Memories of Holiday Stories

The holidays are officially here! One of the things I’m thinking about this month is making memories. So today I thought I would share about one of my favorite memories from my childhood: holiday books. If you’re looking for a new story to read with your kids, here are some of my childhood favorites as well as some new holiday favorites (all the links are Amazon links for convenience, none are affiliate links).

The Mitten, Jan Brett

Annie and the Wild Animals, Jan Brett

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Jan Brett

The Legend of the Poinsettia, Tommy dePaola

The Night of Las Posadas, Tommy dePaola

The Friendly Beasts, Tommy dePaola

Night Tree, Eve Bunting

Christmas Tapestry, Patricia Polacco

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

Ox Cart Man, Donald Hall

Brave Irene, William Steig

Winter Story, Jill Barklem

Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, Alice Schertle

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving Paperback, Jan and‎ Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree, Jan and‎ Mike Berenstain 

The Christmas Wish, Lori Evert

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, Mercer Meyer

Tacky’s Christmas, Helen Lester

Biscuit’s Christmas Storybook Collection, Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Cranberry Christmas, Wende Devlin

Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Karma Wilson

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, Madeline L’Engle

One Wintry Night, Ruth Bell Graham

Clifford’s Christmas, Norman Bridwell

Fisher-Price Little People Christmastime is Here

Llama Llama Holiday Drama, Anna Dewdney

Best Christmas Book Ever, Richard Scarry

Christmas Mice, Richard Scarry

What are your favorite holiday stories?

Christmas Carol Classics: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

This month one of the things we’ll be doing is looking at Christmas songs (we’re looking at some too on one of my other blogs).  Today I thought we’d start with a fun one, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus!”

“I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night
She didn’t see me creep
Down the stairs to have a peep
She thought that I was tucked up
In my bedroom, fast asleep

Then I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus
Underneath his beard so snowy white
Oh, what a laugh it would have been
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night

He saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
I did! I really did see Mommy kissing Santa Claus
And I’m gonna tell my Dad

Then I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus
Underneath his beard so snowy white
Oh, what a laugh it would have been
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night

Oh, what a laugh it would have been
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.”

Did you know that this song was first recorded in 1952 by Jimmy Boyd who was 13 at the time?  Even more amazing, it reached #1 in December of that year as well.  One of the most famous recordings was by the Jackson 5 (you can listen to it here ).

The big controversy over this song is whether Santa is dad or if the writer of the song (Tommie Connor) is actually suggesting that the mom in the song is cheating on the dad with Santa.  Since we’re given the perspective of the child who believes in Santa being real, it’s not easy to tell which it is.

Regardless of what you believe or think the writer was getting at, it’s a good reminder that sometimes kids don’t understand things and we have to be careful as the adults to set a good example for them, especially in high pressure situations or in times when they may be extra sensitive (like with Christmas and being on the hunt for the stash or shaking presents under the tree or staying up to listen for reindeer hooves).

But, if like many people believe, the Santa is actually dad in disguise, it’s a good reminder to couples to find time to play and make special moments even if things are hectic and crazy like they are during the holiday season.  Yes, there’s a lot going on and you’ll probably be getting sitters for the parties you have to attend, but one of the best gifts you can give yourselves as a couple is to take a night to be alone (if money’s a problem there’s probably another family you can swap kids with to give them a night off too).  The holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration and coming together with those you love, so make sure to commit some of your time this month to your partner.

Sometimes School Stinks

Schools are officially in full swing and kids are getting back into their schedules and of course doing lots of homework.   I graduated from both high school and college, attended both public and private schools and attended 3 different colleges in different states during my college years, so I’ve seen some of what the educational world has to offer.  I’ve had some great teachers, I’ve had some teachers who had great personalities even if I don’t remember learning anything, I’ve had a ton of forgettable teachers, and I’ve had teachers who were terrible in more ways than one.

I’ve also met lots of of people having worked in schools and with kids outside of my own educational experience, plus owning my own business has introduced me to many people.  I know people from all around the world, and while their corners of the world may be a little different than mine, there are things that are unfortunately the same throughout the world that we need to pay attention to so that we can make the world a better place for the next generation.

School was created as a way to make sure that everyone learns certain things, like reading, writing and math.  We’re all exposed to some science, history and physical education as well, but those are less memorable for many of us.  Today I want to take just a couple minutes to talk about something that we don’t really like to admit: school failures.  I’ve already spoken to one of those negatives: teachers who stink.  Some teachers just don’t care about the kids, they’re just in it for the paycheck.  They share the same info every year and don’t take the time to make it come to life for new students, or consider the interests of their new students to add additional aspects to the classes.  It’s unfortunate because at some point in time they probably were passionate and did bring life to what they teach, they just don’t anymore.  As a parent there’s not a lot you can do other than encourage your kid to do the best they can and just get through it.  Sure, you can bring it up to the school board, but that doesn’t always work out in your favor and may do more harm than good.

Issue number two is that schools don’t always teach what people really need to know.  Because of the fact that I work with a wide variety of businesses some of my education that may not apply to others has been practically helpful, but much of it has not been, especially with the availability of Google and answers being a couple of clicks away.  There are many other skills that I wish had been taught but weren’t.  As a parent the best thing you can do is help teach some of those things at home and get kids involved in activities and learning experiences that are available extracurricularally.

Finally is an issue that we’ll talk about in greater depth in the coming weeks: bullying.  Relationships are the building blocks of our world.  If we aren’t able to create relationships of all kinds it’s much harder to do our jobs and live our lives.  There will always be some who are just bad people, but I believe most people don’t grow up wanting to be bad, they want to stand out or finally find acceptance.  If it’s your kid doing the bullying make sure to put an immediate stop to it and teach them better ways of interacting with others.  If they’re the target of a bully, encourage them to stand up for themselves and try to help the bully see the error of their ways, but if they don’t and adults aren’t able to intervene and turn the behaviors around, it’s time for new friends and acquaintances.

What lessons about school have you learned?

Teaching for Eternity

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about a topic that is top of mind for many families: going back to school.  Today I want to talk about one of the most fundamental and key aspects to school: teachers.  My mom has been involved in schools in many different ways for as long as I can remember.  She’s taught, been an aide, been a substitute teacher and of course gone back to school.  I’ve taught classes and groups and helped in many types of classrooms too and know how much work in involved, as well as how challenging some students can be, and how rewarding it can be as well as a teacher.  As a student I’ve had a few good teachers, some average (and forgettable) ones, and a few bad ones.  While there’s a shortage of teachers I don’t believe that’s a good reason to let the bad teachers stay at schools and continue to damage the learning experience for kids (and adults).

First I want to encourage each of us to accept the role of teacher as part of our lives.  I don’t think it’s necessary or right to hand that off to those who are officially teachers and say that we don’t have to do any teaching as parents, neighbors or community members.  All of us have skills and knowledge that can benefit the youngest of us, as well as the adults around us too.  Parents and caretakers especially have a big responsibility to not only make sure their kids are having fun, but also that the learning continues outside the classroom.  It’s a great opportunity to educate them about topics that most interest them and in ways that they learn best.

Second, it’s important to support the teachers.  Teachers are always in need of books and supplies for the classrooms, as budgets are tight in most schools.  I’ve known countless teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies, and to help students who aren’t as well-off as others.  A great way to help would be to sponsor kids for field trips, support the music or arts programs or give gift cards to the teachers so they can pick up what they need most.  For the teachers who regularly interact with your kids, you can give them gift baskets with things they like, gift certificates to restaurants, and most important ask how you can support them and your kids in their classroom.

Learning is a life-long activity but our foundations are built in those early classroom years by the men and women who give hours, days, months and years to invest in the next generation of minds.  Their impact continues long after a child leaves their classroom and goes out into the world.  What are you teaching those around you?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Henry Adams

Simple and Easy for Families

On Wednesday one of the things I talked about was the danger of making assumptions, as inspired by a statement by Seth Godin: “The lack of instructions doesn’t make something simple.”  As I was thinking about this insight, I read another, this time by Adam Lyons: “It’s simple, but not easy.”  So today I thought we’d talk about the concepts of simple and easy since they’re concepts that families deal with on a regular basis.  As adults some things seem so easy for us, for example we don’t have trouble lifting the full laundry basket but our kids can’t do it.  We also think it’s easy to read or make something to eat, but our kids struggle with the same things, and may even cause some serious problems if they tried to do what we do in the kitchen.  But kids seem to have a much better handle on the simple stuff like getting along, forgiveness, love, living in the moment, play and naps.

How can we bridge the gap between what we know is easy and what kids think is simple?  It’s our job as adults to teach kids the essential things they need to know in life.  Sometimes that means taking over and showing them, sometimes it means putting your hands on theirs to help them do it, sometimes it means letting them try and fail.  Regardless it usually means lots and lots of practice and repetitive explanations.  The transition from what kids don’t know is easy to what they do know is easy is very evident in families with multiple children.  As the younger siblings are learning the basics the older siblings say “that’s so easy!  I know how to do that!”  And so they learn and are on to new things that aren’t so easy.

But what about the simple things in life?  Not only do the simple things in life seem to come easy to kids, it’s not so easy when we try to put the simple things into practice. Why? Because for years we’ve learned, believed, taught ourselves, ignored, or chosen to see things and live in one way or another.  It’s a lot easier to talk about concepts than it is to put them into practice like kids do.   We need to do what kids do when it comes to the stuff that’s easy for us: learn and practice.  So this weekend and next week if you find yourself thinking that things are simple take time to appreciate what you can do, and if things are too hard, consider whether it’s something you can or should learn and get to work practicing, especially when it comes to concepts like getting along, forgiveness, and living in the moment.

Making Time for Quiet Time

Life has been a little crazy these past few weeks and my work schedule has definitly taken some hits.  How do you deal with it when life gets crazy?  You know, when your kids get sick the morning of a big presentation, or they have this big project you knew nothing about that’s due at the end of the week, or when your partner suddenly has a trip to take for work and leaves you with things you were going to do together.  Basically: life.  And heaven forbid if you have something going on in your life too on top of what goes on with your family like being sick or extended family stuff, right?!

I was reading an article the other day about how a family vacation almost never is a real “vacation” where people relax and rejuvenate, it’s only when couples go alone or people go alone that it is a real vacation.  I think family vacations are very important and some of my best memories of growing up are of family vacations.  But I also remember the times when we were dropped off at my grandparents for a week and my parents had some alone time, even if they were just at home without us.  We all enjoyed those times too.

A big part of life is learning to navigate the lumps and bumps, the relationships, the interpersonal differences, the questions of kids and all the unpredictables and unknowns we can’t anticipate.  If you can’t learn how to deal with it or manage it, it will manage you and sooner or later you’ll look around and wonder where your life has gotten to without you.  With school winding down and summer coming up soon you’re probably thinking about time off, whether you have kids or not.  Take time to be alone this summer.  Set up time each day that you have a few minutes alone, and if possible get your kids to do the same.  Maybe they’re too old for naps but that doesn’t mean that can’t read for 30 minutes or an hour or do a puzzle or color or another quiet activity, and give you some time alone.  Don’t feel bad or like a failure for needing alone time and making time to be alone, it’s healthy to be with people as well as to have time for yourself.

Friends and Enemies

Monday in the US we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He was a brave man with a big heart and courageous enough to not only pursue his dream but share it with the world and get thousands of people involved.  As I was thinking about his impact as a family guy and someone who cared strongly about others, I found this quote:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

We’ve talked many times about how powerful we are, in both words and actions.  As adults we teach (our) kids words to use and things to do, whether good or bad.  They may not copy us but they definitely see what we do and take note of it. Some choose not to follow our example and to follow a different path, but others do follow us, for good or bad.

It’s hard to see the bad that’s done in the world, especially since there’s so much of it, or at least that’s how it seems since that’s what most of the news is about.  And those people who do bad are remembered like Hitler and Jack the Ripper.  We too usually can remember the people who bullied us as kids and those who attack our children too.  They’re memorable because they had such a negative impact on our lives and/or our world.

There are also people who we think are generally good, our friends and family for example.  Which is why when they do things that hurt us or our kids it makes it more shocking and worse than seeing the evil in the world as done by “bad” people.  So what’s my advice in following the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?  Simply to choose your friends wisely and teach your kids how to respect and treat others well.

The Gift of Acceptance

It may be hard for you to hear, but you’re not perfect. Therein is one of the biggest challenges we face in our lives: accepting ourselves and each other regardless of imperfections, quirks, habits and interests. We all have things that we can (and should) work on and improve, but there are many things that will never change about who we are, nor will we ever be perfect as things stand now. Do you meet people and immediately look for things you would change or improve or don’t like, or do you look for ways that you’re similar or can relate to each other?

As parents or even just as adults we’ve got the gift of teaching kids that it’s OK to be yourself and have your own interests, and you don’t have to be the same as anyone or everyone else, nor do you have to be perfect to have a great life or be an amazing person. We’ve also got the challenge of accepting them for who they are, what they like and what they want to be (even if that changes dozens of times), along with all we do to shape our kids to be people who can contribute to the world in their own special ways and treat others with the same respect that they want to be treated with.

The biggest gift you may be able to give this holiday season could be to just accept someone else. It’s not your place to judge them (unless they ask for the critique), but it is your opportunity to give them the acceptance that they’ve maybe never had in their life before. If there has been someone in your past who has accepted you for who you are even when others didn’t make sure to send a ‘thank you’ their way before Thanksgiving. Let them know how much it meant or means to you to be accepted for who you are, faults, treasures and all.

“Thank you for accepting me as I am, with my virtues and defects.” Jenni Rivera

A Parent Was Once A Kid

Recently I heard about a survey given to a group of 10 year olds about “what’s wrong with grownups.”  Here were some of their answers:

1. Grownups make promises, then forget them, or say it wasn’t a promise, just a “maybe.”
2. Grownups don’t do the things they tell their children to do—like pick up their things or always tell the truth.
3. Grownups don’t listen. They decide ahead of time what they’re going to answer.
4. Grownups make mistakes, but won’t admit them. They pretend they weren’t mistakes at all—or that somebody else made them.
5. Grownups always talk about what they did and what they knew when they were ten-years-old, but they don’t try to think what it’s like to be ten-years-old right now.

There are a ton of things we could discuss from this incredibly insightful (and embarrassing) survey, but I just want to focus on a few key things we can do to set better examples for the kids in our lives.

First: perfection and aiming for the moon are great, but usually unrealistic.  Instead, promise what you know you can deliver, and if possible surprise them with something extra.

Second: words are powerful, so when we do or don’t follow through with what we’ve said kids think they don’t have to either (which leads to lots of fights and usually punishments).

Third: be open to all possibilities.  The more you close yourself off to what could be the less likely that you’ll get what you really want in life.  You’ll also end up alienating yourself from friends and family the less you’re willing to listen to and/or accept them for who they are and what they say.

Fourth: life has changed.  Kids today live a different life than even college students today did when they were their age.  So if that’s the case imagine how much has changed since when you were a kid!

Much has changed since you and I were kids, some things for the better and others not, and some things haven’t changed, like the value of love, honesty and family.  This weekend I encourage you to pay more attention to how you’re interacting with your kids, what you’re teaching them about responsibility, and which of your own advice you need to follow more.

A Day for Dad

Sunday in the USA is Father’s Day.  On the life and spirituality blog today I shared some thoughts about what to do if you’re struggling as parent or with your parents, so here I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what you can do to make sure Dad’s day is great!

-let him be a guy.  If he wants to plan a guy night the night before, let him do it.  If he wants to relax that morning instead of mowing the lawn, let him!  And let him wear his favorite t-shirt when the family comes over too.

-plan games outside with the kids.  What guy doesn’t like being outside running around and getting dirty with his kids?  And it’s great for the kids too.

-don’t nitpick or complain.  This is probably the biggest gift you can give him.

-give him great gifts.  You can get him his favorite beer or coffee, and you should also have the kids give him something personal like a picture frame with a picture of all of you in it.

-have the kids do his chores for that day while he sleeps in or watches sports.

-let him know you appreciate him.  It’s easy to find things to complain and fight about, we’re all super busy and not perfect.  So make sure that you let dad know why you value having him in your life and what you like best about him.

What gifts are you giving the men in your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!