Adventures in Christmas Decorating

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Welp, it’s that wonderful time of year again. You know, Christmas and holidays and trees and presents and magic. Which is great to witness in movies, but a PITA to experience.

Ok. Fine. I have a somewhat squelchy heart made of coal. (How can coal squelch? Wouldn’t that require more soggy material? Clearly mixed a metaphor or two back there. I digress.)

Anyhow. The only reason I even care about Christmas is because I want to create traditions for my children. (Ok, not the ONLY reason since I do believe Christ’s birth and its incumbent scandal is worthy of remembering and celebrating.)

I don’t particularly care for decorating and all of that stuff but my kids LOVE it and actually are old enough to remember doing things in previous years. So, because I love them, I force myself to go through with all this folderol.

Also, I am a sucker for making memories. I know. I am just overflowing with Christmas Spirit.

And since we don’t do Santa (I personally don’t like connecting an old white dude who lives in the North and knows if you are naughty or nice and rewards good kids and punishes bad kids with Jesus’s birthday because it sounds suspiciously like a draconian god and when kids find out Santa isn’t real, why would God and Jesus be real and OMG I AM THE WORST BUT MY KIDS ARE STUCK WITH ME SO TOO BAD FOR THEM), nor do I give the kids individual presents (we do communal presents from Hapa Papa and I but they get presents from family and teachers) —

breathe —

So pretty much the only thing we do is buy and decorate a tree and our bannister with a bunch of crappy shatterproof ornaments from Target, cute crafty ornaments made from their hand and footprints when Cookie Monster and Gamera were very little, and make new ornaments and crafts for the tree this year.

I quite enjoy seeing the old ornaments come out even though some are falling apart already. I guess my heart isn’t entirely ossified. (Don’t tell anyone.)

Anyhow, this is all just to say that the tree and decorating it are THE THING WE DO AT CHRISTMAS TIME in the Mandarin Mama household so even if it’s a royal PITA, I suck it up and do it because this is all we do.

Geez. I really am a kill joy. But I tell you what: I am never stressed out at Christmastime and I don’t have to find presents for the kids or anyone else other than my nephews and my mother and my kids’ teachers.

Anyhow, with that preamble out of the way, here is how our yearly tradition went this year.

1) Bought a Christmas tree with all four kids. BY MYSELF.

Seriously. This is one yearly solo with kids tradition I could do without. I hate it. Hapa Papa hates it. I may or may not have passive aggressively texted my dismay to Hapa Papa.

Good man that he is, he cleaned the house and prepped the corner for the tree and brought out all the Christmas stuff from the garage as an apology. (He also washed the cloth diapers.)

Apology accepted.

2) Had to use clippers and hand cut off more branches because I forgot to tell the Home Depot guy to trim 1.5′ off the bottom instead of the usual 8″ they do.

I have a deep stand, ok?

Try not to make that sound too dirty.

3) Put up Christmas tree and had to go out and buy new lights because I forgot that I threw out all the lights last year.

Bought lots of chocolate as a reward. Kids stole half my chocolate.

4) Put up new lights.

Realized I didn’t have the heart to toss the star last year because it is pretty but should have because I forgot it is broken and doesn’t light up so now I have to go out again and get a new star because Cookie Monster insists.

5) Successfully did not yell at kids for their help decorating the tree. After all, nothing makes warm Christmas memories quite like Mommy yelling because you aren’t decorating right.

6) Listened to Christmas music because it is Hapa Papa’s favorite part of Christmastime. I think. Either way, he is a big fan of Christmas music.

7) Last year, Glow Worm’s favorite thing at Christmas time was to take ornaments off the tree and throw them. This year is no exception.

8) My kids can make even Christmas decorating a dangerous sport.

9) Glow Worm also thinks the ornaments are toys (same as last year) and uses them as balls, food, whatever. He has been driving them around in his Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (which he also) did last year. Glad to see that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

10) And despite my alleged dislike for all the effort it requires, seeing the tree and bannister lit up every time I pass by makes me feel happy.

11) Of course, my entire house is littered with scattered ornaments and the little green hooks from which they hang.

These will conspire to trip me as our tree gets barer and barer and our floor gets more and more treacherous.

I could pick them up and put them back on the tree but then Glow Worm wins.

12) I must have succeeded in hiding my actual feelings because Cookie Monster kept commenting how I must love Christmas (or something to that effect). So yay, me!

Anyhow. May your holiday traditions be in full swing and full of joy for you and your families. Happy Wednesday!

Things I Didn’t Realize I Needed to Teach My Children

I have had quite a day full of mishaps with my children. I swear, they are smart kids, but also extremely dumb. If we were early on in the evolutionary chain, humankind would have died out.

Our branch would have come to an immediate and abrupt end. And it would be deserved. Utterly and totally deserved.

Is it sad to say that my kids would win the Darwin Awards? Or some other awful kids do the darndest things awards?

Here then, are some of the things it never occurred to me to tell my kids NOT to do.

Clearly, the fault is all mine.

1) Don’t stick your finger in your butthole and then put your finger into your mouth.

2) Don’t push your sibling off a five foot retaining wall.

3) Stop shoving your finger into your butthole and finish your bath.

4) Don’t draw all over the piano keys. Oh, and the bookshelf. And the books on the bookshelf. And the wall. And the carpet. And the window sill.

In fact, please only draw on paper. BLANK PAPER. No, not your homework.

No, not your siblings’ homework, either.

5) Don’t dump Elmer’s glue all over the carpet.

6) Don’t jump from the couch to the rocking chair. For God’s sake, please stop jumping onto the rocking chair.

7) Don’t climb the toy kitchen. It will topple over. In fact, please stop climbing everything in the house. I don’t feel as if I should have to bolt down every item in my house.

8) Don’t crawl into the washing machine.

9) Don’t sit on my face with your naked butt. Sit on Papa’s face instead.

10) Don’t poke holes into a brand new Amazon box with pencils. Especially when the box is full of air/heater filters.

Hmmm… after reviewing this list, I realize that the main one I didn’t expect to say was the first one. After that, I get it. My kids are just kids. Stupid and not really good at figuring out natural consequences from their actions. But the first point? THAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS.

How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys

As many of you know, my house is a mecca of toys. Is it educational? Is it a logic puzzle? Does it involve building blocks or wood or MAGNETS? Is it a Lego? Or crafty? If so, I probably own it.

I’m a sucker for anything with a magnet. Or logic. Or building.

But the thing is, my children NEVER played with these toys. They were obsessively on their iPads. Otherwise, they were busy using each other as meat punching bags and smacking the crap out of each other with Minecraft foam swords and axes and plastic pointy light sabres.

So, all that money I spent on real wood blocks and Magnatiles and Magformers, etc.? All wasted.

What really upset me was that they LOVED to play with these toys at other people’s houses. Just not mine.

Jerks.

But these past few weeks, since we got back from Taiwan, things have changed. And I think I know why.

Despite this being only a few weeks implemented, I have a feeling the changes will stick. (Possibly because most of these tips are things I have read before. I never said I was re-inventing the wheel, people!)

So, without further ado: How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys:

1) Get rid of your toys.

Now, unless you already were some minimalist or just amazing (and therefore, I kinda hate you but want to be you all at the same time), you probably have way more toys than you need or want and they’re just pissing you off.

Way back in the end of February, my friend, Danielle Faust at OkDani and FitNoire wrote a post about how she threw away all (or almost all) her kids’ toys.

Now, when I read her post at the time, I agreed and thought, wow! That’s amazing! But I could never do that at my house because so many of my toys have already been culled.

I was wrong. So wrong.

And four months later (what can I say? I’m slow.), I threw out a bunch of my toys. In fact, I threw away or got rid of any toy that pissed me off – no matter how educational or age-appropriate or “good” the toy was. If it made me angry or cringe, it was out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have a lot of toys. I am not getting rid of expensive toys that I love. But I did get rid of 6-8 bags of toys that I HATED.

It was a joyous and beautiful day.

2) Have a place for every toy.

I know. None of this is the stuff of genius. We read about it all the time in those organizing articles.

But it’s true.

If there’s a place for the toy, and the kids know where it belongs, then they know where to put it back when they’re done with the toy. (And the answer is NOT the floor.)

It helps if the place is a clear box so they can see what toy is in which box (especially since my kids can’t read English). I also have painter’s tape on each box with Chinese/zhuyin and English on the label so the kids and Hapa Papa know what belongs in that particular container.

About two years ago, I had an organizer come in and buy appropriate shelves and storage things so that I have plenty of space, I just need to keep them OPEN.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t so much a lack of enough organizational materials as much as a lack of space. If lack of space is a problem, confer back to point 1.

The arts and crafts center. It’s not at all neat, but it will serve.

One shelf with toys. Some have been pulled out for play.

Another shelf filled with toys.

3) Take out 2-4 activities each day.

So, I have had a pretty organized home with toys and activities for months, but STILL the kids wouldn’t play with the toys. They instead would reach for their old standbys – the swords and sabers and then proceed to beat each other to a pulp.

I was annoyed. I mean, other than the toys looking so pretty in the boxes, what’s the point of having them if the kids won’t play with them?

That’s when I remembered what our home-based preschool teacher, PW would do at the start of each class time. She also has lots of fun toys in her house, but instead of having them all put away, each class period, she would take out 3-4 activities and put them on the floor for the kids to explore.

That didn’t mean she didn’t let them play other things, but it did mean she gave them direction.

Because if you think about it, having lots of choices can be overwhelming unless you are one of those people (and by those people, I mean people such as I) who always order the same things at restaurants. Otherwise, you end up paralyzed by all the choices.

Same thing with the kids and toys.

In the face of so many toys, they go to their easy standbys and don’t even consider the other toys.

So, now, either the night before or the morning, of, I take out 2-3 activities and put them on the floor. I usually take out:

a) one type of building activity (blocks, Wedge-Its, Magnatiles)

b) one type of sorting/sensory activity (a big box of rocks, fuzzy balls, plastic dinosaurs, glass beads, etc.), and

c) one type of puzzle or other game.

And then I go against every instinct and let them keep those three activities out ALL DAY.

In fact, I far prefer this to “rotating” toys. Mostly because I don’t really have to think about “storing” toys and then remembering to “rotate” them. I hate extra work and brain power I need to exert.

4) Limit screen time.

I hate this suggestion. It’s really Captain Obvious and judgmental and self-righteous.

But it’s true.

Kids really can’t play with your toys if they’re glued to a screen.

Keep in mind, I don’t care how long your kids are on the screen. I won’t judge. My kids spent the last week in Taiwan entirely on the iPad. Like, from morning til night. For a week. Blowing through $1,000USD in Airbnb rent just like that.

I don’t judge.

However, like I mentioned before. It’s difficult for kids to play with toys if there is no opportunity for them to actually play. So, limiting some of your screen time is probably necessary.

For us, my kids are limited to 2 hours of screen time where they actually choose what they can watch. Then, I will likely add Chinese science videos or TF Boys (their current obsession) on top of that because I’m a sucker and I don’t mind.

That has made a huge difference at our house.

Now, with all their newly freed up time, and seeing all the toys I have pulled out, my kids actually play with their toys. And somehow, it’s as if a mental block was pulled from their brains. As if they remembered all the other toys our home possesses.

Not only do they play with the toys I “suggest,” they also pull out their other toys. And since I usually have most drawing and art materials out on the table, the kids use those more, too.

Before, I would force the kids to clean up right away. But now, I am a little more relaxed about it. Instead, if the floor gets dangerous and too full, that’s when I make them clean up. And then I definitely make them clean up before we go upstairs for bed.

I don’t mind the extra mess as long as the toys are used and the kids are playing with each other and not a screen.

Anyhow, I realize that nothing I suggested is mind-blowing or new. But hopefully, still helpful. And not only helpful – applicable.

Let me know what you do to get your kids to play with their toys. (Or maybe you don’t have this problem at all!) See you Friday!