Sibling Gift Giving

I was going to write a post about sibling gift giving, and invite ideas for group parenting advice. Then I decided I knew in advance what everyone was going to say, so I decided not to bother. Now I find I am still thinking this over a great deal, and in cases like that, I need to write it down just to get it out of my head, and so be it.

So!

Question for parents of multiple kids out there: do your kids give gifts to your other kids? If so, how does that work?

Our kids do. Each of my kids gets four gifts on Christmas morning – one from us, one from Santa, and one from each of their siblings.

When they were little, this was easy for me to control. I just bought stuff on behalf of each kid, then presented it to them: “Look, I got you this Lego set to give to your brother!” kind of thing. They’d wrap it themselves but they had no part in the selection, or shopping, or paying.

This is actually pretty much how I still do things. Before putting together my list and doing the actual shopping part, I do ask them now if they have any ideas for their siblings (and their dad, too); and if anyone does, then I incorporate that.

Sometimes they have an idea or two, sometimes not, but I LOVE giving gifts and I LOVE making lists and so filling in the gaps has never been a problem or a chore for me, it’s a delight to make a big list for each kid and then shop away and then decide who is giving who what, like I AM AN ALL POWERFUL SANTA, thank you.

But this year I started thinking that perhaps it is time to relinquish some control to the kids themselves – not because they feel slighted or are begging to be involved or anything, but because Christmas budgeting is a skill, and thinking of a good gift for someone is a considerate thing to do, and this is something they might want to/need to/be forced to do in the future.

It is already too late for this year, but I am thinking now of how I can make this work more inclusively next year. Some ideas:

  • I take the kids to the mall and give them a budget for each of their two siblings and set them loose to find something suitable in the right price range. This is the most free-range idea.
  • I ask them to brainstorm an ideas list for me, possibly doing online research for prices as required, then pick something from the list. I would also ask them to walk through the online ordering process if this is an online order, or come with me to the store if it is a local purchase. This option sounds like homework, I can tell right now I am going to have trouble getting the oldest, at the very least, to take this on.
  • I can give them my own ideas list, and just have them pick something from it before I shop (rather than having me choose, which is what is happening right now). Then get them to do the actual shopping part as well (online or in person). This is probably the most hand-holding way to do it, but it feels more like something I could get the older kids, at least, to do – Little Miss Sunshine is a GIFT GIVER, all-caps absolutely required, so she would probably embrace any of these options.

What do you think? What works for you and your kids?

Oh, and one more thing – when did you take your kids off-budget and have them move to doing their own shopping altogether? I could say that, at age 18 say, they need to do their own shopping – but for the Captain, at least, that probably translate to no shopping whatsoever. Or I could continue to fund them and shepherd them along until they are out of college, or no longer living at home.

Or possibly until they are collecting Social Security. Sigh.

I guess there is no way to force a kid who is no longer a kid to WANT to give gifts or to CHOOSE to give gifts, so at some point I am going to have to let it go and just move on. But when? When is this magical moment? I guess I will know it when I see it? Hm.

Advent 2019

I’ve re-instated the family activities advent calendar this year.

I know, I am crazy and should be dealt with harshly.

But I was buying us tickets to a few events, and putting those on the calendar, and then suddenly it seemed like we had a lot going on. And there are a few old advent calendar activity stalwarts that we still do every year, because we love them, so I know we are going to do them at some point, so it seemed prudent to put those on the calendar, too. And then that left only like, four empty days, and I decided to fill them with simple things and Bob’s Your Uncle, there was an advent calendar.

It helps too that the big kids don’t really have a lot of weekday events going on anymore, so we’re all around more in the evenings, and Little Miss Sunshine has a later bedtime now, so we have reclaimed some family time that was lost the last few years to homework and sports and widely different bedtimes.

I’ll let you know if I’m still sane in January.

But if you have older teenaged kids and are considering it, I thought I’d include a list of this year’s planned activities, to give you ideas (hopefully: NOT the idea to come over to my place with a shotgun and a body bag).

  1. Put up the tree
  2. Shop and donate to Toy Mountain and the Kanata Stocking Project
  3. Play Singalong Live to win a prize (more on this below)
  4. Do a Christmas puzzle
  5. Ice Cream Sundae night
  6. Read all our Christmas picture books
  7. Carp Farmer’s Market Christmas craft market, plus three of us are going to The Debaters Holiday Tour at the NAC
  8. Glow Fair – a new event at the EY Centre (tickets required)
  9. Hide and seek with our stuffed Santa and Rudolph
  10. Jammies dance party
  11. Have a hot chocolate with marshmallows
  12. Make Peppermint Bark (or some other Christmas treat, TBD)
  13. Break out the Thomas trains and set up a track around the tree
  14. Magic of Lights drive at Wesley Clover Park (ticket required)
  15. Open house at my sister’s place downtown, combined with visit to Parliament Hill and Confederation Park to see the Lights Across Canada display
  16. Watch The Sound of Music
  17. Wrap a present for your siblings
  18. Have a candy cane
  19. Nail Polish night
  20. Rock Band night
  21. Vintage Village of Lights at Cumberland Museum (tickets required)
  22. Mario Party night
  23. Teddy Bear Picnic – this is where each kid invites a favourite stuffie and we have dinner on the floor like a picnic
  24. Go see the new Star Wars (tickets already bought, I am STUPID EXCITED); also, have our traditional fancy Christmas dinner
  25. Family Board Games Day

More on Singalong Live: this is a game we stole from Neil Patrick Harris where you play a song, and pause it at some point, and the person playing has to sing the next line. I prepare these in advance by bringing up a song the whole family knows on YouTube and looking for a good place to pause it, then making a strip of paper with the song name and a “stop time” for the video. Then the other four of us take turns pulling a slip of paper from a bag, and I play the video and stop it at the correct time. If they get it right, great! Three right answers and you get a prize (always a funny or Christmas-related picture book). If you don’t get it right, someone else can steal.

This game by far takes the most prep and organization on the Advent Calendar list but it is so very, very beloved in our house that we have played it every year, even when not officially doing the calendar thing. If you have the time to set it up, it is worth it.

Oh, I just realized I have my own slips in a big Word document! I’m happy to share it although it is VERY tuned to my own family (i.e. all the songs we listen to as a group on a regular basis) but if you want a quick way to join in the fun, let me know and I’ll mail it to you. I add new ones every year so it’s a pretty long list now. I can also recommend some picture-book hits of the past if you’re looking for those, too.

I’m not sure my older two kids care very much, but my youngest, who is very into traditions, was thrilled to see the advent calendar hanging back up again. So hopefully it’ll be a grand old time for all, and we’ll have a lovely, happy holiday, in which we all actually survive.

Milestones

I think I have my Christmas list nailed down, although I am taking a very lazy approach to it this year, so we’ll see if I actually finish the shopping any time soon. I have to say: thank goodness for online shopping. I can’t imagine what people did before they could order 75% of their gifts from Amazon.

Although now that I think of it, what they probably did was buy *less* and give *less* and that makes me feel very un-festive, so moving on!

I realized yesterday while looking over the shopping list that this is the first year in at least a decade that no one in this house is getting any kind of Lego. I always find it fun to do a Lego set on Christmas day in the afternoon and so that is rather sad. Maybe I will put some Lego on my own Christmas list.

And in other news, Little Miss Sunshine had a recent growth spurt and needed all new pants, and when we went to her go-to store, Justice, nothing fit. We ended up buying her ladies’ extra small pants from the H&M, and thus hereby ends the era of me shopping at children’s clothing stores. I’ll have to put the Children’s Place and Justice flyers directly into the recycling bin along with the Toys R Us flyer. Sniff.

And in other milestone news, I went for a walk last night with Sir Monkeypants and Gal Smiley, and there was a moment where I slipped on some ice and would have fallen, except Gal Smiley quickly caught me. She literally supported my full weight while I got my legs back under me. It felt like such a passing of the guard, and also, man, did I ever feel old. I’m sure she is currently Googling to get me some ice crampons for Christmas and possibly some prune juice. Festive!

Good Schools and Christmas Roulette

Today all three of my kids had a dentist appointment in the morning, and like always, I forgot to call the schools and tell them they were going to be late.

So when I was dropping the two older kids at the high school, I went inside with them to sign them in, so they wouldn’t get a skipped class marked on their record.

We went into the office and the school secretary was at the desk and greeted me warmly. I have been in the school office probably three times total since the Captain started there three years ago. I’ve probably exchanged 20 words with this woman, tops. The Captain and Gal Smiley probably have never been in the office for anything other than arriving late from dentist appointments. They’ve never been in trouble or had to go home ill or anything.

My point here is that the school secretary KNEW US. I came in and said that they were late because of the dentist, and without giving ANY names or any other identification, she quickly printed out late slips and signed in my two older kids BY NAME. WITHOUT ASKING.

This seems like such a minor thing, but I almost fell over in astonishment.

That’s because all three of my kids went to the same elementary school for years and the office staff there NEVER, EVER knew who any of them were.

We have had at least one kid there, continuously, since 2007. And never once have I gone into the office and been recognized, or had any of my three kids recognized. I always have to tell them our name, and usually spell it out for them, and indicate which of the three was standing beside me. Every time!

This despite a) having MULTIPLE kids in the school for YEARS, and b) having two allergy kids that require their photos to be POSTED IN THE OFFICE every single year, and c) volunteering on the parent committee for years.

I just figured since my kids were not troublemakers and they had several hundred students at the school, that that’s the way it went. The head secretary has been the same all this time but we have been through at least three helper secretaries and not one of them appears to know who we are, as a family or individually.

And yet, at the high school, which is bigger, and where my kids have been for only a couple of years, and where I have barely ever been inside, we are KNOWN.

I have to say, it was pretty awesome.

I realize I am freaking out about something very small. But I doubt I will stop marveling at this amazing incident for quite some time.


In other news, my birthday was yesterday and you know what that means – open season on Christmas! When I was growing up, my mother had the rule that no one was allowed to talk about Christmas until after my birthday on November 18. We’ve instituted the same rule here, purely for Sir Monkeypants, who can only stretch his Christmas enthusiasm so far (read: NOT VERY FAR) and so needed some kind of boundary.

But it is past my birthday now, so bring on the Christmas tunes! I have already queued up my Christmas Spotify playlist and there’s a local radio station playing carols 24/7 already so we’re good.

However, I am sad to say I am already out for the Last Christmas Roulette. Someone on Facebook started a game last year where you were “out” as soon as you heard Last Christmas somewhere, be it in your car or at a store or, as has happened in my case, being sung at top volume by a tweenage boy in the parking lot of the yoga studio the other day. I guess with my personal bombardment of Christmas music, I shouldn’t expect to last long, but seriously? This was even pre-birthday, people. PRE-BIRTHDAY. What up, young man?

I told Sir Monkeypants about this and he’s convinced he will easily be the last man standing, as he does not care for Christmas music (UNDERSTATEMENT) and avoids it at all costs. But he greatly underestimates the pervasiveness of Christmas tunes in the general public, and of the constant playing of Last Christmas in general. I’m guessing he has no more than a week before we hear it at the Superstore, or being sung by a boy in a parking lot, or in my car. Not to mention that there is a movie out right now CALLED Last Christmas, after the song, featuring the song, and being advertised all over. His days are numbered.

Think you can outlast him? We’ll see, my lovelies, we’ll see.

Snow

I was out walking with my youngest late last night, on the way home from Pathfinders, and she was giddy in the snow. We have several inches of it here in Ottawa and it’s light and fluffy and pure white – my middle daughter calls it “movie snow” because it’s so sparkly it almost looks fake, like we are in a cheesy Christmas Romance. Anyway, my youngest was saying how sad it is that some people are sad when it snows, because at least in the early days, it is so much fun and is so beautiful at night and you can make fresh snowcones just by dipping a cup out the back door, which is what she did when we got home.

All in all, it’s been a pretty happy snowfall here at the Turtlehead house. The girls are both delighted and the three of us have really leaned in to the Christmas Romances in celebration. Last year we watched everything Netflix had on its roster and this year we are planning to do the same. Little Miss Sunshine even made us a fancy decorated page where she intends to keep track of all the ones we watch. We’ve already watched Let It Snow – really, not a very good movie but that is NOT THE POINT. There was lots of sparkly fake snow and there was happy love stories and Joan Cusack was in it so WIN. We’re up for anything Christmas related you want to throw at us, Netflix!

It also helps when it is cold and snowy in early November in that I actually get in the mood to do Christmas shopping. It can sometimes feel like a bit of a grind but I’ve spent large portions of the last two days, when I should have been working, surfing the internet for gift ideas and putting together my shopping list. It’s in good shape and I think I at least have a plan for everyone.

I have to say – the current list does look rather intimidating. But there is fluffy, sparkly snow! So let’s do this thing!

I even wrote my annual Christmas newsletter. Every year I swear I will not do it, it is too much work, no one cares anyway, and then I pull up last year’s just to see how much work it would be to edit a few things and call it done, and then we all have a really hilarious, good time trying to describe each other’s favourite Meme Quote of the Year, and next thing you know I’m printing off 50 copies at Staples and buying a roll of stamps. I do blame the snow – it better not melt this weekend.

It’s a good thing that I do have many upcoming visits to the mall in my near future, because a) I like to be done shopping by December, so I can spend it just baking and singing ALL the carols, and b) suddenly everyone needs new pants as they have all grown at least four inches while my back was turned.

Oooh – new pants! GIFT IDEA. Adding that to the list!

A Nice Thing

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in the blog yet, but this past August we left our kids at home alone overnight for the first time ever.

Sir Monkeypants and I went to Toronto for the night for my cousin’s wedding, which was fun and laid back and delightful. Man, I just love a wedding!

The kids weren’t invited, and we were originally thinking we’d take them down with us and lock them in a hotel room somewhere while we went to the wedding, then haul them all home the next day. But the more we thought about it, the more that seemed silly, so we offered to let them stay alone for the 36 hours we’d be gone. They managed to keep their excitement to a minimum but agreed to the plan before we even stopped talking, so I’m guessing they were pretty pumped about the whole idea.

While we were at the actual wedding — this was during the bride and groom’s speech at the reception — Sir Monkeypants’ phone rang. It was Gal Smiley and she was upset.

I won’t go into what was wrong here, but I will say that it is very unusual for her to be upset in any way, ever. And it’s even more unusual for her to call for help under any circumstances, let alone when she felt she might be interrupting us at an important event. So this was A Big Deal, and I was worried about it.

I took the phone and asked her to hang on for a second and then I walked out of the reception room to look for a quiet place to talk to her.

On the way I had to pass several of the bar and serving staff that worked at the hotel where the reception was being held. I thought I did a pretty good job of giving them small nods and wry smiles that would lead them to believe that I was just stepping out to use the bathroom or something, no problem here.

I found a space down the hallway a ways, and sat on the floor with my back against the wall, and started to do some remote parenting, reassuring Gal Smiley that everything would be okay.

But I didn’t get too far into talking to Gal Smiley before two of the staff, a man and a woman, appeared right in front of me with concerned faces. They apologized for interrupting me but said that they just wanted to make sure I was okay, and ask if there was anything at all they could do to help. I’m not sure if they read trouble on my face, or maybe could hear my kid being upset on the phone as I walked past, but somehow they knew that something was up.

And then they actually did something about it – approached a stranger to see if she was alright.

I assured them everything was fine and I was okay. And I was – it took a while, but I helped Gal Smiley with her problem and calmed her down and we chatted for a while and I sent her some funny memes to laugh at and it ended happily, and I went back to the wedding.

But I keep thinking back to those two kind, friendly faces looking down on me with such concern, over what turned out to be a fairly small thing. They didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to follow up, especially when I (think I) didn’t give much of an outward sign that something was terribly wrong.

Those were some really, really nice people, who did a really, really nice thing, at a moment when I really needed to see a nice, friendly face. And I’ll always remember it, maybe at low times, maybe at hard times, maybe when I’ve messed up and I know I’m going to brood for a while.

It’s important, I think, to make a note of it when something really excellent happens. Because it’s so easy to remember the crap, and so hard to remember the good in the world. This one little thing was good, and I’m going to hang on to it.

Believe Your Mother

Last Saturday, we went to the mall. Little Miss Sunshine got a brand new cozy hoodie. It is pale cream with a rose-gold Mickey Mouse on the front.

She loved her new sweatshirt so much that she pulled it out of the bag in the car on the ride home, snapped off the tags, and put it on.

Then a tooth spontaneously fell out of her head. She’s 12, and up until then she’d only lost 9 baby teeth – she has a history of being very late with her teeth, and it had been months since she’d lost any others.

So we were all taken by surprise, and as the tooth fell, it splashed some blood on her new hoodie.

No need to panic, though. We rushed home and I washed it right away with some stain remover and it got the blood out and all was well.

The next day, because her new hoodie was all nice and clean and fluffy, she put it on again. A few hours later, we were watching TV and then another tooth spontaneously fell out.

(Well, this one may have had a little wiggling help, now that a certain someone knew what was possible, and was interested in seeing how the whole baby tooth process worked.)

And of course, that meant that blood got on her new hoodie.

More stain remover, back in the wash, good as new.

The next day was Monday, so she wore her new, clean hoodie to school.

They watched a movie in school that day and while the Little Miss sat at her desk, innocently, another tooth spontaneously fell out.

But this time, she didn’t get any blood on her new shirt! EXPERIENCE, right?

Then, on the way home from school, rushing excitedly to show me yet another empty space in her mouth, she tripped and fell in a mud puddle and splashed mud all over her new hoodie.

I said to her when she got home from school, “My mother always said that if you get something on a brand new shirt the first time you wear it, you’ll get something on it every time you wear it.”

She said, “It is amazing to me how many things Nanny says that are completely true.”

And then we did more laundry, while contemplating the circle of life that leads all daughters to feel frustrated with their own mothers, and yet to admire their grandmothers as fountains of wisdom.

(Also: the poor tooth fairy would like a break now, please and thank you.)

Getting Cultured

We took the kids to see RENT last weekend at the National Arts Centre. It’s part of our subscription package to Broadway musicals that we bought this year.

Here I must admit that I was very vain about the fact that we were taking the kids to see a Broad-WAY Musi-CALE (said in your most hoity-toity accent, if you please). I considered this to be an Above Average parenting moment, in which we were going to expose our children to Important Pop Culture, and The Glory of Live Theatre.

We would not be raising any HEATHENS who like SPORTS, for heaven’s sake.

We had tickets to the Friday night show, which was the third last of eight shows, and on the walk home from school that Friday, Little Miss Sunshine found out that EVERY ONE of the girls she walks home with had already seen it. ALL of them – this is three other thirteen-year-old girls.

So I was a little deflated, to say the least. I even did the math. Eight shows at the NAC means approximately 31 thousand people in the Ottawa area could see it, which represents just 3% of the Ottawa population, not even counting Gatineau. Three percent get to be super cool, and yet every single one of my kids’ friends are cooler than us. They even warned her about the most scandalous part – a mooning near the end of the first act – so she would be prepared to see BUTTS. BUTTS ON STAGE.

Sigh.

But just a few days later, the Little Miss was at school and one of her friends had earrings that were little chameleons, and her friend started singing “Karma Chameleon.” Little Miss Sunshine joined in, because Culture Club is timeless, hello, but then it turned out that NOT ONE OTHER KID in their class knew of the song.

Let us recap: RENT – been there, done that, everyone knows all about it. Karma Chameleon – some sort of obscure counter-culture jewel that only the coolest of the cool are aware of.

What kind of upside down world are we living in here, people?

The Best Candy

I declare this to be the best candy on earth.

It was Diwali yesterday, which is the Indian new year. Or possibly it was on Saturday — there appears to be a LOT of debate about this online. I believe it to be a New Years’ Eve versus New Years’ Day type of thing where for some people, the big event is the night of and for other people the big event is the day after. We are Day After celebrators.

Anyway, traditional Diwali gifts include new clothes, money, and candy to ensure you have a lucky and sweet year. I bought everyone their favourite candy and I bought myself some of those chocolate caramel Mentos and they are DANGEROUS.

I’ve been doing a low or no sugar thing lately because I find, as I age, I get so very, very tired when I eat any kind of sugar. There have been times when I have fallen off the wagon and eaten three or four Girl Guide cookies in a sitting and then I need to walk to the couch like a zombie Frankenstein, where I face plant and am asleep in seconds. It’s kind of scary, actually. Sometimes I think I should have it checked out but most of the time I figure it is another feature in the Wonderful World of Aging and if I’m lucky, I have another 40 years of Extreme Sugar Crashing to look forward to.

Yay.

Anyway, I am usually pretty good at avoiding easy sugar stuff like pop and candy, although I have two weaknesses: cotton candy, any flavour, and Mentos Chocolate Caramel. I cannot even open the Mentos package without being fully prepared with a couple hours of available naptime, because once it is open I am going to eat them all, very very fast. I can’t even savour them because they are so good that the very SECOND I finish one, I must have another one.

So, you have been warned.

I also bought myself one of these:

It is just a regular Kit Kat only made with some sort of fancy chocolate. You would not think that would make a difference in a $1.50 candy bar but OH IT DOES. I love these so much more than regular Kit Kats, and they are rare and hard to come by, so luckily I am much better at savouring them and parceling them out than the Mentos. But I still eat them when I should not.

My older sister knows this about me and recently she sent me an article about how Kit Kat is going to be setting up a store in Yorkdale Mall, in Toronto, where you can come in and build your own custom Kit Kat, including using Ruby Cocoa. To which I say, Thank Heavens this store is in Toronto, because I can’t nap all the freakin’ time, I need to get SOME stuff done on occasion, sheesh.

My Heart Will Go On

Celine Dion played in town last night, so there has been a flurry of her big hits playing on local stations. My kids already knew the My Heart Will Go On song from Titanic because we watched that movie last year, and with it in heavy rotation around here, everyone has been humming it all week.

I remember the summer of 1997 when that song was at #1 for like, 18 weeks or something ridiculous. I was a newly married lady and we had our morning alarm set to a local pop music station and I swear, that was the song that was playing every morning for at least a three-month stretch. Same time, every morning, Celine Dion welcomes you to the day. It was very Groundhog-Day-ish.

But even then, I didn’t really get tired of it. It’s not really my kind of song – I prefer jangly folk-rock with lots of acoustic guitars and a whiny lead singer – but it was a strong enough song to not actively annoy me through months of airplay.

Now my daughters, in particular, have both become a little obsessed and are playing that song over and over around the house, over dinner, before bed, and yes, first thing in the morning. It’s 1997 all over again.

I’m impressed though, that the song has such lasting power and impact. I guess there is something timeless and universal about it that it appeals to all ages and all types of music lovers.

I feel the same about The Lion King. I was at absolutely the wrong age for Lion King, being a young adult with no kids when it was released in 1994. But Sir Monkeypants and I had a few older friends at work and their toddlers and preschoolers were OBSESSED. They watched it over and over and knew all the songs.

When Little Miss Sunshine was a preschooler, I bought her a copy and the same thing happened. OBSESSION. She likes other Disney movies too, especially The Little Mermaid, but I have never seen love and adoration like a four-year-old has for The Lion King. And apparently, despite the years and advances in animation and whatever, it’s still got it.

This is in comparison to many other beloved films of my youth, not to mention classic, iconic movies from before my birth, that I’ve tried to show my children only to have them flop, or seem dated, or just move too slowly to grab them.

What do you think makes a pop culture gem so timeless that it will stand for the ages? I’ve been thinking it over and there’s no easy answers. I suppose if there were some kind of magic formula, every song would be an endless hit, and every movie would be in permanent Netflix rotation. I guess there’s just no explaining art.