Thursday, December 21, 2006

Santa Magic

Yesterday we braved the rain, the crowds and the lines and went to the mall to see Santa. It's a necessary evil for the season. It actually went really well!

In case you didn't know, I used to be an elf. I took pictures of kids with Santa for several years during college. I had some wonderful experiences with some wonderful Santas. (And then there was the one Santa who put his beard on backwards - with the netting on the outside.) I will blog about some of those Santas eventually. But the Santa that was there yesterday was the real deal.

Of course these days most department store Santas have the real beard and long, white hair. No wigs and fake beards for them! This gentleman was no exception. And the poor guy was sweltering. After each kid he would take his hat off and pat down his forehead. Of course this gave his cheeks the rosy glow that Santa is famous for. He was gentle and sweet with every kid, listening intently to their requests and acting surprised and elated when they rattled off their lists. He was animated, quiet and genuinely seemed to love what he was doing. Then came the true test. The kid who was terrified.

She was about 2 or 3 years old (from experience I can tell you that those ages are the ages where kids decide that it's just not worth it to even get near the fat, jolly guy) and she was wearing a pink dress with a very full skirt. The dress had "Birthday Girl" stitched across the bodice and yes, it was her birthday. Her dad and her very pregnant mom were with her and really wanted a birthday picture with Santa. Birthday Girl got to the edge of the Santa area and would not budge. She clung to her mom for all she was worth. Poor Mom couldn't do much. Her center of gravity was already wacked because of her huge belly, and now she had a toddler clinging to her and trying to pull her the other way. No, there was not a tumble, but there was Dad to the rescue.

This Santa was a pro. He did not get up and try to coax Birthday Girl to him. He sat on his cushioned bench, smiled and opened his arms invitingly. He softly called to her, but she was still not budging. While Mom tried her best to convince Birthday Girl that Santa was a good guy, Santa and Dad hatched a plan (judging from the professionalism of the Santa, it was his plan and he just told Dad what to do). Then Santa disappeared. I did not see where he went, but I figured that he took advantage of the moment to go have a break.

Dad came back to Birthday Girl and said, "Sweetie, I really want a picture of you sitting on the bench. Can you sit with Daddy on the bench with the big Christmas tree behind us? Would that be okay?" It took a minute or so to convince Birthday Girl that sitting on the bench would be okay. So they sat. The picture taking elf rang her jingle bells to capture Birthday Girl's attention. Dad smiled, Birthday Girl looked up at the camera, and Santa popped up from behind the bench, spread his arms across the back of the bench, and they had their picture with Santa. Then Santa crouched back down. Birthday Girl did not know a thing.

I have to hand it to Santa for that little trick. He was good! He made sure that he was out of Birthday Girl's line of sight during and even AFTER the picture. He was all about the kids and making them feel safe. He did come out from behind the bench and wave at Birthday Girl as they were leaving, but he didn't force any interaction that she wasn't comfortable with. I almost cried.

Then it was our turn and Buddy didn't want to go to Santa (he's three, you know). So I knelt down next to Santa between him and Buddy and we took a picture that way. Then I got up and Buddy got a little braver. We took a couple more with Buddy sitting next to Santa. Our final picture was one with Buddy and Princess on Santa's lap with the biggest smiles you could want. Magic.

Up at the counter where we paid for the picture Princess kept prompting me, "Ask them! Ask them!" As I posted before, she's figured out that Santa can't be at every mall every day during the season. She knows that he sends helpers down to pretend to be him and to report back to him. She also knows that every once in a while he comes down himself just to get a taste of what's going on. She wanted to know if this guy was just a guy with white hair in a Santa suit, or if he was HIM. She was too shy to ask the big man himself, so we settled on asking one of the helper elves. The elf told us that this man was the real one! He came down from the North Pole especially to Barton Creek Mall. The look on Princess' face almost brought me to tears. She had seen the REAL Santa. She had talked to the REAL Santa. She still stood only feet from the REAL Santa. Her eyes got big as she looked back at the sweet man in the red suit. She smiled a shy smile. Then she breathed in really deeply and said, "He's the real one!" I hope she believes forever.

Oh, one last gem. As we were gathering the kids and ushering them from Santa's bench, I stopped to thank Santa for being so patient with Buddy. He watched Buddy and Princess walk away and said, "Oh, no trouble. It's all about the kids." I said, "You know, I was an elf for three years here." He looked up at me, cocked his head sideways and said, "Then you know!" I swear his eye twinkled at me. I felt a rush of inner warmth that can only be described as Christmas cheer. I almost cried (was I too emotional yesterday?!).

THAT, my friends, was the REAL Santa.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Sigh of Relief!

Ahhhh. The first grade Egyptian/Hebrew festival is OVER! I didn't realize how much I was thinking about it until it was over and I immediately had trouble keeping my eyes open! (I was in bed by 10:00 last night. That's very early for me.)

It went off yesterday morning without a hitch. Another mom and I headed it up and we had TONS of help. It was SO fun. The kids dressed in their costumes from their history reports (they each chose a person from either the Old Testament or Ancient Egypt and did an oral report in class dressed as that person) and visited four stations to learn more about the culture and food from the time. We had several King Davids, quite a few daughters of Pharaoh (Moses' adoptive mother), several Sarahs, two Nefertitis and a partridge in a pear tree. No, wait, that's next week's assignment.

The first activity was a traditional Jewish community dance. That was a lot of fun! The kids enjoyed it and it got the event off to a great start. Then we split the kids into four smaller groups (about 8 or 9 per group) and sent them to the four stations.

The first station was all about ancient Hebrew food. We had goat cheese, unleavened bread, liquid yogurt (to stand in for curdled milk), lentil soup, spices to smell and melons to taste. The kids sat on rugs on the floor and listened to a volunteer tell about all of the different foods. We even had some cleverly made locusts - hummus on celery with strips of bell pepper for legs and wings and a green maraschino cherry for the head (and icing eyes). The mom who made them said that they would probably taste nasty, but they looked good! I reminded her that real locusts probably tasted nasty, too!

We were very blessed to be able to have a real archaeologist / anthropologist come and set up a station all about Bedouin culture. She had authentic rugs, pillows, scarves, clothing, bowls, vases, you name it! She also went to Phoenicia Bakery the day before and got dates, figs, bread, hummus, and some really yummy honey treats for the kids to sample. She had fresh rosemary and mint for them to smell. She had books and personal stories all about how the Bedouins live. She told us that the Bedouins of today live very much like the Patriarchs of the Bible lived. I sat in her station under the canopy that we had set up and I thought, this was where Sarah was when she heard that she was going to give birth. She was in a tent like this with food like this when she heard that God's promise was going to be fulfilled. It made the story all the more real to me. I pray that at least some of that sunk into the kids, too.

Next we had Esther. One of the moms dressed up as Esther and told the story of Purim. The kids had shaker boxes (I forgot to ask why) and they sat on the rug and listened intently and shook their boxes at the right times. I wish I had been able to visit that station and hear the story, but I was at my station.

At my station we had an ancient Egyptian party! (It sounds more fun than it was. I had about 7 or 8 minutes of info and activities to present in 15 minutes. I should have planned better.) I dressed up like an Egyptian - complete with a pair of my huge silver earrings from the 80's! (I knew I would need them again one day!) I made some "wax cones" for the kids heads from red plastic cups. (They wore cones of scented wax on their heads at parties, making the hair or wig smell good.) We glued a circle of felt on the bottom of the cup and then I sprinkled the felt with essential oil (sweet orange - it was the least expensive and least offensive!) and those who wanted to wear them attached them to their hair with bobby pins. I wore a plastic cup on my head for the whole festival. (Sigh. I love my kid.) I also served dried figs, pita bread and hummus. Another mom had face paints and made the kids' eyes look Egyptian. It was a lot of fun! Oh, I also served root beer. Everything I read about ancient Egypt said that they drank beer at every meal. I just didn't think that bringing a six pack for a bunch of 1st graders was appropriate (although the mom volunteers asked why I didn't bring some for them!) so I brought the next best thing - fake beer (a.k.a. anything that said "beer" that could be served to kids.) Some kids loved the root beer, others made faces. But most gamely tried the food set before them.

It was a very successful event. I was pleased at how the moms stepped up and helped out. I think that the moms had just as much fun as the kids! And we all learned something.

When we got home I asked Princess (one of the Nefertitis) what her favorite part of the festival was. Her answer? "Eating watermelon."


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Musings on Fertility and Motherhood

Not too long ago a friend wrote to me in an e-mail, "Being around all of my friends who have children has simply underlined my decision not to have kids. Most of their personalities change for the worst." That made me wonder whether I have changed for the worst. It also made me think about the process of becoming a parent.
The idea of starting a family seems simple enough – decide to have a baby, do what is necessary to become pregnant (hubba-hubba), wait nine months and you’re in the club. I think that’s the schedule that most newly married couples have in their minds. It’s certainly what I had in mine. And, to be perfectly honest, that’s pretty much what happened.
For so many others, however, it’s a much different story. There are months, even years, of staring at that home test waiting for the second line to appear. There are appointments with fertility experts, tests, procedures, prayer, hopes, more tests, anger, bills, more tests and fatigue. We watched one couple we know struggle through five miscarriages – three of which happened during my first pregnancy. We prayed with a couple through infertility treatments and IVF procedures. Another couple tried for 10 years before finally deciding on adoption.
I found myself feeling guilty for having such a successful pregnancy. We had friends who tried and failed for months and months while we got pregnant on our second try. I had a friend on complete bed rest while I walked the mall. I had a friend who had to take medication to help her keep down crackers and I visited Taco Bell every other day. I don’t know why God chose to give me such an uncomplicated time, but I am thankful.
Two years after my daughter was born, though, I got my first taste of what it feels like to have my own schedule vetoed by God. We tried for another pregnancy, hit on the first try, and lost the baby 9 weeks later. It was a surreal time. It felt as if I were watching a movie rather than experiencing it in person. I saw myself go through the office procedure to rid my body of the tissue. I observed the healing process – both in body and mind. But I didn’t feel anything. It still doesn’t feel like it happened to me.
Six weeks after getting the green light to try again, we hit a bulls-eye. I came back into my body the instant that I saw the positive test. The next summer we became a family of four.
The story of my fertility doesn’t stop there, though. It stops sixteen months after the birth of my second child.
I went to the doctor for a check-up. He explained at that time that I needed a hysterectomy. That one word – just five syllables – brought me to my knees. I had always wanted three kids. I didn’t feel like I was done having babies. That wasn’t in my plan!!!! The idea that the organ in my body that nurtured and kept my two precious children healthy during their gestation had to be taken out was devastating to me. Isn’t a uterus what makes me uniquely a woman? If I lost it, what would I be? How could I be complete? I wept. I mourned. I fought. I spent hours on the internet seeking advice and alternatives. And, most importantly, I prayed. In the end, God gave me His peace. June 7, 2005 – the day that our close friends gave birth to twins conceived in a test tube – I lost the ability to have another child come from my body.
At times I still grieve the loss of that ability. I am sad that I will never again thrill to the sight of a fetal heartbeat in a monitor. I mourn the fact that I will never again feel a tiny body hiccup in my belly. But God’s strength, His peace, and His healing are stronger than my worldly desire to produce another child. And the fact that I can’t have another child does nothing to take away from my enjoyment and revelry in the experience of being a parent.