Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Starting New Traditions. Finally! A Live Tree!

The first Christmas tree I can remember is the five or six foot artificial one my dad pulled out of the attic space in the garage every year. He kept it stored in a big box and setting it up took hours. The fake trunk had to be bolted into a metal base and every individual branch was color coded to fit into a specific slot on the posts that locked together in two or three different places.

Back then, in the '80s, there was no such thing as a pre-lit tree, as far as I know. After we got the tree put together, my dad spent another dozen hours griping and growling and cussing out the light string, unscrewing every single bulb one at a time and trying to figure out which one was burnt out to replace so that the whole thing would finally work. It was an event that I remember him tackling solo.

My brothers and me, long, long ago. Keith on the left, Mike on the right.
A couple years after my mom died, when my dad remarried, the tradition of the Christmas tree in our house changed greatly. My stepmother much preferred live trees. So for the next seven to eight years of my life, from 1990 to 1998, I remember us driving out to Galehouse Tree Farm to pick out a pre-cut tree. I don't remember ever hiking out to pick our own and cut it down. What I recall is my stepmother investigating every already cut tree available until she found the one with the perfect fullness that she liked. 

Every single year, she picked one out that was much too big to even fit in our living room. I'm sure we tried to talk her down to something shorter, but she wouldn't have it. The fullness and roundness was perfect, so we'd have them bind it and tote it home. My dad spent hours on the porch sawing off the extra three feet from the bottom just so it would stand up in our living room and not be bent at the top. Then we smothered it in boxes upon boxes of ornaments.

After my dad died, I don't recall much in the way of Christmas trees. I moved out of my stepmother's house, and even without him she still managed to get a too big tree into the front living room. I don't remember much of that Christmas. Nor much of the ones that followed. My brother had a fake tree he put up when I lived with him briefly, but I don't recall being much involved. 

Working retail crushed my Christmas spirit quite a lot. When I met my husband in 2002 I don't recall enjoying the season. We got married in 2003, and I'm sure we put up a tree in our first apartment. It started off small, and I'm sure it was a gift from a relative. Something prelit and fake just to have a tree. I bought a couple of boxes of bulbs and did it up in blue and silver. We had to replace that tree for a slightly bigger one at some point. They don't build the fake ones to be durable the way they used to be, like the one my dad fought with every year for the first eight to nine years of my life, and probably some time before I was even born.

Our girls have had to suffer fake trees in the early years of their lives. We started in one apartment, then a townhouse, and couldn't really afford a live tree until this year. For all the bad I might have suffered, those trips out to Galehouse Tree Farm every year is a fond one I wanted to carry forward. So this year, now that we're in a better financial position than we used to be, we took the 30 minute drive trip out to Doylestown to rekindle a tradition I enjoyed and bring it to our own family.

It may look dark and dreary from the outside, but inside that barn is a world of festive color and holiday joy. Of course, I remember the interior being much bigger when I was a kid. That memory had me relating to my own daughters and realizing just how magical it must be to them. Never mind how many times I had to tell them not to touch something because it was fragile. Some things were still pretty kid friendly.

My experiences with my stepmother taught me not to go too overboard and look for a tree that would actually fit in our living room. So we spent the extra energy and took the time to hike to the top of the hill and look for one that would last, smell nice, and look nice. It cost a little less to cut your own tree, so that was an added bonus.

Our little Usurper is a trooper. She didn't complain about the hike one bit. Never asked to be picked up. She doesn't like to be carried and much prefers to walk anywhere we go. For that I am super grateful because I am not a strong person and don't like being a vehicle for my children. Their independence pleases me greatly. 

So we found our tree, cut it down, toted it back down the hill to have it shaken and bound. We shoved it in our car, tied it between the seats, and drove it home. Then the most adorable thing happened. My husband had bought the tree stand the day before and explained to our girls what it was for. To keep them from turning it into a toy, he put it in the office at the back of the house. As soon as we got home, the Usurper ran to the office, picked up the stand, and well... This:

I'm constantly surprised by how much my littlest nerdling understands and remembers. She might not say much, and getting her to give up her pacifier completely is still a struggle at 2 1/2 years of age, but she's one smart cookie. This time last year I wouldn't have dared to bring home a live tree and set it up where she could reach all the ornaments, but she knows now not to touch and that's good. 

She was very happy about our new tree. I almost feel like it was the best Christmas present she could have ever asked for! And she didn't even ask for one! She was so happy that she spent a good ten minutes or so smothering her daddy in hugs.

I tried for another video, but apparently it's too big for blogger.
We got the tree up without any hassle. The girls even helped hold it steady while we screwed it secure to the base. Amusingly, the trunk was almost too small! We got it to work, though, and then the decorating happened.

When it was all said and done, our girls were so happy that the Overlord even made up a song about it. I think it's safe to say that they love our tree this year. I give myself an A+ for creating memories my girls will hopefully remember for all time, and a tradition that we'll continue with from here on out. And I... Well. I'm surprised by how happy this one simple little thing made me. It's been 17 or 18 years since I last had a live tree in a house I called my own. This gives me so much joy... I can't even.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How a Stuffed Giraffe Became an Important Lesson On Loss

Today, the Overlord ran up the stairs from her play room, all the way to my office, to tell me, "Mommy! Giraffey's broken! His music winder thingy doesn't work anymore. Look! Can you fix him?"

Giraffey never had a name before today, by the way. The toy in question is a baby toy that Great-Grandma sent the Usurper when she was born. I think. The whys and the whens and wherefores aren't so very important to this story, though.

Basically, Giraffey is a plush music box. There's a wind-up key attached to its side. You wind it up. It plays a song. Well. No more, unfortunately. Something inside is broken, and neither me nor my husband know how to fix it. So...

Sadly, I told her, "No, honey. I'm sorry, but I can't fix this. There's nothing we can do about it. He's broken."

There was a look of absolute heartache on her face. The pout and the moisture in her eyes was nearly unbearable.

"Honey, I'm sorry, but I think it's time to say good-bye to Giraffey."

Her daddy came in to join us in the talk saying he couldn't fix Giraffey either. He told her she had the choice to keep him as is, broken but still able to be played with, or we could say good-bye. She chose to say good-bye. So I told her we'd send him to a faraway place where broken toys go after they can't be played with anymore.

This seemed kinder to me than telling her we were going to throw the toy in the trash. Little did I know it was going to turn into an elaborate story about Toy Heaven.

Later, I found her playing downstairs with her sister. They were having fun, giggling and make-believing with their My Little Pony toys. Then Lilah looked up with a pout and asked, "Mommy, where's Giraffey?"

"Honey..." The toy was upstairs, still. Her daddy was investigating it and trying to figure out if there really was any way to repair it, but we both knew it was a lost cause. So I told her, "Giraffey went to a faraway place where broken stuffies go when they no longer work, where they can live with other stuffies and be happy even though they can't be played with anymore."

As a nonreligious individual raising my children pretty much atheist, I never thought I'd be making a Heaven analogy to help my daughter deal with loss.

She accepted this story.

Later, upstairs while watching TV, she was pouting about Giraffey still, talking about how much she missed him. There were actual tears. I hugged her and told her, "Oh, honey. It's okay to feel sad when you miss something you love very much."

Wiping the tears off her cheeks broke me.

"Would it make you feel better to see Giraffey one more time, if he came back from the faraway place to say good-bye?"

"Yeah," she said.

So I got him back out of the closet where I'd stashed him to hide so she wouldn't keep asking us to try to fix him. She gathered him up in her arms and held him tight.

Unfortunately, her little sister was right there and wanted to play with Giraffey, too. It was a struggle getting her to let Amelia have the toy, but she relented when I told her to let her say good-bye in her own way. This was a concept that had to be drilled into her head repeatedly by both her father and me.

My husband told her, "You let Amelia say good-bye to Giraffey in her own way. He will stay with us until bedtime, and then he has to go."

Eventually she stopped trying to tell her sister to tell Giraffey good-bye. Some time later, she brought the toy back to me in my office.

"Mom, 'Melia put Giraffey down," she said, handing me the broken toy.

"Do you think Amelia's done saying good-bye to him then, in her own way?" I asked.


Amelia didn't come running back to my office crying, so I figured it was true enough. Though, I'm also pretty sure she had no idea what was going on. The Usurper is only two and a half to the Overlord's almost five now!

Somehow she got the impression that the faraway place I mentioned was an island. I didn't correct her. I like the idea of it being an island. Somehow I'm sure that makes it seem more soothing and an okay place to be.

"Is the Faraway Island magical?" she asked me.

"Yes, dear. The Faraway Island is a magical place where all stuffies and broken toys can talk to each other and be happy when they can't be played with anymore."

I do not regret expounding upon my lie.

"Oh. I never heard Giraffey talk."

"Well, maybe if you listen very closely you'll hear him talk to you. ... Are you done saying good-bye now?"


After dinner, we revisited with Giraffey one last time. I brought him out of my office and told Lilah, "Giraffey doesn't want you to be sad when he leaves, Lilah, so he told me he'd like to take a picture with you so you'll always have something to look at and remember him by."

So we took a couple of pictures, both of Lilah with Giraffey and Amelia with Giraffey.

Lilah came back to talk to me a little more about Giraffey and the Faraway Island. She told me she really wanted to see the Island and see all the talking toys. I told her that'd be nice. She asked where it was. "Is it up in the sky?"

"Maybe," I told her. "It's so faraway that even I don't know where it is, honey. I've never seen it. I'm not a toy, so I can't go there."

"Oh," she said. "I hope there's a moon there. The moon is magical. It's like an island."

All I could do was smile as she walked away.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year! Old news. (Mostly pictures.)


Hello, Loyal Fans!

As you can plainly see, I have been very remiss in updating this blog. The last time I wrote an article for this thing was back in August with Hello Not-a-Kitty, in which I talked about the newly created Hello Kitty Convention that I'd some day love to take my girls to.

Since that time, quite a lot has happened! Here's a run-down of everything you missed in 2014 before we get started on 2015:

In September, Your Future Overlord met her very first toad at her friend Addison's house. We were invited to a barbecue and had a very good time. At their old house (they have since moved), there were apparently a lot of toads in the yard and Addison had a habit of collecting them. A very good experience overall.

We started our second year of dance classes! The Usurper is not yet old enough to join a class, but she is learning quite a bit from her sister already. The Overlord is taking traditional ballet again this year as well as tap. It's been a rocky road so far, in which she fluctuates between wanting to participate and not. I'm told this is normal for her age.

Both of my girls have an amazing imagination, but at not even 2-years-old I think the youngest has the eldest beat. Her imaginative play has been amazing these past few months, and continues to astound me. The above picture was taken in September. She and her sister got dressed up and set this up all by themselves.

Which brings me to October. You may remember the article I wrote in July titled "Keep the Shears Away," in which I talked about how I refuse to take my girl to get her haircut until she tells me she wants one. Well, that happened. We turned it into a big birthday event, and I'll write about that later, because it's worthy of it's own individual article.

That's right. Your Future Overlord is now 4 years old! I'm a big slacker for having not covered her birthday like I should have. Not like I can't write about it later, though. It'll give me some material to work with when I'm floundering later on. Your job, Loyal Fans, is to constantly harass me about it until I do. So don't forget to pester.

We found some time to help Daddy rake (and play in) the leaves!
And then Halloween happened.

In November, we joined the Overlord's best friend Addison in celebrating her 4th birthday as well. And then of course all the Thanksgivings happened.

Before that, it snowed. It was the most amazing thing the Usurper had ever seen. I regret that we did not yet have appropriate snow attire so that the girls could go outside and enjoy it. The Overlord had to have asked me a hundred times.

The Usurper has been making quite a lot of discoveries lately. I absolutely love this gleam in her eye that she gets when she finds something new and fascinating, and everything is new and fascinating to her. I hope she never loses this investigative spirit that she has. My little scientist.

We slacked off a lot in December. Didn't put our tree up until a few days before Christmas. Didn't even really put up any other decorations. And to be honest, our tree is still up. We should probably work on tearing it down and putting everything away.

At least I remembered to stash our creepy ass Elf on the Shelf. I'm a terrible person and hardly remember to move that sucker and sure as shit don't do anything fun with it. Except, Fred (our girl elf) does leave a present for the girls on Christmas Eve. That's a tradition I'm sticking with. Fresh PJs every year.

Christmas came and went like it always does. Being a non-religious household, we don't put a lot of emphasis on the holiday other than Santa Claus. Magic, family, and the Winter Solstice are our reasons for the season. Your mileage may vary.

So now here we are in January. The turn of a new year. Your Future Overlord is 4 years old, and in less than a month the Usurper turns 2! I have quite a few stories to fill you in on that I have neglected to tell, so stay tuned. Hopefully another four months doesn't go by before I update again.