what was up.

Admittedly, she didn’t look so good; she was droopy and her eyes just looked off. For the rest of the day, while Annie hacked up a lung and essentially went on a hunger strike, we three lounged around the living room — watching TV (we expunged NBC’s live version of “Peter Pan” from our DVR where it had been lying in wait since early December), using iPads, reading books, listening to audio books, playing games. When I texted Nick to tell him that Ella was coming home, he asked if I needed him to leave work to help – I told him that I appreciated the offer, but the girls really weren’t that sick and I had plenty of things around the house to keep me busy, so I’d be fine.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS.

Oh, I mean I was fine. It was well and truly fine, really. But those things to keep me busy? BWAHAHAHA. I did manage to do everyone’s laundry and send out a couple of necessary emails, but otherwise… NADA. The least productive home day of all time . I don’t know what kind of vortex pulled me into the living room and onto the couch next to the girls – maybe some weird sort of mostly-sick kid voodoo? – but I accomplished basically nothing except emptying garbage cans when they overflowed with tissues.

By the time Nick arrived home at 5:00 so that I could go to the grocery store, I felt like I was seeing daylight for the first time after a prison sentence. Or maybe leaving the theater after viewing Titanic. Given that Ella and Annie remained fever-free yesterday, I held *very* high hopes that they would return to school today.

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This was basically ALL DAY yesterday. Note that the laundry in the basket to the left is folded. BOO YAH.

Okay, wait. That’s true, but there’s a caveat.
I did hold high hopes that they would return to school this morning, but last night there was a not-so-small part of me that kind of hoped they would be home again today solely so that I wouldn’t have to pack either of them a lunch.

Yep. Packing lunches is so odious, I would (almost) rather that the girls stay home sick just to avoid it. IT HAS COME TO THIS.

Nick and I agreed that Annie should probably remain home for at least a couple of hours this morning; the last few days, she has sounded so awful after awakening, you’d think she’d escaped from the TB ward. I thought that Ella, on the other hand, was destined for school… until I saw her this morning and she looked even droopier than she had yesterday.

When I asked her how she felt compared to the day before, she said she felt the same – or worse – but definitely not better. Meaning that if we opted to send her to school anyway, she would likely just wind up in the nurse’s office again and ’round and ’round we’d go. SO THEY WERE BOTH HOME AGAIN TODAY but with fingers very crossed that they’d return this afternoon. Alas, by lunchtime – the witching hour in terms of taking Annie to class – both girls said they just felt so tired, they didn’t think they could go to school.

Cue the tiny violins.

I don’t think I’m a sucker. I run a pretty tight Don’t-Take-Any-Sh*t ship. But damned if I didn’t feel like I was being played by these little hooligans!

It also wasn’t quite as simple as, We’ll just stay home and cozy until you both feel hunky dory, the three of us looking lovingly at one another in the living room – thank goodness there’s nothing else going on! Because I teach piano on Tuesdays. And our awesome babysitter comes and watches the girls. And the students come to the house (where the bronchitis and super-cold germs have been marinating). And tonight we were supposed to have my grandmother over for dinner – which, in itself, was a raincheck from Sunday when Annie was first diagnosed.

This is the chapter of the parenting manual that is missing. (It’s entirely possible I ripped it out one night while tiny baby Ella was up screaming because we hadn’t yet figured out that she was lactose intolerant and I kept trying make her feel better by nursing her after I’d consumed heaps of the frozen lasagnas and creamy chicken casseroles I’d dutifully prepped before her birth.) How do you make these decisions? How do you know when your kid is really “sick enough” to stay home, when it isn’t cut and dried? How much do outside factors – job, babysitter, determining just how germ-infested your house really is and if it’s okay for piano students to be in it, desperately wanting to see your grandma but desperately not wanting to potentially give her bronchitis or a cold – come into play? What about missed school days? And how do we weigh in Ella’s chorus concert tomorrow (and missed practices yesterday and today)?

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My view for much of today: coffee table (clean!), vaseline for chapped lips, thermometer, tea, TV remote, and a tissue box to which the girls have taped a dirty tissue bag. So industrious, they are.

On the other hand… when it comes down to it, if the kids are sick, they’re sick – period, the end. I mean, how the heck was I supposed to argue with, I don’t have the energy to go to school and I feel the same as I did yesterday… when you decided I should stay home ? Sure, I could have forced them to go in – even refused to pick them up should the nurse call – so that I could teach piano and see my grandma… but in the end, what would it get me? Daughters who don’t trust that their mom is in their corner, who think their mother doesn’t believe them when they say they feel like crap? Teachers who looked sideways at my potentially ill offspring? At few hours of sanity?

Okay. That last part was seriously tempting.

In the end, we felt that, since they haven’t played this card before (that we know of), we needed to listen to them; they stayed home. I cancelled the babysitter and the piano lessons. Nick and I decided, if we didn’t think it wise for anyone else to be around the girls, that it would be really dubious to ask my grandmother over for dinner — we will take (another) raincheck.

And so it was that the girls and I spent another day at home, cozied up against the winter chill and snow (although not the blizzard that much of the Northeast received) – a sort-of snow day that was not a snow day. (Annie did ask if she could go sledding; that request was quickly nixed seeing how sick she was and all.) There was still television watching and iPad using and book reading, but there was also working out (OH MY HECK I AM SORE), cleaning, photo sorting, and cooking – so it was certainly more productive than yesterday.

I will say, however, that shoveling the ice rink – the only occasion I left the house all day – was just about the most glorious experience of ever.

Well, that and having Annie try to explain that her knees hurt when she walked because the doctor said she had walking ammonia.

And Ella finally getting around to reading some of the books that she hadn’t had time for.

As of right now, we are definitely a go to send the girls to school tomorrow. They’ve steadily felt better all day and, given the general level of tomfoolery that they’ve engaged in, I think they’re both as stir crazy as I am to get the heck out of dodge and back to their routine.

Maybe best of all, because Wednesday is much-beloved pizza day, I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE ANY LUNCHES TONIGHT EITHER — can I get an amen! 

Once the girls are off and running, and after I’ve attended the yearbook meeting, taken photos of the school’s choruses, and climbed a monstrously tall ladder to take photos of every fifth grade homeroom (with the students formed into the numbers 2-0-1-5; it’s as brutal as it sounds – send good vibes, please) — but before Ella’s chorus concert tomorrow night — I plan to sit down with that parenting manual to see what we might have done differently, ’cause this stuff is hard. If you’ve got the missing chapter, I’m all ears.

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Given our recent Clean Eating push, I’ve been almost entirely avoiding alcohol since New Year’s – but tonight? Tonight I had a glass and I AM NOT SAD about it. (The goblet was a Christmas present from one of my aunts. It is plastic and largely unbreakable and awesome.)

 

 

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Throwback Thursday – Grandpa’s Hats

For a good many years now, at the urging/request of my grandmother, my mom’s side of the family has created personalized calendars that are given out at Christmas. In addition to the usual calendar fare, Shutterfly allows us to place photos on any dates we’d like, meaning that each family member’s face triumphantly appears on his or her birthday.

While I’ve always enjoyed the calendar, Ella and Annie took a particular shine to it this year, delighting in each person’s photo and commenting on which months receive the heaviest birthday traffic. (I printed off photos for the members of Nick’s family, too, and stuck them on the corresponding squares; June, December, and January are particularly heavily-birthdayed months.)

They were particularly smitten with the weeks when several people have birthdays in a row (and the coincidental dates when people actually share birthdays, something you’d think wouldn’t happen all that often in a relatively small family because there are 365 days on which to have been born), with these last two weeks in January being the first of the clusters.

“Mom – Alex’s (their cousin) birthday was Tuesday, Grandma’s birthday was yesterday, and Lisa’s (my aunt) and Adam’s (my cousin) birthdays are next week! That’s crazy!”

It is! But it’s actually even crazier.

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My grandfather loved hats. He would have laughed mischievously at the thought of me calling him a connoisseur of hats – that’s a bit of a stretch – but he certainly enjoyed them. Baseball caps, cowboy hats, visors, woven ones with wide floppy brims, straw hats, light-up headpieces with glowing lettering across the front… you name it, he had one.

Ever true to his creative, do-it-yourself-but-kind-of-on-the-cheap nature, he had nailed flat pieces of wood to the dining room walls at the lake, on top of which he’d attached clothespins – each of which held a member of the hat collection. Although this newfangled storage system appeared in the later years of his life, the hats themselves were around for much longer. I remember playing with them as a little girl, fascinated with their feel on my head and the way they smelled like him. (Not an Old Spice kind of smell – more musty and fisherman-y and turpentine-y — but grandpa through and through.)

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Summer 1977; one of my all-time favorite photos of anything, ever.
Would that every child could be looked at by their grandparent like this.

In the summers before the old lake house was razed and the new one was constructed – the last two summers of my grandfather’s life – Ella and Annie, too, became unofficial members of Great‘s Hat Club. It gave me such a kick to see them wearing his caps and seeing them all enjoy one another’s company so much. I only wish that they remembered it – remembered him – as clearly as I do.

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 Ella, at the same age I was in the above photo, wearing one of Great’s hats.
His avant-garde hat holder is clearly visible in the background…
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Annie – seven months – with my aunt Lisa, joining in on the hat convention.

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While sorting through things in the basement (let us all share a moment of silence for this miraculous occasion, shall we….?), I came across the hat my grandfather had worn when he was in the Navy. He didn’t talk with me much about his days in the service – then again, I hadn’t really asked (something I regret deeply now) – so I don’t really have much of a frame of reference for this regal topper, but it makes me smile each time I see it, imagining bygone days when my grandfather piloted planes that scanned the ocean for German U-boats, when he and my grandmother exchanged letters and television hadn’t been invented. Plus, all these years and miles later, that hat still smells like my grandpa.

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See, it wasn’t just Grandma and her sister who have birthdays in January – Great did, too.

“He did? I can’t believe it!”

Yep. HIs birthday was today, actually. January 22nd, 1921.

“So how old would he be?”

I see that you don’t get along so well with The Math either.

“What?”

Never mind. He would have turned 94 today.

“We should put his picture on the calendar!”

Long before Photoshop became popular, my grandfather loved toying with photos on his computer, swapping family faces and chuckling at his exploits. As soon as I get the chance, I’m definitely going to print out his photo and put it on the calendar. It’s kind of creepy… but Great would totally have approved.

This house is clean

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who totally hears that woman’s creepy voice from Poltergeist when you read those words.
Also, the house isn’t clean yet. DON’T BE RIDICULOUS.)

When I say that we go all out for the holidays, I mean it in every way possible, especially with food. And drinks. And more food. I’d love to say that I’m one of those people who is able to effectively moderate exactly what goes in my mouth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but with honesty being the best policy and all, I can’t.

Usually, I don’t mind. Without getting into the gory (or, more specifically, boring) details, I will say that I’m generally a pretty healthy person. I’m mindful of my diet but I don’t actually diet and I am strong and (more or less) fit. Because of this, I don’t normally sweat what I eat in December ’cause I know it will balance itself out in the end.

This year, it did balance itself out… but it balanced out on my end. Throughout autumn, I’d noticed that my pants were getting tighter – nothing monumental, but a little more snug. I told myself that, once the holidays were over and I was eating my usual fare and exercising my usual amount, everything would be good again. But when the waistband of my pants actually began to hurt, I knew that just “going back to normal” might not be enough. The pounds had packed on so slowly, a subtle adjustment was unlikely to make much of a difference.

Simply put, I felt gross. I was uncomfortable. Yes, I want to make long-term lifestyle changes to what I’m eating, but I also wanted to jumpstart the year with a more radical change so that I could, quite literally, be happy in my own skin again.

Nick, too, was feeling pretty blech after the holidays, so we decided to do something together to kick ourselves into gear. Having completed the disastrous juice cleanse last year that left us both feeling like angry, starving lunatics, we knew that pure juicing was out of the question… but we liked the idea of a strict eating regimen aimed at removing the extra crap from our systems and putting in only good stuff. Just without the rage. And all the juice.

Long story short, after some research, we decided to go for a ten day cleanse that combined aspects of the Reboot Lite plan (I appreciate how it tries to let us off the hook by saying that this reboot is good for people for whom straight-up juicing isn’t right, “maybe due to health issues or a rigorous workout routine”… or maybe because JUICING MADE ME A BITTER, MURDEROUS HAG) and the 21-day cleanse that is outlined in Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet book (we condensed it into ten days and didn’t fast at all, but whatever).

More specifically: fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, and certain grains (quinoa, brown and wild rice, lentils) were in. Dairy, meats, sugar, breads, carbs, anything processed, any beverages other than water and herbal tea, and basically all other foods were out.

PARTY ON, AMIRIGHT??

I’m sure, to many, this sounds like pure torture. Before the juice cleanse, I probably would have said the same – but after that week from hell, even Nick agreed that this looked like a veritable smorgasbord. We also knew that we really wanted this; we wanted to feel better. We wanted to stop craving foods we knew weren’t good for us, to stop eating so much, to get a head start on a healthier lifestyle, so we felt pretty darned motivated to see this through.

And you know what? It really wasn’t bad at all. We were “allowed” to eat plenty of food, so we never really felt hungry. Just as importantly, the food tasted really good and completely filled us up — and not merely acceptable-for-a-cleanse food, either, but recipes that we’ll happily turn to again now that the ten days are up.

(For the record: I have discovered that I can’t get enough avocado or quinoa. I could eat them both every single day maybe for the rest of my life. Sweet potatoes and kale, on the other hand, start off well but don’t feel as good by day ten.)

Best of all, the cleanse did what we’d hoped it would. We became full much faster, meaning that we were no longer consuming too-big portions. I “reset” my sweet tooth so that almonds and dried cherries satisfied my desire for something to chew after dinner, rather than a handful of chocolate chips. I lost around five pounds and, even better, my pants finally fit comfortably again.

To be fair, this cleanse thing wasn’t without its drawbacks. Planning for it – what meals we’d eat and when, making the grocery list, making sure we had the necessary tools – took hours upon hours because I refused to have us consume the same thing day in and day out. Groceries were monstrously expensive because purchasing enough fruits and veggies to juice and to eat costs an arm and a leg. Also, when you’re consuming heaps of fresh produce, it runs out fairly quickly, so I made four trips to the grocery store in ten measly days.

Hardest of all, the girls weren’t participating in the cleanse but they still needed to, you know, eat, so I wound up preparing three separate breakfasts and lunches (one for Nick and me and one each for Annie and Ella because do you think they could possibly agree on a single breakfast or lunch choice? OF COURSE NOT) and two different dinners every single day. Nick helped as often as he could, but I was still in the kitchen – chopping and dicing and peeling, juicing, blending, cooking, cleaning, dismantling, doling out into containers, washing Tupperware, etc. – for two-and-a-half to three hours every day.

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Just *some* of the dishes, pots, bowls, etc., required to do all of the peeling, juicing, blending, cooking, cleaning, dismantling, and doling out into containers. Every night, for ten nights. Not pictured: the freakin’ juicer.

Three hours in the kitchen is way too long to not come away with at least one batch of brownies or a glass of wine, y’all.

So, it wasn’t really the most practical of “diets” because I absolutely cannot devote that much time to food prep day in and day out. For ten days, though? It was doable.

I’d planned to come off of the cleanse very gradually, easing back into some of the foods we’d been avoiding (hello, Starbucks)… but, as luck would have it, the culinary arts center that’s only 30 minutes from our house was offering a gluten free baking class on the ninth day of the cleanse, and I had a gift certificate to the center that was begging to be used, and Nick could stay home with the girls because it was a Sunday so…

Really, there was no other choice. I was practically obligated to attend.

The baking was a blast and the recipes were spot-on, but – to both my delight and my frustration – I quickly learned that I was not able to consume the fabulous goodies that we’d prepared in class. I don’t mean that I didn’t want to (oh, I wanted to!), but that I couldn’t: after eating just two bites of the quiche and one bite of pizza, I was so stuffed, I felt sick to my stomach. Over the course of the week, the girls and I slowly made our way through the bounty and all was well, but it definitely felt strange to become so full after eating just one baked good.

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A small portion of the delectable spread that awaited us after class…
From left: pizza, quiche Lorraine, pumpkin whoopee pies (OMG SO GOOD), chocolate-covered macaroons, and flourless chocolate chip cookies.

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Additionally, in back: double chocolate brownie, lemon poppyseed muffin, English muffin.

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I had so many leftovers from the baking class, I needed four to-go containers.

This past weekend was our ultimate test when we went away for two nights with some of our best friends and their children. Although, by that time, Nick and I had introduced meat and dairy back into our diets, we’d kept our portion sizes reasonable and snacking to a minimum. By contrast, each night that we were away, we deliberately chose to throw caution to the wind and eat whatever we damn well pleased – pasta and burgers and cheese and wine and beer and dessert. We did become full more quickly than we would have, say, a month ago so we didn’t really eat all that much, but still – it was more than we had been eating, and it was certainly food that would be considered “unhealthy.”

The good and the bad news is that it caught up with us big time, sending both of our stomachs into knots, causing tremendous pain and discomfort, and costing us a lot of time in, um, the bathroom. Apparently, we did such a good job shocking our systems back into order that, upon being fed the “wrong” food, they revolted. Which is neat, in that the cleanse obviously worked and now it’s pretty clear what constitutes “good” food — but which also sucks because if I want to eat a piece of cake, damn it, I’m a grown-up and I don’t need my body giving me hell for it. (Likewise, darling offspring, I do not need to be accused of “using drugs” each time I pour a glass of pinot . Thanks, D.A.R.E.)

So, here we are – post-cleanse, feeling better, knowing that eating poorly will result in feeling poorly, but also seeing that the level of diligence (and amount of produce) we’d been maintaining isn’t possible long-term. Hence, we’ve decided to compromise and… wait for it… eat better. Crazy, I know. But, now that we’ve gotten started, it seems much more reasonable – even enjoyable. More veggies and salads. Less dairy and meat. More “clean” snacks that don’t come out of a package or a box. (Much) less processed food. More tea. Less “low fat” food. More real food, full fat and all. Less sugar. Fewer carbs. More water. Less soda. Lots of quinoa and avocados.

And, of course, some bacon and chocolate and wine and Starbucks thrown in there, too – just maybe not in the same night. Except for birthdays and weekends with friends and evenings when the girls are in bed and asleep before 9:00 and there’s no hockey on and a fire in the fireplace; then, all bets are off.

 

RACK on!

At our house, Christmas is Christmas because of the traditions. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without, among (many) other things, visits by Hermey (our house elf), eating popcorn while putting up the tree, receiving new pjs on Christmas Eve, or leaving a shot of whiskey for Santa alongside the cookies and milk (it’s cold on that ride, folks). I’ve always been someone who thrives on memories and ceremony and I was fortunate enough to have Nick agree to adopt nearly all of the Christmas customs that I celebrated growing up.

My girls have cottoned to these traditions just as strongly. If I forget something, or if I dare attempt to change even the smallest detail, Annie and Ella call me out immediately (“What happened?? These musical reindeer have always been in the dining room!”). (You know that we totally have musical reindeer.) While I’m all for honoring these established practices, sometimes it’s fun to try something new.

This year, I decided to try out two ideas: unwrapping and reading a Christmas book on every day of advent and practicing Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, or RACKs. (I’d love to claim that I thought up these schemes on my own but I totally stole them from my BFF Pinterest.) Given that I didn’t want to purchase 24 new holiday books, and given that we already have oodles of said books in the house, I opted to simply wrap two dozen of them and stack them up, ready to be opened each night.

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Yes, I forgot to take a photo until after two weeks had passed. And yes, the books were stored on the dog kennel. We fancy up in here.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done regular read-alouds with both girls, so I wasn’t entirely sure how it would go if I asked them to gather cozily on my bed and… unwrap… used Christmas books… But, to my delight, they seemed to really enjoy it – even look forward to it. Annie, especially (our bookworm), would bound into the bedroom each night and practically shimmer as she waited to see what the title would be, although both she and Ella exclaimed happily over favorites (“I love this one!”) and new (to them) titles (“I’ve never seen this one before!”). It was a quiet and lovely way to end each day; we’ll do it again for sure next year.

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Cuddling in bed with our latest tome, with our previous volumes visible in the basket in the background…
Also, be forewarned: while you think it will be a thought-provoking, solemn holiday tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s
The Little Match Girl might actually cause your children to have nightmares and imagine how it would feel to freeze to death. Oops.

If I were forced to choose just one new tradition to continue, however, it would actually be the RACKs. In contrast to the peaceful, sleep-inducing book tradition, the RACKs were vibrant and invigorating. The premise was really simple: find some way, any way, to be kind to another person. As I wrote on my Facebook page when I invited other friends to join the cause, they could be anything, “from really simple, non-monetary kindnesses (taking out the garbage, allowing someone to wedge in front of you in heavy traffic) to slightly bigger but not terribly complicated gestures (bringing a treat to a co-worker or the bus driver, giving a gift card to your postal worker, paying for coffee for the person behind you in line) to activities that require a bit more forethought (printing RACK cards and attaching candy canes to them and “bombing” a parking lot, taping microwave popcorn to a RedBox box) to things that are of a bit more significance monetarily (“sponsoring” a family for the holidays, donating to a food bank, etc.)… Whatever floats your boat and makes you happy because you think that it will make other people happy.
Anonymously. Randomly. Kindly.”

(One of my Jewish friends pointed out that these did not have to be only for Christmas, as they could be Random Acts of Chanukah Kindness, too. So awesome.)

The first official RACK that the girls and I did was to candy cane “bomb” the parking lot at their school so that the teachers would see the canes on their way out that afternoon. We invited Annie’s Girl Scout troop and their siblings to join us (see, I told you I’d rock my monthly meeting) and the response was super.

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Girl Scouts preparing their canes…

We could hardly keep up with the kids as they raced from car to car, gleefully slipping notes under windshields and ecstatically squealing with delight at the mere thought that this might brighten their teachers’ day.

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After that, Annie and Ella and I were on a roll. We did chores around the house for one another just because. (Even though I’d normally grumble significantly at the thought of putting the girls’ clothes away to spare their lazy bums, or at the idea of doing the dishes for Nick so he could watch the hockey game in peace, somehow it felt different – good. Really good.) They made cards and brought them into school. We took RACK cards and candy canes with us and distributed them often – to the guys who helped load our Christmas tree onto the car, to people in line at Starbucks. We taped dollars around the dollar store and chuckled imagining people finding them and absconding away with their bounty.

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By far, though, our favorite experience was when we RACKed out at the post office. We ventured over one afternoon when the girls got home from school and, as expected, the line was at least 20 people deep; suffice it to say that no one was smiling. Ella and Annie each walked up to the counter, chose an employee, and simply stood there, waiting until the most recent customer had finished. Once there was a slight break in the action, they politely slipped in and handed over the cards and candy.

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I can’t claim credit for this cute card, either – I found it here.

The postal workers looked stunned at first – but they quickly caught on and thanked the girls quite earnestly. The reaction from the other customers was instantaneous. I could see the grins creep over their faces, despite the packages at their feet and the seemingly interminable wait in line. The new twinkle in their eyes was unmistakable, that hint of happiness in the most unexpected of places.

We weren’t through, though, having brought with us three small collections of stamps along with other RACK cards. One at a time, we randomly chose customers in line and gave them the goodies. Their appreciative smiles were fantastic, but it was what happened next that was really incredible. As we were finishing, one of the recipients left her place in line to come over to us. She leaned in low, took my arm, and said, “My dad used to tell me to do something kind for someone else every single day. I’ve never forgotten that; it’s one of the most important lessons I learned. That’s what you’re teaching your daughters here today. Thanks for helping me to remember my dad, and to remember what’s most important. Your girls will never forget this.”

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It took me at least two minutes to Photoshop my thumb to remove the hangnails and icky cuticles and leftover nail polish. Good thing I’m not vain or it might have been three.

Stunned, I started to pull Ella and Annie in to me to tell them how much their simple gesture had meant to this stranger when the final woman to whom they’d given the stamps called over to us to stop.

“Wait, wait! Don’t leave! Come here for a moment!”

Puzzled, we did as she asked, only to find ourselves waiting for at least five minutes (no exaggeration) while she looked through her purse. (It’s one thing to do a random act of kindness and then flee anonymously into the night. [Or afternoon.] It’s another to do said act of kindness and then hang around while people stare at you. Awkward.) At last, after telling us umpteen times how thoughtful we were, what a lovely gesture this was, she emerged with a five dollar bill.

“Here, I want you to have this.”

We briefly tried to protest, but she would have none of it.

“No, no. You keep it. You were so kind to me today – you made me feel so special. At the very least, go out and buy yourselves a couple of ice creams at McDonalds. Five dollars should do that, right? Go to McDonalds and treat yourselves. I can’t thank you enough for doing this for me.”

I finally decided that it would be extremely rude of us to turn away her act of kindness – after all, how would we have felt if we’d been rebuffed while performing any of our RACKs? – so we thanked her profusely and took off for the car.

The girls were dumbfounded. “Mom – we weren’t doing this to get paid!” they argued. “We actually made money in the post office today!” Still, they couldn’t stop grinning like hyenas all the way home – not because of their newfound riches but because, in their words, “Doing nice things for other people is the best feeling ever!”

And so it was. Every time I thought of the way the postal workers’ faces lit up, or the way the customers’ demeanor changed when they saw what Ella and Annie were up to, or how that woman spoke about her dad, or about the lady who felt so moved, she actually paid us – literally – a kindness in return, I felt like I was walking on air.

This is what Christmas is supposed to be, is it not? Doing unto others. Spreading joy. Sharing magic. The truest spirit of Christmas there is.

During the drive home, it was agreed that I would keep the five dollar bill (since, they wisely cautioned, it would probably be a bad idea to rip it in half). When I asked how they’d like to spend it, since we don’t really go to McDonalds all that often, their response was swift: “We really should spend it doing something nice for someone else, right Mom?”

We did exactly that.

Yep. We’ll definitely be doing RACKs again next Christmas. Can’t wait!*

———–

* fear not, we’re now on a mission to do RAKs throughout the year, so we won’t have to hold off until Christmas… but I have a feeling it will feel extra-awesome to do RACKs again when the time comes.

 

I want more

I hadn’t planned to write a New Year’s post. (And, considering that it’s January 5th, I guess it really isn’t a New Year’s post anyway; go me!) I’ve got a couple of other posts already in the works and several more bouncing around in my head, so I’d planned to publish those before tackling anything new.

But, as anyone with ADHD – or anyone familiar with anyone with ADHD – knows, I’m nothing if not easily distracted (look, something shiny!), so after reading this lovely post that my friend Liza put up on her blog over the weekend and considering my own intentions for 2015 (the year in which I, like Liza and Nick and, oh, hundreds of our high school and college friends and acquaintances, will be turning 40 [I am so ready; bring it, four-oh!]), I realized that I might as well put them down on paper. Or screen. Close enough.

I really enjoy thinking up things that I’d like to change or do or wish for the coming year, but I always have a hard time actually completing my list. The problem lies with January, in that it immediately follows December. Y’all know what I mean – December is like summer. It doesn’t follow the rules of the rest of the year; schedules go out the window, everyone’s wearing funky clothes, you eat food that you’d never touch in April or October, and it smells really good. It’s a wonderland, to be sure, but also – like summer – disorienting. As such, I find myself imagining the changes I’d like to make for the following year but finding it difficult to consider how to go about accomplishing anything because – well, December.

If January and February could just switch places so we had a little more time between the hullabaloo of the holidays and beginning a new year, that would really be swell.

Anyway, as I considered Liza’s question – what are my intentions for this year? – I realized that these intentions (or resolutions or goals or aspirations or dreams or whatever you’d like to call them) are a little different than in the past. Many years, I’ve been all about cutting back — consuming fewer calories, wasting less time, not worrying as much. Those were noble and worthy goals, but this year, I’m going in a different direction.

To quote Ariel in The Little Mermaid, “But who cares? No big deal. I want more.”

I want 2015 to be about more.

More sleep. I’m really bad at this and it’s catching up with me. I deserve better.

More piano. After only a few good, quality scales, my hands are tired. Not cool. (I’d really, really like to learn Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, too, by the time I turn 40 in November, but don’t hold me to that…)

More forgiveness. For people I don’t agree with. For things I don’t understand. For myself, especially. I hold grudges against me like nobody’s business.

More tea. It’s good for me. I like it. Why not?

More letters and cards. Everyone loves snail mail. I just need to do it.

More gratitude. I am so tremendously fortunate; sometimes, I need to remind myself of that. Happiness and gratitude are so inextricably linked. I’m psyched for this one.

More communication. Whether it’s letting someone know that the package they sent arrived safely, responding promptly to an email or text – even if it’s just to say, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you!”, or finding the time to voice a concern or frustration with Nick instead of letting it stew, I tend to not be the greatest communicator. I want to get better. Friends, family, and marriage are worth it.

More books. For over a year, I lost my interest in books; they simply didn’t hold my attention anymore (some people say this happens when your’e grieving? Maybe?). But I miss books desperately, so I requested – and received! – more than a dozen for my birthday and Christmas. I want to read them all this year.

More courage. Making difficult decisions is hard for me. Standing up for myself is also tricky. But I’ve got this. I can do it.

More television. This may sound like the gluttonous opposite of a resolution, but stick with me here. I run around like a chicken with my head cut off from the moment I get up until the (very late – but soon to change!) moment I finally crawl into bed (see above: ADHD). Most of my evenings are a blur of house-straightening, email-writing, school-lunch-making, laundry-folding, to-do-list DOING. I watch very little television because I feel like I’m too busy to sit down and look at the TV. But that busyness is largely a choice. Yeah, there are things that can’t wait until tomorrow, but there are also those that can. If I allow myself to watch more TV – shows (hell, entire series) that I’ve been itching to get into but haven’t because of all of the DOING – that will mean that I’m cutting myself a break. And that, my friends, would be a really good thing. Plus also: maybe I’ll finally understand Downton Abbey and Orange is the New Black references. Bonus!

More cooking. I love it. It’s delicious. Enough said.

More Jesus. That sounds weird. I know. But I’ve been missing a spiritual, religious guiding force in my life – maybe for my whole life. I believe, but I don’t know exactly in what; not what I’ve seen at any church so far, save for the wonderful little one we attended when we lived in Westchester. I’m definitely a progressive, liberal, non-literal believer, someone who’s never read the entire Bible, who chose Jewish godparents for her firstborn (true story, and they’re awesome), who tends to find a lot of supposed “Christian” behavior to be as un-Christian as possible… but I think Jesus really had a lot going for him. I think, if I knew more about him – if I could relate instead of feeling judged or scolded from afar – I might really like what I learn and he might have a lot to teach me.
At the very least, I’ll get better at biblical trivia on Trivia Crack.

More listening. Especially to my kids. When they look back, I want them to say that their mom listened to them, that I heard them. Except when they’re whining. La la laaaaa.

More water. I’m basically dehydrated all the time. Which is dumb.

More giving. One of the best things we did this Christmas season was do small acts of kindness for others (post coming; I know you’re psyched). Seeing everyone’s faces light up felt unbelievably good – the mere anticipation of someone lighting up felt unbelievably good. I really want to give more this year.

So, I know. That’s a lot of things. But they’re really a collection of ideas – ideals – that I’ve been working toward for quite a while now; I just needed the kick-in-the-pants start of the year to formulate a real plan and figure out how to put it into action.

I know it’s typically gauche to ask for extra (after all, look what happened to Oliver), but in 2015 I want more – and, for once, I’m not afraid to say it.

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My pioneer girlies, ushering in the new year. (Photo brazenly stolen from my mom…)