Christmas Debrief: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Parent of the Under 6s.

Christmas Tree with Presents

10. Don’t feel guilty about perpetuating the Santa Myth. 

We all have them, those kill joy friends who, with slight condescension, explain how they aren’t going to lie to their children about Santa, blah blah blah…implying we are somehow stunting our kids intellectual growth or some other bullocks.

Poopoo to them! Science now says we are actually doing our kids a favor not only in creating joy and excitement, but laying down the pathways for a lifetime of Yuletide happiness.

With this in mind, much of this list is geared towards helping you keep the myth alive. These are some of the very useful lies I’ve used to extricate myself from otherwise myth-busting moments.

9. Santa outsources toy making!

Once upon a time, in a world with far fewer kids, Santa’s team could make toys for everyone but nowadays, he occasionally has to supplement with store bought toys. Of course he gets them at a great discount thanks to bulk buying. This provides the alibi for when they start to recognize labels and packaging from toy stores and brands.

8. The elves shop at Ikea.

Everyone knows the elves make the toys and are responsible for wrapping them too. Nowadays, anyone living within a 50 mile radius of Ikea is probably getting their wrapping goods there. Seriously, the Swedes are genetically engineered to be perfect at making Christmas accoutrements.

Thanks to Ikea rolls, I no longer find myself  at 11pm at night faced with a new roll of wrapping paper, for which I payed through the nose, with a total of  4 centimeters of paper, just enough to cover the cardboard core or 1.75 small presents. Also, any gifts exchanged with friends for our kids are now extremely likely to be wrapped in the same paper scheme as what you already have under the tree.

#8 and #9  will also ensure you don’t start getting some rather perplexed looks from your five-year-old next time you unwittingly take them to Ikea a little too close to Christmas.

7. Santa only handles presents for kids.

It’s better than the ‘only for those who believe‘ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I believe yet I don’t get any or at least very few gifts under the tree. When disciplining my kids, I don’t need them pointing out, that given the lack of booty with my name on it, I must be very naughty indeed.

Secondly, when rushing to get ready for some Christmas party and wrapping a present for the hostess, your kid will know that we adults exchange presents because Santa already has so many kids to focus on. And this leads us to #6

6. Santa leaves parents any surplus wrapping paper he has.

Santa realizes that mommies and daddies also like to give gifts and generously leaves us any extra wrapping paper he may have.  This ensures no suspicion arises when you are caught wrapping a gift for someone in the same paper used for all the previous year’s gifts.

5. Write gift tags with your other hand.

It’s only a matter of time before your kids learn to recognize your own handwriting. I would suggest getting Santa’s script down now. I once entertained using cut-out letters à la ransom letter but that would take way too long not to mention  be a bit macabre. I may eventually get some a rubber name stamp for everyone –though it strikes me as a touch too retentive, even for me.

4. If you can, wrap presents in advance.

Where do I start….first off I have yet to master this but having found myself acting like the grinch this Christmas morning, not wanting to come and see the magic despite the very reasonable hour at which the kids woke me up, I feel it’s time I get my act together.

It goes without saying –but I’ll say it– one should only do this if you are SURE you have a 100% full-proof hiding place. It is much better to say all those presents are things I’ve been saving for your birthday –albeit with a painful need to buy a whole other set of presents –then admitting defeat. I think the article I linked to earlier mentions claiming Santa had to do some early deliveries due to a bad back and asked parents to store presents in advance. Only you know what will realistically work for you.

3. Plan on buying only three or four toys per kid, less for the under-3s.

When you are in the shop, you will accidentally buy more anyway so if you get your list + the extras, it’s already ample.  Think of this equation: for each extra gift under the tree, other gifts lose their ‘novelty/special’ value exponentially. It’s better to get one or two really special gift they will remember vs tons of tat that will get cast away before you can say: the turkey is done. I often cull last minute and set aside stuff for upcoming birthdays.

Put the rest of the money in a future toy fund. Have you seen the price of Legos? Trust me parents, you will need this christmas nest-egg once they start getting a bit older.

2. Spend Christmas at home. 

This may make me unpopular with grandparents but I am long past caring. If your kids are young and still believe in Christmas, it’s best to spend it at home and persuade others to visit if they really want in on your celebration. If you must, travel for Thanksgiving, but keep things easier for Santa by only having to deliver at home. It’s also a wonderful time to start your own traditions.

1. SLOW DOWN and Don’t make plans on Christmas day.

If there is one thing I regret more than anything, is rushing P through her 2nd and 3rd Christmas. The first few years years of Christmas I made plans.  One year we went to a brunch (popular with us expats who don’t always have access to ingredients we need) to avoid having to slave over a hot stove. Similarly, I also invited people over and realised I needed to speed up the magic so I could go cook a perfect meal because every one feels like they need to create Pinterest-suitable tableaus in their homes. (Piss off Martha & Nigella for starting this trend!)

Young kids open presents SLOWLY and this is a good thing. There is NOTHING worse than rushing your kids through gift opening so you don’t miss the kick off to the free champagne or to get that bird in the oven. Seriously, you only have about 2-3 years where they will savor each gift and give it play-time before moving on to the next one. I rushed my eldest through this twice and by the time I’d learned this valuable lesson, it was too late. And don’t think you can fix it second time around; younger siblings get caught up in the present opening frenzy, carried by the momentum of their older brothers and sisters.

Put your phones and iPads away. Enjoy your kids; let them relish the delicious and magical experience Christmas morning can be.

Happy Belated Christmas,
With love, MM.

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Newtown Tragedy: How My Parenting Changed Forever for the Better.

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I’ve been struggling to find the words to express what I feel for the families of Newtown.  Then my friend Magnolia Ripkin, an exceptionally talented writer and editor, wrote a piece on behalf of our Blunt Mom blogging group, which expressed exactly what is in my heart. I urge you to read and share it.

Many of us try to find meaning in what happened or at least, in our own way, do something so that somehow these precious lives lost were not entirely in vain. For me this has manifested itself in two ways. First, despite being far from home, I’ve tried to participate and put pressure on legislators to create common sense gun laws. We haven’t succeeded yet, but we will. I have no doubt about this.

The second happened at a much more personal level. Bedtime should be such a precious and intimate moment, but frequently, for so many of us, the end of a long day coupled with tired kids can be a recipe for tension, lost patience and ill feelings. Too often, I would try to rush through the process and even uttering less than kind words to my kids in a desperate attempt to just get them to sleep. The night Newtown happened, I caught myself doing the same and remembered that despite my girls acting like right little horrors, 26 families and in particular 20 parents of young children would do anything to get the chance to be tucking their child safe at home. I vowed never to take bedtime for granted again.

That night I stopped and took a deep breath. I tried to take in and appreciate every second of our nightly routine instead of rushing through it. I thought about how I would say goodnight if I knew I wasn’t to see them again the next day -and then realized that I couldn’t realistically cram all of us in one of the small Ikea kid beds for the entire night. So extended hugs, kisses, and whispers were shared. I remembered to tell them I love them and not just in my rote ‘night night’ voice but while being 100% in the moment and engaged with them.

I still get tired and cranky. I still fumble and stumble at bedtime but now I am much better at catching it early and hitting the reset button. And as I do this,  my heart hopes that Charlotte Bacon , Daniel Barden, Rachel Davino , Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Hocksprung, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker , Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler, and  Allison Wyatt know that I am a much better parent thanks to them, that I will never forget them, that I’ll keep fighting on behalf of their families and I bid them sweet dreams along with my own two angels.

S is for Santa. Right, More Like Stasi.

Santa Claus_Watch_1 via www.global-customer.com

Have you listened closely to the lyrics of Santa Clause is coming to town?

It’s not so pretty. I had a choice to make. I could cut this song out of our Christmas repertoire or I could capitalize on it.

Here’s the thing. I am half French half American. And this puts me in a difficult position. On the one hand, many people expect my kids to be well-behaved. I mean I am half French right? Everyone knows, thanks to Pamela Druckerman, that French kids are the example to which we should all aspire.

On the other hand, full-blooded French people look at my kids, waiting for them to misbehave.

Aha! That tantrum! Surely that is because you caved. You didn’t stick to the cadre – you are just one of these American parents, easily manipulated by your kids, who confuse self-esteem and creativity with letting kids run wild and boss you the adults around!

Yes folks, most Europeans expect, as a general rule,  American kids to be brats. They may not tell you this straight to your face, but I assure you it’s true.  They will compliment your kid’s ‘free-spirit’ and ‘independence’. These are thinly veiled terms for ‘you have no control’. But I digress. What I am trying to say is that I am feeling the pressure from both sides of the Atlantic!

What does Santa have to do with all of this? Santa, when I am tired, is an extremely effective parenting tool. One with a terribly limited shelf life so best to ‘consume’ while you can.

I love the holiday season, not simply because I can justafiably (yes I am aware this isn’t a real word) remain sozzled while pulling out my maternity pants and indulge in all things rich and calorific. I love it as I’ve got my kids’ full attention when I talk about a special elf-like secret police and the battles melt away like cotton candy on a toddler’s tongue. Readers note:  I don’t buy into elf on a shelf. What!? Am I supposed to carry that thing from room to room? Also, I’m in a rental folks, I don’t make holes in the walls for shelves and/or elves as a rule!

elf-on-the-shelf-ransom-note via crystalandcomp.com

Though I use Santa year around, he is most effective post Halloween.

  • Acting up at Dinner… watch out Santa’s watching.
  • Won’t get undressed for shower time – Santa’s making a note.
  • Refuses to take my bra off her head? He’s got his eyes on you.

Creepy, yet the girls lap it up. 

This year I got a little more creative. The girls watched The Rise of the Guardians. In this movie, Santa is this fantastic Russian character, with tats and all. He also has a big globe with red lights indicating where the kids who believe in him live. When questioned by P as to how Santa can really monitor everyone, I said something along the lines of ‘the lights start to blink slowly when a child misbehaves, increasing in speed the longer they take to listen to parents.’

Rise of Guardians Santa and Globe picture

I can stop unwanted behavior in 2 seconds flat by simply saying ‘light blinking’ and flicking my finger up and down.

There are moments, where I ponder whether it would be better if I stuck to my ‘French’ methods, enforcing boundaries, time outs, etc. rather than creating a culture of fear. But then, it won’t last for long, and with Santa watching, Mama has more time to put together all that holiday cheer and pour a nice Christmas-colored glass of wine.

Merry Merry everyone!

(PS. Santa if you are really watching, can I please have anyone of those Pointer Sister dresses? Bring back the bouffe!)

Speech Development: Keep Calm, Your Toddler Will Talk

Children learning to talk

Keep calm, you kid will talk.

I know it doesn’t feel that way. I know when faced with your kid’s precocious eighteen-month-old friend who is already stringing sentences together and using words with more syllables than you can manage after another-sleep deprived night, you will feel like you have failed.

This happens to all parents mono or multilingual, though those trying to raise multilingual kids are often actually subtly –or not so subtly– accused of bringing this on themselves. (Which, for the record, is supported by zero research. But who needs research these days?)

The nasty voices that never seem to go away will be haranguing you:

It’s your fault, you shouldn’t have gone back to work.

You should have spent more time describing every small detail like: watch mommy unscrew the cap on the tube of Preparation H – that’s hemorrhoid cream. Now squeeze the tube and apply a small amount to your index finger. See my index finger? And then gently rub…I’ll leave you wondering whether it’s for sagging eyes or sagging innards.

I shouldn’t have stuck her in front of Baby Einstein when I was showering, cooking, walking the dog –yes walking the dog but I assure you she was well strapped in.

You suck as a parent.

Did you really believe you could bring up a multilingual kid? It’s your fault, forget all the studies that say a kid will just develop speech when they are ready and listen to the uptight mother at the Pediatrician’s office who simply ‘knows’ your kid is still stuck on mama and bye-bye because you speak another language to her.

You should have read more, talked more, jumped up and down in a hoop while juggling pacifiers…

You are just innately stupid as you have long suspected and now that is manifesting itself in your offspring.

I am hoping your voices aren’t nearly as vitriolic as mine. I spent hours perusing websites, buying books on encouraging speech, learning sign language, and of course keeping a positive face in front of all of those wondering why my kid still barely uttered a few words.

And then it happened. She started talking. The floodgates opened and I sat, immersed in the tidal wave of words, elated –for about 48 hours before the  very awful thought crept into my mind”

My God, when is she ever going to stop? She is the Duracell bunny. She just keeps talking and talking and talking and talking and talking…

Careful what you wish for.

Keep calm, your kid will talk. And then they will never shut the f*%$ up.

This post was written for October’s Raising Multilingual Children Carnival, hosted by Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes. It will be going live Monday October 28th. Please check out all the wonderful submissions. Of course, had I been organized and realized this month had a specific topic, you’d also find my post there. Of course, you won’t.  Welcome to my world.