The Glue

“I’m working all weekend.”

I felt my shoulders sag, but I only nodded, and empathized, “Oh, that sucks. Do you get time in lieu?”

“Yeah, I’ll take it at the beginning of February.”  Another nod as I went back to wiping down the counters, and planning out lunches for the next day.

“But, I’m going to take the kids in with me on Sunday. The store isn’t open. They love going with me when they can, so we’ll make a day of it. I’ll only be there for a handful of hours…”

My face lit up like Christmas. I didn’t want to sound too eager, “Are you sure?”

This time, he nodded.

Somewhere along the line, I told myself that our new normal wasn’t going to be permanent. I don’t recall when I did this, but as I sat with my Day Timer last week, going over the long list of appointments we had, I realized that this wasn’t going to end. From now on, we’d always having something on the go, some specialist to see, meetings or lengthy phone calls, medication to get and understand, carefully placed in amongst our normal activities. There’s more things, and apparently, less time. Especially for me. The one who juggles the balls of our lives, making sure that our cohesive family stays that way, sometimes giving up time I’d squared away for just me. Sneaking in pages of my books late at night, or during lessons. Multi-tasking so that everything on a daily basis gets done, so that everyone else is taken care of.

And, that’s okay, mostly.

Here though, my husband had presented me with a rare opportunity. One that if it had been a physical gift, I would have wrapped my arms around while squealing for joy. Time. Alone.

This morning, after I’d helped get the kids ready for the day out with Daddy, I shut our front door, and padded back up the stairs where I poured my coffee in silence. I curled up on the couch, in silence, feeling the warmth of my cup through my fingers, letting the silence fall around me.

For about an hour, I sat and listened to the way the house sounded when there was no movement, when I was not moving, only breathing. My thoughts drifted in and out of my mind, carefully, loudly, gently, and aggressively. I continued to sip my coffee, lapping up the incredibly luxury of these seconds, these minutes. Beside me was the to-do list I’d meticulously crafted throughout the week in anticipation for these hours. I was going to tackle it, and easily finish it before my family returned.

Instead, I opted to do nothing, although it wasn’t really nothing. I sat with myself, alone with my thoughts. Together, we puttered around the silent house. I took the time to listen to each of the thoughts that danced in and out, the easy ones, and the hard ones, embracing each as they came, meditating, and discarding the ones that really had no place dwelling within. I just listened, and felt. Everything else on my list could wait. Today, I would be with me.

My family returned to the same house they left. I offered my husband an apology, and he pulled me in for a hug, a silent offering of understanding. The kids bounded through the house, shaking clean any of silence that threatened to linger, eager to narrate for me the exciting day they’d had as we moved into our nightly routine.

“Thanks again for today. It was lovely,” I expressed later that night.

“You needed it. You deserved it. I know I’m not good with gifts, or being romantic, or you know, being attentive when I should, but you looked like you needed some time alone. It’s been a long week.”

I nodded because there was nothing else to say.

“We need you, the kids and I. Especially now. If you aren’t good, we aren’t good. You’re like the glue of our family, love. We fall apart without you, so the least I can do is make sure we take care of you too.”

Today, I didn’t get anything done.  And that was okay.

“Just Fine” Is Not Enough

“He looks just fine to me.”

He was referring to my son, who was sitting on the bed in the doctor’s office. From my view, I could see clenched fists. He was biting the inside of his cheek because chewing calms him. To the doctor, I wanted to say,  “You know that anxiety doesn’t look like a fucking rash, right?? Because holy shit man, you have his file in front of you. There is a history of anxiety. You are supposed to be the doctor here.” I didn’t say it. I should have said it, but I didn’t.

Instead, I remarked,

“Well, yeah, panic attacks don’t last all day, generally speaking.”

He casually shrugged his shoulders as he continued to type words into my son’s file. I fought the urge to yank his fingers off the keyboard and say, “Pay attention here. Anxiety is not just a casual thing. Not for an adult. Especially not for a 7 year old boy. Stop acting like it’s nothing.” As a doctor, he should know all of these things. He’s the one with the fancy degree. There should have empathy, better bedside manner, anything other than what he was throwing down.

When he was finished with his notes, he began the long list of all the reasons he was refusing to give my son an anti-anxiety medication like Ativan.  When he was finished, despite my sound arguments, he shrugged his damn shoulders again and responded,

“This is just over school, right? Just don’t make him go. There are only three days left. I’ll even write him a note so he doesn’t have to attend.”

I let out a sarcastic laugh, allowing it to fill the room for a second before I responded, “Today it’s about school. Tomorrow? It could be about the pencil crayons not sharpened properly. Or about the fact that we did snack before I looked through his backpack. No. It’s not only about school.”

“Well, he looks fine to me. I don’t see any need to prescribe anything like that to him. He can just not go to school and I bet the anxiety will go away.”

Cringing, I remembered the time I sat in the very spot my son was sitting, explaining through tears to a different doctor what my own anxiety looked like. The words didn’t come easily, because nothing comes easily when you deal with anxiety. I was told to go on vacation to get rid of my “problem”. Because apparently at Doctor School they don’t teach you that anxiety doesn’t fucking work like that. In fact, no actual mental health issue does.

designI wondered what anxiety needed to look like for him to actually realize what we were dealing with. Obviously painting him a picture of what the panic attacks had looked like in the morning didn’t help. The letter of recommendation that my son’s Occupational Therapist had faxed over that afternoon, stating in her professional opinion and from working very closely with my son, that he needed something to get him through was not enough. Maybe he needed to have a gaping head wound? A broken bone of some sort? Or maybe I should have encouraged my son to completely lose his shit right there in the office. Maybe that would have solidified for him that he wasn’t and isn’t just fine.

Anxiety isn’t a stage performer, ready to come out on stage and show you the well-rehearsed lines it’s practiced over and over again, on cue. It’s not going to be listed in the playbill, in a cast of characters. It’s not going to show up when someone, be it a doctor, a family member, a teacher or a friend demand that they’ve never seen it or that they can’t see it. That’s not how anxiety works. It hides, it lurks, and even when it does come out, those who don’t believe it really exists, still don’t see it. Because seeing anxiety means that you have to first understand it. You have to understand that the symptoms are all familiar for those who suffer, but that it presents in so many different ways. Anxiety looks so different on everyone.

“Look, if you aren’t comfortable prescribing something for him, I’m okay with that. I would prefer to have the psychiatrist do it anyway, since that’s his field of expertise. Like I said, we were just looking to have something in our back pocket in case things go this way again. A month is a very long time. But, I understand why you don’t feel comfortable writing him a prescription. We’ll just let the expert do his job in January and send you the report.”

If he was going to refuse my son on the basis that he “looked” just fine, I was not above making sure he knew that I knew he wasn’t qualified to write the prescription even if it meant being slightly passive aggressive.

Before he walked out,  as though I didn’t hear him the first, the second or third time he uttered it in our session,

“He’s just fine. He’ll go back to normal soon.”

No. He won’t. Because guess what? This is his fucking normal, Doctor.

I’d like to say that this is just a rare breed of health professional but it’s not. All too often people are told some version of the very inane statement my son was met with today. No one should have to reach out and ask for help, a step that is courageous and incredibly difficult, only to be told that they look fine. That they should just take a vacation. That they should just avoid life. No one should have to beg a medical professional to believe they have a mental health issue, be it anxiety or depression. If the people we need to help us the most, are the same ones who are indirectly telling us we’re not really worthy of any treatment, and should just fix it ourselves, why in the hell are we so damn surprised that mental health rates are on the rise? Why do we continued to be shocked when we hear of another person losing their life to a mental health issue? None of this should be remotely surprising.

You know what’s not fine? Being told it’s nothing. Being told you are just fine. It’s not acceptable to have a doctor refuse necessary treatment because he doesn’t “see” the issue.

You can’t fucking see mental illness.

Our children deserve proper access to mental health services, including medication when necessary. Adults deserve the same. We all deserve to be trusted, by our friends, our family, but most especially those we call our health professionals.  We all deserve to be heard, to be validated and guided through the many tools that are necessary to keep mental illness at bay.

Everyone deserves better than being “just fine.”

He’s Baaaaaack

It’s that time of year. You know, when we are all at the ready on our respective sides, ready to battle over the most controversial topic to hit the internet since the whole Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate.  When you find yourself posed at your keyboard, ready to battle on the internet because of that one little thing that’s flooding your various social media streams. Are you ready to stand your ground?!

The Elf. It’s back.

There are the people who announce with much vigor their utter distaste for this new found tradition. It’s not enough for them to hide the pictures or updates from their social feeds. They’ll take the time and energy to write a status making sure everyone on their lists know of their grinch-like loathing for this somewhat creeptastic doll. They don’t want to see your little elf in it’s various positions, getting up to elf business, and they want you to know how they feel about it. Which, in case you didn’t know was hatred. They hate that doll so much. You need to know that.

We can’t forget the other side, of course. The Elf Pushers. The same ones who post daily updates on their social media. They may even have a hashtag for their little elf friend. The pictures range from the basic, “Our elf is back!” to elaborate set ups that were obvious pilfered from Pinterest. Ones that make you wonder just how much time and energy they have, where they find it, and if they drink a lot. They brag of spreadsheets full of the elfing schedule, proud of the time they’ve spent integrating this into their holiday traditions. They don’t care if you want to see the doll. They have a god-given elf right to show you everything this little bugger does for the next 24 days.

Then there is the people like me. We introduced the elf years ago before it became incredibly popular. He’s never done anything naughty, never anything overtly elaborate, and basically, the lazy elf just moves from place to place in our house, and delivers the letters to Santa. Some nights, he doesn’t even move positions. I think we got a dud, in all honesty. I want some pancakes in the shapes of Christmas trees, dammit.

However, this month, I pulled a stunt with our elf that I’m not sure to be proud of or ashamed of. I think I’d be shamed by both of the respective camps on this one.

You see, the kids seem to have lost that part of their ears that allows them to listen. It could be a combination of the fact that the bad weather has set in, and that my husband has been working crazy hours. No matter what the issue is, I’ve become tired of not being listened to, and winding up yelling at the end of the day because OH MY GOD DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST MESS UP THE LIVING ROOM WE JUST CLEANED FOR THE LAST HOUR?!  OH AND YOU DUMPED ALL YOUR CLEAN CLOTHES ALL OVER THE FLOOR? THE ONES I JUST FOLDED? NO. NO. NO.

Yeah. Something like that.

IMG_2006On the night before our Elf, Locker arrived, I mentioned at the dinner table that it was likely he would show up soon. The two kids bounded into the living room to scope out all the places he might hide, remembered the ones he used the year before, and wondered if he was going to bring them a new present like he always does on his first day in our house.

I piped in, “I don’t know, you guys haven’t really been listening very well lately, so I don’t know if you’ll get a present. Besides, that’s not what’s important about Christmas.”

My daughter raced back to the kitchen table, her green eyes wide.

“Where are the broken ornaments, Mama?”

“On the shelf still….why?” I asked curiously.

“We need to hide them so Locker doesn’t see them.”

I burst out laughing because that’s precisely the exact reaction I would have had as a child if I was told that there was a creepy spying doll in my house who was watching my every move. She has a beautiful, clever mind, just like her mother.

The next day, of course, there were no presents. My son asked Locker why there were none before we sat down for breakfast where I explained again that getting presents wasn’t what this was all about. They didn’t really hear anything I said because the two kids were discussing whether he’d just forgotten them. They clearly didn’t get the point I was making. Do you remember what I said about the not listening?

I decided I was going to make my point. So I composed   composed what can only be described as a pretty manipulative elf letter. Okay, it probably wasn’t that bad, but I felt bad for making an inanimate object do my dirty work. Obviously not guilty enough because it was printed out and put with the elf before I went to bed. In case anyone calls my humanity into question, I did feel guilt. For a moment. Then I remembered all the nights of high blood pressure, and twitching eyes. And refolding laundry. Do you know how much I hate laundry?

Whatever. It’s not my finest moment, ya’ll. I know. Bring on those pitchforks!

It worked though, for now, of course. I know in a year or two, this will never fly. It wasn’t even the listening that was particularly the issue I wanted to address. I was concerned that they saw this as another opportunity to get something when I really want them to learn that the truest magic of the holiday season comes from being with loved ones and giving back. They discussed all the kids who didn’t get presents, and they decided they’d much rather that some other child got one instead. They discussed all the ways they could make sure they were being kind to everyone, and each other. They talked about sorting through their toys to donate the ones they don’t play with.

As my son got his winter gear on for school, he leaned down the stairs and whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry for not listening, Mama. I’ll do better. I promise.”

I pulled him in for a hug and said, “I know you will. It’s hard work to listen sometimes. Thank you for apologizing.”

This is about as crazy as I’ll get with our elf. Hopefully when the kids realize that it’s their father and I moving the Elf around they won’t be too traumatized by the letter, and we’ll laugh about the lengths we went to to drive home our point. Or maybe we’ll be paying for therapy for years to come because of this damn elf.

Either way, it’s just a tradition. Take it or leave it. But guys? Adults pissing and moaning, or competing over a damn doll? It’s the very definition of first world problems. If you aren’t careful, I’ll send ya’ll a little elf letter telling you to get your shit together and move on.

The End of NaBloPoMo

Well, I made it. Perhaps there was some kicking and screaming during some parts of this month, but I’ve officially crossed the finish line. You can give me a fake medal and a warm blanket. Or a cookie. No, wine. Please, wine.

The goal this month was for me to stretch my writing muscle a little further, to push myself to actually get creative with my topics, and to actually just write. That’s sometimes the hardest part of writing, the actually doing it. So often I find myself making excuses for why I can’t give myself the time to sit and write. Sometimes I write something, amazing or not, and then I just don’t hit publish. I make a lot of excuses for why I can’t give myself and my writing the attention it deserves and I always follow through on that. Which isn’t good.

This month has taught me that when I set a goal, I can follow through. Even if it means hitting publish (like I will tonight) right before midnight. It’s shown me that I can battle through the writers block, even if it means writing something I don’t love, because it’s something, and writing is just that simple. It’s introduced to me to many other incredible bloggers, and brought out my writing support system like no other.  I showed myself that even when I think I have nothing to say, I always do and the written word always forms much easier than the words that slip off my tongue.

Maybe next year instead of blogging, I’ll stop making excuses and write that damn novel I keep saying I want to write.

Image Credit: Sarah Reid
Image Credit: Sarah Reid

A Generation Crosses Over

“Let’s watch Full House!” I exclaimed excitedly to my family as we were deciding on what to watch this evening. I was met with groans and a unanimous emphatic “no”. We watched Shrek instead which still awesome.

When the movie was over, my husband and I split up to get the kids ready for bed. He took our eldest downstairs to get him bathed, while me and my daughter snuggled on the couch for an extra few minutes. I scrolled through Netflix, and found Full House, clicking to watch it.

“When I was a little girl,” I began as the opening scenes danced across our television, ” this was my favorite show.”  Her green eyes looked up at me, nodding, not really understanding a world where her Mama was a little girl just like she is now.

I got up part way through the episode to put my cup in the sink, and when I returned to the living room, my daughter was sitting on the floor, right in front of the television, legs crossed, fiddling with a strand of her hair as she watched. A lump formed in my throat as I found myself remembering a pigtailed, brown haired, oddly dressed young girl sitting cross legged, as close to the small television in her home as she could possibly manage, watching the exact family, at least 24 years earlier.  I loved that family, I wanted to be that family. It was for so many reasons an escape for me, a reason to dream about family that rallied around each other no matter what. I always wished for that as a child, and even now as an adult.

“Do you like this show?” I asked as I sat down beside her on the carpet.

She nodded, never taking her eyes off the screen. When we she was called down for her bath, she asked me to pause it so we could continue it when she was finished.

Which is what we did, then we watched one more episode because her brother had joined us, and decided it was his new favorite show. For the duration, there was silence, and then the occasional separate giggles from the kids, then the parents.

They made me promise not to watch a single episode without them.

I agreed.

What’s Wrong With An Adoptive Parent Speaking For All of Us?

This month Scary Mommy shared a piece entitled, 12 Myths About Birth Mothers. I tend to avoid these pieces because they’re generally all one and the same: “Birth Mothers are so selfless!! YAY!”  That narrative exhausts me, personally. It’s a broad stroke that completely undermines the nature and circumstances that a woman faces when she relinquishes her parental rights. The selfless byline is touted to women from the moment they walk into an agency, and then usually it’s thrown in your face afterward.  You are, as the mother who relinquished, expected to buy into this idea, and repeat it to anyone who brings up adoptions, yours or otherwise.  To discuss the nature of your grief surrounding the adoption is to openly ask for an onslaught of more stereotypical diatribe – You gave a gift, and therefore, your sadness is not important. You are angry, and bitter. Your experience isn’t the norm, so you shouldn’t bother commenting about your supposed rare negative experience.  To experience anything other than the selfless, heroic, gift-giving birth mother basically means you are wrong and unnecessary to the adoption conversation.

While this piece contributes to the Selfless Birth Mother culture, that wasn’t the most disappointing aspect demonstrated. When I finished reading it, I was curious to know who wrote it. I wasn’t surprised to find that it wasn’t actually written by a birth mother. In fact, it was written by an adoptive father who also co-founded two pro-adoption websites that prominently display perspective adoptive couples looking for the Unicorn Birth Mother. For anyone who is involved in speaking out about adoption, this isn’t shocking. Adoptive parents often co-opt the narrative frequently. I assume that Scary Mommy was hit with a PR email from said individual, with the hopes of gaining exposure during National Adoption Awareness Month, and likely didn’t see anything wrong with giving this man or his websites a platform.

That alone is the issue. It’s an issue both birth parents and adoptees face all year, not just in November. We consistently have to fight to have our voices heard over the loud chorus of adoptive parents. This was yet another case of this; An adoptive parent taking away an opportunity to allow someone who is actually qualified to give voice to this topic. There is so much wrong with giving the microphone to an individual who has not lived the birth mother experience. Yes, he has likely interacted with, and spent time with birth mothers, including his children’s mothers. There is value in that, absolutely, but only from a specific angle. If you want to know about myths that birth mothers face? You should probably ask a birth mother herself. Go a step further and ask several birth mothers, because as much as we all share the same “title”, our experience, and opinions vary.

Image Credit: Drestwn
Image Credit: Drestwn

To say that he is capable of speaking for birth mothers can be summed up in this simple analogy: I drive a car every day. I have watched people fix cars, and I even live with someone who maintains cars for a living. However, that doesn’t make me an expert on the subject, nor does it qualify me to write, or speak about the topic. You shouldn’t be taking advice from me. You shouldn’t listen to me dissect an issue with your car and believe that I know what I’m talking about. Maybe I have some mild knowledge on the subject, but I’m not a mechanic, and therefore completely unqualified to talk about fixing cars.

Those of us who choose to speak out about the issues or real myths that face birth mothers are often shushed. The most popular come back, as I detailed above, is that we’re just angry, and bitter. Of course we’re angry and bitter. Do you know what it’s like to be told over and over again that your experience, your opinion and your concerns with an industry you are intimately tied to is invalid and wrong? We’re not saying, (at least I’m not) that your happy experience as a birth mother is incorrect or wrong. What we’re saying is that this experience is far more complex than just cliche, positive statements, and it evolves over the years. That side of the birth mother experience desperately needs to be heard.

When we hand the microphone to someone who hasn’t lived the experience directly and speaks from a place of privilege, it sets the discussion back. We need to be aware of who is speaking, and need to hold the authors and even the publishers accountable for giving a non-expert a place to discuss a subject that they are not qualified to speak on. Readers, in this particular case, should have questioned why a male adoptive parent was penning this article, and why the website had not sought out the appropriate voice for the piece. Beyond that, as #flipthescript (for the adoptee voice) has shown this month, it’s imperative that we make room for all of the voices in adoption. All of our experiences are relevant, and necessary.

Simply put, if you aren’t an birth mother/father or adoptee and the discussion requires input from one of us? Pass the microphone on, and wait until it’s your turn to speak.

Go Away, Winter

I like to avoid winter as long as humanly possible. I’m a fall sorta gal. I like the crunchy leaves, and the (fake) uggs, and the sweater cardigans that I don’t really have to wear with a jacket, but if I do I can wear a nice light peacoat. It’s enough layers to still make me feel pretty, and not like the Goodyear Blimp. The days are still relatively long, but not so long that the kids demand that I’m lying when I tell them it’s bedtime at 8pm. I really, really love fall.

However, in Alberta, we don’t get much of my favorite season. We get a month, maybe two if we’re lucky, before it snows. This year we got snow at the beginning of September, which was technically still summer. This stung particularly because the last snowfall was in May. It meant we had only three months without snow.  Our seasons defy the natural calendar, laughing in their faces, snowing in the months where no one should ever have to see snow. Winter in Alberta is a giant asshole that doesn’t listen to boundaries.

Ask me why I live here again?

Of course, when the weather called for our first real winter storm this week, I hesitated. Despite the snow in September, we’ve had a relatively easy winter. Halloween was a touch nippy, but nicer than it had been last year. My husband kept saying they hadn’t hit their real busy rush at work, which meant winter hadn’t officially arrived. Maybe they were wrong about this impending storm. Maybe it’d pass us by like all the awesome thunderstorms do in the summer. Maybe I’d be able to continue my comfortable morning routine that involves getting up as late as I can justify to drive my kids to school.

Oh, sweet, sweet denial.

Today, I was late taking my daughter to dance, though, I should point out we were’t the last ones in the door. Because I forgot that the car IMG_1988needs to be cleared off properly. Because the roads were not cleared or sanded yet (there is no point when the snow was still coming fast and furiously). On the way out of the grocery store, I got stuck at least a dozen times because OMG SO MUCH SNOW. That was hilarious to my daughter as I heaved on that car pushing it into submission, grateful I’d managed to get a spot close to the doors.  I realized that my fall jacket was no longer warm enough when I decided to walk two blocks to run an errand after my daughter’s dance class. I also needed new boots because my fall boots were soaked, and my toes were frozen.  I dealt with a cold, crying  child because she insisted on walking to the school doors to pick up her brother even though I told her the snow was super deep and she’d be more comfortable in the warm, running car.  I spent a good portion of the evening watching the road reports because my husband works over an hour away and takes a main highway that is a hotbed of accidents during the winter. I may have sent him a dozen texts requesting that he please ask his sister if he could crash at her place for the night (he didn’t listen and fortunately arrived home safely). I cursed as I had to lug our garbage bin through the freshly fallen, deep, deep snow. I contemplated keeping the kids home from school tomorrow because I just don’t wanna go out in the mess.  I don’t wanna.

Yes, I may have stomped my foot right then. My arms are fully crossed, but only because I’m freezing.

You should know, that this almost temper tantrum about the snow is part of the transition to winter. Yes, it snows every year. A lot. Yes, it’s already snowed a little bit, here and there. Yes, I know it gets cold, and should have planned ahead to get a jacket, but avoidance of the inevitable means I can pretend winter might not arrive. However, in a week or two, I’ll have gotten used to this, as one does. My alarm will be set at least twenty minutes earlier. I’ll start wearing socks without groaning about having to wear socks (I hate them). Shoveling the walkway will just become a part of my morning routine. I’ll get used to winter driving again and the extra time it takes to get from here to there. When my weather app says it’s going to be -23 without a windchill, I’ll get excited because no windchill is awesome.

Tonight though, I’m snuggling up on the couch with a warm cup of coffee, two blankets, a sweater, slippers and giving the still falling snow a dirty look. And maybe a middle finger.

Our Newest Tradition: The Book Advent

It’s been a few years since I’ve started our advent tradition (You can find my past lists here and here). The kids look forward to it every December now, along with the arrival of their elf, Locker. I’ve tied them both the advent and the elf together;  Locker comes the night before the advent starts, and the kids get a small bag with Christmas themed items (last year it was an ornament for the tree, a Christmas pencil, notepad, and candy cane with a little note from Locker about his job).  True fact: We may have two elves now because we may have misplaced the other one, and of course, two weeks after Christmas the first elf was located.  No, I won’t bombard you with a list of crazy things to do with your elf. Have you seen the lists on Pinterest? I’m exhausted just by looking at some of them! If I’m telling the full truth, you should know I barely remember to move it 24 times during the month. I cannot tell you how many times last year Locker stayed in the same spot and we had to make up a snow storm to keep him from his nightly run back to the North Pole.  The only reason I keep doing it, year after year is that a) it does help with the level of crazy oozing from the kids during the month of December , and b) the kids adore it.


Don’t shame me for being an Elf house, please?

Last year, I added a new tradition- The Christmas Book advent. I got the idea from Jenna from Stop, Drop and Blog a couple years ago, but didn’t manage to get myself organized to do it until last year (Since she’s been at this for longer than I, she has a way more extensive list of books for this). I didn’t anticipate that I would struggle to find 24 books, and yet, I did. We’re a non-religious home, and you’d be surprised at the amount of books that are seemingly non-religious but sneak in a sentence or two that has no relevance to the story and wind up making the book incredibly religious.

For this reason, and another that I’ll talk about in a second, I only wound up with 12 books. It wasn’t a travesty, especially since it was the first year I’d done it with the kids. They had no idea that it was supposed to be every day so it didn’t throw them off by only having a book to open up every other day. The other reason I wound up with only 12 books last year? It does take a mild investment to start this tradition. For instance, I’m buying the remaining 12 this year, and it’s going to cost me, even with free shipping (Thank you, Chapters Indigo!) and a mild discount for being a Plum Rewards member: $162.00.  Keep in mind, I am buying these books brand new. The cost could definitely be much lower if you searched out second hand book stores throughout the year (the closest one to me is over an hour a way, unfortunately). Those book orders they send home? They start putting Christmas books in them around October, and sometimes the deals are pretty awesome. You could even do it with library books, and that would cost you absolutely nothing! There are ways to do this advent for much cheaper than I have, so don’t let my costs sway you.

Each book is individually wrapped up, and displayed in a small cardboard box that I also wrapped in Christmas paper. I slipped it into a corner of the room, reachable for the kids. Every other evening, the kids would take turns picking out which book they wanted to open. I have to tell you, having these books around, especially as it got closer to Christmas was so great. You know how kids get into that OMG OPEN ALL THE PRESENTS TOUCH, TOUCH, POKE! phase around the 15th of the month? Yeah, this helped deflect that immensely. They knew they had their regular advent, and then a book to open every other day. It kept the Present Monster at bay, and gave us a nightly bedtime story as well.

Here’s a small taste of the books we added last year, or at least, the ones that wound up being favorites for both the adults and kids.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas,

The Night Before Christmas (there are so many variations of this poem with beautiful artwork!)

The Polar Express.

Jolly Christmas Postman,

Llama, Llama Holiday Drama,

A Porcupine in A Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?

Finding Christmas (we love us some Robert Muncsh in this house!)

This year I’m adding  Pete the Cat Saves Christmas because Girlie loves her some Pete the Cat, this great series by Steve Smallman which showcases several Canadian cities, The Smallest Gift Of Christmas, and a whole bunch more that I can’t wait to actually read.

As an avid reader myself, it’s so important for me to integrate the love of story telling, especially at this time of year when stories seem to be a little more magical than they usually are. I love the fact that during this chaotic season, it also gives us an excuse to pause, and to soak in a new book together. It really is such a great tradition that I’m so exited to continue adding to as the years go by.


What’s your favorite holiday book? Do you have a holiday tradition involving books? 

Magic Stones

He sat on the couch, still in his work clothes, and pulled out a little package from his front pocket, “Girlie, come here.” In his hands, he held a golden embroidered pouch. It reminded me of a change purse I had as a young girl, that I filled with pennies.

The night before last, he’d shared with me that his coworker had overheard him and I discussing, over the phone, the lack of sleep that we were getting because of the nightmares that Girlie was having. It’s been a topic of conversation for the last couple of weeks; Either we’re being woken up several times in the middle of the night, or we’re having our bed taken over in the middle of the night by Girlie (which doesn’t bother me so much, really. It’s her sprawling and splaying out that does me in). All of us are really exhausted, physically and emotionally.

His coworker asked to speak with him privately, and told him her story. One that was similar to our daughters. One that matched the sameIMG_1975 reactions of certain family members who are/were more concerned with their own reputation. He listened, and told me later that he always felt completely out of his element when hearing stories like hers, and like our daughter’s. “She’s always going to remember this, isn’t she?” He asked me this later when he relayed the story to me, his face worn with concern, peaks of anger breaking through in the words he was using to describe what he was told.  I nodded, quietly, feeling the same sinking feeling that a parent endures when they feel as though they failed at protecting their own child.

During this exchange, my husband’s coworker offered to bring in something she’d used to help her sleep. She said it was something that she used as an older child to help keep the nightmares at bay, and while she wasn’t sure it worked so much it was a comfort to have something to put her faith in as she fell asleep for the night. The next day, she presented my husband with the golden pouch he now held in his hand.

“This is a gift from a coworker for you. She wanted you to have it. ” The last couple of words caught in the back of his throat and I could tell from my position across the room that he was more than overwhelmed. His eyes searched for mine, silently asking me for some help, so I jumped in,

” Sweetie, bring that here, let’s have a look.”  Girlie held the pouch gingerly in her hands, and tiptoed across the carpet in our living room until she was standing in front of me. I carefully opened the clasp, and unzipped the small zipper uncovering three rocks, all in different sizes, colors and shapes.

“These are pretty! Don’t you think?” Her eyes lit up excitedly, and she took each rock in her small hand, tracing it, “What is it, Mama?”

“Well, these are magic stones, I think. Daddy has a friend at work who wanted you to have them. She had something bad happen to her too, just like you.” We don’t have to say his name anymore, although, she does when she’s looking for reassurance that we’ll never see him again. We just have to mention the “bad thing”, and she knows. Sadly.

“Someone hurt her too?” she asked quietly, almost shocked. I could tell she thought, like so many of us do, that she was the only one.

“Yes. They did. And you know what? There were people who didn’t believe her too.”

Her eyes went wide, still clutching the three stones in her hand. ” That’s not nice!”

“It’s not, but you know what else? She also had bad dreams just like you.  To help her sleep, she used these magical stones. Every night, she put them under her pillow. She wants you to have them now.”

I watched as my daughter traced her fingers along the outsides of the rocks, thinking deeply,

“What do they do?”

I had no idea, so on the spot, I picked those stones out of her hand, and made up the magic powers they held.

“Well, this little one? It helps you fall asleep nice and quick at night. This white one? It’s to help you have nice long, peaceful rests with good dreams. And this one, you see how it’s sort of clear? Well, it traps all the bad dreams in it.”

She was in awe it seemed, of these special magical stones. Wiping her blond hair out of her face, she put each stone back into the pouch, zipped it back up and closed the clasp before she held it tight to her heart.

“Oh, I just love them!”

Before we could discuss it any further, she scurried away to show her new stones to her brother. Later that night, after the kids had been tucked into bed, I head the padding of tiny feet in the hallway. In her hands was a piece of paper, and she thrust it into my lap,

“This is for Daddy’s friend. I want her to have it because she doesn’t have her rocks anymore and I want her to be able to sleep still.”  On the picture were her renditions of the rock, surrounded by hearts and two girls holding hands.

“Who is that?” I asked her, pointing to the two girls.

“That’s me and Daddy’s friend. We’re holding hands because we had something bad happen to us, and we understand the bad dreams.”

Even if those stones aren’t really magic, and they aren’t really,  they have given her something more incredible: The sacred solidarity of knowing she’s not alone, and that there are others out there who understand her bad dreams.