Happy Birthday to my sweet sweet boy. Three years ago he made me a mama, and he’s growing into such a lovely person that I can barely stand it!
From the time I was a small girl, I have always wanted to celebrate St. Lucia Day. December 13th, a day marked in Sweden, Norway, and other northern countries, is marked by St. Lucia Day. A day honoring a Christian martyr, celebrated by the oldest girls in a family dressing as Lucia girls, and bringing coffee and buns to their parents. To celebrate my Swedish/Norwegian heritage, this year I dressed up as St. Lucia.
Did I also mention that it was my birthday on December 13th?
St. Lucia Day. My birthday. In my wedding dress, with my red sash, and homemade wreath of candles, I set out with two of my college friends to Seattle’s Pike Place Market to pass out candy canes as a strong female holiday character. To my great joy, there were many kids who said “Santa Lucia!” when they saw me. Seattle has a strong Swedish and Norwegian heritage, so it was fun to meet little blonde kids who had just come from dancing at the Nordic heritage museum and then getting candy canes from me at the market. A fun experience for me, too, and a great way to get another use out of my wedding dress!!
Today two of my dearest friends from college are coming in to town. One from across the mountains, riding the train and taking a bus to see me. The other driving up from Portland, Oregon, all to celebrate my birthday. A December birthday. And I. Can’t. Wait.
So, it was surprising to me, to be in the grocery line at Fred Meyer, and have the cashier tell me that Potamus will get too many presents in December, and that he should celebrate his birthday in June. Um, what? I’m celebrating his BIRTHday lady, not a random June weekday. But this sentiment is something I get a lot “oh, poor thing, having a December birthday,” and the following are either: A) He will get TOO MANY PRESENTS and be overwhelmed and then a whole year of waiting will suck for him, so spread it out, or B) He won’t get ANY presents, because people will combine them together and he’ll get shafted.
As a December birthday girl, I gotta say: people are fucking dumb.
I loved having a month of presents and magic. My friend Ruth’s birthday is on December 31 and she said it’s like the whole world parties for her birthday. I know several December birthdays, and with the exception of those born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, nobody seems to have much of an issue with it. Because let’s be honest, when else do you get a WHOLE MONTH OF PRESENTS AND MAGIC? Getting a few toys in June just doens’t compare to the exponential magic of holiday parties and birthday parties and Christmas Eve and going to grandparent’s houses, and celebrating “Winter Holiday” in school and it feels like you were born at this magical time with Jolly Old St. Nick and Jesus and there are reindeer, and snowmen and sure it’s not just for your birthday, but it’s sorta like getting invited to Prom by the most popular kid in school.
But sure, there’s some practical advice for celebrating a December Birthday:
- Don’t be an asshole. Don’t tell the kid it sucks to be born in December and that they’re getting shafted. Mostly because it’s not true. And if it was, would they know any better? Are you the kind of Scrooge who tells kids Santa isn’t real, either? Don’t ruin Christmas. Don’t ruin birthdays. Got it?
- Make your own traditions for celebrating birthdays vs. Christmas (or your Winter Holiday). My birthday is on the 13th, and so in my family we always waited to put the Christmas tree up until December 14th so that it didn’t feel like “my day” was being overshadowed. Since Potamus’ birthday is the 20th, I’m not sure if we’ll follow that same tradition, but we will definitely ask him how he feels when he gets older (we did the Christmas tree tradition because one year they did it earlier and I felt like my birthday was forgotten). Don’t go to birthday dinner and then do Santa pictures on the way home. Keep them separate.
- Wrap gifts in birthday paper. There are Christmas presents and Birthday presents. And wrapping paper matters.
- Be pro-active with school parties. Celebrate right before school lets out for break, cause it’s WAY harder to rustle kids and families up for birthday parties when they aren’t all in school together. Send invites well in advance. When I was in later elementary school my mom would host a sleepover or after school birthday party on the Friday school let out. Gave parents an excuse to go Christmas shopping before picking my friend’s up. And we all just rode the school bus together to my house, played, and had a blast. I never thought it was weird that it wasn’t a party on a Saturday or Sunday.
- Let the birthday kid open gifts when he gets them. Package comes in the mail a week early? Celebrate! By far my favorite part of having a winter birthday was for once I didn’t have to wait forever. I had to wait to open Christmas gifts, because that was a family day, but birthday gifts? I got to open those on the 8th, or the 11th, or the 16th, whenever they came in. It added to the magic.
Embrace the magic, because December babies are full of magic. So I nodded politely at the grocery store cashier, and moved on my merry way.
Any other advice you might have for holiday time babies?
Today I shared this Offbeat Home article,“On being raised as a ‘small person’ instead of being ‘treated like a child,’” on my Facebook page. I resonated with the ultimate message, about the inherent dignity of children, but after having two texting conversations with moms of young kids, I started to really evaluate and re-evaluate my position on the whole matter.
My Facebook status said, “this is my parenting philosophy. Potamus is a tiny person.” But then I began to reflect, on how some adults treat children like mini adults. That they forget the cognitive and emotional place of being 2 or 3 or 4, and how children do not have the same life experience and/or reasoning of consequence and pre-frontal cortex control and development that adults do. If the teens in my class can’t emotionally regulate, or think about consequences in the future, getting caught up in the moment, then how could I possibly expect a wee toddler to do that? I think there are parents who treat children the same way they would adults, and maybe they think this is giving respect to the children, but expecting a 2 year old to have the same cognitive reasoning or emotional control, is actually detrimental, in my opinion (and I’m sure there could be research out there, but I’m just a wee blogger and not looking for a persuasive argumentative paper).
An example, that I could think of from my own life, was the difficult ‘adult’ decision that was asked of the kids in our family when we were faced with an impending move. I was 12, my brother was 10, and my sister 7. We had been living without my dad for a year. He was home on weekends, but spent the rest of the week three hours away working for a radio station in Eastern Washington. My mom worked an early morning school district job, then came home, got us out the door for school, and then went back to work at another school district job. She was exhausted by 5pm, and I picked up a lot of the slack. While not a little child, I was still a kid, and when posed with the rock and hard place choice of “move to where your dad works,” or “live like this for six more years until you graduate from high school.” At the time the choice seemed ‘easy,’ but the emotional fallout of moving to an entirely new culture and making friends and leaving everything I loved behind. Because we had voted, it felt like there was no room to dislike the choice. I felt stuck, and like if I had voted to stay I would have been making my mom miserable, who was stuck parenting solo. I think if my parent’s had just said, ‘this is what we are going to do,’ I would have been angry with them. I would have lashed out and blamed them and been upset. Instead I swallowed my anger and it sidled into depression.
Then, there are the families that I’ve worked with as a crisis counselor, where the tiny people are treated like friends. Where five year old are privy to impending parental divorce before their other parent is. The teenagers who are crying out for boundaries, but met with the wishy washy bubblegum popping mom who sneaks out to clubs in her daughter’s Silver jeans. The adult thinks they’re respecting the kid by being friend-like, but it puts youth in the position of trying to figure out adulthood without an adult role model.
A few weeks ago I read some commentary about body autonomy, and how when they “have children, we’re not going to force them to do things that their body doesn’t want to do,” and I liked that idea, because doesn’t it feel shitty to have someone bigger than you telling you what to do? Like a boss, or the government, or your parents at Thanksgiving who can’t seem to realize you don’t want more turkey. You know? But here’s the thing, when you’re 3, and you have an ear infection, and you don’t want to take the bubblegum liquid, your parents might have to hold you down, and stick their fingers in your mouth, risk being bitten themselves. You might be sobbing, and saying “no mama, no mama,” but you don’t know about burst eardrums or hearing loss. You don’t understand ‘it’s for your own good,’ because you’re three years old and it just feels like you’re being forced into something you don’t want. And that’s a true story, from the Potamus ear infection files over the last week. Because, my job as a mom is to get him to take his medicine, and wear a coat. I might give a lot of body autonomy and freedom of choice over dinner options (yogurt? peanut butter crackers? blueberries?), but we will absolutely not go outside in sub freezing weather in basketball shorts and a Spiderman tank top.
So after I posted, and texted, I immediately thought “oh shit, I don’t believe that article at all,” and yet…yes I do. Because Potamus is short, he’s still a person, and I treat him like the tiny human he is. But I don’t want him to be a mini-adult, and he’s not my friend, (though sidekick, I’ll allow). He’s aboslutely equal on the soul level, worthy of every human dignity, and yet it’s my role to shephard him toward his own brand of adulthood, and that means letting him be a child, not forcing him to grow up too fast.
Because I can’t find words to express my own December depression, I bring you this beautifully written piece.
Oh hey, guess what? It’s December and I can’t stop crying. If you’ve been around a while you have likely already guessed it. I hate the weird lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas when you hemorrhage money and you wonder what it is all really for and you wish you could just climb into bed with the people that you love and knit hats and wear sweatpants and eat pizza and watch movies on repeat. Oh? That’s just me?
But when I am not moping I am hanging Christmas lights and loving my people. That’s the real pisser about the Winter Time Blues. It’s broken up by a lot of really great moments. This year’s funk is extra special. Because the only thing that makes me sad and scared and completely anxious more than cold weather is good, good news.
When MQD and I got engaged I was elated…
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“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” Ann Lamott
The challenge is complete. Last night, at midnight, the NaNoWriMo challenge officially ended, and not a moment too soon. Though I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed the act of sitting down daily to write, pushing myself to think of memories that don’t always come readily, like the time I broke my arm sliding down the slide wearing sweater tights, or how my brother kept saying “my feet are nice and moist,” when he got a concussion mopping the floors with his sock clad feet while I was his high-school babysitter. I have no idea the quality of the writing, or the quality of the memories, but somehow, bit by bit I wrote, daily, to complete a whopping 78 pages plus a few little sprinkles. I used three wheels of ink for the typewriter, and a partial ream of paper that I might have ‘borrowed’ from the office copier. Living dangerously on borrowed paper.
Today I borrowed a few more pages, and made myself a photocopy of the original. Because someday I’m going to want to revisit this ‘masterpiece,’ and do some edits. Or maybe that’s overly ambitious the day after the challenge is over. Maybe I’m always looking forward to new projects. A year barefoot. A year without shopping, or buying books. Three years without shaving any body hair. 30 days of yoga in a summertime. A month of daily writing, 78 pages later. A few tiny accomplishments, which leads me to my new favorite podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, by Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter, two Spokane poets. Sherman’s on my mind a lot since I’m teaching one of his novels next quarter.
Maybe I’ll look over these stories in the springtime. Read them. Edit them. See where they can be tweaked and shaped into something new. For now they’ll go in my folder of completed words that live a life unseen by the public, unlike this blog.