I Love a Robot

Sometimes everything falls into place and I am exactly the kind of mom I want to be. The kind of mom I imagined I’d be before reality and everyday life slammed into my dreams, knocking the wind out of their beautifully painted sails. The kind of mom my heart still longs to be…

This week it happened while I made my husband install a new mailbox in front of our house. We had a… broke-down un-palace of a mailbox. The neighbors all had the fancy-pants Rubbermaid mailboxes. We stuck out like a sore thumb. So we broke down and became, as my dad said, Suburbanites. Our mailbox matches. But that wasn’t what made me a good mom.

The boys discovered the box the mailbox came in and, in short order, tossed it over their heads, pretending to be robots.

A boy and his gun-wielding robot.

In an instant, I had a flash of painting the robot. Me, the un-crafter. The anti-crafter. I had a vision of sitting with my boys in the yard and painting up the robot with brightly colored paints. I mentioned it to them. “Maybe if we have a good day tomorrow, we can paint that robot after dinner.” They were excited. I was excited.

The day was good. After dinner, I actually remembered where our poster paint was stored even after the move. I quickly found seven of our eight big paint brushes. The weather was playing along nicely — not too hot, a cool breeze. I asked the boys to stay inside as I set everything up, humming along as I lined up tubes of paint next to the box, balancing one brush per color precariously on top of each tube. I’m sure I looked a sight to the neighbors, most of whom fall in the gap between my parents’ and my grandparents’ ages. I think they’ve accepted our “young” family’s quirks and oddities, but I’m sure they stand at the window and think, “What’s she up to now?”

The boys came rushing out, no longer able to control their excitement as they stood at the living room window, watching me get things together for them. I showed them the paint, pointed to the blank canvas of our tall robot and let them have at it. They started to argue over the same color, almost immediately. Somewhere I found my calm voice and pointed out that there were seven colors; surely they could find one of their own, use it for awhile, and switch off.

And a hush came over the yard as the three of us sat and started painting.

Robot Painting

Briefly, of course. Our oldest son has a tendency to talk — non-stop, to make absolutely everything a lengthy discussion. What kind of paint is this? What happens if the temperature gauge you are painting over there, Mommy, would get too high? Would it explode? Or just catch on fire? Do we really need another triangle button? I know, let’s paint another gauge down here and make that one be the explosion gauge. And on and on and on. Our younger son, mostly wanted whatever paint brush and color I was using, awed by my “artistic ability.” Mainly I just made geometric designs and painted corners and had a blast. I handed over my brush a billion and one times, patiently, accepting whatever brush he had been painting something equally awesome at his place along our robot.

Robot Painting

Our fun began to wind down right as a big gust of wind came along. I looked up, surprised to see that the sky had gotten darker. We had been so in the moment, enjoying the time so completely, that we missed the weather turning. We’re a little weather-gun-shy right now, so we began running around the yard and cleaning up. LittleBrother managed to collect all of the paint brushes while BigBrother helped me screw the lids on the poster paint and put them in the box. No arguing. No fussing. No yelling by me. Soon we were all safely in the garage, setting our robot down to dry.

The next day, their excitement could hardly be contained, bubbling over as they told their Daddy about their robot. I smiled into my cup of coffee, feeling as if I had accomplished something magical, something beautiful. I had made one perfect little memory.

BigBrother Robot

We made a robot.

LittleBrother Robot

He is already ripped and torn and beyond well-loved, less than a week later. But he remains an accomplishment of mine. A moment in time that I will cling to when they don’t want to hang out and paint in the front yard with me anymore.

Robot

I will always love that robot.

Our Advent Season Activities and Book List for 2011

Last year, we had a blast with our Family Advent Calendar. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do it again this year and add a little something to it as well. Andrea (@MissFish) put up her 25 Days of Christmas post, though she’s scaling back to 12 this year. We’re joining in for the full 25 — and I’m so excited!

This year we’re doing the activity envelopes, recycled from last year and adding a book a night to unwrap. I’m sharing both processes with you here right now.

Advent Activities

I saved all of our envelopes from last year, minus two that disappeared. I was completely out of Christmas scrapping paper, as I honestly don’t scrap anymore, so I got creative and used a few of the Christmas cards that we saved from last year. I think this adds a nice touch to the calendar seeing as how one of the cards I used was from my Grandma. You can find the template for the envelopes at Andrea’s site.

Grandma's Card

I stuffed them all this year ahead of time, checking our family calendar, my husband’s fire department work shift calendar and all of the things we have to do. I decided not to put any weather dependent things on our list this year (sled riding, etc) because I didn’t like switching things out and worrying about what the weather was doing. I don’t need more stress during the holidays! And so, our calendar is hanging up in our dining room, ready to go for December 1st!

Here’s what’s on our list this year:

  • Watch the Guernsey County Court House Light Show
  • Make hot chocolate
  • Elf someone
  • Bake peppermint cookies
  • Make ornaments for Grandmas (I’d share the link, but they read)
  • Take toy donation to our local Secret Santa program
  • Watch a Christmas movie in jammies
  • Stuff, stamp and mail our Christmas cards
  • Write our letters to Santa
  • Attend the Cambridge Singers Christmas concert
  • Go to LittleBrother’s Christmas program
  • Visit Santa!
  • Celebrate Munchkin’s birthday with cupcakes
  • Decorate paper trees with glitter paint (a hit from last year)
  • Build a puzzle in front of the tree
  • Go to Nina’s for a surprise!
  • Donate canned goods to a local pantry
  • Make teacher gifts!
  • Write a Christmas story as a family
  • Winter begins! Make snowflakes!
  • Time capsule letters!
  • Game night in front of the tree — everyone gets to pick one game!
  • Unwrap one present (it’s jammies!)
  • Read the birth of Jesus from the Bible before we open presents.

Exhausting — but wonderful. I’m really trying to focus on doing things together this year — everything from making gifts for teachers to all of our normal donations to baking to just hanging out. It’s very important to me for them to recognize the importance of those things, whether during this time of year or not.

Advent Activities

Which is why we also decided to implement the Book Advent Calendar as well. It’s all over Pinterest and the blogosphere this year, and I almost didn’t blog it. But I thought, at the very least, adding our extensive Christmas book library to the discussion might be helpful.

Advent Books

I didn’t have trouble filling 24 days with Christmas books. In fact, I couldn’t put all of our Christmas books into the calendar. We have over 30. A few of them are new for this holiday season, purchase via the boys’ November Scholastic book orders from school, but the rest have been purchased over the years. I pulled all the ones we own last month, added in the new ones and sorted through which ones I thought would be best to read this year.

Here’s our book list:

Advent Books

Books not wrapped include a The Night Before Christmas Look and Find and a Rudolph Look and Find as those don’t work well for my two as bedtime books. I also had a handful of board books that need to be passed on as well as a pop-up nativity. I also chose not to wrap Veggie Tales: The Star of Christmas (because it takes eons to read) or either version of The Night Before Christmas since we’re reading The Firefighter’s Night Before Christmas. Also, the boys love the one that my parents recorded for them last year and would have missed it had I wrapped it!

Advent Activities

The idea is to open one wrapped book every night and read it together in front of the tree. The boys are already curious as to what the wrapped, book-looking-like objects in the box under the tree are for, but I haven’t told them yet. I like keeping the holiday mystery for as long as possible.

Last year, we opened our Advent activity envelope at random times during the day, sometimes right before bed. This year, we’re opening it while they eat breakfast before school. Every slip of paper also says, “Don’t forget to open a book tonight!” So we’ll know the activity all day — and be less likely to have to rush to fit it into our schedule — and we’ll remember to open a book at bedtime. Not that I think they’d let me forget the books once they figure out what we’re doing.

I am hopeful that this will be another holiday season to remember for our family. The boys are a year older this year and it strikes me as most important to continue both building tradition and teaching them those core values that we hold so dear. Is it more work for me? For my husband? Yes and yes. Is it worth it. I believe so.

Are you doing any family activities this season?

Our Advent Calendar, 2010

Last year, I realized at the Very Last Minute that we didn’t have an Advent calendar. We did a variation of what we’re doing this year, but with far less planning. This year, I started my research in November, found an idea that I thought I could handle and actually followed through with it.

And I’m so pleased.

25 Days of Christmas at Quiet Fish

We used the Advent envelope idea I found via Andrea at Quiet Fish. Basically, we have 25 little envelopes hung on a ribbon in our dining room (which was light on Christmas decorations anyway, so this is nice). We’ll open one each day. Instead of chocolates or toys (though I do see LEGO Advent calendars in our future), each slip of paper is filled with a fun (hopefully) family activity. It’s what we did last year, but much more organized. Whew.

Day 1 and Onward

The template — available over at Quiet Fish — for the envelopes was easy to cut out. I printed it on card stock so it stood up to 25 tracings. The template makes two envelopes out of small/rectangle scrapbook paper and three out of the bigger/square paper. You have to line them up all sideways and willy-nilly, so trace before you cut to make sure they fit together and you get the most out of your paper.

Speaking of paper, I took the boys to the store with me to help pick out the papers they wanted. (No, I don’t have scrapbooking paper at home anymore. I’m all digital.) Anyway, they had a good time. I picked a few of my choosing and they picked some of their favorites as well.

We obviously had to have birthday paper for the Munchkin‘s birthday.

Munchkin's Birthday

And I was trying to choose something for Christmas day when LittleBrother informed me that we should get the paper with crosses on it since it’s Jesus’ birthday, after all. Yeah, I got schooled by a three year old on the meaning of Christmas. Nice.

Jesus' Birthday

I wish, given our limited space, that I had scaled down the template just a bit and made smaller envelopes. But it works and I’m pleased. The envelopes were easy to make (even for me). The thing that gave me the most problem was the flipping miniature clothes pins (found in the wood section at Hobby Lobby, by the way). FireDad had to put at least ten back together for me as they kept springing apart.

I have our list of ideas all planned out, but as Andrea at Quiet Fish suggests, I won’t stuff the appropriate day’s envelope until the night before or day of just in case some swaps have to be made. That was an issue we had last year with our other version. As an example, pouring down rain won’t make for a good carriage ride.

So what are we doing? In no specific order:

  • Write & mail letters to Santa • Visit Santa at the mall • Make paper snowflakes • Read How the Grinch Stole Christmas before bed • Make a list of 10 things you are thankful for and hang them up near the Advent envelopes in the dining room • Make our donation to Secret Santa (local kids’ toy collection program) • Watch It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown on TV • Bake Christmas cookie • Make a Rudolph handprint craft • Take Christmas Angel present to Kmart • Wear Santa hats to the Fire Department and sing Christmas carols for Daddy & the other firefighters • Sing in the Christmas Concert • Have hot chocolate after the preschool Christmas program • Make birthday cupcakes for the Munchkin • Go on a carriage ride & watch the light show afterward • Watch a Christmas movie of the boys’ choosing downstairs • Decorate some crafty Christmas trees • Take a trip to Papau & YiaYia’s house! • Build a gingerbread house • Make peppermint barkElf someone • Wrap presents for Daddy & each other • Color pictures for Santa • Read the Christmas story together • Say a thank you prayer for the gift of Jesus and family (obviously the Christmas day one)

Yes, so, some of those are day specific (Munchkin’s birthday, singing in the Christmas concert) while others are kind of specific but still flexible (we can go to the fire department to sing FireDad carols on any day he is working) while others are free to float about as needed (Elf-ing someone, any baking or crafts). I think I’ve allowed enough flexibility in there that I won’t feel overwhelmed or “put upon” for keeping up with our Advent activities.

Because that’s the whole point of this endeavor: To keep the focus more on family and less on the unimportant stuff this season. It involves careful, mindful preparation by me (do we have the proper ingredients? do we have the proper crafting stuff? am I leaving enough family time after I finish my work for the day?) to make sure that we can complete each day. For me, especially, the holidays can be a difficult time of year. My default, knee-jerk reaction is to hole up in my room and ignore the emotions and weight of it all. However, that’s insanely unfair to my boys. That’s why we did a less-organized version of this last year and why I felt so compelled to do it again in a grander fashion this year.

I want to give my boys the Christmas season that they deserve. They deserve a present, focused and joyful Mommy (and Daddy, yo!). So, I’m doing my best to provide that for them. I am thankful that FireDad is on board with the whole concept and gave me a hand with some of the ideas.

Here’s hoping that the next 25 Days of Christmas are ones worth remembering!


[PS: Speaking of Christmas, I'm giving away a Weebles playset & a $100 Hasbro gift card thanks to BlogHer. Go enter over here.]

Happy Father’s Day

Oh, gosh. It’s so hard for me to keep a secret. It’s even harder for BigBrother to keep one but I’d like to say that we all made it through the week without spilling the beans. Or the candy, as it were. We took this idea from AlphaMom, originally found at Living Locurto, and made FireDad a super hero box. It’s filled with X-ray Vision Drops, Hero Juice, a Secret Identity Bar and other great little bits of awesomeness.

Hero Box

BigBrother and LittleBrother helped purchase everything, some of which came from Hobby Lobby, some of which came from Kroger. I also learned that you have to be eighteen to purchase spray glue. Yes, I got carded. Yes, I’m proud of that fact. The boys helped cut out the labels, printed on our snazzy Kodak printer. They also helped me glue the paper towel to my thumbnail. Win.

FireDad liked it.

Opening

He’s been nomming on some X-Ray Vision Drops (lemon drops) and shooting me suggestive glances for the past half hour. I’m deeply amused.

I attempted to get a good photo of FireDad with TheBrothers but it didn’t quite work.

NO!

Then again, I think that’s absolutely hilarious. It’s a keeper.

Happy Father’s Day.