It’s very different from raising a daughter.  Not in some ways, but in others – it’s a completely different experience.  I’m not talking just about pointing the peepee down when changing diapers (a lesson I sincerely wish someone had mentioned before I went thru a week of leaking diapers – postpartum, with no sleep, it took a ridiculously long time for me to clue in).  I’m not even talking about learning all of the names of farm equipment and construction vehicles, or understanding why fire engines and trash trucks are so fascinating.

I’m talking about the deeper things.  I’m talking about masculinity.  And that’s a subject I know very little about.  I was raised by a single mother, in a very female dominated family.   I was a very feminine kid.  I preferred dresses and hair bows to jeans and a tshirt.  I’d always rather stay inside and read than go outside and run around.  I’ve never voluntarily touched a frog.  I’ve never accidentally touched a frog, now that I’m thinking about it.  I don’t like scary rides, I don’t like scary movies.  I’m frilly and girly, I like boppy music and sunshine and lollipops.  And my two daughters, thus far, are feminine little girls.  Jessie more so than Julie, but Julie’s two, and with an older brother as her most immediate influence.  Jessie wouldn’t touch a frog for money, would dress in lace and hair bows every day, and would never voluntarily go outside to perform manual labor.

Then there’s Sam.  And he’s…. a boy.  I mean, a boy in a way that is completely different from my girls.  From myself.  Today, he got up, announced he needed to do some shoveling, put on snow gear, and headed out.  He brought up my recycling bins onto the porch, and spent the next hour outside, diligently shoveling my front lawn.  Because the fact that there was no snow on the sidewalks or front steps wasn’t going to stop him.  He was shoveling.  I don’t get that.  I love it.  But on a core level, I can’t understand heading out into the frigid freezing cold because you need to shovel.  When in fact, you don’t need to shovel.  For one thing, he’s six.  And for another, Marc had already shoveled yesterday.  But it was so icy and dangerous, I wouldn’t let him go out yesterday.

He’s got a whole different perspective.  He’s a boy – and different on a level that I’m still struggling to understand.  He wants to be a man.  He wants to be a good man.  And thank God, he’s got such an incredible example to follow.  Marc is as masculine as I am feminine.  Marc likes wrestling and army shows and is perplexed by emotional complexity.  He can’t talk for hours about how he feels.  Coming off of December – despite my hours of agonizing and discussing how he feels about Christmas – every time it came up in conversation, he’d screw it up.  He’d say something that would make me nuts – but when it came to action – he was right there.  He gave my kids the best Christmas, did all the shopping, all the prep work, and bent over backwards to make it awesome because he loves me and he knew it was important to me.  Because doing something, that’s so much easier for him.  Sam is so similar to him.  So incredibly similar to him, he wants to be just like his daddy.  And it’s not just about being like his daddy, he is fundamentally like him already.

Don’t get me wrong – Sam has part of me in there too.  I recognize his shyness, because I’m the same way.  And my son loves a lot of traditional feminine things like cooking and cleaning and snuggles and is such a tender, sweet boy.  But he’s a boy, not a girl, and sometimes it just really strikes me that I don’t understand him the way I do the girls.  Adore him with every fiber of my being, absolutely.  But I’m so, so glad that Sam has Marc.  I’m as grateful that my girls have a daddy that loves them and supports them and teaches them every day what a good man should do.  But with Sam – Marc is modeling what he’ll grow up to be – and Sam watches and absorbs all of it.  As an adult, I’m sure that you’ll see my influence on him as well, he’ll make my challah recipe, and I hope that he’ll decorate a Christmas tree.  I’m sure he’ll dance around the kitchen when he cooks like I do, and I hope that he’ll love to read like I do.  I’m sure that he’ll do lots of things the way that I do – but mostly, I hope that he’s the kind of man his father is.  I also sincerely hope that he never really moves that far away, so when Marc is too old to shovel my walkways – he’ll come and do it for me.

We survived another year.   And in the end, we did really well.  Only one serious fight, and we resolved it that night.  We’ll probably always have at least one battle every year, but we work thru it.  In the end, I’m always going to want Marc to embrace Christmas the way I embrace Judaism.  And in the end, he always comes thru in awesome ways, I just … I don’t know.  I fight with him over not feeling the way that I want him to – and since I do truly believe that actions speak louder than words, I need to remember that he does, in the end, work hard to make sure our kids have great Christmases.  He’s far better than I am at maintaining the Santa myth, oddly enough.  I don’t lie when asked outright, whereas he spun this tale about licensing – how the mall Santas have to be licensed in order to wear the costume, because he and Sam had already had a long discussion about trademarking things earlier in the month.

But either way – another year over.  It was a really, really nice Christmas.  Very peaceful and relaxed, and just lovely.  Christmas Eve with chinese food and friends was perfect, especially because this year, in addition to Joy and Skip and their kids and Becky and Aimee and Abby, we also got my sister and niece to go.  And Christmas morning was delightful, the kids were thrilled with their gifts, we got them each a couple of nice things and a ton of chocolate (Marc appears to believe that giving the kids a good Christmas involves a lot of candy).  Then we headed down to my mother’s house for the day.

The nice thing about going to my mother’s house is that my kids really, really like her.  And my stepdad.  He’s such a great grandpa to them, and at one point, Julie climbed up and sat next to him, and my heart just melted.  I was missing my grandfather a lot that day, and seeing my daughter loving her grandfather was so sweet.   Reassuring.  My brother and sister and their kids were bopping around that day too, and I just had the nicest day.

Now we’re in the throes of Christmas vacation, and we’ve got our bestest friend Glennys down for the week.  I’m so grateful for her – not only because she’s Jessie’s best friend, so utterly and absolutely.   These two just click in a way that I’ve never seen Jessie click with another kid.  Plus Sam and Julie absolutely adore her.  I’m spending all day going from mess to mess – but they’re having so much fun it’s hard to mind.  My two girls just took baths (Jessie did it only to get Julie in the tub – Julie still views bathtime as torture), and immediately upon getting out Julie announced that she needed her hat.  Everyone’s tired and I’m planning on early dinner and early bedtime tonight, Marc’s taking the older kids (that’s everyone except Julianna) to the hockey game tomorrow night.

I’m Jewish, and pretty happy about it.  But, yeah, I still celebrate Christmas.  I don’t celebrate it as the birth of Christ, but it’s still a tremendously meaningful and important holiday for me.  I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite holiday of the year – there’s too much other stress going on for that.  December is decidedly a challenging month for us here, between the number of Jewish people who write articles that I can’t stop myself from reading that assure me that a tree has no place in a Jewish home, and worrying about whether or not people are judging me for putting up the tree anyway and celebrating a holiday that has never been particularly Christian to me, but is most definitely not Jewish.   Plus, it’s honestly a hard month for my husband, who grew up not only not celebrating Christmas, but not celebrating it is almost a part of his Jewish identity – so it’s never easy.

But celebrate it we do, enthusiastically.  I’ve got stocking hung by the chimney with care, and a tree that’s lopsided, with way too many lights on it, and ornaments that are well loved and not particularly coordinated.  I’ve got pictures of all of my babies with Santa Claus, and tinsel and candy canes EVERYWHERE.  So why do I celebrate?  Why do I insist on participating in holiday that everyone keeps telling me is all about rampant consumerism and materialism?  If I strip away the Christian connotations to it, what exactly is Christmas all about?  And why exactly do I insist every year that we celebrate it?

I celebrate it because it’s wrapped up in some of my favorite memories from my childhood.  Caroling with my cousins, singing songs to my sister at night before we fell asleep.  Every Christmas Eve, my little sister would beg to sleep in my bed with me, and I’d tell her stories about Santa and swear that I could see Rudolph’s nose in the sky.  Baking Christmas cookies with my baby cousins, and taking my nieces and nephews out at night to look for the prettiest Christmas lights.  My mother has this one song – Mary’s Boy Child, and it’s this odd sort of Jamaican Christmas carol, and every time it comes on the radio, she’d turn it up as loud as it could go and rock out.  My mother doesn’t rock out as a rule, and watching her chair boogie in the car while we drove anywhere in December was (and is) kind of awesome.

I celebrate it because I love the anticipation of Christmas Day.  I love that my kids talk about Santa Claus (despite the fact that both the older ones know it’s just a myth).  When I was a kid, I loved that sense, all month long, that we were building up to this one day when magically, just because, we’d wake up and find that someone had brought us presents, just because.  It’s not about the gifts, exactly.  Looking back, I don’t remember any specific Christmas gift that I ever got that made a huge impression.  What I remember is the magic, the excitement and the joy of it all.  I want that for my kids.

I celebrate it because I’m my mother’s daughter.  And I’m raising her grandchildren.  Having a child convert to a different religion isn’t easy, and my mother supported me and stood beside me every step of the way.  I’ve never doubted her love or commitment, and I can’t imagine how disappointed she’d be if I didn’t give my kids the same opportunity to love Christmas as she gave me.  I won’t do that to her.  I won’t do that to her grandchildren.  It’s not that she wants them to not be Jewish – she just wants to know that they’re still a part of her family, celebrating her favorite holidays and traditions.  Like sleeping over at Grammy’s house on the night before Thanksgiving, and trekking up to Maine every year to camp at Hermit Island – celebrating Christmas, for my mother, is about spending time with her kids, and her grandchildren.  Passing along those traditions.  I’m not willing to tell them that it’s not their holiday just because they’re Jewish.  Yes, they’re Jewish, but they’re also a part of my family too and they get to do our fun stuff as well. 

I celebrate it because I believe in peace on earth and goodwill towards men.  And having a day to celebrate that is lovely to me.  I celebrate it because I feel a little closer to everyone else on earth during this time of year – it seems to me that it’s the one time when we all try a little harder to be nicer, a little harder to appreciate the blessings we have.   We don’t always succeed, and we aren’t all on the same page, but I sincerely think that the world is an amazing and beautiful and blessed place.  On Christmas, I think we all feel that way.

It’s not about the shopping or the wrapping or the stress.  And for me, it’s not about celebrating the birth of the Messiah.  It’s about joy and peace – it’s closer to a celebration that we’re coming into the light.  It’s no accident that the Solstice is on the twenty-first – we are literally getting a little more light, just a bit, every day.  I think that’s worth celebrating.  I think having a day to stop and just celebrate the magic, celebrate the beauty of family and friends, to eat candy canes and drink eggnog, to watch your kids open presents and be absolutely delighted is awesome.  Christmas isn’t perfect, and it’s nowhere near as simple and as easy as it used to be for me, but it’s still an integral part of my year.  And my life.  I don’t want to miss it.  Being Jewish has added so much to my life, so much meaning and resonance, it’s given my kids a framework to build a spiritual life upon.  It’s given me Shabbat dinner, and Passover Seders and a community that I love.  But I still love Christmas.

I’m strict about some things with my kids.  There’s not a lot that I’m really hard core on, I’m lackadaisical about bedtimes, devil may care about wearing coats in the winter (I rarely wear them, I see no need to shove a crying kid into one for the sake of keeping them warm, I’ll carry one along, but not force it on them).  I don’t force kids to eat, I let them have soda at parties, and I’ve been known to give them ice cream for breakfast.

But I do care about some things.  A lot.   One of the biggies is respect.  Respect for us as parents, for other adults, and for themselves as well as their siblings.  Another hot button for me is being responsible for your moods.  I have extremely empathetic children.  I don’t know that all kids aren’t like this – but I know for sure and for certain, that in my house, moods are contagious.  If one of my kids is grumpy and miserable, it’s not going to be long before we all are.  Jessica and I, specifically, have always had a tendency to bounce off of each other’s mood.  Temper tantrums, not the toddler ones, but the ones when she was five, six, and seven were absolute and utter hell.  Because I’d wade right in there with her and get just as angry and as frustrated.  One of the things that I’ve had to learn, as a parent, is how to let her have her own feelings and emotions and not feel like I have to feel them along with her.  One thing I’ve had to teach her, as a parent, is that she’s got every right to feel whatever she’s feeling, but she doesn’t have the right to make everyone else unhappy because of it.

We had a party on Sunday for my  niece, at a little kids’ gym place.  You know the type – with mats everywhere and big soft balls, bouncy things for bouncing on, etc.  And Jessica was mortified by her father.  She’s at an age where she’s starting to get mortified whenever he does anything other than sit quietly in the corner, God forbid, he sing in public or worse, do anything overt to draw attention to himself.  Like jumping on a bouncy thing.  Most of the dads were playing with their kids, so it’s not like it was a big deal, but Jessie was just so embarrassed.  She stormed away from everyone, sat in the corner and glared at everyone.  People kept trying to talk to her, and she wasn’t having any part of it.  Finally I went over and sat down next to her.  I explained that I understood, but that she was making the party difficult, and drawing more attention to herself than she wanted.  And that the behavior needed to stop, she wasn’t allowed to ruin her cousin’s party, and to get up and go have fun.  AND SHE DID.  It worked.

A similiar thing happened this morning.  Most mornings are a harried hot mess, with me rushing around to get the kids dressed, fed, lunches packed, coats found, healing stone stuffed full of love, and kids out the door.   Sam trudges out of bed, snuggles with his daddy and I deliver a bowl of cereal and his clothes.  Jessie staggers out, usually stops by for a hug and then curls on the couch and I bring her a breakfast bar.  This morning, she stormed out of bed, glaring at everyone and snapped at me when I tried to say good morning.  I gave it a few minutes, and then tried again.  The third time she yelled at me, and I looked at her, and told her that it wasn’t okay to be nasty to me, she could either change her attitude or eat her breakfast in her bedroom.  AND IT WORKED.  She was quiet for a few minutes, and the apologized, told me that she was just really tired, and could I help her pick out some clothes.

It was awesome.  And I was so incredibly proud of her, because she’s really, really growing up so fast.  And learning that she’s got control over her emotions, that she doesn’t have to let herself sink into anger, misery and frustration, that she can take a deep breath, put a smile on her face, and things really do get better is such a huge milestone for her.  She wouldn’t have been able to do that a year ago.  And she’s still not at a point where she can stop herself on her own – but she is at the point where I can tell her that she needs to get her emotions under control, and with a firm reminder that we’re responsible for our own moods, she’s able to pull it together.  I’ve always struggled with this – she’s always struggled with it.  Me with allowing her the space to feel what she feels without jumping in along side her, and she’s always had such a hard time getting control over the emotions.  Whatever it is, she does it 1000%.  So if she’s happy, she’s kind of ecstatic.  And if she’s grumpy – God help us all.  But she’s getting to the point where she can stop herself before she reaches the point of no return.  She can turn it around now, and I’m so proud of her.

I really am ridiculously thrilled by this child.  Each one of my kids has a special place in my heart, and I’m pretty convinced that each one is my favorite child.  But Jessie – she’s my first.  She’s the one I’ve known the longest, I’ve been thru the most with her.  I’m so proud of the baby she was, the toddler she was, the little girl she was, the big girl that she was, the tweener she is, and the teenager and woman that she’ll be.  She’s just awesome, and I’m awed by the fact that being her mother is just as incredible now as it was when I first looked into her big, big eyes.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that, sometimes,  being “mean” is what works. Feeling her feelings, and trying to force her to stop by getting as emotional as she was – that didn’t work at all.  Because I was, and am, so close to her, because her emotions are so available for everyone, especially me, to see and feel right along with her, I had a really hard time being able to stop and say “No – this behavior is unacceptable.  It’s okay that you feel this way, it’s not okay that you are taking it out on everyone.”  But by doing that, by being firm, setting up the expectation that there is a standard of behavior that we will live up to, by doing that, I’m able to give her the framework to get a grip on the emotions.  When I was in the trenches with her, feeling frustrated and angry and miserable along with her because I wanted so much for her to be able to stop, she couldn’t do it.  By achieving a little distance, by not allowing myself to get swept up in the emotional storm, and by being what I always thought of as mean, I’m able to show her how to better navigate thru the world.

According to the National Center for Education Statistic (which is the link that I got when I googled), there are 93,295 public schools in the United States.  I’m clinging to that number today.  Because when I look at that, and I think that this horrific accident happened in one out of 93,295 schools, I can remind myself that this is rare.  And it’s an unspeakable tragedy.  And most importantly, schools are safe.

I don’t like sharing my kids.  I’d rather keep them home with me all the time.  I send them to school because I know that they are safe and loved and cared for.  Because they have to live, they have to have friends and experiences outside of my living room.  My kids have exceptional teachers.  Teachers that have surpassed every expectation I’ve ever had with their dedication, devotion, concern, and effort that they put into making sure that my kids thrive.  Flagg Street School is, as I’m sure so many schools are, a place of nurturing and security.  I know this.  But today, I don’t feel like anywhere is safe.

They don’t know about this.  I’ve kept the television off.  I did all my crying before they came home, and other than squeezing them both until they giggled and begged me to let go before they choked, they didn’t notice anything different.  I know that I’ll have to tell them.  I know that they’ll hear about it.  I just don’t know how to yet.

And until I can manage to talk about it, without thinking about how I gave them both a kiss and one last hug and shipped them off to school like so many other parents, until I can stop putting myself into those parents’ places.  Until I can stop imagining what it would be like, to know that the last hug really was the last hug – I’m not going to tell them about it.

I’m sure that there are many people who will talk about gun control, and stronger security measures.  But I think that misses the point.  The point, if I may be so bold, is that horrible, unimaginable tragedies happen.  They just do.  Life can change in an instant, and you never know what tomorrow might bring.  I don’t want my kids barricaded in a school with metal detectors and afraid of everyone.  That’s not the solution.  But for me, the point is that life is fragile and so, so precious.  We forget that.  We have to, I guess, in order to live.

So, for me, the point is just a reminder… there, but for the grace of God, go I.  And I’ll honor those lives lost today by remembering, as much as I can, how fortunate we are.  To live in this time, in this place.  To have beautiful, healthy children.  To be able to squeeze them until they giggle and to cherish them as much as I can.  And I’ll do my best to forget how fragile and scary it is, because the world is an amazing place, filled with wonderful people and incredible experiences – and in order for me to allow my children out into it, I’m going to have to forget how incredibly fragile life is.  

Marc’s job entails a lot of late nights.  It’s got a lot of flexibility, in that he’s able to do pick up and drop off from school and various afterschool activities, and get to the gym occasionally.  But it also means that most nights, he’s not here for bedtime.

I’m not great at bedtime.  On the list of parenting tasks, it’s probably got to count as a fail on my part.  I don’t put my kids to bed, kiss them goodnight and have them fall asleep on their own.  I snuggle them to sleep.  Jessie, not as much, she’s at the point where sometimes she’ll happily bop off to bed on her own, but mostly, she likes to fall asleep in my bed and then I haul her up and walk her into her own room.  They can, and do, sleep in their own beds, but they like to fall asleep all snuggled up and fun.  If I had just one, I could do it in their own beds and then go back to my own.   But, as I’ve got three, I just keep doing it this way and hope that the day doesn’t come when I’ve got a sixteen year old, a thirteen year old and a ten year old all in my bed.   Or maybe I do hope that day’ll come – I’m a little foggy this morning due to lack of sleep.

So last night… it’s all flowing well.  We went out for dinner as the special thing that night (this year, we aren’t doing a gift every night because that’s 24 gifts right off the bat, before we factor in stepdaughters and Christmas) but committed to doing SOMETHING special each night, in addition to lighting the candles).  By the time we got home, it was eight thirty, and Jessie still had homework.  So I explained long division to her.  Again.  Sam got himself ready for bed, we lit all the menorahs, and I took Samilicious in to fall asleep in my bed.  Jessie finished a card she was making for one of her friends at school and wandered in a little later.  Julianna had napped from 3-6 (which I was okay with, because at that point, I thought Marc would be home earlier and he could spend some time with her), so I knew that she’d be up for a while.

Sam fell asleep easily enough, he’s far and away my best sleeper.  Once he was officially out cold, I hauled him up and tossed him into his bed.   His queen bed, because I can’t throw him up into the loft bed.  Which is an important detail for later.  Julie ended up crawling into bed and falling asleep a little earlier than I had anticipated.  I fell asleep before Marc came home, with Jessie still in the bed next to me.

Marc apparently decided that he was too tired to be moving children hither and yon, and since Jessie was in my bed, and Sam was in the big bed in his room, his options were to climb up into the loft bed (which is an image that amuses me) or to just crash in Jessie’s room.  Which would have been FINE, except that Julianna woke up around two thirty.  She never wakes up for any length of time, she just fusses a minute, latches on for a bit, and then drifts back to sleep.  But it was enough to wake Miss Jess, who got up and toddled her little self into her own bed.

Which is when all hell broke loose.  Jessie had no idea her Daddy was in her bed, and just climbed in.  When she realized that there was SOMETHING in her bed, she started screaming like she was being attacked.  Which in turn freaked Marc out, who had been in a sound sleep, until he suddenly was actually being attacked by an extremely loud and freaked out nine year old.  So he also started screaming in terror.  Which was funny, now, in retrospect, but last night, I was just irritated.  Because I knew instantly what had happened and that it wasn’t going to end well.  Lo and behold, Jessie came tearing back into my bed, launched herself on top of me and Julie, still sobbing and screaming.  Which woke Julie, who had been mostly still dozing, so she was wide awake.  Three minutes later, barely enough time to shove Jessie over to the side and get her to mostly stop crying, in wandered my boy.  “Why is everyone screaming??”  I just shushed him and told him to snuggle back up.  “Everyone back to sleep, shhhhh”  I kept repeating, until, eventually, everyone did.  Except for me.   Because when everyone’s in bed with me, I can’t sleep.  I’m trapped, unable to roll over or move or adjust a pillow without waking someone.

So tonight, even if it kills me, I’m staying awake long enough to shove everyone into their own beds.

We’re Jewish, although still culturally interfaith. What that means is that we are Jewish with some bonus traditions that I dragged along with me into the family. Really, the only main holiday that we celebrate (other than the Jewish holidays, and other American holidays, like Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th, etc) is Christmas. Although that’s also like saying we celebrate absolutely everything, with the possible exception of Kwanzaa and the Chinese New Year. We don’t make a big deal about Easter here in the house, but the annual egg hunt at my mother’s is a favorite tradition.

So right now, we’re in the middle of Hanukkah. As a family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, I find that we’re in an odd place. Because we are most definitely Jewish, active and happy members of the synagogue in Worcester, we do Shabbat dinner every week, and have kids CDs in Hebrew on auto repeat in the car. But we also love candy canes, my kids are amused and delighted at the prospect of Santa Claus and we’re getting a tree later on this week. 

But this weekend was the beginning of the week long celebration of Hanukkah. It’s a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, commemorating the triumph of a small band of Jewish soldiers to reclaim the Temple. Once the Temple was cleaned up, they discovered that there was only enough oil to last one night, but, as they say, “a great miracle happened there,” and the oil lasted the eight days it took to make more. We light menorahs every night (Julie keeps calling them Torahs) and every night, we try to do something special. Some nights it’s presents, some nights it’s a dinner at the synagogue, or we go out and look at holiday lights with hot cocoa. 

Saturday night, we had the first night, and we lit all nine of the menorahs we had at that point (we’ve since added another, bringing the total up to ten). Each child got a book for their present. Yesterday was non-stop Hanukkah, with a family party in the morning, a menorah lighting at Newton Square in the afternoon, and then a big dinner with my stepdaughters and more presents. This afternoon, Jessie has a play that she’s performing in at religious school and then we’ve got dinner at the synagogue. Tomorrow night, we’re actually getting our tree, and then Wednesday night, we’ll do another menorah lighting at religious school, Thursday night is the Boy Scouts pot luck (we’re bringing latkes) and Friday night is Shabbat. 

Things are crazy this year, and I’m not sure why. Last year, I remember thinking that Hanukkah was so peaceful compared to the frantic rush of Christmas, but this year it seems the exact opposite. I don’t know if it’s just that Hanukkah came so early this year, so I wasn’t entirely mentally ready for the holidays, or if it’s a function of kids getting older. More activities, more explanations about religion and why we celebrate what, more kids running around and bugging each other. Last year, Julie wasn’t really walking, and she certainly wasn’t claiming all gifts that come into the house as her own, the way she is this year. Last year, Sam was still five, and had no activities outside of school. Last year, Jessie was a lot younger, in many ways, and not as articulate about trying to figure out why different people follow different religions. I feel like this has been a year with a lot more squabbling, a lot more running around and a lot more spiritual questioning. All of which is lovely – don’t get me wrong. I love having three (and sometimes five) kids, and squabbling is a part of that. I love having a busy, active life, with lots of friends and huge families to celebrate with. And I LOVE that my kids ask questions, I love that we discuss and debate and ponder these deep spiritual topics in the car and at night before bed. 

But I also am tired. And looking forward to my week between Hanukkah and Christmas. 

Julie is still at that age where she’s learning to talk.  New words every day (today, we learned lavendar, she was delighted).  But she still struggles with pronunciation, and it made me think of the number of words that I have repeated so often that I no longer remember the actual word it’s come from.  Either that, or the mispronunciation has become a perfectly viable word in and of itself.  Here’s a list of them…

“fier” – pacifier.  Jessie used a fier for years.  And it’s still what I call it when I hand one to my two year old niece.  Despite the fact that I only used them for my oldest child (and she’s almost ten).

“potty” – toilet.  Actually, this doubles as both a noun meaning the entire room, and a verb, as in “going potty.”  I worry that I’ll be fifty and still using this…

“Boy and G”  My son Samuel Earl and daughter Jessica Mary  both have beautiful, well considered and well loved names.  And we refer to them eighty to ninety percent of the time as Boy and G.  Because that’s what Julie calls them.  Sam called Jessie “Dessi” and that didn’t last.  But for some reason, Boy and G seem to have staying power.

“punge” – sponge.  This one was tough to decipher.   But Julie is a girl who loves to clean (with any luck, this’ll last beyond toddlerhood), and frequently demands a “punge wid bubbles” to scrub down the table.

“Wabbo!” – Bravo.  I have now taken to hollering Wabbo when any kid does anything fabulous.  Bring home an awesome spelling test?  Wabbo!  Remember to put your dirty dishes into the dishwasher?  Wabbo!

“Pat Pat” – the Disney show, Little Einsteins.  It’s Julie’s favorite show, and I think it’s only because it was one of her first words.  We use it all the time, usually the older kids, “Please God no – don’t make us watch ANOTHER Pat Pat!”

Having a delightful sort of day today – the sun is (not) shining and the everyone was cheerful and friendly this morning.  Which is rare, honestly, so I’m taking it as a sign that today is going to be freaking AWESOME.  
Today is my free day, devoted to cleaning, baking and probably some reading.  Tomorrow, I’ve got a Mommy and Me planning meeting, Thursday, we’re getting the tree, Friday is Shabbat and pizza party for first graders, and then Saturday starts Hanukkah.  There’s a concert at Emmanuel that we may or may not go to, and then Sunday, it’s Marc’s family party in the morning.  Which reminds me that I have to bake cookies for that.  Next weekend, Abby’s birthday is on Sunday morning.  And I’ve got another Hanukkah party that night.  
Will not be getting a $30 Elf on a Shelf.  Am researching other alternatives, and trying to come up with a positive spin.  In our family – we do fairies on a shelf.  Does that sound reasonable?  Or puppies on a shelf – we’ve got a lot of stuffed puppies.  Or even… Shoo Butt (Sam’s stuffed lizard) on a Shelf.  There are lots of viable alternatives.  I just need to explain to Marc that from now until Christmas, every night, he has to make the coffee and find a new place to put the damn elf.  Or Shoo Butt.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it – I really should hide three different things, right?  Because you know they’ll battle over who’s going to find it first.  This is a complex little tradition, but Sam’s really into it. 

Another thing he’s really into is the daily chocolate.  My mother bought the kids advent calendars, and I think it’s brilliant.  I use them as bribes – if they get dressed quickly enough, they can all open their days and get a tiny square of chocolate.  I may look into celebrating Advent all year round.  Julie, yesterday, slept late and missed it in the morning, and then midday, went and found it, and opened just one day to get her daily allotment.  

This is my tenth Christmas/Hanukkah season with Marc, and I find that as it approaches, it’s the first one that I’m relaxed and happy about in a long time.  We celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and I’m perfectly content about it, for the first time in years.  We also do Easter/Passover, but somehow, that’s never really been an issue.  Passover is a much more significant event –  Easter is reduced to nothing more than a fun party at Grammy’s house.

But in years past, I’ve really agonized over what we do in December.  Marc and I were always guaranteed at least one killer battle, whereupon we would argue and debate and theorize for hours over whether or not he was celebrating Christmas with the “right” frame of mind (I never thought he was, he – correctly, I now realize – is in entitled to be angst ridden in his own way, as long as we are unified as a family).  Because that’s always what it was for me, a way of asserting my own impact on the kids.  A way to say to them that yes, we’re Jewish, but that’s not all that we are, and you don’t have to lose out on my traditions because of it.   It was an identity thing for me.  I wanted desperately for Judaism to be an addition to my life, to their life.  Not to have it represent loss.

Because we are Jewish – and I love that.  I feel at home with Judaic spirituality, it makes utter and complete sense to me.  I love Shabbat, I love the holidays and the everyday holiness.  I love the blessings over tiny events, and the sense of appreciation and gratitude.  I love the community.  I really love the community.  I love that my kids are so welcomed and adored and comfortable at the synagogue.

But I also love my own traditions.  My own memories of beautiful Christmas trees and hot cocoa and candy canes and I think my kids deserve that.  I don’t pretend that ALL kids deserve it, if you don’t celebrate Christmas because you feel it’s a Christian holiday and as a non-Christian, it’s not your day, that’s cool.  But for me, Christmas was never particularly a Christian holiday.  If there was any religious significance to it, it was always more Pagan, with the tree and the candles and the light in the darkness kind of thing.  Which translates nicely (for me, at least) with Hanukkah.  I think my kids get to celebrate Christmas because they’re my kids.  Because they are my mother’s grandchildren.  And it’s as much a part of who they are as Hanukkah candles, latkes and dreidels.  

Because in the end, my kids will make up their own minds about religion and spirituality and what traditions they want to continue and what they’ll let slide.  I chose to raise them within a religious community that is their’s by inheritance, half their family is Jewish- and took the extra steps to convert them so that nobody would question their Jewish identity.  I converted myself, due in no small part to my conviction that if my family was Jewish, then I was as well.   But celebrating Christmas may well be what makes it possible for me to embrace raising my children in a culture that still feels alien to me, to teach them songs in a language that makes no sense to me, and to learn to make challah and make sure I’ve got Shabbat candles for Friday.  

And in the end, my kids’ Jewish identity is going to rely a lot more on the challah recipe that I’m perfecting, the years of religious education I make them go to, the Shabbat dinner every Friday night, and the fact that we simply are Jewish.  The conflict was just between Marc and I, and I suppose, the greater culture at large, that insists that being Jewish means NOT celebrating Christmas, and insisting that you can’t participate in Christmas unless you believe that Jesus is the Son of God.   My kids know they’re Jewish, and they know what that means.  They don’t agonize over it, their Jewish identity is as obvious to them and as undeniable as the fact that they’ve all got brown eyes.  It’s not up for debate, it simply is.  They also know that they celebrate Christmas because it’s my tradition, that it’s a holiday like Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.  Not a religious one, but one that we celebrate enthusiastically.

Bring on the candy canes, and this week, I’ll unpack the endless number of menorahs and the Christmas lights.  I couldn’t be happier.