In the Nick of Time

You can’t tell this 44-year-old kid that there is no Santa Claus.

I’m a true believer.

Wanna know why?

I’ll tell you.

My nearly 10-year-old son has been wavering. He’s on the fence about the man in the big red suit. He questioned us about why there was a present under the tree last year to our dog from Santa “in your handwriting Mom.”

I explained that with all the kids out in the world to whom Santa drops presents off on Christmas Eve, he might forget the four-legged friends. I explained that I was just making sure that our dog didn’t feel left out.

My son thought for a moment and seemed to think that this was reasonable. That was it for a while.

Then recently he’s begun testing me. “Mom, I forget, did Santa bring us the Wii or was that you and dad?” “Who brought me that Lego a few years back?” You know that sort of thing.

We just watched Miracle on 34th Street, the newer version with Elizabeth Perkins and Dean Cain. Elizabeth Perkin’s character comes right out and tells her daughter there is no Santa Claus. I cringed in my seat. I forgot about that part. I didn’t want to look at my son to gauge his reaction, but I could tell he was thinking “my parents are liars.”

In case you are among the few people who have never seen that movie, the state of New York goes on to prove that yes, the man named Kris Kringle, the department store Santa Claus is really Santa Claus.

Happy ending aside, there was still that comment lingering in the air. “No Santa Claus.”

Yikes. I know my five-year old daughter believes because she said Elizabeth Perkin’s character was “stupid.”

Nothing from my son, and I didn’t ask him about it. But my son did go through the motions recently and write his letter to Santa, albeit on the computer, but still he wrote it.

So yesterday, when he came home from school, there was a letter waiting for him. The return address — The North Pole.

He tore it open and read it. He smiled from ear to ear when he read the part about him currently being on the “Good Little Boys and Girls” list.

But here’s the kicker and the reason I know there is a Santa Claus and more than likely the reason my son will believe well into his 30s.

The letter goes on to say that while yes, he is currently on the good list, he has a lot of work to do and he must do a better job brushing his teeth and cleaning his room.

He was, to put it lightly, flabbergasted. Absolutely incredulous that Santa would know that those are the very two things I ride my son about EVERY SINGLE DAY. I mean every SINGLE day of that boy’s life I tell him his room is a wreck and his teeth are a mess!

Now if you are among the people who think that I penned the letter back to my son, you’d be wrong.

It was not me. It was not my husband.

I can only believe that someone “in the know” could have written that letter. Someone who has been watching, someone who is looking to see who’s naughty and nice. Mr. C.

Or someone in the United States Postal Service who knows some fourth grade boys are messy and could care less about dental hygiene.

Whoever it was, that letter came in the nick of time for my son. And I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

You may be a doubter. And that is fine.

And you may think that feeding a kid’s dreams that there is a Santa Claus is not right.

I may shop at Forever 21, but really, I am not a kid anymore.

And I do believe.

From my standpoint, I have seen Santa Claus every where I have looked these past few weeks.

My paying job is as a columnist for an online news site in my area. I write about kids and the things they are doing. From rock n roll bands, to Eagle Scouts to artists, scholars and athletes.

Recently I have featured kids in our area going above and beyond to help those less fortunate than themselves.

A Toys for Tots drive by a local cub scout troop and other groups, a food drive for a local food pantry put on by the students in an elementary school where they filled over 50 boxes with items they brought in themselves, a group of middle schoolers who will make in excess of 3,000 sandwiches this school year for a soup kitchen in a nearby city, a group of girl scouts having a lemonade stand and donating the proceeds to a local cancer center.

There are countless other kids out there doing their part to help make things better for someone who needs help.

Kids helping kids.

And if that is not evidence that there is a Santa Claus, I don’t know what it.

Look around you. I bet you will see it too.

Merry Christmas.

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Here’s the Skinny…

Skinny jeans. I mean really. Did we HAVE to bring them back?

I thought they were ugly the first time I saw them back in the 1980s. Slayer or Megadeath or some other horrific heavy metal hollerers were wearing their skin-tight acid washed ones while they banged around on stage. Thank you MTV for giving me access there. And to make things worse, the hair band guys paired them with white high top sneakers and an equally ugly short jean jacket.

Then in the 1990s, we had British invasion New Wave bands like Duran Duran, The Cure and Flock of Seagulls who proudly donned their dark denim or black skinnies, only you didn’t even realize they were wearing skinny jeans because you couldn’t get past their hair and eye makeup.

So I thought we escaped that horrible fad, but alas I was wrong. Young Justin Bieber and all three brothers Jonas proudly sport skinny jeans and every teeny bopper (and those not so teeny) on the planet is running to get theirs.

I have a big problem with that. Not mine personally, because I think skinny jeans are not only hideous, but very uncomfortable and unflattering to a nearly 45-year-old butt. So alas, I opt for the old stand by boot cut or flare variety.

No my problem is that my five-year old has decided that skinny jeans are what she wants under the tree this year.

Rats.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for fads, styles etc. I was a youngster once too and I get the whole “if I don’t have these (fill in the blank) everyone will think I am a loser and I should just die now” thing. I was a teenage girl for crying out loud.

I am sure I drove my parents crazy absolutely having to have the Le Sport Sac purse, the ruffle collared shirts,the Madonna bracelets, the big hair, and the Izod Shirts — only we called them Alligator shirts back then. Can you guess I was a teenager smack in the 80s?

No it’s the fact that my poor little girl will have a very tough time squeezing her average body into a pair of skinny jeans. Her average and adorable and muscular little girl legs are too wide for any pair of size 6 or 6x little girl skinny jeans.

And that makes me mad.

Someone I told about this dilemma suggested I size up and get her a 7. And normally that would be a nice idea. But then she would likely look like an inverted Christmas tree, with the skin-tight pants clinging to her calves and then gradually widening up her legs until they are hanging off her at the waist and butt. Not a pretty picture I am sure.

Skinny jeans. Damn you!

I am sure if I really thought about it, I could let  her try to squeeze into those pants and see if what I think will happen will. But what would I say to her if and when they were too small?

Sorry honey, you’re not skinny enough for skinny jeans.

Body image distortion in the making if you ask me.It just isn’t fair.

Little girls should be able to be little girls and not want to look like Selena Gomez or Miranda Cosgrove and the iCarly cast when they are five. The clothes at Gap Kids should not be mirror images of the clothes at the Gap. Little girls should be wearing leggings and flowered sweaters and shirts with Princesses and fairies on them. There should be a difference in outfits worn on the elementary school playgrounds and in the middle school cafeteria.

And sadly sometimes we can’t tell who is who.

Oh I know I am such a hypocrite. I wanted to grow up so damn fast when I was a kid. I remember kicking and screaming at the injustice of my parents’ rule that I had to be a certain age to do this or that, wear this or that,  or go here or there or attend a rock concert.

And now look at me. Standing on my virtual soap box spewing to all who will listen that it is unfair that kids are growing up too fast. Argh. Hindsight is so 20-20. If I knew then what I know now and all that crapola.

I know, it’s just a pair of jeans. Jeans.

Now I get it. I really do. The worries of parenting. They make me old.

But, I still find myself in a bit if a quandary as to what I should do about the skinny jeans. Likely I will tell my daughter that I couldn’t find her size at the store.

But if she asks why Santa Claus didn’t bring her any, well, I am at a loss for that one.

Suggestions greatly appreciated.

In closing, I wish you happy and healthy Christmas shopping. May your days be merry and bright and void of skinny jean disasters in the making.

The Half Jewish Question

As the lights on my Christmas tree twinkle in my living room and I hang the red and green decorations around my house, I sometimes wonder about the other direction we could have taken. What my life would be like if the decorations were blue and white and silver and we celebrated for eight days instead of one.

My sisters and brother and I are the products of a mixed marriage. A religious mix. Our father, bless his soul there up in heaven, was a divorced Jewish man from Brooklyn and our mother, the second in line in a staunch Irish Catholic family of seven kids from Long Island.

These two people from completely different worlds found each other in 1960 and got married shortly there after. As I heard it, my mother’s family was none too happy about their Catholic daughter getting hitched to a man of a different faith. Throw the divorced thing in there and my prim and proper grandmother must have had a cow.

The thing was though, you couldn’t not like my father. He was a charming and engaging man. A salesman, a joke teller, a man with a wealth of knowledge. He won over everyone he met and that eventually included my mother’s parents. But even though he won them over personally, their belief in the fact that their daughter should not marry out of her faith was stronger. They didn’t tell her she couldn’t marry my dad, but they forbade anyone in the family to attend the nuptials – a small ceremony in a city hall. However, one of my mother’s sisters did attend and stood up as a witness to their union. That was it. One sister of six siblings overrode the parents’ decision.

Growing up, I never knew any of this. We were raised as Catholics, albeit not very good ones. We celebrated the “big” holidays like Christmas and Easter. My mom was the one who took us to church on occasional Sundays for a while — us kicking and screaming for the most part. My dad stayed home, did the New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle and waited for us to return.

Over the years, we all did some Sunday School, we made our First Communions and my oldest sister eventually made her Confirmation. And then, as I remember it, one day my mom told me I didn’t have to go to church anymore if I didn’t want to. She didn’t sign me up for Confirmation class and I didn’t mind. I jumped for joy. No Sunday School? Whoo!

In hindsight, I think my mom just didn’t want to do the religious thing by herself anymore.

We were never privy to any conversations my parents may have had about religion. I knew my mom was Catholic and that she wanted to go to church. And my dad was Jewish. He had his bar mitzvah, and that was about it. I knew that because I saw a picture of him in a funny hat — the yarmulke. He never went to Temple, never did anything remotely Jewish except for saying a few phrases that may have been passed down to him by family.

My father loved bacon and a pork dinner was his favorite. My dad’s only sibling was a brother who lived about 20 minutes away. He and his family — three daughters, my cousins — were practicing Jews. When they came to our house at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was confusing. They were sure we were supposed to be Jewish. We were sure we were not.

Every year on July 4th, we would venture out to Long Island to see my dad’s family, a huge gathering of first, second, third and fourth cousins, great aunts and uncles and people I had never met before. One thing I knew for sure. These people were my family and they treated me as such. They embraced us, the Catholic family from Connecticut amid the huge Jewish clan from all over. They teased my mother about being the shiksa (a Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman). But never once did I feel like an outsider.

My great aunts and uncles were rolly poly women and happy men who sat around and watched their enormous extended family have fun that day. The arms of the family tree were wide open and touching us all, regardless of what religion we were.

We swam and they watched. We dove and they told us how beautiful we were. We did gymnastics on the great lawn and they were in awe. We played volleyball, softball, we ate fried chicken and drank cans of cream soda, grape and orange soda and root beer from garbage cans filled with ice. We watched a wonderful display of fireworks put on by my dad’s cousins whose parents were hosting the event.

Us kids loved that trek out to Long Island. We’d see our distant cousins and exchange addresses and begin writing letters to each other. They were a part of us as we were of them. How could we not be? We all had the same last name.

My mother was sometimes a reluctant participant for the July 4th party on Long Island. She said it was the drive out there, which could take forever on the Long Island Expressway. Maybe two hours, but that was a long time if you didn’t really want to go in the first place. Once she got there, I know she had a good time. She must have. It was hard not to with all those people welcoming you with open arms.

And we saw her family a lot. We celebrated Christmas and Easter with them on occasion, sometimes on Long Island and sometimes in New Jersey. I loved seeing my cousins. They are all about the same age so we had the same interests. Plus, it was fun to tease them about the way they talked. They said we had accents! My mom was happy to be a part of her family. There was never any ill will, never a thought about any non-Catholic member of the family. In fact, with my dad’s white beard, big belly and twinkling blue eyes, he resembled Santa Claus and was never opposed to playing that role for his young nieces. There was laughter and presents and fun and an abundance of Christmas cheer. And a nice ham on the table. That made my pork-loving Jewish dad very happy.

In our house growing up, Christmas was about the presents, not the story of the birth of Jesus. Although for me, I always wanted to know more, about the Three Wise Men and their trek across the desert and how they followed that shining star.

It wasn’t until much later in my life that I made my confirmation and became a true Catholic. Christmas became much more for me. I learned about Advent, what the candles mean and why the church changes its colors during this time. Yes, we love to read The Night Before Christmas, but the Story of the Birth of Jesus gets more interest from our kids.

We take our kids to church every Sunday and we are involved in their religious lives. We say grace at meal time, and the kids say a prayer before they get on the bus. My five-year old looks to the sky and sees stars as people who have died. She calls them by name since we have lost two dear friends recently. She sees her grandfathers are up there, too. My nine-year old can recite prayers that I haven’t even learned yet. He is a sponge for all things religious and historical. He listens and he knows. He was excited when he heard  that he could obtain a religious badge for his Boy Scout uniform last night. He wanted me to call our Pastor ASAP!

My kids have a totally different religious life than I did growing up. There won’t be a time when we give them a choice not to go to Sunday School or church. It will be what it is. We are Catholics and we celebrate that.

On occasions however, I do still wonder what it would be like to embrace my Jewish heritage. To celebrate Hanukkah, Rosh Shoshana and other high holy days. To fill my house with potato latkes and dreidels instead of Christmas cookies and carols.

I know by the true religious sense of the word, I am not Jewish. My mother would have to have converted to Judaism for me to be Jewish. Or I would. But I am very happy to be Catholic and am glad that I can foster it with my children. And myself.

But I do always wonder.

Ballerina Dreams

This Mom is very proud.

I had the very fortunate experience to be a back stage mom for my daughter’s annual ballet show and holiday season favorite, The Nutcracker, this past weekend. She and about 16 other 4,5 and 6-year-old little girls and a few boys performed as English Trifle, little clowns in the Land of the Sweets.

It was the most adorable thing to see these little girls, and boys, dancing their hearts out on the big stage, under the lights, with cheeks and lips and sequined costumes a-sparkling. Their two-minute debut as yellow clowns was just the most heart warming thing a parent could see. I cry at anything anyway, so throw my own kid in there and I can hardly be contained. A wet faced mess I am.

Our show incorporated everyone at my daughter’s ballet school from the 4 year olds with big ballerina dreams to the  hardworking and talented graduating seniors who performed the prima ballerina roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Dew Drop Fairy and others to some male guest dancers who filled in the parts of Cavalier and the Nutcracker Prince.

In a word: spectacular.

I had never seen The Nutcracker until two years ago. (Actually, I had never been to the ballet. I know, so deprived!!) I didn’t know what it was about. Sure, I had seen the little guy who, when you pull the lever his mouth opens and closes to crack a nut, but since I didn’t know the story, it was just some other little Christmas decoration.

But two years ago, when my then 3-year-old joined ballet, I decided to take her since she would be in the show if she continued with ballet.

And I was hooked. On it all.

I mean talk about festive. All those costumes! The glitter, the tiaras! The pointed toes and pas de deux and the leaps and toe shoes, the stage make up, the romance! The pure magic of it all. It was awesome.

We have been Nutcrackers since. Okay, so just two years, but hey, we’re in. Lifers I think.

It’s just too beautiful to pass up. Pricey, yes, but I want my daughter to have this experience, of being on stage, being a part of something so sweet and wonderful. What a great tradition.

This year when she asked if I could be back stage mom for her group I was more than happy to oblige. I thought it would be a great memory for us both to have.And it was. She liked having me there. For her age group, backstage mom is a bit of babysitting, many bathroom breaks and a lot of “sshhhing” as the 16 kiddos sat in the theater watching the first act. And then lining them up on getting them ready to go on.

There was no drama off stage. No toddlers in tiaras moments at all. Just a cute group of kids dressed in yellow costumes hanging on to their partner’s hands as tight as they could dreaming of that one day when they too would be in pointe shoes dancing with their Nutcracker prince.

I really wouldn’t trade it. It was sweet to see the little ones in awe of the bigger girls on stage. Their mouths agape in the wonder of the magic of Drosselmeyer, the sparkling movements of the toy soldiers in the mouse fight scene, the snow as it falls during the dance of the snowflakes. And watching them seeing their dance teacher all dressed in her costume for the first time, they clamored to be the first one to hug her. It was just so sweet. I wonder after all these years, more than 20 for the dance teacher, if it’s still as sweet to her as it was for me to watch.

Well, after a weekend of craziness getting to and from dress rehearsals and the show, The Nutcracker is over. Makes me a little sad, in a crazy I can’t believe this makes me sad kind of way. Perhaps it’s the festivity of it all, the hectic pace and running around involved. Whatever it was, it was a lot of fun. Tis the season.

Here’s looking toward next year.

And speaking of next year, my son wants in, too. I think he might have the bug. You know the one that involves a big stage, bright lights, costumes, dancing, applause and a really cool picture in the show’s playbill.

We’ll revisit that one in the fall.

For all of you who can swing it, seeing a Nutcracker performance would be an awesome way to kick of the season.

It was for us.

Now onto cookie baking, shopping, wrapping and visiting. Oh yeah, and hoping my husband doesn’t find out how much I really spent on Christmas.

Merry.