Keep Calm and Elf On

Tomorrow is the day and Operation Elves is underway!  I've still got my rhyming game on from writing my first elf note.  Luck you, I'm sharing it too!  #stillgotit
My job tonight is to dig the elves out of the laundry room where they've been hiding the past year and simply place them in the kitchen with this note sitting next to them.  That's it. Who's with me?

Dear kids,
I’m back once again for some Holiday fun
But this year will be different yet still fun for everyone!
You see, my job is to come spread Holiday cheer
To kids all over the world, both far and near.
Happiness is deserved by every boy and every girl.
Can you help me spread love all over this world?
There are people close by not as happy as you.
They don’t have toys, good food, or nice shoes.
There's a boy in your town whose hungry and sad.
He needs food for his brother, his mom, and his dad.
What could you do to help this sweet boy?
I know you can think of many ways to bring joy!
I’m needed all over, so here I cannot stay.
I’m off on a mission but will return in a few days.
So pick a good deed, plan it out, get it done.
Celebrate the season with love and good fun!

I'm still learning how to link a document for you to open and print.  Such a rookie, I know.  So for now, rewrite, copy & what you need to do.  I know time is of the essence tonight.  Leave room to sign your elf's name.  If you are way off your rocker like me and have more than one elf <SMH>, change the "I"s to "We"s and the "my"s to "our"s.  

A few ideas of good deeds:  baking goodies for the mail person, writing thank you notes to the school custodian or lunch lady, putting together necessity bags for the homeless (you can find a lot of examples of this on Pinterest), gathering up old blankets to be dropped at a homeless shelter or animal rescue, collecting hats and mittens to be delivered to a school (doesn't have to be your child's school if there isn't a big need there - it may be eye opening to take them to a school in a different area).  You know your area, your time availability, and your kids.  Choose what works best for you and what will have a strong impact on your kids.

Enjoy this season of change.  Embrace the simplicity and the beauty of this new elf routine.
Keep this season simple because it's truly not *all* about the kids, it's not about the crazy mischief of the elves, and it's definitely not about the sh-tuff.  It's about living to give and giving to live.

Keep it simple.
Keep Calm and Elf On.

Kids Should Be Losers. And That's Okay.

Caught your attention, huh?  Before I go any further, I must warn you.  This is one of those "read before you preach" posts.  Just hear me out.  And this post could be long,  Long but good.  There's so much good stuff here, folks.  This post has been brewing in my mind for just over a year.  You see, throughout my life as a mom and teacher, I've noticed an alarming trend in the way we treat our children.  Put your "perspectacles" on and see if you can see what I see...

Last year, I stood at a birthday party one of my children was attending.  I had enjoyed my two hours of freedom (a.k.a. grocery shopping) while my sweet little cherub partied away at an expensive party venue.  One I'd never pay for but hey, I'm glad my kid got to enjoy it.   I arrived about 20 minutes before the scheduled pick up time so I headed inside to check out the commotion.  Being a teacher, some times it's fun to step inside a land of kid craziness and just sit back and watch - not clap my hands for attention or sing a cute little ditty for all eyes on me.  I watch the chaos and be thankful I'm not on duty.  I just get to stand back and watch the rookies live in my world.  And I chuckle.  A lot.

I walked over to the party group where they were just beginning a birthday relay race.  A few other moms were there.  Many of them I did not know and a few of them I did.  There were two young female staff members leading the party.  They gave simple directions on how the relay was to be completed and soon enough the group was divided up into teams and the relay began.  The kids were having a riot running back and forth with spoons in their mouths balancing marshmallows (**gasp*** running with spoons?!  I should have taken my kid out of there right then!  Nah. Who are we kidding?  I had 20 more minutes of freedom.)

The races came to an end as team #3 finished before the rest.  I heard cheers of excitement from the winning team and sighs of disappointment from the others. And then, I heard what I heard and saw what I saw.  Loud sighs and grunts, followed by a few muffled outbursts as one child expressed his disappointment in being a "loser".  As if that wasn't enough to ruffle my feathers, I then heard his mother.  "Oh honey, it's okay.  You are a winner.  Everyone is a winner.  There are no losers." The boy then went and grabbed his goody bag and stormed out the door.  (Ahhh, goody bags.  I just don't understand goody bags.  Another hot topic for another blog post, I suppose.)

Are you feelin' me yet?  Do you get it?  I'm thinking some of you do....and some of you don't.  I'll carry on.

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to yell across the room, "No!  You are wrong!  Your kid is a loser!  And that's okay!"  I feel really strongly about this, people.  Kids have to experience both winning AND losing.  Kids learn more from losing than they do from winning.  Yet, as parents we are falsely awarding our child with victories every single day.

Why do we do this?  Why do we give trophies to every youth sports team despite how well they played?  Why do dangle prizes and rewards over their heads to recognize behaviors that they should be exhibiting because they are the right thing to do not because they'll get a prize?  Why do we lift these tiny human beings up on a pedestal so high they can't even remember what the ground looks like?

As a teacher, I see the repercussions of this every day.  I see kids who throw total fits over losing games in gym class, and kids who cry their way through field day because gosh darnit, the girls beat the boys at tug of war!  Talk about a reality check.   I see kids who argue over lost points on a test or quiz and then beg for a retake, even though their answers were wrong in the first place.  And then I see their parents argue for them.  Over a few points.  Likely an **embarrassing** 97%.  But that's not perfect, therefore they are not winners.  They are losers.  If only they knew that was #winning.

What do those kids learn whose parents go in and fight for their extra points?  They learn that mom and dad will do anything to make their wrongs right.  What do those kids learn who are always told they are winners and are allowed to throw tantrums when they lose?  They learn that their poor behavior is okay and that no matter their choices, mom and dad will still think they are perfect.  What do the kids learn who are always handed a trophy or an award after every sporting event they complete?  It teaches them that effort doesn't matter.  It teaches them that they could basically sit in the middle of the soccer field during the game and they'd still get the reward.

This is dangerous territory, folks.  I'm serious.

What do the kids learn who get a 97% on a test and don't try to find a way to turn it into a 100%?  They learn to go over the wrong answers and DISCOVER the right answer.  It makes them research and learn deeper than they did before the test.  What do the kids learn who get a 58% on a test because they stayed up too late the night before and chose not to study?  Hopefully they learn that they could do better next time if they study and get to bed at a decent time.  They will learn nothing if their parents walk in to the school and argue for a retake.   What do the kids learn who lose the student council election?  They learn to fall down and get back up.  They learn to hold their head high and carry on.  They learn how to deal with not getting into their favorite colleges.  They learn how to deal with jobs they interview for but do not get. They learn life skills.  They learn to live.

I'm far from perfect.  I have parenting flaws for sure.  Some days, more than I'd like to count.  But my husband and I have tried our best to keep our kids grounded and off that high pedestal.  You see, if we raise them up so high and they fall, they will have no clue how to get back up.  And they will never be happy until they get even higher than they were before. So guess what?  When I play board games with my kids, I do not let them win on purpose.  However, some times they win because they are truly smarter than me at that game.   Truly.  It happens.  When my kids bring home tests with wrong answers, we go over them.  We don't find reasons why they shouldn't be wrong.  When they are upset that they didn't do well on a spelling test, we keep practicing the words they got wrong.  I won't ask for a retake or for the teacher to look really closely at their messy handwriting because you know, some times their imperfectly perfect handwriting is just hard to read.  When my daughter tells me about how there was drama in her little group of BFFs, I start by asking what HER behaviors were and not others.  Because I can't change or guide the behaviors of the other girls but I can hers.

So let's do ourselves and our kids a favor.  Let's let them lose.  Let's celebrate true winnings and let's learn from the losses.  Let's let them live in a world where losses are just as important as winnings.  Let's agree that losing is okay.  Because it is.

The Pre-Christmas Purge. Gettin' rid of Sh-tuff.

You guys, this is my best idea ever.  I take pride in knowing that when I thought of this about 8 years ago, I couldn't find much else about it on the internet.  I like to call myself the Santa Bag pioneer. I'm probably not, but it makes me feel good.  Just roll with it.

I don't know about you but the thought of bringing more toys and trinkets into my house seriously makes me want to vomit.  Once we had kids, it was like Santa's sleigh exploded in our living room and no other kids received toys, because I was sure we got them all.
While feeling super grateful for all of the generous people who gave my kids gifts, I was also feeling the stress of "This isn't what Christmas is about" and "Where is all this $#%@ going to go?!"  I felt as good parents, we could take on the battle of what Christmas is all about and regardless of the number of gifts, we could be good stewards of that message.  However, I still didn't know where the heck any of the gifts were going to go.  That was the issue I chose to take on when I thought of Santa Bags.

Being a rather "green freak" about the Earth, I have always hated wrapping paper.  I think it's so pointless to spend money on wrapping paper, wrap presents, have the kids rip it all to shreds within minutes, and then toss it into the landfills.  I originally thought of Santa Bags as a way to help save the Earth...and some hard earned money.  I started Santa Bags by buying large cloth gift sacks from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I bought one for each of  my kids.  On Christmas Eve, my hubby and I Santa tossed all of the new toys, trinkets, and clothes into the Santa Bags and off he went to the next house, where he delivered perfectly wrapped presents to the neighbor kids all topped with curly boys and gift tags.  I'm not sure I've ever purchased gift tags?  My poor children.

It hit me one day that I could combine the idea of the Santa Bags with getting rid of some of the "sh-tuff" (can we agree to call it that?  sh-tuff.).  What if I had my kids fill the Santa Bags with old toys, trinkets, books, clothes, etc. that they didn't want any more?  We could leave them under the tree on Christmas Eve and Santa could take the old sh-tuff out and leave the new sh-tuff.  Brilliant?  I think so.

This has been the best tradition we have set.  Ever.  I have since handmade each of my kids their own Santa Bag with their initial on it.  It's so fun using the same bag every year.  I usually haul the Santa Bags out a month or so before Christmas.  I leave them in each of my kids' bedrooms and throughout the month, they sort through the things in their room.  Our big Santa rule...If Santa sees there's no room to put it, he doesn't leave it under the tree! If there's room on the bookshelf, he might leave new books.  If there's room in the toy box, he might leave new toys.  If there's room in the closet, he might leave new clothes.  If not, keep enjoying what you've got!  Hey. Look at that.  I've got rhyming skillz.

My kids fill those bags up, I tell you!  And they love it.  We tell the kids that Santa takes the toys in the bag back to the North Pole, has his elves fix them up a bit, and then he gives them to kids around the world.  So, you'll have to be prepared with a few large black trash bags to stash all the old sh-tuff in.  I usually hide them in my garage until I find time to drop them to Goodwill.  Or I pawn that job off on one of the grandmas who can complete the mission more easily without blowing the cover.

Go on, jump on board.  Gettin' rid of sh-tuff feels so darn good.

The Dreaded Return of the Elves....and What I Plan to Do About Them

It's almost time y'all.  Time is ticking until the dreaded elves show up in my mailbox.  Really, they have been shoved in basket in my laundry room since last December and my 10 year old has already found them.  Dammit.  I couldn't decide if that was the perfect time to spill the truth or try to make the magic of the elves last a bit longer.  For the sake of the younger sisters, I decided to try to make it last longer but I do not like them.  Not one bit.

I really wish I never would have started the elves.  But I did and I've wracked my brain over what to do with them to turn their existence into something I can handle.  Something positive.  Something to help deliver the meaning of true meaning of Christmas.  Nothing that will require that I get up at 2am to move the darn elves. (And yes, I say elves because back when I was young and naive, I bought three.  Three kids, three elves.  Made sense then.  Now, not so much.)  Nothing that will require me to make a mess that I do not have time to clean up - or make for that matter.  Nothing that I will find on Pinterest.

You know...there's a big world out there.  I want my kids to think outside of the little bubble we live in.  It's hard for them to do that when we live in a community where everyone (for the most part) looks the same and lives the same.  While I want them sheltered from the craziness and evil in this world, I also want them thinking of others and realizing all that they are blessed with.  I don't want them wanting more and more stuff, I want them yearning for more experiences and more information to fill their growing minds and hearts.  I want them thinking about others and caring for others.

In a world that is so broken and so unpredictable, it's hard for me to spend too much time on these imaginary creatures that destroy my home and distract the thoughts of my kids.  They are already disappointed that our elves don't do the crazy things that their friends elves do.  While I really want to tell them that most of their friends moms have ALL day to move those damn things while I'm at work, I tell them that I ask the elves to stay calm and not make messes.  I'd rather my kids rush home excited to work together to spread Christmas cheer rather than to express disappointment in how their elves aren't very fun,

So here's my plan of attack.  The elves will arrive as planned.  They will exit the laundry room and move their way to the mailbox or be delivered to our front porch - who knows.  The kids will open the package, scream with joy, set them in place, and then the fun will begin!

The elves will have missions.  They won't be at our house much because they will be traveling the world looking for kids who aren't as blessed as mine.  Kids who could use extra cheer and my kids will be asked to help.  For example, the elves will be delivered but will quickly depart on a mission. They will leave notes for my kids.  I'm sure some kind co-workers won't mind helping me write those to disguise the handwriting.  The elves may stay one night but then a note will appear in their place and it may read something like this,

"Dear kids, So sorry we had to leave your warm cozy house but the Christmas countdown is on and there are kids who really need our help!  There's a boy who lives near you  (or name a city near you, your own city, or even overseas in another country - wherever you feel is appropriate to focus on).  He loves to go outside to make snowmen but he doesn't have any boots.  We watched him play outside the other day in his old tennis shoes which have holes in the bottom.  We could use your help to get him some new shoes and boots!  Before we return on Thursday, help your mom and dad with some chores to earn money to put towards new shoes and boots for this boy!"

You could take your kids out to buy an inexpensive pair of boots, or ask them to ask friends at school if they have any spare boots they could purchase (or donate would be even better!).  Make it their mission - give them ownership in how to approach the issue and form a solution.  A child needs boots and your children can help!  You could drop the boots off to any school and they will find someone who will use them.  There may be schools around you that could use the help more than others.

Another note may sound something like this (more of an eldery focus),

"Dear kids, Once again we were called away to help make someone happy!  Right down the road from you, there's a place where older people live.  These people are very kind and loving yet since they are old and can't get around well, they spend most of their time there.  We think they'd be a lot happier if they had some nice artwork for their walls!  We've left some blank canvases and paints for you to get creative!"

You could either take your kids to the "old folks home" to drop off the artwork or the elves could come back, pick up the artwork and deliver it the next time they leave (which means you will have secretly drop them off).

One last idea....

"Dear kids, we are secretly watching a family that lives near you.  It's just a mommy and her four kids.  She works all day and some times at night.  Her kids think a box of macaroni and cheese is a big treat for dinner as they often eat cereal or bread and peanut butter.  Wouldn't it be fantastic if this mom had a nice warm meal to feed her kids when she got home from work?  Look through some recipe books (or get on Pinterest) to find 2 meals you could all make together to give this family.  They will think your meal is such a gift!  We will be back to see you on Friday!"

Again, if you delivered these meals **frozen** to any school, they could find someone to give them to.  They may even hang onto them for a couple weeks and send them home to families as needed.

If you choose to go this route with your elves, remember to keep the missions realistic and manageable for you.  Your kids could help in super simple ways such as drawing pictures for the residents at an assisted living facility, helping a neighbor shovel their driveway, etc.

We have a sponsor child in Ethiopia, so our elves missions may become more global to help make a connection to our sponsor child over the holidays.  Whatever you choose to do, you'll feel good knowing the elves are bringing more than just chaos and craziness.  The elves could come the first day, get into mischief, leave and not come back until a day or two before Christmas and get into some more mischief!  It's totally your call.

It's a win-win situation.  I don't have to deal with the elves on a daily basis.  When they are "home" I can choose to let them get into some mischief if I feel like it, or keep it simple.  Before you know it, they will be whisked off  on another mission and while I'm enjoying the elf vacation, my kids are focusing on doing good deeds for the holidays.