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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Christmas 2021

The Christmas season seems to go faster every year.  I remember the endless days dragging on, stretching my childhood Christmases to months of painful waiting until The Big Day.  I don't think it's possible to ever recreate the anticipation of childhood Christmas.  I remember hardly being able to sleep the night before, waking up multiple times a night only to realize that morning had still not come.  Only children are capable of such pure, unadulterated excitement.

As an adult, Christmas is more complicated.  We have presents to buy and wrap, parties to host and attend, family to see, and regular life to run to in addition to the festivities.  I don't find the Christmas season stressful, as many people do, but I've definitely realized that the magic of childhood is largely created by the work of adults.  

This Christmas season has been enjoyable, as all Christmas seasons are.  Over the years, we've developed a routine of traditions.  After decorating the house for Christmas, we always watch White Christmas while drinking peppermint hot chocolate.  Every year we make our own wrapping paper with butcher paper and stamps, and we decorate the windows with snowflakes we've cut out together.  Last week we held our annual doughtnut-caroling party, and a few days before Christmas we made a gingerbread house.  And my favorite Christmas tradition is making all the food on Christmas Eve so that I can relax and enjoy my holiday along with everyone else.

I like all of these traditions; they bring more enjoyment to my Christmas seasons.  It's fun to have something to do with the children, and as the years have gone by, they've gotten a lot better at doing all of the things.  The wrapping paper has changed from a wild scattering of random stamps to a pattern that actually looks pretty when presents are wrapped in it.  The snowflakes have changed from circles with random holes chopped out of them to intricate designs.  And I no longer have to struggle through the songs as everyone sings at our party - Kathleen does a much better job than I ever did.  I'm enjoying the opportunity to enjoy my traditions instead of herding cats who are wielding printing ink.

I love that I get to celebrate Christmas with my children, even when we're far away from family and friends have moved on to other places.  This year we only had our own children for the nativity play, but even then we managed to have Joseph, Mary, two wise men, two shepherds, and and angel.  

Celebrating Christmas with children is the closest thing I'll ever get to returning to my own childhood excitement.  As I tucked the children into bed on Christmas Eve, I could almost taste the excitement filling the house.  William's little four year-old body was wriggling with anticipation, and his eyes lit up with joy as I laid him down and reminded him that tomorrow was Christmas.  

I love to watch them excitedly open their gifts on Christmas morning and see the delight on their faces as the long-awaited present is unwrapped.  I care very little for any gift I might receive - as an adult with money, gifts are much less exciting - my pleasure instead is my children's pleasure on Christmas.  

But the best gift of all on Christmas is the gift of Christmas itself.  Without the birth of Jesus Christ, I would not be able to look at my family and know that we can be together even after we die.  Without His birth, I could not change and become a better person so that the joy I have from my family is that much sweeter.  Without that one birth of a small baby in an obscure village, I would not know how and where to find joy in this often sad and confusing world.  All of the good gifts are made possible because of the birth of Jesus Christ.  

So although I am sad that the Christmas season is over, I am happy because what happened over two thousand years ago makes it possible for all of the seasons of the year and of our lives just as happy as Christmas.  And that is a gift that never ends.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Happy Birthday, Edwin!

This week we had our last birthday for the year, Edwin's twelfth birthday.  His birthday falls right in the middle of the birthday season, where we have five straight months of birthdays, so we're definitely in the mode of celebrating.

On his birthday he got to pick the breakfast (German apple pancake), dinner (Georgian), and cake (lemon meringue pie).  Everyone had a holiday from school, so everyone was happy to celebrate Edwin's birthday with him.  There have to be some benefits to being homeschooled, and this is definitely one of them.  Recently Eleanor was feeling very sad for all those poor children who have to go to school on their birthday.  

We didn't do anything too terribly exciting on his birthday, but he was happy to help me make his birthday pie.  Edwin enjoys cooking, and is very good at following both recipes and instructions, so I was happy to have his pleasant company with me.  He got to make the meringue himself, and did a very good job at it.  But he was also equally happy to be let off the less fun part of cooking - the dishes - even though he offered to help.  

He was very happy to have a delicious dinner of Georgian food (and I was happy to order it instead of cooking), declaring that Georgian with its delicious cheesy khachapuri is now the very best food one can have.  He was even happier to have pie, but he was most happy of all to open his presents.  

Twelve year-old boys are very easy to shop for, as they apparently can never have too many LEGO sets.  He was pleased with the sets that Joseph, Kathleen and Sophia, and Brandon and I gave him.  He was equally excited about the chocolate bar that Eleanor gave him.  I think that he was very happy with all of his birthday.

I've now watched two of my girls grow from children into young women, but Edwin is my first boy to start that transition from child to young man.  He is, as all of my friends with boys have promised, becoming quite enjoyable to be with.  I enjoy his funny sense of humor, quiet diligence, and concern for his younger siblings.  This doesn't mean that he doesn't also have his times of driving his siblings insane with brotherly tormenting, but he's usually amenable to a knowing look from me in order to leave them alone.  

He hasn't yet reached the amazing feats of eating that I know is coming soon, but he's definitely starting to challenge his older sisters at eating contests, having outpaced me at meals several months ago.  He's almost five feet tall, which means that pretty soon I'll have three children taller than me, with four more to go.  

On most days, everyone is happy to have Edwin as part of our family (and I'm happy myself every day).  Happy birthday, Edwin!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Socializing our Teenagers

Ever since we've started homeschooling, we've gotten questions about various aspects of homeschooling.  Friends wonder how I'm able to get it all done (a combination of delegating and paying a housekeeper to do some of my work for me), family members wonder if we'd consider sending the kids to high school (so far, nope - and that was Kathleen's decision), and strangers wonder how crazy the house is (very crazy some days). 

One of the most frequent questions I've gotten is about how we'd 'socialize' our children.  It hasn't been much of question that we've worried about.  There are enough children that they get lots of lessons in sharing, conflict resolution, taking turns, working together, making compromises, and being kind.  I can't speak to how well they've learned these things at home versus how well they would have learned them at traditional school as they've never gone.  But it's worked well enough.  

The children have always managed to have just enough friends that they aren't too lonely.  Usually their friends have come through church.  Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is really a huge advantage for homeschooling, as the children see each other at church every week and so friendships are easier to form.  I'm friends with the mom, they're friends with the children, and everybody gets a break from seeing each other all week long.

We've had a couple of families - one from church and one from not - that have had enough children that matched up with our so we were able to get together for a weekly playdate.  Between those get-togethers and church, everyone was pretty happy.

But now we're entirely on our own.  Every week we've got nobody to look at but the same eight faces we've been seeing all week.  The younger children haven't really minded that much; in my experience younger children are pretty content with siblings.  They're a known quantity - no surprises from people you've spent your entire life with.

But I've come to realize that my teenagers need more than what we can give them.  I've never raised teenagers before, so I'm learning as I go.  Both Kathleen and Sophia are pretty low-drama most of the time, so I haven't had accusations of ruining their life, being the worst mom ever, or wondering why we had to move to this terrible country where they don't have any friends.  I consider myself very lucky.  But they have told me that they'd like to see some friends on a regular basis.

If we were in the US, this would not be a problem.  Between weekly church, weekday seminary classes, and weeknight youth activities, they would be quite busy with friends.  It would probably be an almost perfect balance of having some space and being able to be with peers.  

But we're not in the US, and we won't be there for many more years, so we have to work with what we have.  Thankfully, the one family that lives within walking distance of our house has a daughter who is Sophia's age.  This summer, I started encouraging them to go and see if she was free to hang out.  They confessed that the first few interactions were kind of awkward - "It was so weird to go and do things on our own!  Like, you didn't set up a playdate or anything.  We just walked over, rang her doorbell, and asked if she wanted to come swim."  But now they have a semi-regular afternoon to meet up, go on a walk, talk about whatever teenaged girls talk about, and go to the store for ice cream.  I'm often grateful that they have one friend close by.

After we got back from our trip to the US this summer, Sophia (with some encouragement from me) decided to start setting up social outings with a group of people.  Tashkent has a lot of activities that are fun - amusement parks, bowling, laser tag, ice skating - and they're not very expensive.  It's been interesting to coach her through all the steps of making a plan, contacting people, arranging dates, and all the other things that are so easy for an adult and so daunting for an inexperienced teenager who's never done this before.  I've come to realize that this is also part of my job as a mother of homeschooled children.  They don't have the opportunity to learn this on their own, so I get to teach them.  I sometime wonder if their friends find the tone of Sophia's emails and texts a little strange, as I only know how to write like a middle-aged mom and am not up with the way teenagers talk.  

Their first outing was to a local amusement park.  They got themselves there by taxi, rode a bunch of rides, made some new friends, ate food, and got themselves home.  Edwin tagged along (or was forced to, as both girls they invited had brothers who are Edwin's age) and was pretty dubious about the value of this so-called "socializing."  I was a little nervous too, as I'm not used to sending my children out on their own, something that most moms are very used to.

But when they came home, everyone was full of smiles, stories, and excitement for the next time they got to go and hang out with their new friends.  So yesterday they met them again, this time for bowling, and had a great time again.  Kathleen reported that she had the high score, a 60, and that was with bumpers.  It was fun to listen to all the stories they had to tell and see how excited they were for what they had done.

I know that both girls would like to see friends even more often then they do, but I'm happy that they have at least a few opportunities so go and practice socializing away from their parents and family.  Kathleen's departure for college is starting to appear on the horizon, and sometimes I wonder what kind of intense shock to her system everything will be.  So if I can prepare her as much as possible, hopefully it will help some, although there's never been anyone who is prepared for all of the changes that college brings.  

It's also fun as a parent to see them get older and see them get to start to do some things on their own.  Homeschooling gives me the ability to keep them closer for much longer than I would be able to in traditional school, but there is still a time when everyone needs some more distance so they can start to practice running their own lives and making their own choices.  Before long, I'll be almost entirely on the sidelines, cheering them on as they become fully independent.  Thankfully I have a long time before all of them go off and leave me, but it's strange to see the first one begin to think about their departure.  But that isn't for a few more years, and so for now I'll just enjoy watching them take their first steps.