Twomey-Smith holiday season: joying up the everlast

2 01 2015

At our house, the holiday season is looooooong.  Encompassing the traditional Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year trio with particular emphasis, because those are our 3 official yearly-trade alternating holidays with Caleb (and whichever ones we don’t have on any given year we thus tend to either try to do more with, to fill the silence/take advantage of having more hands, or replicate to share with him, it also stretches backwards through November: it used to start on Caleb’s birthday, because having several families and grandparents shipping gifts from overseas meant that the birthday went on and on, and then we’d blink and it was Thanksgiving already, etc.  So, really, it started on Halloween, which is just a week before his birthday, since the birthday treats were always a bit overshadowed by Halloween candy anyway.  And then Evanny was born at the end of September, and that became the start of holiday season: A holiday or two for every month, four-in-a-string.  And then Tabitha was born this year at the end of July, and Mummy’s birthday is at the beginning of July, and at that rate, we may as well just count it as starting in May, when Daddy has a birthday before school’s even out for summer!  This year, Daddy’s birthday was a pretty quiet affair, and Tabitha’s birthing wasn’t a party–yet–although it was a bit wild and crazy, and Mummy’s birthday was a wonderful, relaxing, delightful, week-long friends-visit full of happiness in a gorgeous setting because Daddy insisted that we go all out and embrace our forever indebtedness by doing something fabulous, but all the wild carousing was done by other people, because Mummy was an incubating walrus at the time (in the best pictures, a walrus in a homemade, sequined, ruffly dress and a cowboy hat!), so it wasn’t quite the long, slow avalanche that future years are likely to resemble; the lake house week felt like a visit to another (peaceful) planet, and summer, thanks to my dad being around, was a different sort of quiet magic, but it did eventually kick into gear.

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Tea with Grandma, with a brand new Peppa Pig tea set!

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Parading home from the park on Daddy’s shoulders–without even once hitting him in the head with the maraca

Evanny’s birthday, at the end of September, was a sweet little success: on her actual birthday, there were school-friends cupcakes at Katy’s and presents with Grandma, and then, that weekend, with her Papa and great-grandmother Mammy still in town, and Grandma just arrived for her 3-week autumn visit, and Papa’s girlfriend Lynn up to visit for the weekend, we had a superhero-themed playdate at the neighborhood playground with her neighborhood friends, then came back to the house by way of a costumed parade to have presents, cupcakes, balloons, and more playing here at the house.  Caleb wore his Superman costume from last Halloween (the up-north version, since he was Bilbo here with us), and she was Ladybug Girl, at least for the first half of the party; we had to find new clothes to wear back home once the stripping started!  Kids were happy, grown-ups got to visit, some wonderful presents blessed my little ladybug’s entrance into the years-club (no more counting months), and she went to bed in her big-girl room sugared and happy.

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Gathering the throng before the march–Strathmore neighborhood kids in costumes, ready to parade the streets (Andrew aka H.P. waves his wand behind our little ladybug)

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Tabitha and Darcy, in pumpkin attire, staying in on Halloween night

Halloween was warm and wonderful too: I did a Zoo-Boo outing with the kids and our local friends the Gregories early in the week, we marched for the first time in the neighborhood kids’ parade a few days before Halloween, and then friends Todd and Jenn were in from Maryland to spend the actual holiday’s weekend, and our neighborhood BFFs came down for the evening’s festivities , wherein we made little naan pizzas for everyone, and then the daddies and the grown-up friends took the four big kids–I’m still struggling, sometimes, with the idea that Evanny is one of “the big kids,” but it gets easier every day–out trick or treating while Lydia and I stayed in with the babies, lit some candles, and took pictures of the little girls in their pumpkin shirts.  I was jealous to miss the outing, as the reports were adorable: my little ladybug, I heard, went bravely and fearlessly running up sidewalks and up to strangers’ doors, cheerfully crying out “trick or treat” with the bigs and welcoming herself into houses to say hello, whether she was actually invited or not!  I wanted to be there, watching her take on the world and learn, firsthand, these critical American childhood rituals of wildness in the cold dark, with her brother at hand to keep her safe, but a little scary himself, in a Darth Vader mask with no face to recognize.  Even so, I heard, too, that she and Nathan both tripped over their boots at one point or another, but were plucky enough about their adventuring that, despite the cold and the threat of rain, no one came home crying about any skinned knees, and everybody was generous about candy-sharing at the end of the haul.

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Caleb posing for his mom’s phone photo, beside Will and in front of his Star Wars figure adorned zoo cake

Caleb had a zoo birthday party this year–a major achievement unlocked in that he had only one party, finally, with his mother, members of his northern family, and some of her-side family friends as well as our down-here friends and our family, all together to celebrate the beginning of his seventh year.  There were games and arts-and-crafts; there was sugar, running-around time, LEGO Star Wars, an animal to pet, temporary tattoos in goodie bags, and lots of opportunity to play, making it everything a boy could want.

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Birthday hug-for-all: Will, Andrew, Caleb, Silas, and Nate, with Matt and Dan goofing off in the background

Thanksgiving Matt and I are still patting ourselves on the back about: we had Caleb this year, giving us three kids, one a needing-to-be-carried-a-lot 4-month-old infant, and we had no grandmas or other helpers this year, family or otherwise, and yet we still managed to not only make a Thanksgiving meal, but we got it on the table at a reasonable time in the afternoon, when everyone was awake, without burning anything or destroying the house, and then everyone sat down together to eat it.  We’re not sure how that happened, or if we’ll ever be able to replicate the miracle, but as a first-Thanksgiving as a family of 5, it was a tremendous tone-setter to grow from!  (Maybe next year, we’ll work on making sure everyone is dressed by dinnertime!)

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Thanksgiving project: the Christmas photo shoot that never became a card (again)–also known as “dancers and divas: the Santa Hat edition”

Our Christmas season somehow felt a little too stretched this year: we did all the right things, mostly even in the right order (if not necessarily on the right day), and yet I’m left still waiting for something; I’m not sure what about the season seems to have passed me by, or seems to be hovering offstage waiting for its turn to arrive.  Maybe it’s the cards we didn’t send (again, despite trying again to get posed pictures ready, and actually having three kids dressed cutely and at least taking turns cooperating, even if they refused to all do it at the same time), or the CDs I never found time to play; maybe it was not having a pre-Christmas dinner with the Gregories (although we’d had one a bit earlier in the year when Grandma was around) or missing Paul and Teri’s late-one-evening come-caroling party after a too-long no-napping toddler sort of day.  But if we write off “stretched” as a function of adding a tiny baby, growing with a toddler, and trying to work around a calendar-juggled second-grader, thrown in with the usual end-of-the-semester grading madness on my end and some threats of vast doom for next year from Matt’s school (he’s still adored, but to say they’re having money problems is to put it mildly–local folks know a lot more than that just from reading the papers, and anybody else can search it if they care; I’m making an effort to devote as little of our time and energy as possible to worrying about it), and just add up what we did have, we end up with quite a picture of abundance: we accomplished “holiday party” with the 2nd annual neighborhood cookie swap, where all three kids got to play and play and play, two of them glutted on sugar until they staggered, and Matt got to chill on the couch and drink beers and chat with the dads, and I got to visit with mommies, chase children, and wipe sugar-paint off Evanny’s everything!  Our tree bulged with gifts from friends and neighbors even before any wrap-a-thons began, and my mom was in town the week before Christmas, baking and decorating sugar cookies with Evanny, rocking and cooing with Tabitha for a few days, and leaving candy canes on the tree to sweeten her wake with peppermint. Christmas eve was unseasonably warm, so we took the stroller and the baby carrier out after dark and wandered Strathmore to look at everybody’s pretty lights, then wound up at the Mumfords’, opening an early gift, borrowing books, feeding the kids Lydia’s homemade shortbread, letting them run rampant in mad circles, reading a few books, and tossing Evanny and Nate into a Christmas eve 1.0 bath together way past bedtime.  Daddy and I stayed up late wrapping in preparation of both days, but since “Santa had agreed to come a few days late so Caleb would be here,” there was no one to leave cookies for, and Christmas day 1.0, just us and the girls, started epically early with up-in-the-night babies and then epically late; Evanny didn’t make it downstairs to start opening gifts until almost 9:30.

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Little watcher, bedecked with bows, holding a new bear amidst the wrappings and packages

We spent the day with bows and paper, playing with new toys together, nibbling on cookies for breakfast and cheese for lunch, taking naps, watching movies, making a few overseas family Skype calls, and then getting excellent take-out from China Road to start an off-year we’re-not-making-Christmas-dinner-twice tradition. Boxing Day, when the English traditionally do their tromping about to visit and trade gifts with extended family and friends, we opened up an array of snacks and invited the Mumfords and local friends Danielle and Nicole over to visit and play.  We then had a day in between to clean up and regroup a little, and then it was time to pick Caleb up for Christmas eve 2.0,

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Caleb (in his new Angry Bird pajamas) and Evanny opening presents on Christmas morning 2.0

featuring the yearly craft (painting some ornaments Grandma bought from Caleb’s school sale while she was here), a seasonal movie (I think they watched Rise of the Guardians again), cookies and rum left out for Santa, wrapping for Caleb to do to ready his presents for the girls, and one more round of last-minute wrapping (and rum-sipping) for us before everybody finally went to bed.  Christmas 2.0 was more presents, more playing with new toys and art supplies, more movie-watching, lots of Caleb-and-Evanny wrestling, and baby-juggling while mostly-Daddy made dinner… and then he looked around, said “we have way too much food here!” and asked me to text Lydia, so we ended up doing a friends-and-family style Christmas Day anyway, the adults eating together, the toddler nibbling from our plates, the big kids too wrapped up in toys and movies to bother (Caleb had his first taste of Christmas dinner for supper that night, after Evanny and I went up the hill in the dark to fetch him back from Andrew’s, since he turned the family visiting for a mid-day meal into an all-day play date–and she found this experience, going out in the cold dark to walk, at night, all the way to the Mumfords’ house on her own two feet through the thin dusting of snow, under a thin dusting of stars–it was her first real sense of winter night and her own skin in it (the Christmas eve walk, safely buckled into a stroller, hadn’t made the same impression at all)–“wind immy hair!” she cried, touching the edges of her hat with her coat-cuff-dwarfed fingertips as we stepped carefully out onto the icy front steps).

And then after one day off again, to clean house and buy more snack foods (and ingredients for Matt’s favourite spicy mussels), it was time to cook and shine and throw the doors open for New Year’s Eve, which we’ve cleverly volunteered to host as a small local party for 2 years running, letting us see some adult friends we rarely get to spend time with without having to leave early or chase our kids the whole time–they can run around and play with their own toys, and when it’s bedtime, we only have to pop upstairs!

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Bat-family (“Tyra,” Caleb whispers, “…but you’re a BAD GUY”)

In England, NYE parties are costume parties, a Halloween redux without the zombies (apparently a longer standing tradition, actually, and it’s the bleed-over of American Halloween that makes it a doubling-up), and, conveniently, Santa had brought our whole family Batman-themed pajamas for Christmas, so Matt and the bookends wore Batman jammies, Evanny was a little Robin, and I was in a hodgepodge of a Harley Quinn sleeper and bat-themed stockings.  Our friends Chris and Jessica came over in geek-themed pjs of their own, and friends Kira and Carrie brought treats and games, and new friends David and Lindsey brought more games and they and late-night joiners Jeremiah and Sarah were dressed all posh and more in

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Batmen and Robin

line with American party expectations, so the photos are a nice hash of silly and sparkly.  There were sweets and savories to snack on, movies and board games for Ev and Caleb and his friend Silas, a long bout of kitchen-chatting and an eventual meanderingly long, winner-less round of CAH for the adults after little Robin, sticky with “choch-choch” and strawberry ice cream, went off to bed; Harley spent half the night with her motley open and an itty-bitty Batman on her boob, Kira took the boys outside to set off sparklers, and the new year was rung in with a many-waves round of clinking classes, some champagne, some cider, all bubbly.  And then, in the morning, most of the same crew descended upon Jessica and Chris’s house for brunch before I brought the littles home to nap while Matt went out to do a little guitar-balladeering for a New Year’s Day showing of painted skateboards at a downtown art gallery and then fed them cheese and crackers and leftover pie for dinner.

So here, on the second of January, in a kitchen still glutted with a mercifully declining array of party leftovers and a veritable army of used glassware (we were too busy yesterday to even address the issue), we find ourselves facing a startling, beckoningly spare calendar for a while: there’s housework to do, school to attend, small projects to finish (a few Christmas art-gifts from the kids still need to be finished and sent away), healthy patterns to consider and, we hope, re-establish, new semesters to plan and start, and a welcome span of wintery stillness on the horizon.  The air outside is a confetti of tiny flakes with no real intent of piling anytime soon, we’ve got half-made plans for work-time later and maybe some friends-time for the kids, and in the meantime, I’m stealing a few moments to sit and chisel a few words into the electric stone tablet, to prove that our world was here, that too busy to stand still doesn’t mean we’re not dancing as we live, that our kids spend their days swimming in a ball-pit of loving people and fun, most of it self-created by being left alone together to play and invent and paint and imagine, fueled by some Disney/Pixar magic now and again (but so far Merida is our only “princess,” and she’s a far cry from a worrying example of the archetype).

I’ve been resting up a bit, reading my way gradually through Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle (which is more about people and magic than demons, thankfully, and the extensive demon-fighting bits are easy to skim), usually while lying down for slow, nap-creating nursing sessions with tiny Tatha, fixing some old blog posts, taking and culling photographs, imagining bigger creative projects but not committing to anything yet, thinking about making more soups this winter (I say that every year), plotting a potato-pancake fry-a-thon over text messages with Lydia, looking forward to Evanny’s return to Katy’s house of mess-and-wonder next week, and thinking about keeping my resolutions as simple as possible: this coming year, I’m looking forward to moving out of the sluggish post-baby era and into a phase of having more mobility and opportunity to take better care of this middle-aged body I suddenly own, and promising to do my best to approach this not as “fixing” anything about it; instead, I want to see what it’s capable of in terms of reasonable health-and-fitness, mostly with the goal being to use it to play with my children, who like running and jumping and crawling around on the floor.  I’m looking forward to facing the dramatic life changes Matt’s school’s wobbles might bring about with flexibility and optimism instead of anxiety, and at the same time using that as an opportunity to help teach our children to be flexible and optimistic instead of anxious.  I’m looking forward to continuing to improve Matt’s and my shared skills of productive arguing and of NOT arguing–and hoping to add a few other shared goals and talents to the mix, like more dancing, and never letting a day go by that doesn’t include at least 5 kisses.  And most challengingly, but very, very importantly, I’m looking forward to improving my relationship with our boy.  I promised him on NYE night that I would delete the pictures of him pouting from my phone (done) and that I would stop picking on him so much–which, really, means laughing less at his ridiculous melodrama and trying to listen more instead.  There’s a lot to look back and celebrate, but I’m tired of holiday season now.  I’m ready for fresh, simple foods, becoming reacquainted with my muscles and bones, quiet evenings featuring more books, guitar-practice serenades, and papers-to-grade (and fewer movies/TV shows, at least until April!), snuggles with my little family, early bedtimes, and a don’t-blink-now, but it’s really not that far off spring full of walks with 2 kids big enough to sit up in a stroller together–little Tabitha isn’t sitting yet, but she’ll be ready by the time the weather’s ready for her.

So Happy New Year, everybody.  May she bring you a few small dreams’ fruition, resting safely in your hands, and a few big dreams to chase after, so that you may throw yourself into living the chase, with the wind in your hair and the stars calling you forward.

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