Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Guy in the Red Suit...

In our house, Santa comes to visit us on Christmas Eve. I honestly don't care what you do with your kids: whether he comes or doesn't, if he leaves coal, or candy. If he brings all of the gifts or just fills the stockings. It doesn't matter to me. And It doesn't matter to me if you chose to celebrate with him or without him. I firmly believe we all do what is best for us as parents and that we do what we think is best for our kids. What I do care about, is when your child tells mine that he's not real. You may think you are doing your child a favor by keeping your religious beliefs strong, or by telling them the truth about the man, but if your child believes that he isn't real and tells all the other kids at school, then what is the message you're sending? One of "My beliefs are more important"? One of "My truth is better than your truth"?

I know a lot of parents these days are removing him from their celebrations either for religious beliefs to be truthful to their children (some of my best friends don't celebrate with Santa, and we as parents have disclosed that we do or don't celebrate and have taught our children about different beliefs accordingly to be respectful of one another), but in our house, Santa is the symbol of the season. In our house, we celebrate Santa, probably for different reasons than you do, but for us,  he brings joy to those around him, he gives hope to those who need it. He gives instead of gets, and he instills magic in our hearts.

This time of year the guy is everywhere, I mean, did you not get goose bumps when the Judge on Miracle on 34th Street declared that Kris Kringle was real? Did you sit and frown when Walter Hobbs finally started to sing in Elf and made Santa's sleigh fly? Have you seen the video of the airline that gave presents to all of it's passengers? COME ON! REALLY? You didn't tear up or even hope for one second that Santa was real?

These are just a few of the many reasons our family chooses to celebrate him and we set out to teach our boys that there is some good in the world, even if it's believing in something that isn't real. To understand that people are good, and we should practice goodwill towards all people, no matter what. And if Santa helps us teach those lessons, then we will use him.

Since Thanksgiving, our boys have seen Santa at a few places, and I have to admit, I LOVE their excitement when they see him. I like their reserve when they talk about the presents they wish to get, and I like their joy when they talk about gifts they'd like Santa to bring their brother, me or Eric. And, I get all mushy when they have gone through their toys and have offered up toys they no longer play with in hopes to give them to other kids who may not have as many toys.

Yes, I could just teach these things to my boys without the magic of Santa (and I do for 10 months out of the year), but I believe Santa has powers that help us realize the good and strengths within ourselves too. For example, last Christmas, two year old Henrik chose to give up his ba-ba (pacifier). He wanted to give his gigantic collection of ba-bas to Santa to give to baby Elves. And Henrik was completely fine without them once we returned home, because he knew that the Elves would have something to make them happy.

And this year, Henrik learned that Santa comes only when you are sleeping. Each and every book we've read about Santa, has the child sleeping in THEIR OWN BED, well, Henrik, who has been sleeping in our bed the last two months, is on a week straight of sleeping in HIS OWN BED so Santa can find him on Christmas Eve. Magic? Or just given the opportunity to see that he has control and power to do something amazing for himself, through Santa?

When I was a child, I remember finding out early on that Santa wasn't real. I have never told my parents this, but because my parents were divorced, I noticed quickly that Santa had different handwriting on the notes he left for us. I mentioned it and they both said that the elves probably wrote the letter because Santa was busy. I let it go. And the next year there wasn't a note from Santa. When I finally had enough courage to ask if Santa was real, I was told the truth.  I remember crying, for a long time. I was mad, but not because they lied to me, that was never an issue, it was that there was no more magic, there was no miracle, and now, the holiday season seemed pointless.  I remember being told that my sisters didn't know so I had to help keep the secret. And that's when I realized that my parents were asking me, to help BE Santa! It was a big deal and the magic was back. And you know what? It was more fun for me to help fill stockings and put out presents than it was to give them. I remember seeing my sisters' joy that first Christmas where I got to help, and I remember giving a smile to my parents as we watched my sisters open their new gifts. I had learned the lessons of truly doing something for someone else because it makes them happy.

And then you have this mother who wrote an amazing letter to her child when confronted with the question on whether or not Santa exists:

Dear Lucy,
Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”
I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.
The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.
I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)
I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.
This won’t make you Santa, though.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.
Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.
With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.
So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.
I love you and I always will.

I don't know what I am going to do when my boys are old enough for the truth. Probably cry because the innocence of childhood will be gone.  But, I remember my parents asking me if I thought he was real, and that was a hard question to answer. I wanted to say yes, but I knew they were the ones who put the presents under the tree. And now, as a parent, I am going to have to ask them the same questions, but maybe I'll change it to, "Do you want Santa to be real" because that's got a better, more clear answer. I think we all want Santa to be real. I think we all want to believe that people are just good at heart. I think we want to believe that people aren't greedy and want to give to those in need.

And, I think we all want the ability to see that we are brave enough, strong enough, and good enough to do things that make ourselves better, to do things for others, and even offer surprises to an unsuspecting person who needs a miracle of some kind. Santa the person isn't real, but the magic and hope he gives to children and adults everywhere can be powerful.

I'm not trying to change your mind on how you view Santa or how you handle him in your home. I am however trying to convey that we can all do different things this time of year that are valuable to us and our families, and that it's extremely important to respect that. The world is full of hate and discouraging comments from everywhere. This time of year is the time to be hopeful, reflective and open, no matter how you celebrate. And allowing people to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to them, is the best gift we can give to one another. That way, we can accept all of the wonderful differences in each of us that make us all unique individually, but powerful together.

Happy Everything: 2013 In Review

Dear Friends,

2013 has been extremely interesting (and long) year for our family, so I’d better start right off and give you a re-cap in case you don’t follow Eric or me on Facebook, there’s no time to waste!

Just before Christmas, last year, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she is now healthy and is cancer free, but her treatment and our need to finish rebuilding our house, and selling our house in North Dakota before we moved, played a huge role into our year. Just after Theodor’s first birthday on January 21st, the boys and I left Eric in Minot and we headed to Michigan for an undetermined amount of time (until we had a house in Colorado).

The boys and I spent six months without Eric while he fixed up the house, worked his final days as a Missileer, and went to do some pretty cool things as an Assistant Hockey Coach for the Minot State Beavers, they WON NATIONALS! Eric was able to travel with the team and even attend the award ceremony at the NCAA Coaches conference!

Every few months we had a chance to see Eric, like when we went house hunting in Colorado in April and again for Memorial Weekend in May, but pretty much we were living up the quality time with our family in Michigan. I can’t explain how wonderful it was to spend that much time with our family, and the boys’ grandparents! I felt like we were home (and just missing Eric of course)! I was especially proud that our parents were actually able to experience both of the boys! Most of the time they see things on Facbook, through a FaceTime, and maybe even through a quick phone conversation, but to actually have them live with their grandkids was truly an amazing gift.

In June, Eric went to training in Dayton, OH for three weeks, so, we got to enjoy a little bit of a Michigan Summer before we had to say some very difficult goodbyes and move across the country again at the end of July. In August we finally arrived here in Colorado where we are LOVING every second of it. From the days above zero in the winter, to the outdoor activities in the mountains year round, to the house, to our friends, Colorado was exactly what we needed after our time in North Dakota. It was absolutely a fresh start for our marriage, our family, and our life. And after two years of absolute hell with the flood and all that came with it, this assignment was much needed.

Eric is now in Acquisitions where he works as the Chief of the Business Branch for the Air Force Launch and Test Range Sustainment (WOW! Longest title ever, right?) and, is an Assistant Volunteer Hockey Coach for the Air Force Academy Falcon Hockey Team. He gets to go into work at a reasonable hour, come home for lunch every day, and is home for dinner most nights. He’s able to make hockey practice and even travel with the team! Eric even has a million more hours to spend with the boys, and while they had to make up for lost time, you’d never notice there was a gap in our year. Eric is a fantastic father and the boys can’t get enough of him. They especially like their wind down routine with their dad each night. It just makes me smile to listen to them read and do puzzles or fix hot wheels cars before they head to bed.

I am a busy stay-at-home mom trying to keep up with the boys, this blog, fooling around starting my own non-profit and working for an amazing Michigan based company, Live Love Michigan.  I am very happy here: I have wonderful friends, the best neighbors in the world, and I even get a few hours a week to go to the gym where I do a boot camp class! It’s wonderful! I haven’t been this in shape in a LONG TIME! Oh! And the best part is that I actually get to go on dates with ERIC! Crazy huh? This Fall, I entered a photo contest from the Grand Hotel (on Mackinac Island) and WON! So, Eric and I will be spending two nights there this Summer! It’s going to be AMAZING and our first vacation without kids since our Honeymoon.

Henrik is three and a half now (four in May); he’s incredibly smart, eager to learn and has a bit of sass to him. He’s funny and witty, loves riding his bike (even mountain and dirt biking), and of course still loves cars. His newest thing, is fishing. He LOVES it. I’d even go so far to say he’s obsessed! Every chance he gets, he wants to look at lures or play on the boat, I think Eric is thrilled he’s got someone who will talk fishing with him! Hank started pre-school this year and is really coming out of his shell. He still likes to cuddle, but he also adores being with friends, and has really learned a lot about himself, being a boy, and doing boy things. He’s pretty into Super Heroes too, or as we call them, Super Guys, and is very interested in protecting everything, from his brother to his friends, people he doesn’t know, and even me! Because he’s getting older, and has turned into a boy before our eyes, he’s become this fantastic helper, a determined doer and always carries a proud look on his face when he completes a difficult or “Big Boy” task.

Theodor just turned 22 months, and will be two before we know it. Though, I have to say that this year, from one to two, has been a long one. Theo, or Thornado as we like to call him, is just as smart as his brother, but 10 times more physical and active. He has only felt pain twice this year and even broke a cast on his leg (he had surgery on a toe) because he’s so full of…. force? Strength? Vigor? Gusto? In a group he’s the dominant player, he’s physical and has a slap shot that rivals his Dad’s, and can throw and hit a ball better than most six year olds. He also likes to do a lot of cause and effect demolition games with his brother, where he destroys Henrik’s train track or whatever, and runs away after he steals something.  One on one though, Theo is as sweet as pie and loves babies (he has five baby dolls) and animals. He loves to snuggle and be a Momma or Daddy’s boy and actually can carry on a fantastic conversation.

Delilah is pretty happy in her new home, she gets to go outside all year long and won’t get her paws stuck to the cement this year! She gets to go on Colorado Adventures with us each Sunday, and gets run on a regular basis. She’s getting older, she’s five now, and is starting to calm down, unless she finds a darn prairie dog in our back yard or a bunny in the front, then she’s useless.

We’re not sure exactly what 2014 will bring us, a lot is up in the air, but I can assure you, that whatever it is, and where ever we spend it, it will be a good one. We wish you the happiest of everything, and hope that this year you find the good in yourself and those around you so that you can have the best this world has to offer.

Love, Abbey and the boys 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Life (and struggles) of a Military Kid (and mom)

Recently, Henrik has created a new game, and he plays it almost daily. The game is called, "Moving to a new house". The rules are simple: you pack up everything. Seriously, everything...including the rug, and you move it to a whole different room.

The first time I caught him playing this game he asked if he and the neighbor could go up stairs "to play away from the little kids". Because they are good kids, I obliged and was proud of myself for letting him be more independent.  They were playing nicely, there was no shouting or crying, and I didn't feel the need to check on them because I could hear nice conversations between the two of them. But, when it was time for the neighbor to go, I went up stairs and saw something I'd never thought I'd see: the entire play room, THE ENTIRE play room, was in Henrik's bedroom. Toys, not thrown all over the floor, but in the bins they belong in, neatly piled into a corner. The table and chairs, the rug... literally everything except the desk that has my printer on it, was in his bedroom. "MOM! Look what we did! We moved to a new house!" he said excitedly. I was in shock, I can't believe he picked up the rug! He even took pictures off the wall and put them in his room in a neat little pile. "Wow! It's beautiful!" What else are you going to say?!

A few days later he played the game again. I knew that this meant that toys would be placed in different bins, puzzle pieces removed to a new box so "they wouldn't get lost," and a lot of cleaning for me to do after the "clean up". So we just modified the rules: "you can't remove toys from the bins or put them in any other boxes". Henrik agreed and I watched this time as he moved box after box from the living room to the front room. That night I told Eric about the game (now that it had happened again) and he said, "Do you think it's because we have moved a lot?"

DUH! That's exactly what I was thinking. This was, and always has been my fear of raising a military kid: that they wouldn't know what "home" was. To be fair, Henrik has moved more than most kids his age, even for a military kid. He's moved eight times in his three years. And, that mostly was due to the flood: trying not to be homeless, looking for stability with our family, the rebuilding process, the moving back to the flooded house, still rebuilding, the training that Eric went through, and finally moving here, but EIGHT TIMES in three years. That is a lot. Even for an adult.

I tried not to think about how horrible Eric and I were for moving our boys across the country so much. One day, the opportunity came about, and I asked Henrik if he liked to move. He told me that he liked going to new places and getting a new room. So I asked another question, "Do you want to move around a lot, like we have been doing? Or do you want to have one house that we can have forever?" He chose the forever house. He's killing me on the inside. Eric and I have decided that we will stay in the military as long as it's good for us and our family, but with this new information, do we really have to think about getting out? We are thinking about buying a house after we see what Eric's job looks like in a few months, it would mean another move for the boys, but we'd still being in the same town, so maybe it would be OK?

I tried not to think about it, but as a parent, it's one of those things that will always haunt you: Are you making the right decisions for your kids? This is one of those issues that you will constantly play out in your head 1,000+ times to see if you can get a different outcome, but I don't know the right answer.

I was a kid from a divorced family, we traveled a lot from house to house, and it was hard. I lived out of a duffel bag for a long time and hated it. As a result, when I married Eric and we joined the military lifestyle, we moved across the country right off the bat, and I made sure that I made each house a home right away. No matter the length of the assignment. But apparently, my rapid unpacking skills and trying to instill in our kids that we always have a home in the house we live in, and a home in Michigan, isn't as effective as I'd hoped. 

For a few days I was able to forget about it, or at least not let it bother me, but as we were getting ready for Christmas, and we were getting out the decorations, the stockings, and talking about Santa, Henrik looked at me and quietly said, "But mom? We live in Colorado Springs now... we don't live in Minot". I was honestly shocked at what I thought he was implying, "Yes, you're right" I quickly replied. "But Santa knows where we li..." "But HOW?" I was quickly interrupted. "We don't have lights on the outside of our house, how will he know how to find us!" he finished, deeply concerned and out of breath. I looked at him with tears in my eyes. "Santa knows if you move, he knows if you've been good, he knows if you've been bad. He knows everything. It's okay..." He didn't look convinced. "How about, we go and get some decorations so Santa really can't miss our house" I cheerfully exclaimed. Henrik smiled.

So, we went to the store, right away, and playfully walked up and down each of the Christmas aisles and talked about the decorations we liked and didn't like, ones that were big enough for Santa to see from the sky, and pretty ones that were more subtle. We finally decided on some small, but well lit trees to put on the porch. Henrik informed me, "with three trees, Santa will find us". I was happy he was happy. I was glad I was able to convince him that we had a home and could make his world better, at least this time.

I guess there isn't really a heartwarming end or silver lining to this one. I don't know how to make Henrik, or someday Theodor, know (even though we talk about it a lot), that no matter where we end up, we have new aunts and uncles, new friends, and we get to experience a new place every few years. I don't know how to tell him that eventually, he will learn a lot about himself in each of the places we go and through the different kinds of trials and experiences he has in each place. I don't know how to tell him that he's lucky that he gets to move all around the country and see so much of it when most people don't leave the state they are from, or how he's able to have such a loving, widespread military family no matter what. And it breaks my heart that he doesn't quite understand that Daddy and I are still from Michigan, and that we will always have our "home" there. We will always have gone to school there, were raised there, met there, were married there, and even returned with our kids to show them all of the things we love about our home and the family that we have there. 

This new game, and this new worry about Santa explains a lot about Henrik. I already knew these things, but this is a confirmation that he is much more sensitive about life, moving and himself than we are led to believe. For example, he wants to stay in a room with Theodor, he wants their beds to be one big bed, but prefers our bed so we can be "close, and warm and snuggle". He can keep track of every toy he owns, and has some system in his brain where he knows that "that Tiger Jeep was left at Pal's house". He almost always has a toy in each hand and hoards toys into a safe place when he plays. It makes sense though. He's a kid who grew up with loss at age one when we lost our house and a lot of his toys to 7.5 feet of water. He's moved away from his dad twice, not due to a deployment, but due to a flood. He's seen his mom worry about finding a house. He has seen his dad work hard to build a house for our family. The same house that was destroyed in the flood.  And then, Henrik was angry and sad when we sold the flooded house because it was the focus of our life for two years, and, his dad built it. He couldn't fathom giving it to another person, even though I told him the new people would start their family there and they needed it now, not us. 

Henrik is more sentimental than I give him credit for, he's a lot like me actually.  We hold on to things and places, and we keep memories forever. It's not the stuff that makes a home, but it's the whole atmosphere for us. It's not easy for me to move around and get a new life or a new house just like that either. In fact, part of the reason I wanted to move back to the flooded house was so Theodor could have his first steps there, so he could play there, so he and Henrik could know why their dad and I chose this house for our family. And now, I'm in a position where I dream about that forever home in Michigan near family and the things I love so dearly there, but it's something I can't have just yet. 

Somewhere in all of this there is a lesson for me. I don't know what it is yet. But I know that my son is like me, and that means I have to figure out a way to make him understand that home is where your family is. And he's got family all over this country. And he's always got a home in the house we live in, and a home in Michigan. And someday I'll figure out how to make it all make sense to him. But for now, I just have to make it make sense to a three year old, and if moving boxes from room to room and talking about the kind of forever house he wants is what needs to happen, I'll do it, a million times.