“It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be…”
The words out of Maria’s mouth when I picked her up from her old daycare last Monday. She had been so excited to go back to her old stomping grounds and hang out with her favorite teachers, Amanda and Chris and Nate, and her old friends, Sydney, Logan, Brianna. She even gave up a birthday party to go to school all day. When I dropped her off, she quickly shooed me away and hung on Ms. Chris as I walked out the door. When I returned at 5:15 that night, she ran to me like she used to when I picked her up from that school – arms out, smile wide. I thought she would be excited when I told her that she may be going back daycare one more day, tomorrow. Rather, she fell limp.
“No way, mom. I don’t want to come back here again.”
“Why, Ri, you were so excited about coming to school today.”
“I don’t know, mom. It just wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”
Oh, darling one. All I could think when she said those words was how often in my life I have built up an event to only exit it hours later thinking “Well, that wasn’t quite what I expected.” Or, to be more accurate in my thinking “Well, that sucked.”
M&M - post unwrapping gifts
I thought about Maria’s sincere and truthful statement after the holiday festivities this weekend.
First, the festivities. It started with Christmas Eve at my mom’s house and my cousin’s house (formerly my grandmother’s house). Soon after we stepped into my mom’s house, both kids were begging to open presents, especially Mario. We told Maria to wait a few minutes, and although you could tell she was not too happy about it, she adhered to our wishes and shuffled around the presents looking to find the words “Maria.” Mario, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with waiting.
“Mom, I want to open presents now.”
“Mario, you have to wait a few minutes. This celebration is not just about gifts, it is about being with family.”
M&M at mom's house loving Barbies and transformers!
It was as if I told him that Santa did not exist (and I had been tempted to do it many times in the last few weeks when he had pushed me to the limit). He scrunched his face, looked perplexed, and stomped away. “How could this day be for anything other than presents”, he thought? Dad and I had only been telling him for weeks that he better get to sleep or he won’t get any presents from Santa. After he stomped away for 30 seconds, he returned with a vengeance and a loud scream: “I want to open my presents.” Mom gave in as grandmas tend to do, and the kids ripped open their presents. Mario opened one after the other within 4 minutes and then looked up and said “I want more.” Lovely.
Maria, on the other hand, expressed her appreciation for her camera and books and proceeded to give the warm hugs and kisses for her thoughtful presents. Thank goodness for that little girl right now. She knows just when she needs to step in so that I don’t rip my head off or more likely, my sweet, adorable hellboy’s head.
Maria enjoying time with her cousins (Mario refused to join in)!
Jon and I and my mom and Rod were able to rip open our present in lightening speed before Maria and Mario wore us down with their incessant demands. I found out later that I totally missed some jewelry my mom bought me because I was too busy just trying to get the gifts open so we could move on to the cousin’s house. We rushed out of mom’s to get to cousin Laura’s house for the Heile get-together. Mario and I walked up the three stairs to the kitchen and everyone stood there and screamed “Welcome! Merry Christmas!” It sounded like they all had superpower megaphones but that was just their normal voices. I am inflicted with that loud voice, also. Therefore, my natural reaction was to join in the screaming and laughing and hugging. Mario was not amused. He immediately withdrew and would not look at anyone (Maria, on the other hand, ran over to her cousins and hugged and teased them – a true Heile).
Mario a bit excited about his ball from Aunt Jane.
For most of the night, Mario was on my hip (except when I turned on SpongeBob downstairs for him to watch – the only thing that will pry him away from me). He was sullen and pissy until nearly everyone left and then he livened up and had a good time for the remaining 20 minutes of our stay. Not exactly what I had hoped for when thinking about the night.
We drove home, both kids still awake at 9:30 when we arrived at the front door. It took a while for bed to actually occur and I spent the next hour preparing for Santa to come. Finally, I hit the sack around 11 pm. Poor Jon was fighting a sinus infection so he got about 3 hours of sleep. The kids awoke at 7:30 (not bad for Christmas morning) and flew down the steps to the presents. Mario ripped through all of his presents with his last one being a Spiderman web shooter. That present was the only one that caught his eye and that he actually stopped to take a breath and admire. We could have gotten him lumps of coal wrapped in tissue with the Spiderman web shooter and he would have never known. In fact, that is what Santa should have brought based on Mario’s behavior the last two months. Maria ripped through her presents, also, and seemed pleased with what she received – her favorite being her barbie dolls and Leapster. However, when she went to play the one game I got her, Globe Expedition, she returned to the room almost immediately crying about how the game was horrible.
Maria showing off her presents
“I just want to play a game, mom. This game just wants you to learn things.”
Oh, heaven forbid. She proceeded to complain about how this Christmas had been horrible and boring. Meanwhile, Mario burst out in tears because he shot all of his web string within ten minutes and he no longer had any to play with through the day. Ahh, such peace and joy for the holidays. Not the picture I had in mind for the holidays.
Jon’s family came over at 2 pm for Christmas dinner. The kids played fairly well together although Mario still clung to me or Patty the entire time. They left around 8 pm that night and we were all exhausted except Mario who always gets his second wind around that time. He wanted to wrestle and jump and punch and kick. The boy is like the energizer bunny. We played for a while in Maria’s room – Mario put on his imaginary diving suit and jumped in the ocean off of Maria’s bed and Maria helped him look for fish to catch. Maria and I fried the fish and ate them. After 15 minutes of that game, Ri and I read some Fancy Nancy books. and Mario chose Dr. Seuss. Mario got out of bed, as always, within 10 minutes of putting him down. We fed him cheese and crackers and he begged me to go upstairs with him. I hesitated because I wanted to veg out with my computer and cookies, but I gave in and was fast asleep by 10 pm. Ugh, so much for some down time and again, not the night I had thought it would be.
The crew preparing to open presents
On Sunday, I got up at 7 am and ran up to Panera to get some yummy bakery treats. I literally ran up the street just to wake me up because I was exhausted from the past two days – 15 degrees will open your eyes and get your blood pumpin’ anyday. My dad and Meg, Sarah and Jorge, and Jack came over at 9 am. Let the third round of chaos begin! Sarah and Jorge madly wrapped gifts, Mario begged to open presents, Cy barked madly, and Maria stole bites of all of the bakery treats.
We tossed around gifts to their rightful owners and tried to prepare ourselves for the traditional opening of the presents. I think back to life just eight years ago when Jon and I were sans children, Sarah was home from college, and Jack was in high school. We would head over to Meg and dad’s house at a reasonable, adult-like hour, spend at least an hour and a half opening presents, and then get treated to a down-home breakfast of eggs and toast and pancakes. My family needs that time to open presents. We like to open a gift and talk about its origins, its necessity to our lives, its cool texture or how we’ll use it. Jon’s family is exact opposite. Everyone opens their gifts at the same time, a thank you follows the opening of the present, and it’s done. I am quite sure I take the nutty in-law award at Christmas with them as I explain for ten minutes when and where I am going to use the gift and how I had been wanting it for years and years.
Mario enjoying a present
On this Christmas, however, we have two little munchkins that cannot hold back their excitement for opening more presents. We also have a drop-dead time that we have to leave to Cincy to visit family. Therefore, in the end, we only have about an hour to open gifts, which in any other family may be more than enough time, but it is like a nanosecond for us. Maria and Mario opened first because Mario was going to go into coronary arrest if he did not open his big box. And, what joy when he saw his bean bag! Joy that lasted nearly 5 seconds at which time he pushed it to the side and asked, while salivating and looking a bit crazed, “where is my next one?” Maria, my gracious five-year old girl, expressed much appreciation for her bean bag. She has heard stories of how I laid on my bean bag watching tv, eating doritos, and sipping coke on the weekends. She dreamed of aping me. By the time M&M finished opening, we had about 40 minutes. I think we got through a round or two of gifts before we realized we only had 10 minutes left. We threw out tradition and began opening our presents quickly, and only speaking about them for a few seconds. Very strange and wonderful to my dear hubby, but again, not what I thought it would be like that morning.
Mario taking a break from being mad to laugh at silly grandpa and aunt sarah!
We then headed back to Cincy to see my grandma, uncle, and cousin and her family. Mario remained in his complete mama state refusing to say hello to his great-grandma and refusing to even let Pee-paw hold him while I went to the car (Maria gave double the hugs and kisses to great-grandma – thanks Ri). I cannot wait to tell these “clingy mama” stories to Mario when he is 13 years old and begging me with all of his heart not to kiss him when I drop him off at school or come around him and his friends. Finally, Pee-paw whisked him away crying and all to show him the pool table; he quickly became immersed in pushing the balls into the different side pockets. Maria and Annaliese played dress-up and I got to breathe for a few minutes and get in a talk with Meg and grandma about raising boys. I also got to take a little stroll with my siblings as we took the dogs out to get some air. Sarah has two pups named Stella and Mona. Dad has one pup named Rosie. Rosie is insane. Stella is wild. Mona is chill. I walked Mona.
Maria and her great-grandma
We had another delicious meal and opened yet another round of presents. Mario received his 20th spiderman toy. He could own a spiderman factory. He gave his traditional pout after he opened his last gift and complained that everyone else had more presents than him. I tried to explain to him that others had the same amount but that he opened his like a hurricane leaving others in the dust. He liked the analogy of beating others so his mood became upbeat again. Boys. Maria swaddled her new baby, which surprisingly held her attention for a good amount of time.
We left my uncle’s house around 5 pm and headed up north to our distant home. We forgot my sweater and Maria’s doll so we circled back to the house with much exhaustion.
As I looked back at the holiday events – my mom’s and cousin’s house, our house with Jon’s family, and my dad and Meg and family, I think about the myriad of times during the three-day period when I thought “This is not what I expected” and I felt irritated or tired or frustrated. But nearly every time I had such feelings, I quickly pushed my mood up a few notches by thinking about how grateful I am for my family. Grateful that I could share the holiday with my closest relatives – my hubby, my kids, my mom, dad, stepmom, sister, brother, grandmother, in-laws, cousins, aunts…. Grateful that I could laugh with them about Mario’s terrible threes and Maria’s infatuation with boys and Justin Bieber. Grateful that I could see my 90-year-old grandma enjoying her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Grateful to have such a wide spectrum of personalities and interests amongst my family members.
When I spoke with Maria after Christmas was officially over at my uncle’s house, I talked with her about this principle of gratitude. I explained to her that people who practiced gratitude typically lived more joyful, content, meaningful lives. I used an example: Sometimes mom gets very irritated and angry with you or Mario when you are acting up but after a while I close my eyes and think about how grateful I am to be your mother, to watch you grow and learn, to give you love and comfort. Once I practice that gratitude, I feel better. Maria sat looking at the wall for a few seconds and then replied “Yeah, Mario irritates me sometimes, too.” I chuckled and asked her although she got irriated with Mario, was she still thankful to have him as her brother. She glanced over at Mario who was intently playing with his spiderman figurine and eating a cookie, looked at me, and quietly responded “yes.”