Christmas Debrief: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Parent of the Under 6s.

Christmas Tree with Presents

10. Don’t feel guilty about perpetuating the Santa Myth. 

We all have them, those kill joy friends who, with slight condescension, explain how they aren’t going to lie to their children about Santa, blah blah blah…implying we are somehow stunting our kids intellectual growth or some other bullocks.

Poopoo to them! Science now says we are actually doing our kids a favor not only in creating joy and excitement, but laying down the pathways for a lifetime of Yuletide happiness.

With this in mind, much of this list is geared towards helping you keep the myth alive. These are some of the very useful lies I’ve used to extricate myself from otherwise myth-busting moments.

9. Santa outsources toy making!

Once upon a time, in a world with far fewer kids, Santa’s team could make toys for everyone but nowadays, he occasionally has to supplement with store bought toys. Of course he gets them at a great discount thanks to bulk buying. This provides the alibi for when they start to recognize labels and packaging from toy stores and brands.

8. The elves shop at Ikea.

Everyone knows the elves make the toys and are responsible for wrapping them too. Nowadays, anyone living within a 50 mile radius of Ikea is probably getting their wrapping goods there. Seriously, the Swedes are genetically engineered to be perfect at making Christmas accoutrements.

Thanks to Ikea rolls, I no longer find myself  at 11pm at night faced with a new roll of wrapping paper, for which I payed through the nose, with a total of  4 centimeters of paper, just enough to cover the cardboard core or 1.75 small presents. Also, any gifts exchanged with friends for our kids are now extremely likely to be wrapped in the same paper scheme as what you already have under the tree.

#8 and #9  will also ensure you don’t start getting some rather perplexed looks from your five-year-old next time you unwittingly take them to Ikea a little too close to Christmas.

7. Santa only handles presents for kids.

It’s better than the ‘only for those who believe‘ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I believe yet I don’t get any or at least very few gifts under the tree. When disciplining my kids, I don’t need them pointing out, that given the lack of booty with my name on it, I must be very naughty indeed.

Secondly, when rushing to get ready for some Christmas party and wrapping a present for the hostess, your kid will know that we adults exchange presents because Santa already has so many kids to focus on. And this leads us to #6

6. Santa leaves parents any surplus wrapping paper he has.

Santa realizes that mommies and daddies also like to give gifts and generously leaves us any extra wrapping paper he may have.  This ensures no suspicion arises when you are caught wrapping a gift for someone in the same paper used for all the previous year’s gifts.

5. Write gift tags with your other hand.

It’s only a matter of time before your kids learn to recognize your own handwriting. I would suggest getting Santa’s script down now. I once entertained using cut-out letters à la ransom letter but that would take way too long not to mention  be a bit macabre. I may eventually get some a rubber name stamp for everyone –though it strikes me as a touch too retentive, even for me.

4. If you can, wrap presents in advance.

Where do I start….first off I have yet to master this but having found myself acting like the grinch this Christmas morning, not wanting to come and see the magic despite the very reasonable hour at which the kids woke me up, I feel it’s time I get my act together.

It goes without saying –but I’ll say it– one should only do this if you are SURE you have a 100% full-proof hiding place. It is much better to say all those presents are things I’ve been saving for your birthday –albeit with a painful need to buy a whole other set of presents –then admitting defeat. I think the article I linked to earlier mentions claiming Santa had to do some early deliveries due to a bad back and asked parents to store presents in advance. Only you know what will realistically work for you.

3. Plan on buying only three or four toys per kid, less for the under-3s.

When you are in the shop, you will accidentally buy more anyway so if you get your list + the extras, it’s already ample.  Think of this equation: for each extra gift under the tree, other gifts lose their ‘novelty/special’ value exponentially. It’s better to get one or two really special gift they will remember vs tons of tat that will get cast away before you can say: the turkey is done. I often cull last minute and set aside stuff for upcoming birthdays.

Put the rest of the money in a future toy fund. Have you seen the price of Legos? Trust me parents, you will need this christmas nest-egg once they start getting a bit older.

2. Spend Christmas at home. 

This may make me unpopular with grandparents but I am long past caring. If your kids are young and still believe in Christmas, it’s best to spend it at home and persuade others to visit if they really want in on your celebration. If you must, travel for Thanksgiving, but keep things easier for Santa by only having to deliver at home. It’s also a wonderful time to start your own traditions.

1. SLOW DOWN and Don’t make plans on Christmas day.

If there is one thing I regret more than anything, is rushing P through her 2nd and 3rd Christmas. The first few years years of Christmas I made plans.  One year we went to a brunch (popular with us expats who don’t always have access to ingredients we need) to avoid having to slave over a hot stove. Similarly, I also invited people over and realised I needed to speed up the magic so I could go cook a perfect meal because every one feels like they need to create Pinterest-suitable tableaus in their homes. (Piss off Martha & Nigella for starting this trend!)

Young kids open presents SLOWLY and this is a good thing. There is NOTHING worse than rushing your kids through gift opening so you don’t miss the kick off to the free champagne or to get that bird in the oven. Seriously, you only have about 2-3 years where they will savor each gift and give it play-time before moving on to the next one. I rushed my eldest through this twice and by the time I’d learned this valuable lesson, it was too late. And don’t think you can fix it second time around; younger siblings get caught up in the present opening frenzy, carried by the momentum of their older brothers and sisters.

Put your phones and iPads away. Enjoy your kids; let them relish the delicious and magical experience Christmas morning can be.

Happy Belated Christmas,
With love, MM.

Night and Day, and the Alphabet

A new friend who is expecting her forth explained to me one of her rationals for having more than two kids. It goes something like this: If you just have two, it’s too easy to fall into categorizing your kids good/bad, generous/selfish, gregarious/quiet, etc. She claims that with three or more, it ends up being more of a merry-go-round in terms of who is acting up which leads to less labeling.

It’s an interesting concept and I loath to admit that I find myself doing exactly this. Among the dichotomies, they are divvied up as verbally gifted and the late-speaker. Some of you may have read my timeline post on the early days of P’s language emergence; it’s called: when self-doubt creeps in.  The title is quite the giveaway. There were times I wondered if she was ever going to speak. If felt like forever and this is due, I am sure in part, to the fact that her two best buddies were seriously early and prolific talkers. They were singing full songs before P could put two words together.

I spent a lot of time seesawing between believing–and explaining to everyone who raised an eyebrow–that some kids are just late talkers irrespective of the number of languages spoken at home, and entertaining the fact that maybe it was the three languages but that I should hold tight as she would eventually catch up.

I’d read that children in multilingual households were often a bit slower to speak with more limited vocabularies but they usually caught up and surpassed their little monolingual mates. Hurrah  By the age of 2-3….err wait my kid only has about 80 words and that’s including water in French, English, Spanish and ASL. If you cut it down to just meaning, she had about 20 words.  I’d also read that there was no difference in the development timelines and heard stories of children–actually my little cousin was one of these–who speak on time, well and in all of their languages. My best friend had often repeated that she knew a tri-lingual (Japanese, French & English) family whose first daughter had no speech issues while her little brother was an extremely late talker for whom they sought expert advice.

All this to say that from the time that C was 10 weeks old, I could already spot the difference. As a baby she vocalized a lot just as all those annoying parenting books said she would. P never did. She watched everything attentively but overall, she was, with the exception of crying, a very quiet baby. She was definitely a prolific smiler but laughter took forever to happen. For a while, I was worried that I was the least funny parent on the planet. All my ‘new-mothers’ group friends were posting cute YouTube videos of their babies chuckling and gurgling and all I could get at best was a gummy smile. Sometimes it was if she was laughing silently.

C did end up quieting down a bit and I figured I had another slow talker on my hands.  Her babbling was done rather quietly. Some first words came – the usual for babies these days: Mama, Papa, iPad, Milk but nothing out of the ordinary and not at an accelerated rate. These were said loudly and confidently but the rest of her babble was more of a mumble.

Then out of the blue, around 18 months, when she was using a handful of words and signs but not much else, she started speaking in sentences. And by sentences, I don’t mean

“Give milk me” or “me want biscuit”

but things like

“I want to sit there” and “no, I don’t want that”

The first couple of times I told my husband I was clearly hallucinating as I could have sworn that C was speaking in grammatically correct sentences. She was still in her barely audible phase so I was certain I was mishearing. But then in happened when he was there. And we both looked at each other and then I knew, it wasn’t just wishful thinking.

Claude also spoke more readily in the various languages though here I attribute this in part to me making a much bigger effort at sticking to French and that she started attending a bilingual French/English program, something we were not able to provide for P at the same age. She also had that vocab explosion most kids have where they repeat every single word or phrase they hear.

And at the age where P finally put “hi” and “mama” together, C was giving us full renditions of twinkle twinkle little star and her absolute favorite, the alphabet.

Everything in due course. Children develop at different speeds but they all get there eventually. C sang at 2, P didn’t sing til around 3.5. In this age of  league tables and measurements and researching everything to death, when we bathe in an environment rife with hyper-parenting, drowning in endless streams of activities there to amuse our children but more often to assuage our fear of not doing everything possible to give our children the best start in life, it is very difficult to take a laid back attitude and just let kids be kids. But it is critical for our kids wellbeing and more importantly perhaps our own that we take a step back, slow down and let them develop at their individual pace.

My girls were night and day when it came to their language development but now, I sit here, sweetly serenaded by the pair and realize I need not have worried so much.

This post was written for the October Bilingual Carnival, hosted this month by Bilingual Babes.