a few Christmas quotes...

>> Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.  ~Carol Nelson

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.  ~Burton Hillis

There has been only one Christmas - the rest are anniversaries.  ~W.J. Cameron

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.  In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.  ~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it.  Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it.  ~Richard Lamm

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.  ~Author Unknown

Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special!  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer.... Who'd have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously?  ~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

Tradition: sit with husband in a room lit only by tree lights and remember that our blessings outnumber the lights.  Happy Christmas to all.  ~Betsy CaƱas Garmon, www.wildthymecreative.com

Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.  ~Author Unknown

Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money.  ~Author Unknown

The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.  ~John Andrew Holmes

No matter how carefully you stored the lights last year, they will be snarled again this Christmas.  ~Robert Kirby

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.  ~Bernard Manning

Christmas begins about the first of December with an office party and ends when you finally realize what you spent, around April fifteenth of the next year.  ~P.J. O'Rourke, Modern Manners

Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.  ~Johnny Carson

Christmas gift suggestions:  To your enemy, forgiveness.  To an opponent, tolerance.  To a friend, your heart.  To a customer, service.  To all, charity.  To every child, a good example.  To yourself, respect.  ~Oren Arnold

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© Sarah K Asaftei, 2009-2011 unless otherwise sourced.
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lessons about loss (on Christmas Eve)

>> Friday, December 24, 2010

This year, I've learned a lot about loss. About how inept most people are at offering comfort. And how we shrink from sharing another's grief.

In the summer, my sister lost a child.

The thing is, that baby wasn't born yet. It was supposed to be born today. A Christmas Eve gift. So, since people never saw it in person, they tend to brush off the grief with insensitive comments like "Just be glad it didn't happen later in the pregnancy!" or "You're young, you have plenty of time to try again."

And so, while my sister was going through the very natural stages of grief, anger, guilt, denial (not necessarily in that order), people who knew what had happened couldn't seem to figure out why she hadn't "bounced back yet". Or why she couldn't just "snap out of it" and get back to life as usual.

The crazy thing is, before this happened I'd probably have said many of the same well-intentioned things. All the pat phrases that offer zero empathy and sometimes border on the insulting. Empty words that show absolutely no intention of entering into that person's grief. And I wouldn't have known the difference.

I've had other friends who've lost babies. I'm ashamed to say that I've never engaged with them in their loss. Like so many, I was wrapped up in the whirlwind of my own life and I just assumed that when the public signs of sadness disappeared, the private grief must be finished too.

I know better now.

Over the past months, I've watched my sister do what every young should-have-been-mother does. She kept her tears behind closed doors. She pushed through the sleepless nights. She put on a brave face to the world, goofing around and cracking her hilarious signature sarcastic comments to make others laugh. She didn't advertise the fact that some days she fought panic attacks when out shopping and it seemed like every other woman was carrying a cute little baby. She went to work every day, started a second degree, bought a cute little dog.

Casual observers would never guess the ache she only expressed in private. But that's because, as advanced and open-minded as our Western culture may be on many things, it's still not okay to publicly grieve the loss of an unborn child. We're not comfortable with that. We shrink from the implications.

And so those who have lost, grieve in silence.

If there was a coffin, we would have a funeral. Friends and family would travel at any cost to be there for the infant's parents. To offer comfort, solace, hugs, even shared tears. But when there is no coffin, we don't know what to do. Don't know what to say.

Friends disappear, either giving well-meaning "space" or out of ignorant disregard. Family isn't guaranteed to get it, either. Those in grief feel isolated and alone when they most need caring attention. And it isn't a time when they should have to demand that comfort. It should be freely offered.

Today, on Christmas Eve, I should have been at the hospital with my sister. I should have been giving that tiny baby its first bath (that's what she did when my son was born). We should have been rejoicing over the miracle of life, and introducing Tristan to his first first-cousin. And I'm sure, another year, that will all happen. But it won't be this year. It won't be this baby.

I've learned a lot about loss this year. For that loss, today I share my sister's sadness and rejoice in hope that this new year will bring healing.

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on sabbath bags...

>> Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just recently, I was (admittedly) bragging to my dad about Little Dude's recent success in making it through church without any disruptive behavior.

"Have you made him a sabbath bag yet?" Grandpa asked.

Nope. Hadn't even occurred to me. Which is kind of sad, since I grew up having one. Yeah, my memory ain't what it used to me. And yes, I know I'm not old enough to really milk that excuse... I'm using it anyway.

Never heard of the idea? It's actually really simple.

A sabbath bag, is a special bag filled with quiet and non-disruptive toys, that you only get to play with on sabbath - or on whatever day your family goes to church. These are perhaps some of your kids' very favorite toys, made all the more special because they only come out once a week - so their magic lasts a little longer.

The contents should be age-appropriate, non-messy, and preferably Bible- or nature-related instead of overtly secular (at least that's what we'd choose). Felt-books, miniature coloring books with non-staining colors (like the no mess markers here), sticker/cling sets, a favorite stuffed animal, favorite teething ring, special heavy-duty cardboard book - all would make great contents.

The beauty of having a Sabbath Bag for each child is that you don't have to stuff the diaper bag full of extras each weekend. Just keep each child's bag hanging in the coat closet, ready to grab on the way out. Bring it back after church, hang it up, and grab it next week.

I'm going to start planning what goes into Little Dude's this week. Hmmm, where can I find a really cute boy bag?

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on church training strategy for toddlers...

>> Sunday, October 31, 2010

Almost exactly 6 months ago, I wrote a post here about giving kids the gift of learning how to sit still. Some readers heartily agreed, others thought the idea outrageous. Some assumed that I must just have an unusually calm baby. Others emphatically expressed that my naive expectations would change as soon as my kid grew old enough to motor himself around.

So, now that Little Dude has celebrated his first birthday and is a fully energetic, enthusiastic, into-everything-every-second-of-the-day little boy... it's time for an update on the subject.

I'll admit, until about 8.5 months old, Little Dude was typically an angel whenever we were out and about - including church. People can think what they like, but we largely attributed that to keeping him well-rested, fed on time, and lots of snuggling and reassuring time with mommy and daddy.

Then he learned to crawl. 

Naps went out the window... for several weeks. Our perfect sleeper was suddenly a tyrant. It took nearly two months to get his naps back on track once he'd discovered the joys of tooling around in his crib instead of lying down. Mommy was going crazy. Which made Daddy a little crazy by proxy.

Church suffered the same fate. From 8.5 to 10.5 months, Little Dude and I spent most of every sermon trotting back and forth from our pew to the outside. He wouldn't sit. He wouldn't stand. He wouldn't play with his toys. And he stopped napping during the service. I'm a huge believer that good sleep makes happy kids. So I'm certain part of the problem was the poor little guy's exhaustion from fighting his naps all week long.

At this point, lots of parents give up totally, and just start taking their kids home before church is over. Or they spend the next three years in the Parent's Room, starving for some spiritual food while their kids run around.

If this is you, please don't go leaving anonymous hating comments. I'm not writing this post in judgment to all the parents who make that choice. I'm just sharing what we've chosen to do. Your kids are your kids, I respect your right to give up your next several years of adult church if that's what you want to do. Please respect our right to teach our kids to sit in church without being disruptive. (Perhaps I'll share the reasoning for this choice in another post - comment below if you'd like to know why.)

Back to the update...

Then we found out about Baby Bumblebee. While I'd been halfheartedly realizing I was going to have to do something to change the banshee-in-church trend, I suddenly had some real motivation. In just a few months, I am going to have TWO kids with me in church. I'm going to be back and forth from the lounge area for breastfeeding and splurty diaper changes. I'm going to have an itty-bitty one that needs holding, and a strapping 17-month-old who'll be too young to command himself and too big to always share mama's lap. 

I have exactly 6 months to get Little Dude ready for this life-changing reality.

So, about three weeks ago, we started "church training" every day at home. I don't think it's fair to any little kid, no matter their age, to expect them to pleasantly do something once a week without giving them a chance to practice ahead of time. Actually, we see that as the philosophical difference between discipline and training. (Again, material for another post...) As much as possible, we'd rather train than discipline.

We began practicing how to sit still every day at home. We started by sitting Little Dude on our laps, gently but firmly, and telling him that we were going to "sit still" now. The first time, he screamed and kicked and hollered for about 45 minutes. Since it was a training session, we anticipated this reaction. That made it pretty easy to stay calm and pleasant. No getting mad. No irritated parental commands. Just quietly and repetitively insisting that "We are going to sit still until Mommy/Daddy says you can go play."

By the time he quit pitching a fit and realized we meant what we said, we only kept him sitting there for perhaps 1 minute. The point was to get him to cooperate and introduce him to the idea. Nothing more.

The next day, around the same time, we repeated the training. Again, calmly and gently, just making sure we didn't quit before he had decided to cooperate with the concept. More outlasting him than anything else. This time, it only took about 25 or 30 minutes before he quieted down. And we kept him there, talking and praising him for 2 or 3 minutes this time.

For a week, we did this every day. Each day his fighting time got shorter, and each day we lengthened the sitting still time after he calmed down, adding a couple extra minutes a day.

After a few days, we got the bright idea to put some stories on his iPod and play them while had to sit still. After all, church is a lot about listening, so having something to listen to helped distract him without entertaining him. The point is to help him be able to sit still even when there isn't something to watch or do.

I should add here, that we don't feel we're setting unrealistic expectations. We don't expect him to sit perfectly still for the entire church service at age 1. We know he's a normal, wiggly, energetic out-going little boy. What we DO want is for him to be able to make it through an entire service without being disruptive. For us, that means that much of the time we want him to be capable of sitting quietly, and the rest of the time he can stand by the pew or play on a blanket at my feet and entertain himself with toys from his Sabbath Bag (more on that in a later post... really racking up the "later posts" in this one!)

That first weekend however, he was a total mess in church. It was his worst series of outbursts yet. I wondered why I was even bothering. I was tense and frustrated, he was tense and irritable. It would be so much EASIER to just take him out and let him happily do his thing. But we decided not to give up just yet.

The second week, we altered the strategy a bit. Instead of having him sit on our laps, we sat him beside us each day. (Part of the reason is because I'm rapidly growing outward, and there won't be much comfortable lap room pretty soon.) Then I got the brilliant idea to put him in his Bumbo seat. Just enough confinement to remind him that he's got to be still, not so much that he's overly restricted. AND, a way to keep some consistency in the whole sitting still experience - since we can take the seat with us to church.

We started with sitting in his seat for 5 minutes after he quit fussing about it. In a couple days, he realized this was getting to be normal, and the fussing began to disappear. Then we lengthened it to 10 minutes, then 12 minutes, etc. Each time we sweetly but firmly told him that he "had to sit still for a little bit, until Mommy says you can go play".

The second weekend, he lasted until the last 5 minutes of the sermon without being disruptive. No, he didn't sit still the whole time - but I didn't expect him to. He probably made it about 25 minutes sitting. Then he played on his blanket on the floor and wiggled around and drank his milk. But - no screaming, fussing, or cranky outbursts. Yay for progress.

The third week, we kept the training up almost every day. (I'll admit, we missed a couple days.) On Friday though, he sat on the floor in his little seat without me next to him and played with his favorite animal and a book. While I picked up and cleaned up and folded laundry in the same room.

For FORTY-FIVE minutes.

Twice he crawled out of his seat before I'd told him he could go play, and both times I put him back in the seat, telling him that he didn't have permission to play yet, and he had to wait until mommy said he could go. He whimpered a bit and then gave in.

This past weekend, he made it through the entire church service. We didn't have to get up and leave even once. I'm especially proud of him because it was a super long service at the Romanian church. Something like 2 hours long instead of one. And sure, he wiggled around and cycled more than once through the half dozen "quiet toys" I'd packed for him to play with one by one. But he made it!

I'm glad I didn't give up after that first hellish weekend!

We're going to keep on practicing at home for a while longer, just to make sure he's really got it down. And I'm sure there'll be weekends that relapse into old habits. But we've seen enough progress to make us believers in the process.

You don't have to beat a child, or bribe them, or plead with them to get results. Just be consistent. No means no. Yes means yes. Sit still means sit still. Mostly, I think, it takes being just stubborn enough and just patient enough to stick to your parental expectations. 

In the meantime, you'll be giving them the gift of knowing where their boundaries start and stop. And that you can be trusted to mean what you say. The security that brings to their world is huge.

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© Sarah K Asaftei, 2009-2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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before you pop...

>> Thursday, October 21, 2010

I hate the fat phase.

Not that all of pregnancy doesn't feel like a fat phase... But you know what I'm talking about. Those weeks where your old clothes bind and pinch in all the wrong places, but you're not yet big enough for hideous maternity wear.

You feel huge - not huge like you know you're going to get - but still huge, but people can't tell you're pregnant yet.

Instead, they just kind of wonder if you've been eating too much pizza lately.

Yesterday I went to buy a few little pumpkins. There's a church down the street that sells pumpkins every year as a massive mission trip fundraiser. And the pumpkins were cheaper there than anywhere else. I'm going to use them as a party craft for all the adults coming to Little Man's 1st birthday celebration this weekend.

So I'm standing there in the brisk fall air, swallowing down nausea, picking out cute pumpkins from a very friendly church lady. We got past the purpose of buying them (to entertain the grownups at a 1 year old's party), and laughed about how the birthday boy will never remember it anyway.

I started coughing to cover a retching heave. Nice. Very nice.

And, just like with so many other strangers I meet, I felt obligated to explain. In just a few more weeks, no one will need explanations, unless of course they're under 6 years old and still slightly confused on how to tell if "that lady is fat or just having a baby?"

But for now, people can't tell. I'm just thicker than normal. And since they don't know me, they don't know the difference. I'm not sure why I feel like they need to know. I'm never going to see them again.

Once you pop, the discomfort begins. As though nausea isn't discomfort enough already. But the heaviness, the backaches, the hip aches... But I kind of wish it would just happen already. No more explanations necessary.

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© Sarah K Asaftei, 2009-2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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