Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas? That's so five minutes ago.

William and I went to Target today. We cruised through the mostly-depleted aisles of Christmas stuff to pick up a few odds and ends to put away for next year. Boy, the pickings were slim, and it's just now New Year's Eve. Everything was finally marked down 75 percent, but I guess everyone else had already taken the best stuff.

William begged for a snowglobe, but seeing as how the only remaining snowglobes featured the cast of "High School Musical 3" and "Hannah Montana," I said, "Sorry, kiddo." I also nixed the purchase of a nutcracker painted to look like a bowler. (And I had thought traditional nutrackers were a little creepy. Be glad you missed out on the bowler.) So we headed home. I was a little disappointed not to land some great post-Christmas bargains, but I'll get over it.

William, on the other hand, was already way over it. As soon as I pulled the car into the garage, William asked, "Mommy, will you get out my Easter eggs now please?"

New Year's Resolution: Let's try to work one holiday out of our system first before moving on to the next.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Because I said so

A couple of days ago, I asked William to stop doing something annoying like banging on the table. My dear child looked at me, tilted his head to one side and with a sly grin said, "Why should I?"

My God. I thought we had a whole 'nother decade before we had a teenager in the house.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa Claus,

Thank you so much for showering us with so many nice presents this Christmas. I can't honestly say that we were good all the time, but we did the best we could. And we'll try even harder next year.

We all loved our stocking gifts. David and William both liked the Star Wars toys that you put in David's stocking (yes, you read that correctly). William loved the recorder, too.

And I was particularly delighted to receive my annual jar of olives in mine (William unpacked them for me). You never forget how much I love them!

William was also delighted by his super rocketship:

and by his guitar:

All in all, we had a really wonderful day.

(Although, I will admit we're all a little tired of reading the Sleeping Beauty book.)

Hope you're having a nice Boxing Day and getting some rest.

Love, Jennifer

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Adventure

I'm not allowed to go downstairs right now, because, Santa is putting together my Christmas stocking. So I can't post any pictures of William and Leland playing together this morning when Mary Clare and Leland dropped by with treats. Nor can I post any photos of Grandaddy Aaron's birthday extravaganza at the Wyckoffs' house this evening.

But I can tell you this. We took William to the children's service for Christmas Eve this afternoon, and that was about the most hilarious church service I've ever attended. And I'm a preachers' kid. I've sat through a lot of church services.

You know it's going to be a good time when the acolyte's candlelighter burns out en route to the advent wreath at the very beginning. It took the poor girl a good long time to get all the candles in the advent wreath lit, too, because there was some strange heavenly gust of air directed at the wreath that kept nearly snuffing the candles out. She'd finally get one lit and then she'd hover there uncertainly as the flame leaned wayyyyyy over to one side. Not sure what ecclesiastical message is being imparted there, but it was very entertaining, in William's opinion. Which was good for all of us, too, because it meant we got a short breather in the "Keep William Occupied" game, which involved Christmas coloring pages, Spider-Man fruit treats, raisins, water, and being passed back and forth between all four adults in his family who were in attendance.

Near the end of the service, I think I heard a pew crash to the floor on the other side of the church, but I can't be too sure. I was too busy recovering from trying to suppress my laughter during the offertory. See, our church asks children to bring canned goods to church for a local food bank. I thought, "What a lovely idea" and made sure to pack something for William to offer. But I was totally unprepared for the scrum of kids battling their way to the front of the church to leave their cans of food by the manger. It was like a mosh pit, a school carnival, the starting line of a 5K race, and a junior varsity scrimmage, all rolled into one event. You almost expected to hear Nine Inch Nails playing, instead of "Good Christian Men Rejoice" or whatever. At least two little boys landed on their bellies and skidded down the middle of the aisle as other kids rushed over and around each other for the front. David, who was escorting William and his trusty can of green beans to the manger, even lost track of him at some point.

And did I mention the part in the service where William escaped our clutches and crawled, yes, crawled, down the center aisle toward the door? I could see eight rows of people begin to howl with laughter. I covered my eyes with my hand and slunk down in my pew. Have I ever also mentioned that Larson Family Lore has it that I once broke free of my mother's grasp, slid under the pew, and crawled under the pews away from her, to her great embarrassment? Yeah. We all know where William got it from. Luckily for David, William didn't get as far as I did.

Yes, it was a Christmas Adventure for the Larson-Wyckoff family.

But just in case you thought it was all a farce, let me assure you that there was one magical moment, too. We all stood to sing "Away in the Manger," and William stood up on the pew between David and me. And he sang the entire first verse in time with the music, just like everyone else. I was smiling so hard that I thought my face would split in half. And it made all the other shenanigans worth it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

To Santa or not to Santa?

Carl Honore raises the Santa Claus question in an opinion piece in today's Washington Post. You know, will it scar your children for life if you lie/don't lie to them about Santa?

Man, we parents really are damned if we do, damned if we don't these days. I hope that whatever William's learned about Santa, inadvertently or not, isn't going to have serious repercussions on his future success/development/happiness/ability to resist becoming an ax murderer.

I loved this paragraph in Honore's article:

"Of course parenting is crucial, but the bottom line is that not every single thing we do as parents leaves an indelible mark, for good or ill, on our children. Kids are more resilient than that. They can handle disappointment, boredom and feeling bad from time to time -- in fact, these things can make them stronger."

This is very reassuring. It takes a little of the pressure off to be the very best possible parent, because that is pretty much impossible to do but still tempting. I want to be a great parent, but there are times when I really just do not want to play another round of Candy Land or read "Madeline and the Bad Hat" for the four millionth time. Sometimes I don't want to try to make everything a potential moment for learning. Sometimes I mess up. Sometimes I yell (but I do apologize afterward). Sometimes I just want to use the restroom by myself--and sometimes I get cross when I don't get my wish. I sincerely want to do the best job of parenting that I possibly can, but hello, I do have my limits. Doesn't everyone?

So my son knows about Santa. Well, that is, William believes in Santa. He believes there is a big round man named Santa who says "Ho Ho Ho" and delivers presents out of his turbo-charged sled. But he's not consumed by the whole Santa myth, at least not yet. In a few years, when he uncovers the vaunted Truth About Santa, he'll get over it. He will. Doesn't every kid, eventually? I'm not worried about this in the least, frankly. I can think of far, far more important things for me to worry about him learning and understanding. So I'll expend my parental-guilt energy worrying about how we deal with those matters instead.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Knit Wit

Okay, someone out there needs to teach me how to knit.

Because how cute is this hand-knit hat?

My friend Anna (from made this for William. It arrived yesterday in the mail, and of course, I couldn't wait to try it on him. We took a short break from hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree to stage a little fashion show here. He looks a little bit like a knight, don't you think? Er, if knights were very small, rosy-cheeked, and wore rugby shirts, of course.

The problem with me learning to knit is this....I already tried to learn once. That was about four or five years ago, when we were living in Twentynine Palms but before we had William. It was kind of a failure. David said he'd never heard anyone swear so much, and given that he spent a decade or so in the Navy, I'd wager that's saying something. I still have the small square that I made, still attached to the needles, lying around here somewhere. I run across it occasionally. It mocks me.

But all my knitter friends make the coolest stuff, and I've been jealous for years. Natalie made a sweater for William when he was born. Jessica made him a baby cap and then she made a scarf for me. My friend Amy knitted Weasley sweaters for our friend Shab's two little boys. And now William has Anna's hat. I want to be able to make something! I can't make anything. I mean, I can write, but that's sort of ephemeral. I do have stacks of old newspaper clippings that are real and concrete, but that's about all I can say. You can't wear a newspaper article on your head.

Of course, I'm not sure I'm capable of making anything else you could potentially wear on your head either...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hold the cheese (sandwich)

In case you haven't yet finalized your nomination of me for the Mother of the Year Award, please, make sure you add this to your rapturous essay about my myriad qualifications for this great honor.

I didn't much feel like cooking dinner the other night. When David called to tell me he was on the way home, I mentioned this, and he said he'd be happy eating a cheese sandwich and some soup.

I thought, "I can do grilled cheese sandwiches. That's easy enough. And I can use up this bread and the last of the cheese, too."

So I buttered up a stack of slices of wheat bread and slapped the first sandwich into the frying pan. When it was nice and golden brown, I slid it onto a plate and cut it into four golden triangles of destiny (er, that's a joke from Sesame's a takeoff on Indiana Jones) and served it to my son who fell upon it like he hadn't eaten in a week.

I waited to grill the other two sandwiches until David arrived home a few minutes later. When he came in, I started to drop the second sandwich into the pan...and then noticed that half the top slice of bread was mottled in mold. Ack!

David peered over my shoulder and shuddered. Then he said, "Ew, throw that away!" And then he sighed because his dinner was ruined. I examined the other pieces of bread and didn't see any other visible patches of mold, but I couldn't tell for sure under all that butter. I pitched both ungrilled cheese sandwiches in the trash can and wondered unhappily what else I could come up with at the last minute.

At the exact same moment, we both realized that, oh my God, William already had one of those sandwiches! We spun around to look at him as he crammed the last bit of the penicillin sandwich in his mouth and smiled a big cheerful cheese sandwichy grin.

(Please note that I waited to post this little anecdote until we were reasonably sure he wasn't going to expire. He's as hale and hearty as ever, two days later. And bacteria-free, too.)

Don't get too busy, now, to submit my name for MOY. Two weeks. That's all you've got left.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Photo shoot

I'm a glutton for punishment.

I took William to get his picture taken at Sears today. You know, right in the middle of the pre-Christmas rush. At an understaffed store. Because nothing says "happy holidays" like slogging through the freezing rain with your overdressed child and then repeatedly asking them to sit still (HA!) and smile for the camera.

I had this terrific idea that I'd have William sit for some portraits, and then I could give the finished products to my grandparents for Christmas. It was a good idea, right? You know, except for...everything that it takes to get a good portrait of a busy two-year-old at the busiest time of the year.

The poor girl working in the portrait studio was the only person on duty. She had to take all the photos, answer the phones, ring up customers' purchases, and help people who came in to pick up their orders. Halfway through our photo session, she had to stop taking pictures and leave the little studio to deal with the line of people forming behind the main counter. At least William was entertained by the motion-detector lights that kept flashing on and off as he darted around the studio.

A behind-the-scenes shot that I took while we were waiting:

After the photographer returned, she took a few more photos, but William was mostly over the whole thing by then. He smiled wonderfully, and he was extremely cheerful, but he was very wiggly by that time. After the wait to get into Bethlehem, it really didn't even seem like much of a delay to me, but I think William was ready to call it a day.

Fortunately for me, she got some good shots of him before the break. I was happy enough with those. And I was thinking about last year's holiday portrait session, during which William wailed pitifully for the first 30 minutes or so, so today's challenges seemed very small compared to that day's. He smiled when asked! It was a Christmas miracle!

So I took us both to McDonald's as a treat for surviving the photo shoot. Santa Claus is coming to town, and if he brings french fries, William and I will both be very content.

Monday, December 15, 2008

And the line moves on

You know how you quickly learn that certain environments are not particularly hospitable to toddlers? You don't take your rowdy two-year-old to a quietly elegant restaurant at 8 p.m. or to opening night at the symphony.

And there are also events and venues that are actually very welcoming to toddlers....but only if you can get in.

David and I took William to Woodmont Christian Church's amazing annual Walk Through Bethlehem event yesterday afternoon. It's really quite an elaborate set-up, and very impressive. The church sets up their fellowship hall like a small town, with shops, a synagogue, homes, and other sites. Everyone is dressed in (roughly) appropriate attire and engages in activities that people living in Bethelem might have done at the time of the birth of Jesus. Outside on the grounds, they set up a stable where they stage a living Nativity, surrounded by animals. William's imagination has really been captured by his Fisher-Price nativity set, and since Diane and I took William last year to the event, and he had a blast, I figured that it was a no-brainer to take him again.

This is where the "unfortunately" part comes in, though. We got there a little after 2:30 only to find a very long, very slow-moving line. A greeter told us to expect to wait about 45 minutes. Wait in line, for 45 minutes (or longer) with an eager, active toddler? But...but...but, we came early so we wouldn't have to wait in line! The line isn't supposed to be here yet! Everyone told us to come early in the day so we'd avoid the line!

But there was a loooong line. And we were already there. We'd already talked up seeing the little town of Bethlehem and petting the sheep and seeing Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.

So we waited. Luckily, we at least got to spy on the animals from part of the line:

So you may be thinking...why did you even take your toddler to this event if you didn't want to wait in line? And maybe we shouldn't have tried to take William this year. Maybe he was too young. But we wanted him to see the town of Bethlehem. We wanted him to see what it might have looked like in person, not just in his books. We thought it was a great educational opportunity for him. And all things considered, William did okay. He was squirmy, but what would you expect? He didn't really run around or dash off or even screech loudly, although since we were outside, that wouldn't have been so terrible. There were many, many other young children there, and everyone seemed pretty relaxed and happy about being there, which was encouraging.

But several older boys behind us in line started egging him on, teasing him and talking about dog poop and God knows what else. So then we had William brightly chirping about "Ewww, I smell dog poop! Gross!" like a preteen. Great. David tried to talk him out of that, but you know how it is. You try to convince your child to not talk about something or say a certain word and suddenly that's all they want to do. So he dropped it, and eventually, William forgot about dog poop, too.

Finally, we got to enter the actual "town," located in the basement of the church. William was pretty respectful, too. He seemed to really be paying attention to what the various characters were saying, and he enjoyed visiting the carpentry shop and seeing the musicians playing their instruments. But the "town" was fairly dark, and people were crushed in there together. We had to keep picking him up so he wouldn't get stepped on--and so he could actually see what was going on. Finally we just skipped out on seeing the rest of the town and headed outside to see the stable, the Baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Men (who wouldn't have actually been at the stable the night the baby was born, but I can digress on that later). He got to see a camel up close and stick his nose in the urn of frankincense, and then we left.

We waited in line far, far longer than we actually stayed in "Bethlehem" but I think we did as much as we could. We just can't reasonably expect William at his age to wait patiently in a long line for a long time. And I think he did okay. We just didn't want to press our luck. He was happy to see the things that he saw, and that's good enough for me. Next year, he'll be able to do more. It really is a wonderful event. It's just become so popular that it's not as easy to get in and out of as it might have once been. I'm glad we went. It was worth standing in the line.

But it did make me start thinking about how long it takes to acquire patience for that sort of thing. Remember how hard it was to wait in line when you were little? I think we adults tend to forget that. I am not exactly a big fan of lines now, but if I'm by myself and I find myself in a long line, I just pull out a book or magazine to pass the time. Or people-watch. Or send text messages. When I've got William with me, I try to avoid all but the most utterly necessary lines. Otherwise, I go back later without him. But what can you do when the reason you're standing in line to begin with is to take your small child to do something that is supposed to be fun for him? Ply him with snacks. Entertain him with books and stories. People watch. Hope that the line moves quickly. Sing songs. Tell jokes. Hope your child ignores the other kids in line. Wonder if you're just a teensy bit crazy. Remember that, if you're at the right kind of place, no one is going to mind if your child is a little bit rowdy.

But in case anyone ever wanted to know one of the biggest reasons why we've never taken our son to DisneyWorld, well, now you know. Lines.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow, Snow, Go Away

Well, I had a Watershed Moment in Parenting today.

It snowed here, however lightly, late yesterday afternoon. While my friend Loretta in New Orleans got enough snow to build an honest-to-God snowman in her yard, we just got a dusting. By the time I headed out to attend a Christmas cocktail party at 7, the roads were damp, but otherwise just fine.

But when I blearily glanced at the weather on the local television news this morning, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature news crawl and a tiny (but growing) list of local school closings. School closings! After that trace of snow? Cowboy up, people!

Well, the South is famous for its longtime "Hey, it snowed a quarter of an inch! Let's close the schools" mentality. I mean, we also flock to our grocery stores and clean them out of milk and bread at the slightest hint of a snow report. (Oooh, and this gives me an excuse to quote from one of my all-time favorite columns from the now-gone Birmingham Post-Herald when I ask, "Have you ever been desperate enough to eat a milk sandwich?") But, as it turned out, neighboring counties received a lot more snow than we western Davidson County people did. And I'm guessing most school officials wisely decided it was better to be safe than sorry, especially in areas where many children ride school buses very early in the morning, before the roads clear up.

So I sat on the edge of my bed, waiting for the name of William's school to scroll by. And this is where the watershed part comes in: I realized I was hoping for his school to NOT be on the list of closed schools. That's right: I was cheering for school to be open on a snow day, not closed.

Indeed, it was the first time in my entire life I didn't want a snow day! "C'mon, William needs to go to school," I muttered, with my eyes glued to the screen. "I need William to go to school."

When the alphabetical list on one channel scrolled by, and the school name didn't appear, I switched channels. Then I checked all three local news stations' websites. Nope, not there either. That's it, I decided. We're going to school. And we did. Or, he did. He happily scampered into the Jungle Room and greeted his teachers and waved me away. And away I flew like the down of a thistle. Which is to say I ran errands, bought Christmas presents, and went to the bank. No way could I have done all that with a snow-day William in tow. Plus, the little bit of snow was all gone. If you're going to have a snow day, you should at least have, you know, some snow to play in.

This is what it's like being a parent. I root against snow days. I don't allow cookies before mealtime. I insist on a regular--and early--bedtime. And sometimes, when I open my mouth, I even hear my mother's voice come out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Where toddler snacks really end up

Will there ever be a time when I won't constantly be finding raisins smushed into my carpet all over the house?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thank you for my nightlight

William said his first prayer by himself tonight. It was rambling and hilarious and wonderful, all at the same time.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we've been trying to be more consistent about saying a prayer with/for him at bedtime. You know, we say, "Dear God," and let him repeat after us. And tonight, after I finally got him to settle down and said "Dear God" three times, he took control.

It went something like this:

"Dear God, thank you for my warm house, my pa-wents, my fwends, my famly, my toys, my books, my Mark, my DeeDee, my Baby Jesus set, my lamp, my nightlight, my family, my warm house, nice day....ahhhhh-men."

I was thoroughly charmed. I guess he's been paying attention after all! And so what if he's mostly just repeating stuff that we've said before? Isn't that how we learn most prayers to begin with? Surely I knew the words of "The Lord's Prayer" by heart many years before I really began to grasp what they meant. He understands that we want him to pray and to be thankful for all the good things and people in his life, and that's good enough for me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Another haircut

I am so predictable.

Every time I take William to get his hair cut, I agonize over the end result, even when it looks perfectly fine.

This time is no exception. Except that it really doesn't look perfectly fine. I think we had a trainee cut his hair yesterday. She was very nice, but she didn't really cut it that much, and the bangs ended up very crooked. I managed to restrain myself from getting out my nail scissors to even them up.

But I made things worse anyway. I took William back to the salon after school today to have someone trim up the bangs to make them even. Well, they are straighter than they were but now they're about an inch shorter than they were after the initial haircut--and because of his cowlick, they're still not really straight! Argh! So now he has crooked super-short bangs with not-short-enough hair-in-general.

And since he's a boy, I can't even pull it all back with a barrette or use a bow to distract the eye from the super-short crookedness.

Yes, I realize that I have a lot invested in his hair, perhaps to the point of silliness. I think it's a result of my ambivalence toward my own hair; I always fret that one side is shorter or fuller than the other, and haircuts for me are always fraught with worry that the hairstylist is not going to be able to give this crazy head of hair a decent cut (and I think you may recall the much-alluded-to disastrous haircut of July 2006). And then there's the fact that I still haven't gotten over the Dorothy Hamill wedge that my mother forced on me in 1979. No, that haircut will live in infamy forever.

Argh argh argh.

Thank God his hair grows as fast as mine does. Maybe by New Year's, he'll look normal again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Potty-training plateaus

I was chatting recently with some mothers of toddlers William's age, and we got to talking about potty training.

As I expected, the mothers with little girls were able to report more success. One of them even sends her daughter to school in panties--real, honest to God underwear!--on a regular basis. And yes, we were all duly impressed. But the moms of boys pretty much all reported the same: little to no progress, at least not recently. Some of the boys weren't interested at all, while others, including William, are only willing up to a point. William's hit a plateau, where he's willing to sit on the potty a couple times a day, but only rarely will he ask to go any other time.

Now, I've read all the books and info about potty-training, and I realize that it's perfectly normal for a boy who is just over two-and-a-half years old to not be fully potty-trained. I'm really not that worried about it at this point. William has his Thomas the Tank Engine underpants that he gets to wear for an hour or so before bed each night, and he seems to enjoy that and usually manages to keep them dry. So I have faith (mostly) that one day, he'll catch on to the whole idea and shun diapers for All-Thomas-All-The-Time.

But I did have a moment of panic the other day when I got online and read the application for the preschool that William will be attending in the fall. Per the application, the school requires the children to have bladder and bowel control. And I had a sit-up-straight flash of "Oh my GOD! How on earth am I ever going to get him to achieve that?" Then I remembered, "Oh yeah. That's like nine months off. I've got time." And I relaxed. For the time being.

David recently suggested that we buy some lollipops to, convince William to consider going number two on the potty. I guess David's a little more anxious than I am about it, given that he's willing to actually consider giving candy to his beloved son. I'm way more lenient about things like that, in case you don't remember the butterscotch-pudding-and-Froot-Loops episode from our big cross-country move in July 2007. But David tends to be stricter about these things, and so for him to advocate the use of a candy, persuasive device...means he must be worried. Maybe we'll give that a shot. My mom potty-trained me with those little candy Valentine's Day hearts, and she potty-trained my brother with M&Ms, and neither of us are big candy-hounds. I mean, my kid voluntarily eats broccoli. I don't think a few lollipops are going to hurt him.

So we'll see.