My Kids Believe in Santa

Apparently telling your kids about Santa is controversial these days. I do it. Why? Because it’s fun. And sometimes, I like to have fun. People who are against telling kids about Santa raise the argument that telling kids some dude goes into their house and gives them presents while flying in a magical sleigh pulled by reindeer is not only creepy, but also lying to them. My response to this is: considering all the other ways you’re invariably going to lie to your kids while raising them, you’re picking this one to make a stand? Really?

In the long run, it doesn’t matter one bit if you tell your kids there is a Santa or not. If you want to tell them there’s a Santa, DO IT! If you don’t want to waste your time (and give all the credit to an imaginary person), then DON’T! Either way, it’s not going to turn them into a serial killer or make them cynical. Growing up and realize that their parents aren’t perfect is going to make them cynical. Not learning there is no Santa.

My parents told me about Santa when I was little. I believed it until I was 5. Then I started noticing my older sister and brother kept accurately telling me what I was going to get for Christmas so I finally asked my mom if there was a Santa Claus. She said no. I wasn’t upset at all. At least not until I tried to tell my friend down the street. She refused to believe me and kept insisting that there was a Santa Claus. I kept insisting that there wasn’t. Eventually they moved away, but I now have the satisfaction of knowing that eventually she found out that I really was right. Since then, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just shut up and not be right.

My husband also grew up believing in Santa Claus. Or more specifically, Joulupukki. Joulupukki lives in Finland in Lapland. Every year on Christmas Eve they have Joulupukki reading letters and taking phone calls from kids on the television. You can even fill out a form online somewhere (I’d look it up, but I’m lazy) and give Santaland an address and name and they will send you a letter from Joulupukki. In other words, Santa is a big fricking deal in Finland.

Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?

Telling our kids about Santa/Weihnachtsmann/Joulupukki gives Finland that extra edge of cool in the language and culture race in our household. When Alpha went to Finnish preschool while we were visiting over Christmas last year, they discussed Joulupukki and that was the only word he ever actually said while at Finnish preschool. Other than that, he was completely mute. But JOULUPUKKI IS BRINGING HIM PRESENTS, MAN! That has to be acknowledged. Then Joulupukki showed up at his grandparents house on Christmas Eve (presumably while on his way to hand out presents to all the other kids out there) and personally delivered presents to everyone. Alpha was beside himself with excitement. Beta was confused.

This year, they’re both excited. They know about Joulupukki and they know about getting presents. This is actually the first year it has firmly registered with Alpha that he can request presents and get them. He’s asked for a scooter, which we bought (one for each child). Then he changed his request and asked for a fire scooter. I have no idea what it is, but he gave me a long monologue about how he could ride it in the street because he would be “sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr vorsichtig” and if a car came, he would be able to go REALLY FAST. I told him I didn’t think there were such things as fire scooters. He insists that there are. I think he’s going to be disappointed tomorrow.

But he’s convinced there’s a Santa. The crazy thing is that we haven’t even put forth a lot of effort to convince him of this. Society has done most of the work for us. And it’s not a “be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents on Christmas” thing either because unless you’re actually planning on NOT giving your kid anything for Christmas when you say that, that’s a really ineffective way to discipline. They’ll learn that either a) you don’t mean a damn thing you say or b) that Santa is on their side. As far as my kids are concerned, Santa just comes and brings them presents because he’s cool like that. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected their behavior. Today my son decided he needed to clean up all his toys so that Santa wouldn’t step on them and hurt himself or break his toys. I told him that was a really good idea.

So whether or not you tell your kids about Santa or believe yourself, have a Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, hyvää joulua!

In Search of ‘Normal’ Homeschoolers

I need to find some normal homeschooling friends. Desperately. I’m sure they’re out there. I’m in a homeschooling “network” of about 400 hundred people, so you’d think some of them would be more on the normal side. The problem is sorting having the tenacity to go through of the weirdo ones and still be around for the normal ones.

What do I mean by normal?

Well…one homeschooling mom decided to start a group to help her 8 year old daughter find some friends her age. So she sent out a message saying “Although Sally [not her real name] adores her younger brothers [being about 4] and loves playing with them, some times she also likes to play with kids her own age….” What the hell. Of course she wants to play with kids her own age! What kid doesn’t? I’d be concerned if she only wanted to play with boys half her age. Why so defensive in the beginning? Would anyone actually read an email saying, “My daughter wants to make more friends in her age group. Let’s get together!” and conclude that Sally hates her brothers and wants them to die painful slow deaths?

This kind of pro-active defensiveness seems to be common in homeschooling groups. Mention Halloween or Easter or any holiday that traditionally revolves  around candy and you get a chorus of “Although I hate the candy part of it…” Sigh. Yes. We know.

Along with this are the little reminders tacked on to group events or celebrations to bring a “healthy snack to share with all allergens labelled!” I’m fine with labeling the allergies bit; I’d be pissed I was chowing down on something only for it to turn out to have lobster in it and end up covered in hives. But why do they feel the need to tell us to bring a healthy snack? Are we adults or not? Can we not decide for ourselves what is healthy? One mom brought cookies to an Easter Egg Hunt (oh, sorry, Not Easter Egg Hunt. I referred to it as an Easter Egg Hunt when RSVP-ing and got promptly corrected by the leader that it was strictly secular and had nothing to do with any religious holiday whatsoever. I resisted the urge to immediately schedule a random egg hunt in September), but I guess that was okay because they were gluten free and, as everyone knows, gluten free makes it healthy. I spend most of these events resisting the urge to bring Doritos and a can of cheez whiz. Non-organic, of course.

OMG, that’s pasteurized? Don’t you know how bad that is?

Lately they’ve changed the rules and decided that if people don’t want to do potluck (probably because all the rules make it too much of a pain in the ass), you can also just bring food for you and yours. Uh, thanks?

It’s not so much that people do these sorts of things, it’s the way they go about it: completely pompous. It’s not about what they do so much as it is about how they present themselves to other people. The last thing any of these women want is to be revealed as the only mom there who let’s there kids eat sugar and who things pizza pockets are a healthy entree. And it annoys me.

I’m not sure if meeting normal homeschooling parents would help in this regard since this behavior is common to all women. We had one of DH’s co-workers over and grilled food. I commented to his co-worker’s wife that Beta could eat 4 hot dogs in one go and didn’t even care if they were cooked. She replied, awkwardly, “I bet Billy could too, but I usually don’t let him because of all the preservatives and nitrates in hot dogs.” She must have seen this meme going around Facebook, I guess:

hotdogs

I base 99.9% of my parenting decisions on facebook memes. Fact.

Uh, thanks for insinuating that I basically want my kids to get cancer, Mom Lady. Sheesh. Way to suck all the fun out of grilling.

So while most of the mommy population seems to have this problem of covering their mommy-asses whenever they say anything, ever, it seems like it’s more common among the homeschooling population. This is probably due to the fact that the homeschooling population is self-selecting. Of all parents, which ones do you think are going to be most likely to decide that public school is inadequate for their children’s needs? Ones who feed their kids 12 hot dogs a month, cancer be damned, or those whose kids would be hard pressed to recognize a hot dog? So I’ve decided to try and recruit my less militant friends who are on the fence about homeschooling. This is going to make me super annoying, I know it. It probably won’t work, either. But I want my kids to have friends. Preferably friends where I don’t feel like the other mothers are constantly outraged at how I raise my children and therefore will never let their kids play at my house and would really prefer it if they didn’t hang out with my kids at all, but they can’t actually say that because that would lack the appropriate passive-aggressiveness they’ve become accustom to. They could always stick a smiley face at the end of the email they eventually write to break the news; everyone knows no one can get mad at you if you put a smiley in there :).

Maybe I’ll start a Meet Up Group: “Normal Homeschoolers.” After all, everyone knows that if you want to get the really militant homeschoolers, you label your group “Gifted Homeschoolers” because everyone who homeschools has gifted children. Homeschoolers have one hell of a bell curve.

(As a post script, I’m basically trying to summon up the courage to keep going to homeschooling things in the hopes I will meet some kindred spirits without getting too discouraged and quitting all together)

Memories

While visiting my sister, we went out and had dinner with one of our old friends, A. Like, way back from when we were kids friends.  Her mom killed herself when she was 12 and she went through some really hard times because of that. My sister told her how it was crazy the things that I remembered about our childhood that she didn’t and my sister’s friend piped up with a memory she had. My sister was 12, she was 8 and I was 4, so obviously I didn’t remember it at all.

My mom had told A’s mom that she would watch her and that she was going to take us to the pool. But after A’s mom left, my mom had my sister take the two of us to the pool. This was a common occurrence when we were kids. We would walk from our house a couple blocks over to the pedestrian bridge over the freeway, then through the park to the pool. “I was scared!” A said. “Walking over the freeway like that? And only with you, lugging your little sister along, it was crazy!” She told her mom what had happened and A’s mom was not happy that my mom had lied to her about taking them to the pool and had had them go by themselves with only my 12 year old sister to look after an 8-year old and a 4-year old at the pool. She called my mom and let her know exactly how she felt about that.

I don’t know how my mom reacted– neither did A–but it was a really disheartening thing to hear. When discussing my mom and numerous problems, we tend to have a specific narrative set up: Mom wasn’t always this bad. She was once pretty normal. But this story shoots a few holes into that premise. My mom always had narcissistic tendencies. She didn’t mind lying to A’s mom and telling her she would take us to the pool when she wasn’t going to. What was important was what she wanted. She probably even had an excuse ready when A’s mom called her, upset that she hadn’t taken us.

Even worse was the fact that even when I was just 4, my mom was doing all she could to get out of parenting me. My sister was there, she could do it. My mom had things she’d rather do. As a parent myself, I couldn’t imagine feeling comfortable having a 12 year old watch two other younger kids at a pool. It’s another part of a pervasive pattern of neglect and unimportance that spans the lives of my sister, my brother and myself. We try to minimalize it and to put it in perspective– “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been!”–but it was there none-the-less and for much longer than either one of us can remember.

“I do have good memories of my mom,” I mentioned after we had discussed her a while longer.

“I think most of your good memories of your mom were actually your sister,” A cut in and I’ve thought about that a lot, ever since. The problem is, I don’t have a whole lot of specifically good memories of my mother and the few I do have are pretty limited.  Whenever I tell old friends that I’ve completely cut my mother out of my life and, with any luck, will never see or speak to her again, none of them can quite comprehend it. “I couldn’t imagine not talking to my mom ever again,” one told me sadly. I wish I could imagine wanting to without dreading the possibility.

Stupid Suggestions to Save Money

I have a bad habit. Every time someone talks about someone who is tight on money, I reflexively suggest the plant a garden. I need to stop doing this because, while gardening might be a great way to get outside, get some exercise and get some fresh, organic vegetables, it is not necessarily going to save you money. Unless you’re a really good gardener, gardening is going to cost you money. You might not have to spend much money on vegetables anymore, but let’s be honest: how much money do you really spend on vegetables each month? Enough to make the money you spend on dirt (if you have to buy dirt), seeds, seedlings, organic bug killers and compost, not to mention your time (which is valuable). You’d be better off buying vegetables from the grocery store and…getting a job.

This isn’t the only bad suggestion I’ve made or heard others make as a way to save money.

Whenever people discuss how being poor makes it hard to eat healthy, invariably people suggest the poor eat “beans and rice.” Because beans and rice are apparently the solution to everything. The issue is: they don’t taste all that great unless you add a lot of spice to them. You have to soak the beans. Seriously. You have to soak the beans. And they take a long time to cook. And, quite frankly, if I had a choice between buying beans and rice to cook at home and a Big Mac, I would take the Big Mac because the Big Mac is that much more delicious and contains something that resembles meat more than beans and rice do.
And we used to eat beans and rice! In the 3 years surrounding Alpha’s birth, we ate one meal a week that was bean based to save money because we were broke. This usually ended up being the meal neither of us really looked forward to and I ended up eating most of the leftovers before discarding them all together. We were hard up for cash because my husband hadn’t yet found a permanent job in the US and I quit my job when I had my son (thinking that DH would have a job any minute!). Our income was near zero and we were living off savings. In other words, the solution to our problem wasn’t “Moar beanz and rice!!!!!” it was, “MORE MONEY!”

I’ve also made my own laundry detergent to save money. This works pretty well–it is cheap compared to most laundry detergent (unless you coupon and buy on sales, etc)–and it’s better for the environment. But it takes time. And it doesn’t necessarily get your clothes as clean as actual laundry detergent. As far as the meager amount of money you save doing this, it’s also not really worth your time. Unless you’re the Duggars, you’d be better off getting a job and buying the detergent. Better value for your time.

Then there’s hanging your clothes out to dry. I personally love hanging my clothes out. It gets me out of the house on nice summer mornings and I find it meditative. In the winter, it adds moisture to the air in my house. The stiffness of the clothes doesn’t bother me. I’m so used to line drying that I have a hard time believing jeans that can’t walk by themselves are actually clean. My sister fell in love with my rotary clothesline when she visited and got one at home. I encouraged her because it would “save money and electricity.” Then my brother-in-law pointed out that after the cost of the clothesline, they’d have to line dry clothes into their next several reincarnations to recoup the cost because electricity is dirt cheap where they live. Because I’m surrounded by hippies, it’s twice as expensive where I live. So I’m saving twice as much money! Go me! But if you live in Germany, where electricity costs 30 Euro cents per kilowatt, you’re line drying unless you’re rich and have money to burn. Or your maid’s time is way more expensive than the cost of the electricity to run the dryer. If you have a dryer in Europe (and a significant number of Europeans don’t), you use it on an emergency basis only. The end. But for the average American, the time it takes to hang out clothes is not worth the potential “savings” in the electric bill. It’s a dumb suggestion to save money.

Though when we lived in an apartment and had to pay $1.50 each time we did laundry to semi-dry our clothes, it was totally worth it. We were both unemployed, so we had plenty of time to violate the house rules and hang out our laundry on our balcony. But it would have been more worth our time to…actually have jobs, instead. Oh well.

Sewing your own clothes is another great way to save money! Except it’s not. There is no way you can be produce more clothes more cheaply than someone in Thailand. This is why Thailand/other places in Asia make most of our clothing these days. Sure, the occasional novelty outfit you sold yourself is good fun and sewing your own clothes is a great way to make sure you have your clothes exactly how you want them. I know I’d love to have a pair of custom jeans (as in, custom made not by me). But on the whole, sewing is not going to save you money. You will have earned more working and buying a similar outfit than you will have saved by sewing it.

Canning is another activity that will not save you money. It will result in you saving more vegetables from your garden (and maybe help get your garden a little less in the fiscal red), but it’s unlikely you will actually end up canning a quart of tomatoes for less than you could actually buy them at the store.

I started baking my own bread again to “save money.” We used to buy the sprouted whole grain Ezekiel bread at the grocery store, running $5 a loaf. But I decided, hey. I have a bread pan. I have hard wheat grains in my basement. I have a grain mill. I have an oven. Let’s go! Then I thought, “but if I had 4 bread pans, I could make a months worth of bread at one go and freeze the rest in the freezer, thus saving precious time and electricity.” Then I remembered how hard it is to get even slices with a bread knife. “I really need a bread slicer. A proper one, like my host family has!” And then I remembered how homemade bread doesn’t stay fresh as long as store-bought bread since it doesn’t have preservatives. “I really need a breadbox, too!”

I started looking on craigslist for these sought items, convinced they would transport me to bread making heaven and save me $20 a month. I couldn’t find them on craigslist (though I did find some antique breadboxes being sold as parts of china sets, which just made me want to spend $200 on a Pfalzgraff China set). I looked for them new, but at that price they would break the bank and baking bread at home was definitely not worth it. So I decided I could do without.

I baked one loaf in my huge oven and tried to convince myself that I was totally saving money and the time I spent making the bread would definitely be worth it. I also told myself I was educating the kids in How To Bake Bread. I hope I was convincing.