Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Forty-Four

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are forty-four months old.

This month, it has really seemed that you and Christmas are made for each other. You are so social and love taking part in all the exciting activities at this time of year; you are thrilled to have any opportunity to dress in a fancy dress; and you are at a perfect age to really get what Christmas is all about: the Christmas story, giving to others, and of course the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. It’s been a really fun month!
You are getting more and more competent all the time. You have gotten pretty good at tidying, and often do it without me even asking (of course, there are other times when no amount of asking will accomplish anything). I wrote a while ago about how you are now able to go wash your hands and face after a meal; recently, you have learned to hang the hand towel back up after doing so. This may seem like a small thing to an adult, but it’s a tricky task for a three-year-old, and you’ve mastered it handily. It won’t be long before you’re better at tidying up after yourself than certain adult males who live in our house.

You are getting better at dressing yourself, and enjoy the opportunity to pick out your own clothes. Lately, it’s all about the dresses, the girlier the better. I’m not sure if this is just because of the seasonal-party influence, or if this is your new style, but either way I don’t mind. A few nights ago we went to an outdoor Solstice party at a friend’s house, and though I knew we needed to dress warmly, your ears heard only the word “party” and insisted that what was needed was a pink princess dress (complete with tiara). Well, that’s one battle I choose not to fight, so I merely insisted you wear a long-sleeve shirt underneath your dress and blue jeans over your leggings, and off we went. Similarly, you wore a mermaid outfit to decorate our Christmas tree this year. What can I say? That's a hill I'm not willing to die on. You have started to obsess just a wee bit with those enemies of the modern mom, the Disney princesses. A recent conversation:

Gwen: Can I be Sleeping Beauty when I grow up?Me: You might want to do something more interesting than just sleep all the time.Gwen: Can I be Jasmine instead then?Me: What does Jasmine do?
Gwen: She’s a princess.
Me: Yes, but what does she DO?
Gwen: Nothing. She’s a princess.
Me: Well does she go on adventures or play games?
Gwen: Um … no?
Me: Sounds pretty boring to me, what do you think?
Gwen: Yeah, maybe.
We also have numerous conversations about the concept of ‘pretty’. As evidenced by your preferred style of dress, you have become fairly invested in being pretty. You put on various dresses and then ask, “Do I look pretty now?” We tell you that you are pretty no matter what you wear, and I have also tried to make you understand that there are more important things than pretty: “You are smart, and funny, and kind, and gentle, and good at sharing, and friendly, and a great singer. Pretty is just one of the things you are.” I don’t know if you totally get the message, but hopefully it’s sinking into your brain and will be there when you need it.
We’ve also had a few big talks recently about paying attention. “Pay attention!” is one of the things I say numerous times a day, and it’s usually about paying attention to where your body is in relation to sharp and dangerous objects, other people, tripping hazards, or breakable things. It finally occurred to me last weekend to ask, “Hey Gwen … when I say ‘pay attention’, do you know what that means?” The answer, of course, was no, so we spent a bit of time talking about it while I demonstrated the hazards of not paying attention – for example, walking slow motion into a wall because I was looking the other way. I think you are getting a bit better at being aware of your body and what’s around you, or at least being aware that you SHOULD be aware. A couple of times when you have hurt yourself, you have told me it was because you weren’t paying attention.

The thing I struggle with most with you is your emotional outbursts. You go from happy and laughing to crying and distraught so quickly, and I can’t get you to listen to me enough to get you calmed down. It's so hard to balance disciplining you for inappropriate behaviour while still validating and accepting the feelings that inspired that behaviour; and while I want to comfort you and help you feel better, I don’t want you to think that whining, yelling, or crying is a good way to get attention. Sometimes you get yourself into such a state that you scare yourself – you cry out to me, “I can’t stop crying!” and you sound so sad and afraid that it breaks my heart. I hope this particular issue eases up as you approach four.
On the whole, though, we really enjoy our time together. With your dad working weekends, you and I have been doing a lot of activities with just the two of us, and it feels like we’re a team. We went on a trip to the Sunshine Coast recently to share pre-Christmas celebrations with your cousins, and for the first time the playroom on the ferry didn’t hold your interest. Instead, we toured the boat, looking out the windows as you started to understand for the first time that we were sailing over the water. You made a friend and played Memory and I Spy with him, while I sat nearby and read my book. It was delightful.

I am going to have to save writing about your adventures in the Christmas pageant for next month, Gwen, as there is no way I am cheating myself out of sharing the story with your Grandpa Ron in person when we see him next week. So you can look for that story next time!

Gwen, I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and three. It’s been a total joy to share this Christmas season with you and I can’t wait to see what the next month – and year – will bring.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Defense of Santa

To follow up yesterday's Santa pictures, I am reposting a blog from 2009 about Jesus and Santa because it's one of my favourite posts. Hope you enjoy.

It’s pretty hard to raise a kid in North America avoiding all exposure to Santa. Though some people are bound and determined to try. Frankly, I am still in the “I don’t see the harm,” camp. But to explain why, I have to share a little bit more about my own experiences.

I was raised as a Christian (Lutheran, to be precise). But we believed in Santa, too. I never saw these two figures as opposed: they each had their place in the Christmas rituals. Another important aspect of my fondness for Santa is that the myth was not taken from me in a sudden, traumatic way: that is, there was no older, trouble-making kid who spoiled all the fun by telling me Santa wasn’t real. No one ever said that to me. I came to the realization myself, very gradually and gently, and this allowed me to form my own ideas about what Santa was and wasn’t. I decided that Santa is a symbol: a symbol of kindness, generosity, love. Going the extra mile because “It’s Christmas”. Santa is the excitement of knowing something secret and special is about to happen, the joy of giving gifts to people you love. The wonder of it all.

For me, Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas as seen through childhood eyes. I don’t think that spirit is a made-up fairy tale, at all. I think it exists in all of us, and this time of year brings it out in us.

There are a lot of arguments against Santa. One is that when children find out that their parents lied to them about Santa, they will decide their parents lied to them about Jesus, too, and conclude that he doesn’t really exist either. I think that’s an oversimplification. I think if your faith in God is shaken by a man in a red suit, it’s not the jolly old man who’s to blame. There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to raise a Christian child in today’s world. Santa is the least of our problems.

Another argument is that the Christmas Story should be able to fulfill a child’s need and desire for magic at Christmas time. I believe with all my heart that all these things happened: that God came to earth and became a man; that Jesus was born of a virgin; that a star led the wise men over hundreds of miles to greet the new king; that a myriad of angels heralded his birth; that his birth and death saves me from my sins. I believe all of that – but it took me over 20 years of reflection, study, and discussion with others to get to that point. My daughter – forgive me – is not there yet. She can’t understand that it takes more than two seconds to turn bread into toast. I can’t articulate these abstract concepts to her yet. The Santa concept is a lot easier.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk about Jesus’ birth with my daughter. We have an unbreakable Nativity set that she looks at and plays with every day. She knows the baby is called Jesus, and that the female figure is his mother and the male figure his father. She’s twenty months old. That’s a good start.

(To be honest, if you are going to take a hard look at the Christmas story, none of it really means anything unless you also understand and recognize the Easter story. So what? A baby was born to some girl who claims she’s never had sex. BIG DEAL, right? Unless you accept that Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to die for our sins, the Christmas story doesn’t really contain any magic in and of itself.)

The post I referenced above asks, “I wonder if sometimes Jesus cries at Christmas.” I look around my world and I see so many reasons for Jesus to rejoice with his children on Earth. Millions of people raising songs of joy in His name. Shoppers giving coins to strangers ringing bells and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Children learning the value of giving, the importance of family. People all across the world making time for one another, gathering together to share fellowship and wishes for peace. Those are just the things I see – our all-powerful, all-knowing Lord sees so much more. You think Santa’s going to reduce Him to tears? What kind of God do you think He is?

So, yes. Gwen will be raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus. We will teach her about generosity, especially relational giving and giving to those less fortunate. We will teach her about Christ's birth, life, and death. We will teach her about the various meanings of Christmas - both religious and philanthropic - and eventually, when she realizes that the actual physical Santa is a myth, we'll help her to fill that void with her own conclusions about how she can still enjoy the things Santa represents. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Santa. And I believe in my daughter's ability to assimilate all of these cultural concepts and become an amazing, well-adapted person.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Make a Covered Notebook

A while ago I posted a picture of a journal I had covered to Facebook, and a friend asked me how I did it. It's pretty easy, actually, and you only need one piece of specialised equipment, which is the spiral border punch from Stampin' Up. It looks like this:

(Actually, that is the model from a few years ago, and the new punches are much slimmer and more fancy-looking. But this one does the job just as well.)

Once you have obtained (or borrowed, as I did) this punch, you will next need to obtain a spiral coil notebook and some paper.

I chose pretty muted colours for this project because it is going to be a Christmas gift for my almost-nine-year-old nephew, Andrew. (If you are my nephew, Andrew: Stop reading this blog! Go do your homework. Also, stop putting your arms in the crumbs! Love, Auntie Laura.)

Measure your notebook cover and cut the paper to the required size. Measure the entire cover, including the part that has a spiral notebook coil going through it.

Then take the covers off the notebook by bending the coils a bit. You will be left with a sheaf of paper held together with a spiral coil. For some reason I took a picture of this.

Lay out your paper onto the covers exactly as you want it to look, so that you can see where to use the punch.

Use the punch to put spiral-coil holes in your paper. You have to use the punch from right to left.

Apply adhesive to the back of the patterned paper. I use insanely cheap-o Dollarama glue tape. Glue stick and white glue would probably work as well.

Line up the punched holes with the holes in the cover and stick it down. This is where I found out that not all coil notebooks are created equal, and some have a deeper coil gutter (I just invented that term! It sounds dirty) than others. So my paper measurements turned out a little off. I think it still looks pretty good.

At this stage, you may choose to use a distressing block or plain ol' sandpaper to sand off the edges of your paper. This makes it sit a little bit more flat against the edges of the notebook cover. I used sandpaper from the garage and it worked fine.

Both finished covers. As you can see, I used a different patterned paper for the inside covers. You don't even have to do the inside covers, but I did.

If you are anything like me, the next step will make you a bit crazy with impatience. If it doesn't, I don't even know what to say. Is it really all that great to go through life with an endless well of patience and tolerance? Seriously, I want to know. Not that I can actually change, but it would be interesting to hear about. Anyway, use your chosen adhesive to stick down every little tab of paper in between the spiral coils. You will think that this step isn't important, and you will want to skip it, but if you do you will pay for it. More on that in a minute.

Now you get to put the book back together, pretty much the same way you took it apart. Line up your cover to the gap between the coils and work it in bit by bit.

Now you will thank me for making you glue down all those silly tabs. Working the covers back into the coil is a tricksy, fussy little job, and if you didn't glue down the tabs, you'd be driven even more crazy by them all sticking up and getting in the way. Here's a picture of how annoying that is:

Now use your chubby, weird-looking hand to pinch the coils back together. Or, if your hand looks normal, use that. Don't get all braggy about it, though.

Repeat the steps for the back cover. Your notebook is now covered!

Now it's time to decorate it a little. I had some scrapbook paper with quotes on it, so I cut it up and stuck them onto random pages throughout the journal.

Note that I did not stick three on one page, this is just an example of the quotes. In some cases I used a punch or my die-cutting machine to cut them out.

Decorate the front cover. As you can see I added my nephew's name and some stuff that I hope will make him feel really special and important when he writes in his journal. Because being a writer is awesome!

And that's it! The whole job took probably an hour. Of course, my life being what it is that meant it took a week of 7-minute stints as various people clamoured for my attention. Maybe it will be different for you. Happy Crafting!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meme Monday

For NaBloPoMo, I decided to update my old "100 Things About Me" list and run 25 items for each of the Mondays in November. Here is part four.

Practical jokes and gags make me very uncomfortable. VERY.
Someday I will do another marathon.
The best advice I’ve ever been given was, “Do something every day that stays done.”
I lived in one house for my entire childhood until I moved out when I was 20.
My parents still live there. But they just put it up for sale.
My former room is now a computer/sewing room.
I remember when we only had to dial 5 numbers on the phone.
I remember having a "party line".
I remember when modems had to be dialed, too.
I remember when you had to request a song on the radio instead of downloading it.
I remember top-loading VCRs.
I also remember renting VCRs from the video store.
I believe that lifelong learning is the closest thing I've found to "the meaning of life".
I believe in global warming, and it scares me.
I believe in God and the power of prayer.
I believe in Santa Claus.
I believe that parent is a verb.
I think using the word "Huh?" makes even the most intelligent person sound like a drooling moron.
I think tasers should be outlawed.
I think children's rights should be revisited.
I am getting more open-minded the older I get.
I believe in way, way more than one right way to live.
I believe in the power of attitude.
I can't believe it took me 4 months to come up with this list.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five

1. NaBloPoMo is almost over! (A sigh of relief from all.) It's been kind of fun, and interesting, to post every day. I really enjoyed the challenge and especially leaning on little routines like "Friday Five", "Wordless Wednesday", and "Meme Monday" to get me through the 30 days. I noticed - and others did too - that my writing improved over the course of the month, and I'd like to say I will use this momentum to continue blogging on a more regular basis. HOWEVER, every time I have publically stated on this blog that I am going to write more often, some catastrophe intervenes and prevents me from doing so. So, I'm not going to say it.

2. My next big project will be over at my Etsy store, where I will be doing a Twelve Days of Christmas promotion. Every day for the next twelve days (that's November 25 through December 6) I will be showcasing a brand new, never-before-seen Christmas card and offering some kind of awesome deal on it. This is another challenge for myself since, you know, I had this idea about four days ago and started designing the cards that evening. Like NaBloPoMo, this is an opportunity to give my card designing skills a workout, and perhaps if I'm lucky I will even get to make some sales.

3. The fact that I live my life like this ... from one project/goal/challenge to the next ... might mean that I'm a genuine headcase. But who cares? Because I am also considering another project for this blog: committing to taking a picture of Gwen every day in December and posting it. Not at all a unique idea, but could be fun. She is an awfully cute kid, especially since I have persuaded her that ponytails are an everyday event. (I also credit Sally, who encouraged me to let Gwen's crazy curls grow long.) At the very least it will be a refreshing change from photographing cards, which is very, very boring.

4. My OCD is flaring up and I am writing a LOT of lists these days. I feel twitchy and anxious most of the time and the only thing that makes it settle down is to work on a list: writing it, re-prioritizing it, refining it, etc. It makes me grateful that my OCD is not more severe. Everyone can get behind a good bout of list-writing, right?

5. I took Gwen out to the first of many Christmas season activities last night: the Ladysmith Light-Up. She was an absolute star as we waited in the cold for nearly two hours for the parade to start. (It didn't help that I'd forgotten the schedule at home, so had no idea how long the wait was going to be.) Thank goodness the rain let up and the wind died down - it was bucketing rain yesterday afternoon, which really made me reconsider the wisdom of a winter parade. But it all went well. Santa was there, and he waved RIGHT AT GWEN, and we also got to meet some of his elves, who promised to pass on to the Big Man her Christmas request (a rocking horse, unfortunately). The lights were undeniably lovely and the fireworks at the end were absolutely spectacular. The only improvements I could have wished for were to skip the long wait, to have a chair to sit on (but somehow, not have to carry that chair up and down the streets of Ladysmith), and, you know, for it not to be so flippin' cold. But I guess we're stuck with that, until we all agree to just start having Christmas in July or something.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Forty-Three

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are forty-three months old. You are officially on the road to being FOUR. This is no surprise, as you have been wearing size 4 (and even size 4X) for a while now. You are a long, tall girl and there's no way around it. Fortunately, everyone loves buying you adorable clothes and as soon as you outgrow one item, there are two more to take its place.

This is the first year that you seem really thrown off by the time change, or more specifically by the fact that it is now dark when I pick you up from daycare or preschool. You seem quite distressed by the darkness, and anxiously announce that it's "way past my bedtime" but that you still want to play! Every day, I reassure you that we still have time to play, that we haven't had dinner yet, and that you don't have to go straight to bed. The message doesn't seem to be sinking in, though. I admit, driving home in the dark is no fun at all, but it's just part of winter. Get used to it, my girl, because it's pretty much going to look like this until May.

You've spent most of the last month being really excited and looking forward to winter, asking me every day when it was going to snow. My repeated answer was, "Don't worry, Gwen, winter will be here soon enough, and there will be plenty of cold and snow to go around." Winter did arrive last week with just enough snowfall to play in (but not enough to make the roads treacherous or otherwise inconvenience us), so that was fun. You enjoyed making a tiny snowman and playing with our neighbour Lily's sled, but I think your favourite winter thing to do is eat the snow. "How does it taste?" I asked, and you excitedly told me that it tastes JUST LIKE SNOW!

Your imagination is absolutely mind-boggling these days. You make up songs and stories and games all the time, often so lengthy and involved that I can barely follow them. In the car, you will often make up a song with nonsensical lyrics and a tune that goes nowhere, and expect me to sing it right after you. This doesn't usually work out the way you'd hope. Listening to you sing your silly songs is much more fun than me trying to learn them. Here is one you made up recently:

Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins
Cute and cuddly
Sharks, sharks, sharks
Cute and bitey
Jellyfish, jellyfish
Cute and yummy!

You also have this charming habit of telling us stories about you as a 'big girl'. You are not yet clear on the usage of past, present, and future tense, so you tell these stories as if they happened in the past: "When I was a big girl, I went to the circus." The big you has had a lot of fascinating adventures, let me tell you.

One improvement we've made over the past few weeks is that I have bought you a clock radio for your room. It seems counter-intuitive that if we want you to sleep later in the morning, we should get you an alarm clock ... but I went with my hunch and it seems to have worked out. The clock radio sits on a high shelf where you can't reach it (preventing you from tampering with the buttons and changing the time), and we set your 'alarm' to go off about 10 minutes before ours does. This means that you wake up to the radio, and come into our bed for a snuggle for ten minutes before we all start our day. Snuggling with you in the morning is always the best part of my day, but the fact that it now happens at a reasonable hour instead of 5am makes it that much better. You have become pretty well-conditioned to this routine: I can turn off the alarm on weekends and you will sleep in a bit, and you rarely wake up before 7am now. Gotta love it when you can make behavioural conditioning work in your favour!

Well Gwen, I guess that's all for this month. As always, I love you a million billion kajillion and three, and can't wait to see what the next month will bring!



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