In a Hundred Words or Less…


Dictionary Funphoto © 2007 Manchester City Library | more info (via: Wylio)


As part of the adoption process, I was asked recently to describe myself. I didn’t really know where to start. In fact, I drew a blank. Reserved, a bit tense and edgy, good in a crises, someone who uses humor to deflect, deals well with ambiguity…tenacious? Maybe.

Am I tenacious? I never thought of myself as being so. Far from it, my whole understanding of myself prior to having kids was of someone who had trouble following through on things. But then they (who is ‘they’? The Universe?) gave me three babies at once, all with medical issues, and it was a job that there was no walking away from. To make things even more challenging, they gave it to me to manage under incredibly trying personal circumstances. Then they gave me another baby and another no fail situation in a child who needed copious amounts of therapeutic interventions. And more trying personal circumstances.

And then, one by one, two more babies arrived. The first one brought with her challenges that eclipsed the previous four in their needs on a quantum scale. And while the second one came bringing nothing else but the start of the long journey to a new life, it was still a responsibility there was no walking away from. And they came with even more terribly, terribly difficult personal circumstances surrounding them. But these ones came with something else. They came at some point, with the possibility of giving the job to someone else.

You can quit this one, they said. And I considered it again and again. I told myself that I could, that I would, that it was alright not to do something this hard, that the cost was too high. I was given ‘permission’ by many people around me to put the burden down, that maybe it would even be best for the kids, all of them, if I did. But I couldn’t in the end. I just didn’t know how to quit showing up. For any of them. When did that happen I wondered?

Am I tenacious? I guess I am about the kids, the things that really, really matter to me. I don’t care strongly about much else, I’ll freely admit it. But it turns out that when it comes to the 6 most important things, I am very tenacious indeed. I have failed a thousand times as a mother, spectacularly at times. But what I’ve learned is that I have an ability to refuse not to come back to the job. I will keep showing up, at times against impossible odds.

People often mistake this part of me, because the boatload of things that I’m willing to walk away from dwarfs the QEII. If the path is blocked, there’s always another way. I won’t beat my head against a wall trying to force things to be what they aren’t. Not interested. I’m not an adherent of black and white when it comes to reality. But on those select few things where I do see a clear path, well, you walk it. More than half the battle with kids is showing up. Everyday. No matter what. Even when you’re getting it wrong. You don’t quit. You show up for more even when you think you’ll get it wrong again, because eventually, you’ve got to get it right. Marriage is much the same sometimes. Those things are clear to me.

So, am I tenacious? Every now and then. It’s a matter of what’s important. I still don’t think I know how to describe myself very well, but I’m learning. I know there is a fairly large discrepancy between how I see myself and how others see me, and I’d like to close that gap a little, because I think it leads to greater authenticity. So perhaps I could safely add tenacious to the list while I try and get closer to finding the words I should have. Have you thought lately about how good are you at describing yourself?



JUST BRING ON THE LOCUST AND GET IT OVER WITH…


It’s started. The beginning of the end is here. The Ten Plagues.  The punishment of God upon our people. Woe be it unto all those who didn’t believe.  Out of fear, I will be marking the door with lamb’s blood, but really, nothing can save us now.

My daughter, who is an angel on earth if ever there was one, disappeared last week, almost overnight. In her place, for 48 hours was an alien creature armed with a stony expression and burning coals for eyes that shot death-lasers of hate at me, and everyone around her, anytime I dared speak. The alien creature spent the whole of the 48 hours making snarky asides to any conversation, whether she was in it or not and provoking fights and dissension with those around her. When she wasn’t doing this, she was stomping around the house, slamming doors and shooting us glares of contempt.

We’ve seen little signs of this before now. Every so often, in the course of the normal day, you’d look into their eyes and you’d see something peeking. A little crazy that wanted to come out to play…but that was still years off, right?  Oh, wrong…SO. WRONG.  My girl just disappeared. Like overnight!  I had no idea that it would be this fast, but when I think about PMS and how fast that arrives, I guess I should have figured it out, because it’s like a dose of PMS, but on Human Growth Hormones.  Perhaps I will entertain myself by thinking of it as “The Cream” and “The Clear”.

My Bestie, The Dragon Lady, was all tea and sympathy for her, “Oh, maybe she needs chocolate!” she said over the phone.  “What she needs is gin, a cigarette and some Valium, but as this isn’t the 1950’s what I’m going to do is offer her some chocolate and a hot shower.”  But the message of what she was saying got through to me.  My Darlingest One was unconsciously dipping her big toe into the waters of The Sisterhood and she would need love, and a guide…and a horse tranquilizer from time to time, but hey, don’t we all some days?   So After the first approximately 6 hours of it all and finding that she had actually barricaded herself into her room to cry with rage and confusion, I brought some tough love into the mix, since she had proven to be utterly intractable in the face of every other piece of love, reason and understanding.

I took a deep breath and stormed the room, ordering her to march herself into my bedroom and get in bed. Then I announced that she would now be subjected to forcible hugging and comforting.  Once she had wept a little more I broke out the understanding and empathy for how hard her day had been.  And then I talked her into a hot shower to help her feel more herself, then back into bed for more cuddling. Basically, I tried to draw the roadmap to self-care for her.

This is not to say that I got the whole 48-hour event right. We clashed, I ranted, we cried and made up, dogs howled, swine gnashed their teeth and men fell, because perimenopause and teenage hormones, as previously noted, are bad. They’re BAD!  At other various times the two girls, my preteen and my five-teen year old were secretly at work sharpening spoons into shivs in their respective cells so they could go after each other in the exercise yard, occasionally triggering a lockdown. Sisterly love, I am told, sometimes looks like this.  One of the nicest women I have ever met, back in our church-going days, once admitted to me that she made her younger sister drink perfume, just because.  I suggested that a real older sister would send her perfume as a reminder for all birthdays and Christmases. How did I get here?

One of the chief features of this hidiosity seems to be the fact that they are unable to assess their own state. They think they’re fine. It’s you (and all the other clueless bastards in the house) who are the problem.  The other exciting discovery I made is that for much of this, there is no right answer. You can’t win and you can’t head it off; you’re just going to have to experience the event.  I think my early assessments here are correct, and it leaves me speechless with horror and fear. I think I’m going to miss my babies over the next few years and I hope they’ll come around for brief visits, but by and large, I fear it will be these evil aliens who will sleep in their rooms at times. I mean, it’s not as if there’s some sort of strong family history for hormonal stability at work here.

Case in point, the following week, her two brothers became snake-charmed as well.  The Golf Pro kind of freaked out a bit. He’s so mellow that he didn’t have an actual mood swing as a teenager. But I argued that if you think of them in single terms, if you isolate their behavior into individual events, then it seems actually kind of normal. However,  if you take that one of them and their head full of bad hormones and have all their interactions take place with 2 other people who have heads full of bad hormones…well, that’s just bad science folks.  Don’t put three people who have undeveloped brains, bodies being poisoned by their own body chemistry and poor social skills together. The results aren’t good.  Then you add the five-teen year old and the 7 year old, who imitates everything, the perimenopausal parent and the coping-challenged 2 year old into the mix, and seriously, I don’t know why the Golf Pro even comes home at all. And I don’t know what’s to become of us all.

To top it all off, during the 8am Friday school drop-off, when I told the 2 year old that he could have a lollipop for breakfast, from his little rocket seat in the back of the car, he screamed “I Hate You.”  #FML. But, during one of the breaks in the storm, I got to hold my baby girl in my arms and watch this video with her. I guess those will be the moments to look for to keep us connected over the next few years…




Where is My Inner Chinese Mother?


I am not Asian enough with my children. This is not a new feeling for me. I felt this way long before Amy Chua and the WSJ decided to run her article, the one with the regrettably inflammatory headline about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and just piss everybody off.  Nope, I felt not Asian enough long before that, but until I read her article I wasn’t really able to quantify why my parenting actions didn’t match up the standard of excellence that I thought I’d have.

When I embarked on my efforts to become with child, I completely expected that said child would be as carefully tended and enriched as any of the other children appeared to be around him. I would be paving the way, laying the genetic path for a new generation, who would go on to save the planet and reinvent world cuisine in a way that would make Ferran Adrià weep bitter tears.  Dreams of second language immersion classes, piano lessons, readings of poetry and the classics danced in my head. Then I had the actual kids.

There were piano lessons, which should have come with combat pay and they do indeed attend Japanese language school every Saturday morning but since those 3 and a half hours only the only exposure they get to the language I’ll be as shocked as anyone if they retain any of it (although I don’t necessarily believe their exposure to a second language is wasted and I absolutely haven’t given up on Spanish since we live in California).  We had Asian intentions, but they were married up to Western follow-through.

Like the rest of America, the WSJ excerpt from her book got the girlfriends and I talking. As a group, we tend to be less interested in fielding emotional responses than understanding what about the article produced the furor and what, if anything could be taken away from it all.  My girlfriends and I run the gamut of expectations and actual achievement among our children and we have a great acceptance of this. Parenting is about as personal an endeavor as there is, tailored so individually to suit each different family that right answers are very difficult to come by. Advice and collaboration trumps judgment in all ways when it comes to how we parent.

Our resident Chinese parenting expert, who just happens, conveniently, to be a Chinese parent herself and no slouch in the areas of high self-esteem, self-confidence and academic success, gave her opinion. “She’s a Chinese mother with no soul,” she explained amidst bringing up points about Confucianism and Legalist origins in Chinese parenting, issues of biracial identity and the different value system immigrant parents place on things

We have long noted that our Chinese friend comes to parenting her twin girls with very different expectations and attitudes than we do. This is the same girlfriend who once told me and another girlfriend to “channel our inner Chinese female”. We both shuffled uncomfortably, exchanged baffled glances and were forced to announce, “We don’t have one.”  And it was as true as can be. We don’t. But there are plenty of moments in parenting our kids that we both admit we wish we had one.

A very large part of the reason that I was interested and open to Ms. Chua’s very candid and intimate invitation into her home and parenting dynamics was that I has recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book “Outliers: the Story of Success”.  One chapter in particular discussed Asians and math.  Along with discussing certain cultural advantages he felt were inherent in the language and number systems, he chiefly identified an attitude and ethic stemming from, of all things, the agricultural history of rice farming in Asian societies.

The understanding of success being equated to effort is very different in Chinese culture…“throughout history…the people who grow rice have always worker harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” Rice production is more intensive and grueling and requiring of skill than the history of Western farming and this cultural legacy has meaning.

Most of, if not all of my friends, approach things like talent at math or science to be innate in some way. It is still requiring of effort to be successful, but Gladwell argues we fundamentally believe that you’re either born good at something or not.  The Chinese believe that such success and achievement has everything to do with how much effort you are willing to put into mastering a subject in a way that we excuse ourselves from because we want to see skill to begin with before we deem the effort worthwhile.  This might be where the chief difference lies.

Gladwell argues with clarity that cultural legacies matter deeply and I think that in our need to apply the whitewash of equality as rapidly and as liberally as possible, we loose sight of this.  I’m not saying that it should be emulated. Ms. Chua is an extreme example, and she knows it. But I can see in myself that very Western belief that talent is a matter of birth and that perhaps if I were more ready to put in some of the kind of efforts at the kitchen table over homework achievement that she does that we would see better results.

I am sure that there are plenty of Chinese children for whom this style of parenting is less than efficient, and I’m still a fan of trying your best to parent to the temperament of the child, but why discount such an extreme and extremely candid view of this other culture of parenting? What I’m saying is that there was so much more to Amy Chua’s story of her family and it’s foolish to let the trumped up title claiming “superiority” get in the way of a really interesting and important cultural exchange.

In the meantime, I will take her honesty and extremity as fuel into the furnace of my own parenting, I will continue to question why I feel stressed about asking my children to do even the most basic chores, and I’ll stress about being able to give them more effort than I do while my father’s voice continues to ring in my head when I look at report cards that are less than straight A’s “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.” I will worry, as I always have, that I am raising a house full of under-achieving little slack-asses, who will end up working for my Chinese girlfriends kids.

Perhaps that will be the new tagline for my blog from now on, “Raising Hopeless Slack-Asses Since 1999” Perhaps I will just think about challenging my ideas on what my children and I can achieve and try a little harder to do more.

More complete articles about Amy Chua’s book can be found at Slate here and PBS here and at Gawker here.

And a more measured rebuttal was rus in today’s WSJ



Arizona…and Giving Children the World.


Light in Arizona

www.hiren.info

After reading a recent post over at mom-101 about explaining the unexplainable to your child, I began to think about the many things we have had to talk to ours about.  In the end, we’ve only just scraped the surface of the vastness of the human condition. It’s early days yet.

For instance, they are largely unaware of this latest moment in Arizona, which at 11 years of age might be appropriate I think. I’ve been listening for any reports of chatter on the subject coming home from school, but nothing has triggered any conversations as yet.  I suppose when situations like this do come across their radar, I tend to have 2 main goals. The first is that they are not left with an unreasoning sense of fear about their world and the second is that they grasp the true breadth of the tragedy. The people who are injured by the act certainly, but in cases like Arizona, the actions of a very young man in the service to madness and the unholy grief that his family must be experiencing as well, to find themselves sucked into this wormhole of pain and media madness. There is plenty of sadness and grief to go around and those wounded deserve our reverence and respect.

There is a whole history of man’s inhumanity to man that they have yet to learn about and I hope to be able to temper that learning with compassion and an offsetting dose of stories of the many, many moments of heroism and acts of genuine grace also contained in our history.

It’s an interesting job to be their docent at this age, as they stand on the edge, getting ready to expand outside themselves into the bigger world of human history.   They are beginning to becoming aware of 9/11 in an abstract way, but are too young yet to know the real context of it once you add in the human stories that came out of it. Those personal experiences are what pull it out of history and make it a personal event that you can internalize, and they are important. I think it is crucial to make that connection as best you can before you reach a snap decision about such things. They should never, ever be black and white. And it’s OK to say that some things are bigger than our judgment or understanding of them; that some things only deserve a reverent sadness.

John Lennon’s birthday coincided this year with their awakening to the existence of a band called the Beatles. That he was not only shot but that he was shot by someone who claimed to be a fan was almost beyond their grasp. The idea that some people suffer from the kind of madness that is without cure or rational intention was a tough thing to tackle, but I trust there will be a long time to build upon their understanding over the coming years.

Another interesting moment came when I had on Ken Burns documentary on The War and while they were in my room, they were not paying much attention to the TV. And then they heard the voice of the announcer when he began to talk about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I can tell you that 3 little Japanese-American heads stopped what they were doing and swiveled toward the TV. “Wha? Huh?” “Say What?!” “Mom?!  Oh yeah, I think, looking at the three sets of eyes turned my way, that’s got to be a bit of an identity crises. That talk led to the understanding that we had used nuclear weapons against Japan and a bare glimmer of the conflicting views on that action and it ended with a chipper sort of, “but we’re good friends now!”

I don’t put the news on for them to watch just yet, hell, I don’t even watch the news myself, because televised news anymore is more like watching an hour of grim death than being genuinely informed, and who the hell needs that when you can build your own newspaper on the internet. I don’t think they’re ready to take in that much hardcore ‘reality’ all at once.  They also they don’t know about Hollywood yet, which I consider one of my better accomplishments.  No one is desperate from fame or is measuring themselves against some size 2 model. Yay! And a couple of years ago, in a moment of irony, they learned about same sex marriage from the very people who didn’t want it taught in our schools to children. “Mom, what are all these people doing over there holding up signs. What’s Prop 8?”

Out of all of it, the moment that stands out in my mind was when my then 1st grade children were playing in my room and by chance there was some footage from the war in Iraq on a special reports promo of actual combat, firefight, the whole bit  and both boys stopped what they were doing, their attention grabbed by the sound of gunfire. They stood there, riveted for a few moments and then Middle Son asked in surprise, “Is that real?” and Oldest son answered before I could, saying “No. They don’t have wars anymore.” OMG. There was my child saying the most sane, rational, should-be-true-if-only-it-were-true statement, and it was going to be up to me to tell him that mankind just wasn’t that good yet.

Sometimes being a Mom seems like it’s the biggest job of all…

*here’s a link to an article on HuffPost with suggestions about how to talk to your kids at times like these.





Après-ski or…Ménage à NO!


No More Family Vacations

Trip #3: Mammoth Lakes, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Seven Year Olds, 1 Four Year Old, 1 Two Year Old

To get to Mammoth, we packed 8 people and their gear and supplies into a car designed, in theory, to hold 8 and their gear.  This is only a theory, I assure you. We left for our trip on Christmas night, right after opening gifts at the Golf Pro’s parents house.  It actually wasn’t that bad. They slept, we made a respectable distance and slept overnight before making the final leg.

I was more strung out than usual on this trip. We had recently come into the possession of my great-niece after she had been removed from her mother’s care due to drug and alcohol addiction issues. In reality, what we actually had come into possession of was a child who had deep emotional and behavioral issues due to Reactive Attachment Disorder, but at the time, we were about a year away from that diagnosis.  All we knew was that someone had lobbed a human grenade in our midst and chaos followed in it’s wake.

Also at play was the fact that the triplets’ father and I were entering into the early stages of a very different understanding of each other and how we were going to negotiate the future of shared custody. Time spent together was anything but comfortable…but again, didn’t I want my kids to have as whole and repaired a family as I could give them? Wouldn’t I go to the mat for that sense of security for them?

So  we made the trip and got settled into our cabin, and we waited for the good times to begin. And we waited. And actually, the first night was without incident. That is, if you count the 2 year old waking up 3 – 4 times and screaming absolute blue murder because the wiring in her head has shorted again as being without incident.  The next day saw ski rentals taken care of and snow gear purchased, the local market located.  I will remind you that all these tasks are being accomplished while herding 5 young children from place to place through the snow.

So, up to the ski run we took our crew and after dropping them off and setting a time to return for pick-up, the Golf Pro and I went over to the ski school. I had called when we arrived to ask about classes for kids with special needs and sensory issues.  Turns out they had a fabulous program for that.  Yay! The Kid was going to take a shot at skiing. We went over and signed the paperwork for the next day. This was going to work! At Last! I spent the rest of the day fighting for control of the wild horse that was my 2 year old, buying supplies and exploring the town.

That night, I lost a crown, fought through another scream-fest with my RAD kid and watched as the 4 year old projectile vomited in front of a horrified, yet oddly fascinated group of 7 – 12 year olds.  The curse had clearly not been broken. In fact, I think I may have tempted the gods with my burst of carefree optimism. We treated his fever through the night and did our mad dance with the 2 year old.

The next morning we located an emergency dentist, left the now sleeping 4 year old and 2 year old in the care of the triplets’ father and got my dental emergency taken care of by 9am. We went back in time to release the skiers and to find out that the cancellation policy for the ski school was 24 hours notice. We didn’t make it. They would have credited it to another lesson, but it was clear by now that this kids wasn’t recovering anytime before we left and using what energy he did recover on the slopes when we had a 6 hour drive at the end of our trip was going to be a bad idea. So the Golf Pro paid for the class and the 4 year old lay delirious on the couch.

What we learned from all this was that getting trapped in a small cabin with a child who has un-diagnosed RAD is a recipe for going postal.  Spending time with people you have nothing in common with eventually provides an intolerable amount of general discomfort for someone with my Spidey Senses and that if you put enough pressure on some mothers, they will accidentally teach their 4 year old to repeat the phrase, “Is this some kind of effing joke?”  Except they won’t say “effing”.

I got to go skiing with my kids on that trip for the first time. And despite the fact that I got lost on the other side of the mountain once, it was awesome-sauce.  I had an ipod, skills to match my kids and an entire Led Zeppelin playlist loaded up, starting with the Immigrants Song, a little nod to the skiing of my youth in Reno where one run had the name Immigrants Run. Turns out a couple of my kids are total dare-devils on skis and it was just the best. In fact, I shamelessly wrangled a second afternoon out of an unwilling Golf Pro. I just had to. When his turn came, it was miraculously timed with the leading edge of a white out storm and 30 mph wind gusts.  Sorry Golf Pro, but I admit, I’d do it again to be with my kids.

The return trip found me once again trapped by my shorter legs in the back seat with the kids, which by the second hour left me feeling like a badly abused lab rat.  It also included a 14 minute speed tour through the site of the Manzanar Japanese Internment camp. If my kids recall any of it, I’ll be shocked.

I did not go on the next trip. I’d had enough. In the face of being trapped again in a snowbound cabin with small, screaming, vomiting children I declared the shared parenting divide healed enough and left them to it. I hope they will forgive me for birthdays I’ve missed and memories I wish we shared. But in return, they get a higher degree of sanity and peace in their parent

The trips I have missed since that decision have included another jaunt to Mammoth. Reports came back from that trip of truth or dare sessions and guilty admissions of circle time where they improved each others vocabulary by sharing their lists of  swear words with one another and at least one of the boys jumped into an icy pool in response to a frontal challenge of his burgeoning manhood. Also missed was a trip to Utah that rendered their father almost horizontal for the majority of the trip with altitude sickness and left the kids burning up the phone lines to me so I could mediate their inadequate social skills and tell them that I wanted them to come home soon too. This year they are in Tahoe and I am getting regular phone reports, because my daughter is excellent and understands that I need them. The general outcome of the trip has yet to be reported.

I miss them so much every time…but then I remember all the past trips and I’m distracted by the nervous tic that’s just starting up around my left eye. Perhaps another year down the road,  I’ll allow my optimism to overcome me once more.



A Prayer…


A little prayer I found today:

“Let me change what I can.

Let me accept that which I cannot change.

Let me ignore that which I cannot change or accept.

Let me run away from that which I cannot change, accept, or ignore.

Let me lock myself in the bathroom, hold my hands over my ears, and hum about that which I cannot change, accept, ignore, or run away from.”

Amen.

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Image for a prayer



Lying to the Children…Again


So, do we ‘lie’ about Santa?  Sure we do. I lie to my kids all the time. I actually look for opportunities to do it.  I LOVE to do it.  In fact here’s a quick confessional: I have lied to my kids about them having born with 6 toes, I used to tell them that once they went to bed it was nothing but clowns and ice cream parties for the grown ups.  I have lied about one of them having to have belly button surgery and I have told them elaborate stories about how they were so small when they were born that we used to keep them in a shoebox on the bedside table. I lied to them about trying to teach them how to play dodge ball when they were 18 months old and that it didn’t work because they weren’t really good enough at dodging back then. Actually, that one may not have been a lie. But there have been about a thousand other such moments and I will undoubtedly try to lie to them about  6ooo more things before I die.  I think it helps to build their “truth meter”.  It also alleviates some of the extreme monotony of parenting. I lie, a lot…but not about anything important.

I stubbornly lie to them about things like Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Beagle even in the face of their certain knowledge that it is me.  I like to maintain a slight air of delusion around the house.  I believe it will cushion the blow for them when my senility kicks in next year.

Personally, I have nice memories of believing in Santa for about 2 and a half Christmases. Then my older brother happily set me straight on the matter. Because that’s what older siblings do.  And that is how it will go for our younger children too in the keeping of a family tradition. But those were a golden couple of years filled with having both parents still and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year and watching my mother put all these wonderful ornaments on the tree one by one. It’s the last time I remember loving Christmas until the kids were born.

Our current status in the Santa Lie stands with the 10 year olds now knowing that we are Santa (I’d be pretty worried if they didn’t), the seven year old I’m not sure about, I suspect the 5 year old still believes in Santa, but she knows the presents come from us, and the two year old will learn about Santa for the first time this year. And he will believe in Santa for as long as his 10-year-old sister can manage it, because she has already taken over his holiday education.

Where you stand on the Santa thing can be a real issue between parents. I remember the father of my older 3 children taking me totally by surprise by announcing to me during the pregnancy that he wouldn’t be lying to his children ever by telling them there was a Santa.  I was very upset about that at the time. These days I just think, “What a jackass!” I mean who tells that kind of thing to a woman waiting to give birth to 3 babies? “Hey I’m going to be ruining Christmas for these kids once they’re born.” (To be fair, I think all men have at least one jackass moment during the pregnancy. I had the biggest fight of my life with the 7 year olds father about the college education of a child who hadn’t even been born yet. You really want to try to time these things well with a pregnant woman)

The interesting thing is, that same man who was so determined to give his children only the brutal, unvarnished truth later  hired someone when they were 2 years old to come to their home fully dressed as Santa on Christmas day.  It’s one of a select few truly redeemable moments that I pull out of the deck when he’s completely stopped making sense to me and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to continue forward in any semblance of partnership at all. I like to believe, in the end, he looked at the faces of his children and allowed the season and their childhood overtake him.  Children will do that to you…which is why we have Christmas in the first place.