Friday, December 25, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I want to go home.

Don't get me wrong - my ILs are wonderful hosts. They do everything they can to make our stay for Christmas comfortable. They clear out their bedroom of anything fragile or electronic so the kids can stay there. They set us up in the other bedroom/office that has a sleeper sofa. They stay on the pull out couch downstairs. DH's grandmother sleeps on the daybed in the second room downstairs. They stock the kitchen with foods and drinks that they think we like.

And Christmas itself is wonderful, too. It's been kind of tough for me, a Jewish girl, getting used to doing anything Christmasy, but after being part of this family for almost twenty years now, I'm finally coming around. We come over in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, drop off our stuff, and then drive together to a family friend's house for Christmas Eve dinner. We come home, the kids change into their new pjs and then carefully put out the cookies and milk for Santa and the carrots for the reindeer, and then my FIL reads the Night Before Christmas (well, this year we go home really late and had to bypass the story) before we put the kids to bed. Then we grown-ups hang out talking and laughing.

We get up early the next morning (Christmas day). I set up breakfast to cook (my food contribution) which, this year, was completely prepped in my crockpots the day before so all I had to do was turn them on when I woke up. We open presents in our pjs, eat breakfast, then open stocking stuffers and cards, and then spend most of the day playing with our new toys (which this year meant trying out the new Wii games). Very nice.

My MIL makes a special dinner for us all, and my ILs buy pies made from a local orchard - so good. And that is where I feel this wonderful sleepover should end.

But . . . . no.

The tradition has now been established that we also spend the night Christmas Day and go home the next day before lunch. Which means one more night on this sofa bed from hell. One more night sitting in front of some random football game hearing family stories that are told every year while trying to get the kids to go to sleep. One more night trying to fall asleep while the other grown ups are still awake in the room directly below me and every word and sound seems amplified back up to me. One more night away from my nice, soft, warm bed with my pillow that is flattened just the right amount for me and my comforter that I can put over my one exposed ear when I fall asleep to block out all extraneous noises. One more night of only thinking about all the stuff around the house that I want to do but can't because I'm here.

This year I tried persuading DH that I go home after dinner tonight so I can get a jump start on cleaning out the playroom and finding spots to put all the kids new toys. He could stay at the ILs for the night and keep the kids there for as long as he wanted the next day. I could get a good night's sleep and have a productive night and morning. He was so upset that I even suggested this, stating how much he wanted me to stay at his parents, blah, blah, blah.

And so I'm still here.

And I feel guilty for complaining. I know plenty of people have no family, or their family is too far away to spend the holidays with. And my ILs are wonderful people. It's nothing against them personally.

It's just . . . well, I want to go home!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Being the Dutiful Daughter

I love my mom. I really do. And I love that I am right around the corner from my parents' house. We could walk there if we really wanted to.

What I don't love is that I am the closest child. My sister is about fifteen minutes away, so we all get together for Shabbat dinner and all other holidays, and my brother is in Conneticut (we're outside Philly), so I am the go to if there are any big problems. Which, as the middle child, I am fine with - I'm the peacemaker and the caretaker.

Unfortunately my mom has lots of health problems. She has a really bad back (degenerative disk disease) that is made worse by her weight. She has asthma and, even though she finally gave up smoking (YES!), still is very susceptible to respiratory infections. And she gets really bad vertigo every once in awhile, bad enough that she cannot move for fear of falling.

I just got a call from my mom, a "just-in-case call." She had spent a lot of the morning very short of breath, dizzy, experiencing heart palpitations, and raising her arms made it worse. She feels better now (though still short of breath some). I mentioned that maybe the fact that she has had a cold now for a few days is affecting her breathing and that she should call the doctor.

"Don't worry," she reassured me, "I have an appointment for Monday."


So when I get the next phone call where she can only gasp out my name on the phone and I call 911 and we take her to the ER, I'll be sure to explain to all the doctors there that it's all okay: she is going to see her doctor on Monday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On a Date with Myself

I am enjoying a night alone at a local Border's - do I know how to live it up or what?!!

Lots of rambling thoughts tonight; I apologize in advance if this post goes all over the place.

The first two nights of Hanukkah have been quite successful. Check out the pictures below to see B's reaction to the homemade science kit we gave him tonight:


The boys have been listening to B101 (local radio station that plays only Christmas music this time of year) at night as they fall asleep, causing B to comment one morning, "It's a shame B101 has never heard of Hanukkah." The two of them decided to create their own Hanukkah song based on The Twelve Days of Christmas:

On the first night of Hanukkah my true love gave to me

One Lego Set. But of course!

On the second night of Hanukkah my true love gave to me

Two books a reading, and

One Lego set. I'm so impressed at how they managed to keep the rhythm of the original song in the new lyrics!

I'm sure you know how the song goes, so I'll just type what their "true love" gives them each night.

Three Wii games

Four Kitty Cats

Five Golden Latkes

Six dreidels spinning

Seven candles burning

Eight menorahs glowing

When they sing it to us, they take turns back and forth to name the presents. I love it!


As we drove to the mall the other night for our annual picture with Santa for my ILs to use with their Christmas card (you know, just like every other Jewish family) the kids began discussing what the purpose of Christmas actually is. It was one of the first times we ever really talked about the fact that we are Jewish and that other people are not, and I tried to listen carefully and simply answer the questions being asked.

A mentioned that the radio just had the "Ask the Experts" segment (the experts being the kids) about why people celebrate Christmas, and he announced that it was to celebrate the birth of "that baby" (his words).

B corrected him by saying that it was to be together with family.

J piped up to name "that baby" as Jesus.

I explained that we celebrate Christmas with DH's family, and the reason they celebrate it is to have a special time when the family gets all together. I then explained that many other people celebrate it as the day that Jesus was born.

J told us that Jesus was Christian and then asked why people celebrate the fact that he was born.

I was very careful going forward with this, very aware of the fact that we never really talked about differences in religion and the fact that a neighborhood boy had recently told her (my five-year-old baby) that if she did not have Jesus in her heart she would burn in Hell and be all alone forever (a post for another day). I said that Jesus was actually Jewish, just like us, and grew up to be an amazing teacher that many people followed, so amazing that many people now say he is the son of God and they pray to him as well as God. This was my simplified five and seven year-old version, please don't leave tons of comments trying to explain the life of Jesus and why I'm wrong to be Jewish or anything like that.
At this point, B announced, "But we only pray to God!"
I smiled and said, "Exactly. We know there is one God. Other people are different religions, and they believe different things. And that's okay."
A then began spouting off a commercial for a new game he hopes to get this month (he often will do this whether it is connected to what anyone else is saying or not) which prompted B to begin talking about a new game HE hopes to get this month.
Okay, guess the conversation is over. DH glanced over and mouthed, "Good job." I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding, relieved that the conversation was over and that it seemed to go so well. I loved listening to their ideas and hearing their perspectives.
And then we went in the mall to talk to Santa.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


DH and I don't exactly see eye to eye about gift giving. Maybe it comes from the way we both grew up. DH grew up as an only child in a relatively small condo to two parents who were quite comfortable financially. I grew up with two siblings in a big house (which cost a lot to heat and light and . . .) to two parents who, well, we were still considered middle class, but we knew money was not abundant.

Growing up at Hanukkah time each of us had a choice: eight small presents or one big present. And that's just the way it was.

When I first started spending Christmas with his family, I was literaly speechless at the amount of presents they had. It felt like their Christmas tree had thrown up all over their living room. And when the kids came along, it got worse.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVE getting presents. And I love giving presents too. But I don't want our kids to grow up just expecting all of these presents! Personally, I don't think they end up appreciating what they get when they each have five, six, seven presents to open in one morning. I would much prefer they get one or two things each and then time to play with each thing as they open it.

We celebrate Christmas at my IL's house. This is how I am able to wrap my brain around having our Jewish family celebrate Christmas at all. And it is my IL's show. We help them pick out a tree and then whatever presents my ILs get for the kids goes under the tree. DH and I do not buy the kids Christmas presents; instead we buy Hanukkah presents which we give them during the holiday at our house. DH feels very strongly that the kids should open a present for each night of Hanukkah, which translates to us buying six presents for each child (one night will be at my parents' house, so they will get gifts from them and my sister; another night we will be at my ILs and they will give them a Hanukkah present or two that night).

In my perfect world, here's how we would be celebrating Hanukkah this year:

1st Night - Hanukkah dinner at the Temple
There will be games, songs, and activities, plus a little goody bag included in the cost of the dinner, so that is the gift for that night.

2nd Night - two books for each kid

3rd Night - Sunday dinner and Hanukkah at my ILs
Gifts from my ILs

4th Night - special toy for each kid

5th Night - Surprise for the kids!
We have a tradition each year of picking a night where the kids put on their pajamas, get bundled up, and we all go off in the car with Hot Cocoa to go look at the Christmas lights. My thought would be to change this tradition so that it will happen one night during Hanukkah with the kids never knowing which night it will be - we'll wrap up a new pair of PJs for the kids (something that we give them each year for when we spend the night at the ILs for Christmas) and when they open it they'll know it's time to go look at the lights.

6th Night - A home-made kit for each kid
For example, J loves art right now, so her kit would include lots of paper, stickers, fresh markers, and maybe the materials needed for a special project.
B LOVES science, especially watching the reaction when you pour vinegar into baking soda, so his kit would include a huge box of baking soda and large bottle of vinegar (so he could use as much as he wants without having to ask each tim) along with some other household ingredients that he could use independently to create fun chemical reactions.
A's kit would include graph paper and colored pencils along with some kind of Lego design book so he could write down the Lego designs he makes (something he loves to do).

7th Night - Gift certificate to spend an afternoon alone with whichever parent they choose

8th Night - Shabbat/Hanukkah dinner at my parents
Gifts from and for my parents, my sister and BIL, and for my niece and nephew

That's what I would like to do. DH - not so much. Maybe after the holidays this year and I can show him this plan and start laying the groundwork for next year. Probably he still won't go for it. Not because he's a jerk (I know he's going to read this and worry that people will think that) but because he wants them to get more. I realize that marriage is about compromises, so I have been compromising about this every year, but maybe we can move more to my plan a little each year. Maybe.