A Mom’s Battle for Valentines Day

I grew up in a house of three girls where making Valentines cards each year was considered a fun tradition. We’d go to Bruce’s Variety and pick out all kinds of pink and purple stickers and ribbons and beads. Then we would sit around the table together, think about what each classmate might like, and busy ourselves creating cards every afternoon for a week.

With that memory, I have insisted that my three boys make their Valentines cards too. No store-bought cartoon cards with Fun-Dip attached for them, despite the fact that those are their favorite cards to receive.

For me, the point of giving classmates Valentines cards is the effort you put into showing you care about them. You only do it once a year. You should go all out. Or not do it at all.

This year, with boys in fifth, fourth and kindergarten, my own sister laughed at me.

“Fourth and fifth grade boys shouldn’t have to make Valentines!”

I heard my friend chuckle in agreement. “We never have!”

I have been thinking it about it all day. They may be right. Still, why should my kids bother to tape a lollipop to the back of a Star Wars card that I bought at the grocery store? What does that show their friends?


Fine, since my guys do not enjoy the effort as much as I once did, and they will apparently be laughed at by their friends – and mine – for making their own cards, I relent after ten years.

But never fear! The battle for Valentines wages on here.

Two boys too old and too cool to make their own Valentines cards have been assigned to help their little brother with his, so that he knows what it’s like to sit around a table with his siblings making very special notes to show how much he appreciates his friends.



Baseball’s Opening Day Tradition

One of my favorite springtime traditions is Opening Day at Coors Field. As a mom, it is a real getaway-kind-of-treat. As a wife, it is fun to be the one who gets to celebrate baseball and gloat. As a friend, a whole day together is a treasure. As a baseball fan, though, I barely watch the game. There is almost too much excitement to focus.

This year’s Opening Day for the Rockies was especially fun. The weather was amazing. Our favorite players hit well. The Rockies won. But what stood out for me, and what I wrote about, was something that happened before the first up-at-bat. Something that unsettled the crowd…


The Switch Witch

Apparently, my sisters and I missed out on a very cool visitor when we were kids. Now my kids are missing out too.

According to legend, some very lucky households get visited by the Switch Witch a few days after Halloween.

Why I am only hearing of her now, at 45?!

Some time in the middle of the night, so the legend goes, she shows up, steals all the leftover Halloween candy in the entire house… and switches it for a gift.

The Switch Witch, though a witch and a thief, is not mean. She feels bad about her candy-stealing ways. She just can’t help herself.

So she leaves a present for each child from whom she has stolen – a set of Legos, a doll, a video game, a new basketball, a Broncos jersey – to make up for her wrongdoing. You see, she hates to see a kid cry.

I don’t know much else about her. She could be a twenty-something, granola chick with a dark side who is traveling the world to find herself…and come Halloween, storing up candy for her next year’s trek. She could be hundreds of years old but roam only in Colorado – which might explain my ignorance – because travel by broomstick is tough on her aging butt and back.

I wonder if she’s received travel tips from Santa. Maybe she is his delinquent sister, or the Easter Bunny’s cousin on the lam. Maybe she’s the forgotten daughter of the Wicked Witch of the West with a warped vision of right and wrong. Or Robin Hood’s grand-niece.

I’d like to send her an invitation to our house next Halloween.

Dear Switch Witch,

Please feel free to come by our house the first week of November for years to come. We will leave our candy out and keep the dog in the crate at night. (She’s friendly, but she jumps, and if you are short or elderly, I worry she will knock you over).

We are a family of three boys who love to trick-or-treat, and our neighbors are generous to a fault when it comes to sweets. You will like our house. And the boys won’t cry if you make the Switch Witch switch.

We usually eat all the Reeses on Halloween night anyway.

With respect,
Our Family

Sunsets on Cape Cod Bay

From the beach house we rented for more than 30 years, we could see the changing tides. From the screened porch and long kitchen table where we ate dinner, we could also see the sun’s nightly decline and its disappearance at the horizon. So since I can remember, my family has rushed outside to watch just as the sky turns red and the sun dips under the sea. When I was a kid, we sat in near silence, three girls respectful of its beauty. My father took hundreds of photographs each year that always ended up looking like a hazy yellow ball in a murky sky – always far away and unclear due to his poor mastery of the camera.

For the last five or six years my three boys have turned this nightly vacation tradition into a joyous celebration filled with cheers and “Goodnight Sun!” and “See you in the morning!” and “Have fun in China!” They clap. They count down loudly to the end when the last sliver of sun tucks itself into bed. Their voices travel down the beach from where they jump up and down on plastic lawn chairs. And our more mature neighbors down the dirt road laugh and reminisce about their many trips to the beach when their own children were young like my boys.

This year a miscommunication or twist of fate ended our time in that house. Although we still rented on that same perfect beach, we were in a different house – one slightly back from the cliff overlook and surrounded by New England greenery that hides much of the sky and sea. And we kept missing the sunset. The sun had to make its journey to China without the farewell parade of boys. No “Goodnight sun!” No “See you in the morning!” No clapping wildly as the sky exploded in vibrant color just before going dark.

A moment in our family story has passed unnoticed by the boys. They are unaware that a small piece of their childhood is already gone. Only I mourn its passing.

Goodnight sun!

The Christmas Card Gap

The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas provide many of us with the opportunity to spend time with multiple generations of our families. There were three generations in my house this week. My cousins, I think at one point, had four in theirs.

The generation gaps are highlighted as we celebrate. Some show themselves in the speed, or lack thereof, with which we move through the house or go through emails. Sometimes they show up in the songs we sing, the traditions we remember, and the way we think about the world. Other times, the generation gap displays itself in unexpected places. In my house, it showed itself in the conversation that surrounded our Christmas cards.

We send out around 150 Christmas cards every year – to colleagues, extended family, friends from other eras and locations around the world, neighbors, and the families of our boys’ classmates. This year, we sent cards to Washington DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Colorado, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, South Africa and Japan. And we received cards from just as many places.

Most of the cards, like ours, were created online with photographs of the family children, and sometimes the adults, depending on how photogenic we are feeling when the cards get created. Most merely say “Happy Holidays” or “Best Wishes in the New Year.” Some, like ours, include a quick round-up of the family activities from the last year:

“Wishing You All the Best in 2012….and Celebrating the Joys of 2011: Business School, LegoLand, Space Shuttle Launch, Cooking School in Ireland, Fantasy Football, Star Wars, Club Penguin, Penny Jar Kids, Cardinals and Falcons, Crested Butte, Cape Cod, Elephant Rock Road Race, Conquering Rocket Math, the Color Red, Time to Write, and the health and good fortune of our friends and family.”

My parents send out traditional cards with Christmas trees or religious images. They write a brief personal note in each.

They were amused by the number of photo cards hanging on the glass door in our living room. My father poured over them, as if looking would help him understand. They wanted to know how it got started, how they got made, why people do it. My mother wondered how Hallmark survives.

I guess we could have two types of cards. One for our out-of-town friends and family who don’t get to see our families grow. One for colleagues and school friends who see us every day, and thus do not need a photo. But I like the photo cards. They provide a family history and capture a moment in time every Christmas. And when you have something special to say, you can write it in the card just like you always did.

I take it for granted, as if a Christmas photo card has been part of the tradition forever. Like so many things that have come to be in our lifetime – computers and cell phones and the Internet – I am always surprised when I am reminded that they did not exist when I was the same age my boys are now. I used a typewriter through most of college, because I was still uncomfortable using a computer. My four year old already has better skills than I did then. I had to find a payphone to call my mom if I was at a movie with friends, and we decided to stay out later to get a snack. Now, I can’t remember the last time I saw one.

So, in my house, three generations have their own assumptions about Christmas cards. My sons expect to get pictures of their friends. That is all they have ever known. I enjoy the photo cards, and though I remember receiving traditional cards as a child at home, I don’t think I ever sent one as an adult. And then there are my parents, who expressed their wonder at this new form of Christmas greeting.

Obviously, it does not matter how we send our best wishes to those we love. Apparently, even Christmas cards evolve and change with the times. What matters is that we still take the time to do it.

A Thanksgiving Scrooge Gives Thanks

I have so much to be thankful for, so I feel truly guilty that I am such a scrooge about Thanksgiving. I mean, here’s this holiday that has minimal commercial value and lavish gift-giving. All it tries to do is give us a moment to give thanks. I should love it!

And this year was truly an exceptional one. Our second grader’s friend organized a large parent/child football game at the park. Two hours of playing in gorgeous weather with a table spread with coffee and donuts reminded me of several things I am thankful for: my husband, my boys, our friends and any warm, sunny day during which I get to play like a child. Then Thanksgiving dinner at our house with more friends who made it really fun. Again, I was grateful. The food turned out fine. More friends in the door for dessert.

Really, I could ask for nothing greater than my day yesterday.

What I do not like is all the effort that goes into making Thanksgiving the feast it is supposed to be. And where does all that effort come from?

Women (yes, there are a few rare male birds out there who do the turkey’s share of the work, but mostly……it’s all us).

Maybe one of the guys stops into the kitchen on his way to grab a beer and juices up the bird. But other than that, they are in the “man cave” watching hours of football. Or reading. Or doing the crossword.

Now, every other day of the year, I am not a raging feminist. But on Thanksgiving, I rant.

And I have renamed the holiday Man’s Day, because in my experience, men really have everything they want on Thanksgiving. And it’s at the expense of women, whose feet and back ache by the time everyone sits down to eat. Men should not get Fathers’ Day too. It’s not fair.

I first hated Thanksgiving as a teenager, because it seemed to me that part of our family tradition was my mother crying as she rolled out the piecrust. Crazy. Ruining the dinner.

But now I know!

She was in the kitchen all day cooking alone for my sisters, my dad and his parents. We barely helped, if at all. Her mother-in-law got in the way. And my father disappeared into the study. No wonder she cried when the piecrust tore!

I get more help in the kitchen than she did, so I am not driven to the traditional tears. But I am on my feet all day cooking food I don’t really like. And then everyone stuffs their faces, and within half an hour, my culinary efforts have been devoured. Rather than say how delicious the food was, most people push back from the table, rub their bellies as if you’ve injured them, and groan that they ate too much.

Ahhh, Thanksgiving!

And then that pie that you cried over? They are too full to eat it!

So, here I am one day later, dishes done, laundry caught up, kids as happy as can be. Maybe I should do my “I am Thankful for…” List to remind me how lucky I am. Here it goes:

I am thankful for…
Giggles and snuggles with my boys
A husband who keeps me on my toes and makes me laugh
Parents who gave me everything
Sisters who are my best friends
Friends who are like sisters
Cheering for the sun when it sets over Cape Cod bay
Light splashing through the trees on a late summer afternoon
Books with a soul
Dinners out
Then it’s back to the boys again….chatting softly together as they get ready for bed.