The memories of Thanksgiving Week are so distinct, then a few weeks quickly swept by and Christmas was upon us. The week before Christmas was very busy, which of course lent to the fleeting time. Given the bounty of activities, we dubbed the week before break as "Key Club Holiday Week." Every day had some event going on, with most days actually hosting two or three... or four.
The holiday season actually started for Key Clubbers the week before as we spent the day volunteering at the Trooper Hill Toy Drive. With age, many things have come full circle in my life. This is another one of those occasions. I believe it would have been my second Christmas as a wife and mother that I found myself on the other side of the volunteer table, sitting on the bleachers at the Salvation Army's basketball gym, struggling to avoid eye contact with other girls I knew from high school, waiting to shop the free gifts for my infant son. There have been many, many Christmases since that year - some more extravagant, others still a financial struggle. They all brought me to this point though, of being able to help raise the funds and help volunteer the time to help the other mothers in a place very close to where I was twenty years ago.
During the actual "Holiday Week," we sold Candy Grams at lunch every day and took pics with the old jolly guy on Wednesday. On Monday, the Key Clubbers went back to Color Me Mine in Norfolk, which was a fundraising tradition started last year, and the kids painted piggy banks. I was a little skeptic about my "Starry Night" inspiration but I was pretty happy with how it turned out. Tuesday brought "Gingerbread Tree" making with the "Exceptional Education" students at the high school, which is a new tradition and as expected, was rewarding and great fun. On Wednesday, we had the Teacher's Luncheon and on Thursday night we had the Key Club party at Casa de McHenry. There was a lesson to be learned with Teacher's Luncheon this year, and although I readily admit my kids have plenty to teach me, I have to also admit I can be a bit too chaotic or set in my ways to always see what they offer. This year, my newer younger leaders took charge of the luncheon. It did not follow my routine. I stressed out right up until the time lunches started... and... of course, everything turned out perfectly fine. I am going to have to adjust to some new leadership styles with the young emergents. This may not be easy. The Christmas party was the smashing success as always. We tried a new game using crepe paper to make a team member into a Christmas tree, but kept the favored Pictionary/Just Dance/ and Make-Yer-Own-Pizza Buffet too.
The Community Cookie Exchange, in its fourth year, unfortunately was not as successful. I blame it in part to it being on the Saturday immediately following the last (full) day of school, the beautiful weather, and the custom just fading away with the older Key Club generation graduating out. We were still able to fill plenty of tins though, and Key Clubbers delivered them to the police departments, hospitals, and nursing homes on Christmas Day. We saved the firehouse for a special delivery though. Benjamin was far too entranced by the mountains of cookies to allow them to be packed away in tins without him personally sampling each and every one- much in the way he tried to sample all the party food over the holiday, taking one bite and returning it to the plate. So, we explained to him the cookies were for the firefighters for Christmas, believing this would be the most tangible image for his three year-old brain... and it worked. Over the next few days, he reminded us that the cookies were for the firefighters, which I think was his way of being sure he still couldn't have any. So on Christmas Day, Jason took Benjamin to the fire department and allowed him to be the one to deliver their cookies. And that was a good thing, because it pays forward the whole ideal of this tradition we are trying to build, and makes me less inspired to scrap the whole program because of one year's low turn-out.
Before I completely transition into the "Home" recollections of Christmas, I would be remiss not to mention how overwhelmingly generous my students were this year. They were my students (some former), and my Key Clubbers, but they still left me feeling rather humbled by their generosity. I have always tried to make gift bags for the boys to give to their teachers for Christmas; after the middle school years though, when kids could very well have seven different teachers, this tends to fade away though. I admit to occasionally joking to the notion of elementary teachers being the "lucky ones" or high school teachers getting "screwed" for Christmas, but they were completely and totally just jokes, and now I feel completely and totally guilty for even saying it. From bath products to candles, to candy- including a mason jar filled with only purple candy: my favorite, to stationary, a scarf, ornaments- including a personalized "Best Teacher" trophy, cards, $50 in Starbucks gift cards (fifty dollars!), my kids were "giving" to the point that I almost feel guilty for "taking" (almost). Honestly, I didn't even know how to respond as the gifts accumulated on my desk. I felt too funny opening a gift in front of the others and I wouldn't allow myself to read the personal notes on the cards and get emotional, as I always do, in front of witnesses. Thus, I would thank the student profusely (and sincerely), then check out the goods as soon as the room cleared. My one and only crafty goal over Christmas Break is to make hand-made "Thank You" cards for each one.
Christmas on the home front was equally "successful." Yeah, I know that's a terribly superficial and capitalistic word to use, but let's admit that people aren't lining up on Black Friday to see the manger. Benjamin wanted "a camera" for Christmas. He told this to Santa, and anyone else that asked what he wanted. That is the only item that ever made it to his list. After much deliberation (ie, reading long strands of Amazon reviews), I decided to get him the Nabi. I know, I know... the kid asks for a $20 camera and I buy him a $200 computer, what am I setting myself up for? At first, I was going to let the camera on that suffice but then succumbed to "the guilt" and got him another camera too. When pushed for another item on the list, he came up with a rocket ship, which proved to be a lot harder to find then first imagined. Then, a couple of days before Christmas I tried to be the crafty mom and ask him "Do you want a robot?" "A Superman on a motorcycle would be cool too," totally implanting in his wee mind the toys I had already bought. He heartily agreed, adding that Superman needed "a bad guy." During the closing credits of Christmas Shopping 2013, Cameron and I found a 5-pack of Marvel Heroes and a 5-pack of Marvel Villains at Wal-Mart that were aimed to the pre-school crowd. Of course... of course, he spent the greater part of Christmas Day playing with the Super Heroes and villains... and not the $200 Android Tablet. Well, at least it wasn't just the box he enjoyed playing most with, as the proverbial myth proved to be true last year.
Cameron was very adamant about wanting only "khakis and whitening strips," (we will save reflections of his newfound vanity for later), so I knocked out all his shopping in a few hours- toss in some bow ties and dress shirts previously requested, some jeans/underwear/t-shirts badly needed, and a movie/book/smelly stuff/and case of Chapstick. (Yes, case.)
Of all the things that stress me out about the holidays (the list is long), the one that gets me most is not knowing what to get Jason... and even moreso, not knowing what to tell him to get me. Both of those went pretty smoothly this year. He has been wishing for a "Jungle Book" DVD since Benjamin became old enough to watch movies, and thankfully Amazon (I really don't use the miracle solver that is Amazon enough), I was able to shrug off the Disney "locked vault" marketing nonsense and get one... along with various small kitchen gadgets (and apron) he had talked about wanting... a new computer video game (after consulting with his brother to make sure the one I bought this year actually worked on our computer, unlike last year)... and a dressy shirt that admittingly is as much (if not more) present for me than him.
As far as receiving, I sent several text pics to Jason while out shopping of things I would want, their price and store. I'm not a big fan of surprises. Usually items that I suggest as far less extravagant then ideas of what Jason would choose on his own. So, the whole system worked out grandly- with items I suggested, often in abundance of the request (such as both scarves, or three sets of gold hoop earrings), still a surprise since I didn't know which of the suggestions he would take... as well as an impromptu surprise of a pretzel maker, given my affinity of "bready things."
As far as the trimming...
This holiday season the greatest gift I gave... to myself... was the permission to say "No." 'Learning to Say No' is a trite theme for title articles splashed across women's magazines for years now. Still, it has never proved an easy task for me. So in an effort to stave off my innate grinchiness this holiday season, I allowed myself to say no and trimmed a few things from the holiday season. The tree went up a little later than planned but well in time before festivities began... and I do really like my traditional-eclectic-mashup-up tree. The plans for getting a newer/bigger tree, as well as the plans for a Nutcracker themed tree in the dining room and the nautical themed tree in the guest bathroom were nixed (again). Sadly, the Christmas village didn't come together to celebrate the holiday or decorate the front hall. That I missed, and will make a point not to overlook next time when trimming back the hoopla. The DVD cache is filled with holiday specials for Benjamin's shows but I didn't force myself to watch any Christmas movies, other than a couple of mindless Lifetime productions on in the background while working on festivying the house. I know that sounds especially grinchy but I hate watching movies I have already watched. I hit Christmas shopping with a plan and finished quickl(ier). I slashed plans for gingerbread house making and Christmas Light parks from the To Do List and decided to just spend some time "with" the kids, "without" the agenda. And, for as much as the Key Clubbers did during yet another crazy busy month of serving & celebrating, there were still many opportunities to which I just had to say "No" or to which I took a few shortcuts to the same end goal, from pre-made pizza crusts for the party to donating two event tickets for a raffle versus the creative energy and running around needed for a charity basket.
So although Christmastime didn't fit the mold of a Hallmark movie, or even a Griswald one... perhaps my Grinch heart which was "two sizes too small... grew three sizes" this holiday season... but probably not.