The Anti-Christmas guide – or, how I celebrate with as little stress as possible.

Before I got married, I read a book called “The Anti-Bride Guide”. It told me all the rules I could break when planning my wedding. It let me know I didn’t have to put on a big show. It let me know I certainly didn’t have to spend the equivalent of a car loan for an event where the main part of it takes ten minutes. Why start off your married life in debt? I’ve never been one for spending a lot of money when there is nothing to show for it, so this seemed right up my alley.

The basic idea was to strip it all down to the essentials and add from there – if desired. What do you need to make you feel married? Do you need bridesmaids? Do you need a fancy hall? Do you need tulle, really?

So now that I’m reassessing Christmas, I’m doing the same. I’ve not found and “Anti-Christmas Guide” so I’m making my own. It is a work in progress.

What do I need to make it feel like Christmas? What distinguishes this time of year from all other times that are just as cold and dark?

The sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating part of getting married is that you have to figure out how you are going to celebrate the holidays. Even if you are both of the same religion, this can be tricky. I can only guess how complicated it is if you are of different traditions.

There are plenty of things that we have decided on, it turns out. Here are some.

Rankin-Bass Christmas videos. You know, those claymation videos from the 80s. Titles like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” are mandatory. I usually don’t like musicals, but I sing along to every song on these.

Stockings. I love Christmas stockings. I love stocking stuffers. Scott and I made our own stockings our first year together and we still use them. Why we made them of wide wale purple corduroy is beyond me, but we like them, and it was important to me that we made them ourselves. Remembering the stocking was one of my favorite parts of Christmas when I was growing up. It was like a second Christmas. We’d usually forget about them until an hour or so after all the presents were open. One of us would glance at the fireplace and see them and everything would stop. The stockings always had an orange in the toe. There wasn’t anything special about an orange – it just fit well in the toe.

Christmas presents have to be something you want- not something you need. Christmas is not a time to buy a new string trimmer.

We went without a tree for many years. I have come to realize I need something, just not a large something. We tried a rosemary bush for a while. I made little ornaments out of beads and earring hooks. It had the right shape and a good smell, but I am not very good at plant maintenance, so it died. We tried the next year with another one and had the same results. I felt that it was sad to kill a Christmas tree, even if it was just a rosemary bush, every year. It wasn’t its fault that I’m terrible at house plants. We went without a tree and I’ve found I need it. Scott constructed a small artificial one for me and it does us just fine. I have a candle that smells like a real tree, so that helps with the illusion.

I had some ornaments that meant a lot to me when I moved here. They were from my family and there were a lot of good memories attached to them. Some were handmade, some were antique. When I first came to Nashville I lived in an apartment and there was no room for a tree. I had some friends who let me store the ornaments at their house. They have since moved and lost the ornaments. I’m still very sad over this. I can buy new ornaments but I can’t replace those memories.

A nativity set. I had one that was hand carved out of olive wood from Jerusalem. Again, lost. Perhaps it was in with the ornaments. I found a new set at Goodwill made of pressed glass. It was cheap and it does the job.

I like to play the interactive nativity set game. My husband looks at me funny. The Magi move a little closer every day, and don’t get really near until Epiphany – twelve days after Christmas. I keep baby Jesus out of the scene until Christmas Day. It looks a little odd with Mary and Joseph staring down at nothing for a month.

Advent calendar. Scott comes from the Catholic tradition and I come from the Episcopal tradition. Advent calendars are part of both. I found one a few years back that is amazing. Brace yourself – Lego. Star Wars. Advent calendar. Too much awesome all together. It has a new minifigure to assemble every day for a month.

To visit family or not? These days, not. It is, as I like to say too much, and yet not enough, all at the same time.

There are reasons that police and nurses dislike working on Christmas. There are a lot of domestic disturbance calls those days. There is nothing about “peace on earth” that guarantees peace in your family. If you all can’t get along during regular days, then it might be best to stay home for the holidays. Domestic unhappiness and alcohol are a bad mix.

Sometimes we decorate the outside of the house. Sometimes not. We appreciate the bright lights this time of year and feel it is good to do our part. It isn’t much, but it is cheery.

Christmas cards. I like getting them, so I send them. We divide up the list, his and hers. Both of us write them up together. I always get Three Wise Men cards, and often some basic “happy holidays” ones for our non-religious friends. I’m considering sending cards to offices and restaurants we like to visit. It hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see.

We make cookies on Christmas eve. We leave the best ones out for Santa along with a glass of milk, along with a note. He always eats them. We even bought a special plate and cup for this. It has a penguin motif.

Midnight mass. Usually a good idea. This year, it probably won’t happen. I like the idea of staying up late to celebrate the first moments of Christmas Day. I love singing Silent Night in a darkened church, lit only by candles. But, it has been six months since our old church and I parted ways, and we haven’t been to a replacement yet.

Last but not least – I donate money to the first Salvation Army bell-ringer I see/hear.

So Christmas is what you make of it. It is kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. I keep moving the pieces around to see what looks good. It certainly isn’t about buying lots of presents and dealing with stress. It has a lot to do with being willing to invite Jesus into every moment, and for that you don’t need a special time of the year at all.

Homework – to help, or not to help.

I’ve never understood why parents will worry over their children’s homework. So many parents seem to think that “helping” their child with their homework means actually doing the work. The more that parents do for their children, the less the child is doing for himself. The less he does for himself, the less he is learning.

At what point is helping your child with homework just assisting, and at what point is it enabling? At what point is it flat out cheating?

Sure, you want your child to do well. Who doesn’t? But if you do the work for your child you are teaching him that he doesn’t have to do any work at all. The “A” that he gets isn’t really his “A”.

When your child comes up to you the night before an assignment is due and asks for your help, don’t. He got that assignment way before today. He has had time to work on it and has chosen not to. If you rescue him and do a lot of the work for him you are teaching him that waiting until the last minute is OK. You will teach him that failure to plan is fine. You will teach him that it is ok to make his procrastination other people’s problems.

Whatever behavior you want to see in your child when he is an adult, you should encourage it now. Waiting until the last minute to do your work, whether it is for school or for salary, is a bad idea and will result in less than perfect work. Expecting others to drop everything they are doing to help you with your assignments is bad too.

Expect better of your children. Encourage them to do their own work. If they get a low grade, at least it is their grade. Hopefully it will inspire them to get motivated sooner on their assignments.

Sure, help them with their homework. Take them to the library. But let them choose the books. Instead of answering a question, show them how to look up the answer. If you do all the work then they aren’t learning anything.

It isn’t about the grades. It is about what the child learns.

Plenty of parents feel pride if their child gets good grades in school. Why feel proud of your child’s grades if you have done the majority of the work?

Plenty of parents will say that “we have all this homework to do” It isn’t “we”. It is the child’s assignment. Let them do it. Teach them how to be responsible for themselves by making them be responsible for themselves.

Kindergarten 12-11-13

What a difference a little time makes. My order this week was J, S, and V, but V was out because she had to go to the doctor’s office. That is too bad because I wore the necklace that she inadvertently designed.


It is all stars and hearts. They are sparkly, too.


Not my style, but I think I need to get back in touch with my inner kindergartner. Maybe I’ll wear it again next week. I am a little concerned that she will want it. If I give a present to one, the others will get jealous. It is bad enough that some of the kids are upset that I don’t work with them. Today S asked me if I would buy him a Christmas present and I had to explain the concept of being fair to the other kids.

Plus, it is rude to ask for presents. But then, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

I had J first and boy was he excited. Maybe his enthusiasm is part of why other students ask me if I’m going to work with them. He pumps his arms and whoops when I call him to go to the tutoring desk. He acts like he just won a huge prize. Maybe he did. Who doesn’t like a little personal attention? Sometimes the teacher will assign a student to me who doesn’t need help with schoolwork. Sometimes all they need is a little one on one time with a person who cares.

It is too bad that J’s enthusiasm didn’t last long. He did very well for a while but then wanted to go back to class soon because they were working on math. Now that I think about it, numbers have been his favorite since the beginning. It is good findings something that can build up his confidence, but he has to nail reading too.

There are workarounds for not being able to read at all, but he doesn’t show signs of needing them. He does show signs of neglect, however. I get the impression that his parents don’t spend time with him. His hair always looks dirty and unbrushed, and he is a little wild. He seems to have a hard time controlling his reactions – they are a little over dramatic and agitated. He also is noticeably behind on his speech. It is very hard to understand him. He has been going to a speech therapist but I’m not seeing improvement. At times it seems like it is getting worse. I wonder if he acts like he needs specialized help because he just wants attention – since he isn’t getting it at home.

I worked with S for a while too. It is amazing to see a child who is being raised in a non English speaking home do better than one whose parents speak English. He does well with vocabulary and his letters, and it is heartening to see how confident he is getting. His speech reminds me of another Hispanic child from last year. It isn’t quite English and it isn’t quite Spanish, but he is very enthusiastic about it.

I finished early because V wasn’t there so I stayed to help with the math centers. They had a bunch of fun ways of learning about numbers and shapes. If math had been that fun when I was in school I might have liked math more. The students had to work with partners and one of the girls asked me to work with her. She has asked me to work with her every week, and remembers that I was there helping her the first week of school. That is pretty amazing for a kindergartner. Usually they don’t remember very well.

It is part of what makes the books hard for them. They can’t get the pattern. Page one. “See the bear. The bear can climb.” Page two. “See the squirrel. The squirrel can climb.” After we have gone through all the other animals that can climb I’d think they would get that the only word that changes is the animal, and there is a picture of it on the page. Nope. It is all a surprise every time. Books for five year olds are very short on purpose. I wonder how much of that is to keep the reader from pulling out her hair because they are so simple.

There was a bit of a wrestling match over who would get to have me as a partner. J wanted me, but I pointed out to him that we had already worked together so I needed to work with someone else. He was having none of that. Now, I’m not going to be monopolized, and I actually do want to see how the other kids are doing. I’d like a sense of perspective.

The teacher came up with a good plan. I could go around and check their work, instead of pairing up with them. She’s very good at plans like this. I think part of what I go there for is to learn these lessons. I think I might have missed some life lessons when I was five. It is a good idea to fill in the gaps.

Soon it was time for them to get ready to go out to play. It was a little cold but sunny, so they put on their costs. I put on my coat as well because it was time to leave. S saw me with my coat on and asked if I was going outside to play with them. I said I was going to lunch and he looked sad. I’m a little sad too. Why don’t adults get a regularly scheduled playtime?

I think that and a nap would do us all a world of good.