Once upon a time, there was a girl. And the girl believed in Santa, and all was merry. Then one day, as the Christmas season was underway, a heated argument broke out among a group of peers in the girl’s after school care program. The cause of the argument remains unknown, but the caretaker of the class knew just what to say to stop the ruckus. She told the children, which included kindergarteners and first graders who still believed, that while Santa was once a very wonderful man who did wonderful things, he does not exist any more.

The girl pondered this news in silence for a few days, then asked the question her mother was not expecting for at least another year or two. “Is Santa alive?” And just like that, the girl’s mother was all at once saddened and livid and heartbroken. The mother expected that the girl would one day hear the truth from a classmate or begin to figure it out on her own, but never dreamed she would hear it from an ADULT who should know better. The mother wonders, what gives a grown-up the right to make the decision that it’s okay to spoil the illusion for someone else’s child? And in the pressure of the moment, the mother lied. “Of course Santa is alive. Where do you think your presents come from?”

The angry mother, not being the confrontational type, joined forces with a friend to make their concerns known to the teacher. The meeting was brief and polite, and the teacher promised to make the situation right with the children. The daughter hasn’t mentioned it again, and the mother is afraid to ask, not wanting to make things worse by reminding the girl of her doubts. The mother is simply not ready to face the inevitable questions that will follow. The Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy? And what of those other things that are intangible but so very important and real? Because although the daughter may have the maturity to handle the distinction, her mother does not yet have the words to explain why God is real, even though Santa Claus is not. She needs time to prepare that argument.

The mother is likewise not at all ready for this innocent phase of childhood to be over. It still feels like it’s only just begun. So she’ll preserve the reputation of Santa for as long as she can, and hope that her daughter will forgive her for the little white lie.

When I was pregnant with my oldest, it was an uncomfortable pregnancy, to say the least. I particularly struggled with severe back pain. By the last trimester I could barely drive. I only drove to work and back, and even then, it was often a tearful proposition to get through the long commute. I’m sure I thoroughly amused many a fellow commuter with my acrobatic antics as I stretched and twisted and contorted, trying to apply counterpressure to my back to relieve the pain, usually unsuccessfully. Kent did all the other driving, which meant we were joined at the hip whenever I wanted to leave the house for the least little errand. I liked it that way (I still do).

Sleeping became pretty much a thing of the past, too. Lying in bed was just too painful. By about the 7th month, the only place I could get even a little comfortable (comfort being a relative term) to sleep was on the couch in the living room, and it became my permanent bunk for the remainder of the pregnancy.

Here’s where I get to tell you how amazingly awesome my husband is. Every night for those last two months, he slept out there in the living room with me, so I wouldn’t have to be alone. But wait, there’s more. Kent is tall; I’m not. Since I was hogging the longer couch, he squished and scrunched and folded all six feet and one inch of himself onto the considerably shorter loveseat. Every. Single. Night. I don’t know how he ever got a wink of sleep. I offered more than once to try trading, but he wouldn’t hear of it. This is just one of the many things that makes my husband so great. He’s totally selfless. And he’d do ANYTHING for his family.

I think I got a keeper.

Mission accomplished

Anyone who was reading me way back when may remember this post from several months ago wherein I first publicly declared my intention to get professionally published, as well as several posts along the way chronicling my progress. As of today, that mission is now officially accomplished and is something I can forever cross off the list of things to do before I die.

My article, titled "The Design Document: Your Blueprint for e-Learning Standards and Consistency," was published in today’s electronic issue of Learning Solutions e-Magazine (formerly known as The eLearning Developers’ Journal). So much for my prediction about when I’d be gloating over this topic, due to a few date changes from December 12 to November 28 to, finally, TODAY!

I’m even getting paid a paltry (very paltry) stipend for my efforts, which works out to the staggering amount of just over two cents per word. At that rate, you’ve definitely gotta do it because you love it and crave the recognition of seeing your name in print, not because you are going to get filthy rich. I’ll be donating the fee to a worthy cause.

Hopefully this is just the first of many writing credits to my name. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal for me because it’s far from the first thing I’ve written. I do a lot of technical writing in my profession, and this article isn’t all that different. But it means a lot to me that I have finally written something, however small, that will forever be associated with me instead of my employer. Even if it is still related to my job. The difference is that I did it on my time, because I wanted to, not because I had to. It’s partly about making a commitment and following through; something I’ve not always been very good at doing. And it’s partly about sharing my knowledge and being recognized as a contributor to my field. And it’s very much about receiving a compliment from a professional editor that my article is one of the best-written he’s received lately. That means a lot because it’s the first time something I’ve written has been reviewed by an editor of any type. At work, I am the editor. It’s also the first writing I’ve ever been paid for, outside the training materials I have produced as required in the scope of my regular job. My blog, which is all about writing on a regular basis and sharpening my skills, seems like the logical place to succumb to vanity and pride, and give myself a little pat on the back for my accomplishment. It’s a personal milestone, and now I have the writing bug in a big way.

It’s good to have goals, and now that I’ve achieved this one, I have to examine my various writing ambitions and decide what to tackle next. In the meantime, I’ll keep blogging away. Have to keep my loyal readers happy, you know.

‘Tis the season!

I’ve let my inner kid escape, and there’s no stopping her now. The Christmas season is upon us, and I’m feeling the spirit. The decorations are up, the Christmas music is playing in the background, the Christmas cards are ready to go out, and I’m feeling extra smiley. I love this time of year.

Tonight we partook in what has become an annual tradition. We went to Disney/MGM Studios with friends to see the light display. All 5 million of them. Really. 5 million lights! The evening could not have been more perfect for it. A rare cold snap made it feel almost like winter. The fake snow shooting down from above seemed like it belonged more than it ever has before. Because of the cold weather, we could almost believe it was real. The piped-in Christmas carols had me singing and bouncing along. And the steaming hot chocolate was just the thing to top it all off.

Here’s what I love about this season, religious preferences and politically correct discussions aside. It’s the fact that watching my kids enjoy it brings out the kid in me. Tonight, I watched Maia’s thrill at the fake snow falling in her hair, and Noah’s thrill at it landing on his face. I watched them chasing the falling “snow” (really soap bubbles), trying deliriously to catch more. I watched them both marvel at the lights and get excited about drinking hot chocolate. And a little part of me couldn’t help being excited right along with them. Because it wasn’t about the shopping, or the presents, or the bah humbugs. It was just about feeling happy and sharing the good cheer. But my darling daughter totally takes after her thin-blooded mother. Because as we were leaving, she, who was dressed more warmly than any of us, announced with high spirits that she had just said a little prayer to God. She prayed for heat. Amen to that! (Though I make exceptions when Christmas carols and fake snow and hot chocolate are involved.)

No matter what cultural or religious observances you honor in the coming weeks, it’s time to get your holiday mood on. It’s the season for being a little bit happier and little bit nicer. It’s the season for slowing down to remember what is important and why you celebrate. It’s the season for cherishing your loved ones. It’s the season for being a kid again. Who’s in with me?

My son the heartbreaker

Who can resist an adorable face? By current indications, Noah will never have to find out. At the tender age of two, he has already managed to inspire the affections of at least one girl in his daycare class. He has long had his admirers, but he is now officially the object of a pre-school crush. Is it his warm, dark chocolate brown eyes? His kissably pinchable round cheeks? His fetching curly locks? His angelically impish smile? His freely given hugs? His sweet helpful nature? His love of laughter? Watch out, world, my son is on the loose, and he’s not playing fair. He has weapons of pure cuteness at his disposal, and he’s not afraid to use them. Is it any wonder I fell for his father, from whom Noah has inherited all of these wily yet magnificent traits?

I’m feeling ever so guilty for not having an original post today, especially after being featured by FTS as his spotlighted blog of the week (thanks FTS, I’m flattered and honored!). Here come the excuses.

Excuse #1: The post I had all planned for last night had to be postponed until next week for reasons that will be revealed then, and I had nothing prepared to replace it with at the last minute.

Excuse #2: My writing energy for today has already been expended elsewhere, and I’m tapped out.

Excuse #3: I’m a little under the weather, battling a nasty cold, and not up to my usual writing self.

Excuse #4: It’s the beginning of the Christmas season and I’m up to my eyeballs in decorations and addressing Christmas cards.

So instead of an entertaining post, let me take a minute to give a very huge thanks to those of you who visit me regularly. I have discovered that I really enjoy shaping the events of my daily life, childhood memories, and anything else that captures my attention into little stories for your reading pleasure. It still kind of cracks me up that I have readers, which I never expected when I started this blog, and I appreciate all of the positive feedback. Thanks to all of you who leave comments so I know you’ve been by. Thanks to my friends and family who encourage me off-line to keep it up. And thanks to each and every one of you for being my willing guinea pigs as I find my writing voice and refine my style.

For anyone new here via FTS, stay awhile and read on. Dig into the archives. I hope you’ll return.

Unintended workout

I’m sore, and it’s all my adorable husband’s fault. You see, it’s his job to do the yard work. It’s always been that way, despite the fact that at every opportunity, he delights in pointing out the other women in our neighborhood who mow their lawns. I don’t know how to turn on the lawn mower, and I plan to keep it that way. So it is that anything outside the house is Kent’s to maintain. Except we have this one hedge that hasn’t been trimmed in, probably, years. I’m not sure why this particular shrub has remained neglected amidst all the years of lawn care. I guess some things just defy explanation.

Yesterday, I had finally had enough. The hedge had grown so tall and unruly that it was blocking the light on the front of the house and spilling out into the driveway and the path to the front door. I was tired of looking at it. In a rare act of usefulness, I sought out our hedge clippers, only to learn that they are broken. Well how could I be expected to know such a thing? So off to the garden center at Target I trudged for a new pair. Then I set to work. I trimmed. And I trimmed. And I trimmed. Neighbors came and went. A friend dropped by. And still, ruthlessly, I trimmed. Some of those overgrown branches were beastly, but I fought and I won, using arm muscles previously accustomed to nothing more strenuous than pushing buttons on the microwave. My poor biceps have been paying the price ever since.

Apparently, I did good work. Kent told me I did so well that I should take over more of that particular chore. Rats. I knew I should have botched the job when I had the chance.

Don’t try this at home

My mother is the queen of graph paper. As in, she’s the only person I know who even knows what to do with the stuff, keeping some handy at all times. I don’t believe she’s ever purchased or even simply moved a piece of furniture without having first accosted it with the tape measure and mapped it out on graph paper. This is the woman who, when I moved to Orlando after college, had already graphed my entire apartment bedroom, including furniture I did not yet have, before I ever even laid eyes on the place. Do you think I deviated from the plan by even an inch? Of course not. I never questioned whether there was a better arrangement because her graph paper said there was not. She even had things optimized for proximity to electrical outlets. Forget about fancy AutoCAD software. A clean sheet of graph paper is all that is required.

So we all should have known, when she decided last weekend to lay out a rug upstairs in her new house, especially when we learned that graph paper had been involved, that there was no way it wasn’t going to work. But some of us, including and especially the person who has been married to her for 38 years, never learn, and we all thought we had a better way to build the mousetrap. And in my family, when we think we are right, we can be a snippy bunch. Thank goodness my sister and I were there, because I think our laughter is the only thing that saved my parents from bloodshed.

It all began because my sister and I and my dad were available to help roll out the rug and position it under the furniture that was already inconveniently in place. This begs the question: whose bright idea was it to lay the rug AFTER the furniture had already been moved in? Kent, handily, had gone to bed with the kids, so he missed out on all the fun. Though how they slept through the whole thing, I’ll never know, since all the screaming and yelling (and laughing) was taking place right outside the bedroom doors.

The positioning of the rug required lifting the couch, which is where the problems started. Some of us wanted to lift one side of the couch at a time. Others wanted to lift the whole thing and hold it aloft while the rug was unfurled underneath. Still others wanted to move it out of the way altogether until “The Boss” (aka Mommie Dearest) pronounced the rug satisfactorily arranged according to her exacting specifications. My dad at first missed the whole point that the rug was supposed to be laid out fashionably askew and argued that it couldn’t be done. Oh, but it could—it was on GRAPH PAPER, for crying out loud!

We finally got the rug in place, but it was, of course, at the wrong angle. Amateurs, every one of us. Two of the corners were supposed to brush adjacent walls, rotated precisely so that one side of the rug grazed the corner of a bookcase on the opposite wall, just so. Instead, we missed the bookcase by a mile, and one corner of the rug lapped up onto to the wall by a good six inches, at least. We knew it could work, because my mother’s graph paper proclaimed it to be so. So we had to start over. Several times. We just could not coax that recalcitrant rug into its proper plotted position.

Throughout the ordeal we each had strong opinions about how it should be done, and we weren’t afraid to express them. Evil looks and sharp words were exchanged. We argued over which direction and how far to pull the rug. We argued over the degree of rotation that would result in the correct alignment of the rug with the walls and furniture. We argued over who should lift each end of the couch and when, or whether it really even needed to be lifted at all. Couldn’t we just lift one corner and then twist the rug into position around the other leg? The correct answer is no, we could not, though my sister generously agreed to test this theory, just to keep the peace.

Pop. Thud.

Oops, that was a leg breaking off the couch. So much for the “twisting the rug” theory.

At some point my sister’s husband returned from an errand and was quickly ushered upstairs to mediate. He immediately assisted in breaking off another leg. And another one. We reattached them, but did I mention the potential for bloodshed? Except by this point, all we could do was laugh until it hurt. It had become a comedy of errors such as we had not experienced in a long time. Everything we tried went wrong. Yet in the end, the graph paper prevailed, and we DID wrestle that rug into submission. If my mother ever changes her mind about where she wants the thing, though, I’m so outta there. But I’ll do one parting favor as I leave. I’ll promise to call 911 to report the ensuing murder-suicide.

_____________________________________

Miraculously, no family members suffered bodily harm during the events depicted here. And all involved have confirmed that this is an accurate account of what transpired. Though to be fair, my husband claims he did NOT sleep through the whole thing; that no one could have slept through that. He says he was awake but remained wisely hidden in bed.

My parents sold my childhood home last year when my dad retired, and built a new house near us that they have finally moved into. It’s gorgeous. Simply beautiful, and state of the art. I dream of some day having such a home for my family.

But…

We slept over there for the first time on Sunday night, and it was weird to wake up in a room in my parent’s house that was not MY room. It wasn’t my furniture that I grew up with or my bathroom or my view from the window. It wasn’t my old school-age belongings in the closet or my old books on the bookcase or my old stereo next to the bed. It wasn’t my old creaky ceiling fan. It wasn’t my walls that I drew on with crayon or my bent up blinds in the window or my scratched up door or anything even remotely familiar. Not even a candy wrapper under the bed to call my own.

In short, their new house holds no memories for me yet.

That will change, beginning as we all gather around this Thanksgiving and perhaps start some new traditions. But it got me thinking about how different my reaction was from the reaction I had when we moved into that home where I spent a majority of my growing up years.

My childhood homeI remember the first time I ever saw that house. My parents were house hunting, though I didn’t know it then. We used to drive around neighborhoods, and we kept coming back to one street where two majestic Spanish-style houses stood side by side, with nothing else but empty lots in either direction. I don’t know if it was true, but at the time I thought they were the only two-story homes in our tiny retirement town. I remember thinking one would have to be very rich indeed to live in such a grand palace. Because to me, they seemed palatial.

Fast forward to the day my parents informed my sister and me, around 6 and 8 at the time, that we would be moving. They insisted we had seen the new house, but I didn’t know which one they meant and we never drove past it again until the day we moved in. Imagine the utter shock and giddy delight and pure joy of a third-grader who realizes that she is about to move into her dream home and live out the life of a princess. I over-exaggerate the scale of the house now, but that’s really how I felt then. It’s probably the closest I ever came to having my jaw literally drag on the floor. It was also the first time I truly realized that my father’s profession as a physician made us better off financially than most of my friends. Something I ever after tried to be sensitive to.

I remember being positively ecstatic to get, as the oldest child, the room on the back of the house with a view. I’ll never forget falling asleep that first night, looking out at the twinkling lights of the town across the river, for our new home sat right on the water. In fact, I probably didn’t sleep much at all that night. (This is the same room, incidentally, whose strategic location allowed me to sneak out undiscovered that one time in high school, and was also the scene of the great candy wrapper crime.)

I remember lots of other great things about that house. I remember my sister and I sliding down the banister, carving grooves into the wood from the buttons on our jeans. Our mother knew the truth even though we denied it. She was not amused.

I remember that my sister and I had our own playroom, until our baby sister came along a couple of years later and it was converted into her room. We forgave her. I think. Well, maybe I didn’t forgive her so much as I accidentally dropped her on her head once. Same thing. We were even after that.

I remember my mother telling us to let my dad know dinner was ready. We’d always yell up the stairs to him at the top of our lungs, and she’d always say, exasperated, “I could have done that.” It took us leaving for college before they wised up and got an intercom.

I remember getting into huge trouble for drawing on the concrete floor of the back porch with some type of permanent markers, and years later rediscovering the “art” when the Astroturf that had been put down to hide it was ripped up to make way for tile.

I remember how when I fought with my sister, my mother would send us both outside—one to the front yard and the other to the back yard. But we always outsmarted her in our sneakiness. We’d meet up on the side of the house to compare notes over how mean she was and plot our revenge. She says now that she always planned it that way on purpose, because at least we were talking instead of fighting. Uh huh, Mom, likely story!

I remember sleepovers and piano lessons and presents piled high in the living room at Christmas. I remember how my mom found an egg in my drawer once because I wanted to see if it would hatch if I took it out of the refrigerator. I remember how my sister cut a hole in the screen on her window so she could wave to the neighbors. I remember being scared at night and sleeping in her room more than my own.

I remember how my parents and our next-door neighbors threw big Thanksgiving shindigs for a while. They started out small and grew each year until they were renting tables and dishes and silverware and setting up picnic-style outside. Everyone brought a dish. It was a tradition until the year it rained, and the dishwasher broke. That was the year we had about 100 people—a lot of dishes to wash by hand. It was also the occasion on which I got my first kiss from a boy. After that, Thanksgiving went back to being a family affair (because of the rain and the broken dishwasher, not because of the kiss, which my parents are probably only learning about for the first time by reading it here).

I remember a sapling of an oak tree that was planted by a family friend in the front yard not long after we moved into that house, and impatiently thinking that by the time it grew large enough to climb, I’d probably have kids old enough to do the climbing for me. That’s true, but now we won’t be back to ascend that particular tree.

Here’s another silly thing I remember. Until the thrill of our new residence obliterated all thought of the house we had just vacated, I recall being sad at leaving the only home I could remember up to that point. I went around taking mental pictures of each room, so that I would always remember them. I wanted to burn them in my brain since I didn’t have an actual camera. And you know what? I do remember them. Yet when my parents moved out of the house last summer that they had called home for nearly 30 years and which I consider my childhood home more than any other, we went around and took real pictures with a real camera (being technologically advanced and all). It turns out I don’t need them. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a memory is worth a thousand pictures.

Here’s the bottom line. No matter what, and no matter where, I’m thankful this Thanksgiving that I have such wonderful memories and that I have a family to share them with. Because after all, home is wherever the people you love are.

Recipe for family life

Start with two beloved but rambunctious offspring who have yet to learn the difference between inside and outside voices. Add one tirelessly fun-loving husband who is more boisterous than the both of them put together. Season generously with gleeful shouts and infectious laughter. Sprinkle in a pinch of whining and crying to taste. Blend in the sounds of hearth and home—the dishwasher churning in the kitchen, water running in the tub at bathtime, the endless squawking of battery-operated toys that haven’t been disarmed, and the blare of the TV adjusted to full volume, to be heard above the din. Top with one somewhat impatient mom who is constantly trying to hush everyone to a more palatable level of commotion. Whip into a deafening cacophony of family life and let simmer on high until 8:30 p.m., when bedtime for the kids brings welcome relief from the noise.

I treasure tranquil solitude, but I rarely get it. Yet despite my grumbling, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Welcome to my world.

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