Friday, December 26, 2014

In the wee hours before Christmas

ChristmasTreeGirls ‘Twas the night before Christmas




“Mommy,” I heard Little Miss standing beside my bed, and I forced my eyes open. It was still dark.
“Will you help me with my buttons?” she was referring to her new Christmas long-johns - the one present that the girls got to open on the eve. As I fumbled to help, she whispered excitedly, “Santa came, mama! He came! I saw bikes!”
“Oh yeah? That’s wonderful!” I managed, and looked at the time: 4:40AM.
“It’s four in the morning, Little Miss, please go back to bed, and we’ll open the presents in the morning.”
“Okay mama” And off she went.


“Mommy, I need to go potty!” the little one ran into my room, holding her crotch and doing her usual pee-pee dance. Mind you, she had to pass her own bathroom to come tell me this.
“Then go.”
“I need help with the buttons.”
Dammit! No more freakin’ long-john’s! What the hell was I thinking?!
Once Pickle was done with her business, thankfully, it’s back to bed again.


This time I felt a presence before I heard it: “Moooommmy….”

It was Pickle. “Is it goodmorning time yet?” Never just morning, always “goodmorning time”, like it’s one word, no pause in between.

I looked outside my window and the sky had the soft orange-pink glow of a promising sunrise peeking between the trees. With only sheers covering the window, I loved watching the daybreak from my bed.

“Yes,” I reached over and carried her to the spot between My Guy and me, fully expecting to cuddle. “Yes, it’s goodmorning time. Where’s your sister?”
“She’s still asleep.”
“Okay, let’s not wake her.” I wrapped her little body with my arms and proceeded with Operation Cuddle A Lot.

“Did Santa come?” My Guy asked her groggily.
“How do you know he was here?”
“You told me he was coming!” responded my sweet, trusting, sometimes clueless three-year-old. Like, duh, daddy.
My Guy and I laughed. “Did you go look for the presents under the tree?”
She paused. “No…” I could feel the wheels churning and heard something click in her brain before she bolted out of bed as quickly as her short legs could carry her and made a bee line for her sister, with whom she loved experiencing everything.

“Wait. Don’t wake her!” I called feebly, knowing fully it was too late.

Christmas had begun.

* * *

Not that I minded. Because there were just the four of us this year, it was a completely stress-free and casual day. In fact, we didn’t get out of our pajamas at all, much to the delight of the girls who live for pajama day at home. So laidback in fact that I only served Chinese leftovers for lunch and cooked Christmas dinner (a rib eye roast, garlic and bacon Brussels sprouts, and maple sweet potatoes, plus our usual butterscotch bundt cake) when I felt like it. And yes, we had all three meals in our PJ’s. But hey, we did break out the stemware and tablecloth. We’re classy like that.

Here’s how the day went in a few snapshots:

Open presents.



Take requisite “thank you for our gift” pictures for grandparents (in their new “Frozen”-themed nightgown and fuzzy slippers from Santa).






ChristmasCraft Craft.

Play some more.
(Although it’s really the deep blue sky I was admiring here. 60’s and sunny on Christmas day. Hello, Texas!)


Plus sugary, buttery, bacon-y, chocolate-y treats galore. Because, you know, we need sustenance for all that lounging and playing. 

In short, it was a pretty damned good Christmas.

Hope you had a wonderful day yourself.


Monday, December 22, 2014

More about magic


I’m not sure how I’ve gone a month without posting anything. I blinked, and here I am. But I guess that’s what happens during the holidays. It’s a black hole of kids’ activities and holiday parties, bright-colored cookies and cinnamon-dusted cocktails.

Since this is our first holiday season in our new city, I suppose everything we’ve done so far is a momentous occasion. First tree in Austin. First holiday party in Austin. It’s like reading a fortune cookie and adding “in bed” after every fortune we read, only it’s less funny. The “in Austin” post script, however, does add a shiny new sheen to all of our old traditions.



The Christmas banner we made as a family in Chicago, now decorates our living room in Austin.


I have to admit, I’ve been running myself ragged trying to recreate some of the old holiday magic here in our new house, hoping that our girls would not, during a season where we’re most susceptible to nostalgia, miss their Chicago life because they find the celebrations here different. I’ve even gone as far as taking the girls to a faraway outdoor mall that trucked a ton of snow into the plaza on a 50ish-degree day just so the girls can experience one of their favorite elements of the holiday season in Chicago.

IMG_8913 (2)

Naturally, their selective memory only retains the romanticized notions of snow: the snowmen, the snowballs - just the fun parts, really. And that’s what we were there for. Because looking for parking in a snow-covered city and then shoveling our car out of its five-inch tomb? Not so romantic.

Those were the things we didn’t have to deal with, apparently, having moved 1,100 miles south. Instead, we get our fill at a mall and go home to the occasional tank-top weather. I can deal with this. It does get chilly here, however. What I still haven’t gotten used to is the huge temperature changes throughout the day. We’d start the day at 38, peak at 70, and the moment the sun sets, it rapidly drops back down to 60, then 50 and 40. This means whatever I was wearing in the afternoon to enjoy the gloriously warm December, would be completely and utterly inadequate by 7PM, if we were still outdoors doing whatever it was we’re doing. I know, poor us, but we’ll figure this out.

Having gone over four weeks without blogging means I’m backlogged with the details in this memory-keeping business. Perhaps I’ll spend some time on some of the more important occasions in the future, like Little Miss’s 6th birthday party, our wonderful Thanksgiving with new friends at our house, and a pretty incredible Christmas season so far. But for now, I’d like to carve out some time to acknowledge the things that would fall through the cracks - things that are equally meaningful and even momentous, but that would otherwise get lost in the holiday shuffle.

Like, after six long years of waiting, finally being able to start reading Harry Potter with my daughter. One of my favorite kids’ book series, I’ve been dreaming about this day since Little Miss was born, and now that she’s a proficient reader herself, I suppose I could just hand her the book and say, here, enjoy. Except I couldn’t possibly do that. I had to relive every page with her, and now that we’re on winter break, we’ve spent Pickle’s naptime reading about magic and muggles.




Here, she’s reading it to me as I was getting ready for another one of our explore Austin adventures. So far, judging from her exasperation in not being able to continue reading on her own because she couldn’t wait for me to get to the next chapter, she’s loving it. Squeeeeee…!

And here’s something else that happened: Little Miss’ lost her first tooth. On December 19, right after brushing her teeth before bed, My Guy jiggled her already very loose tooth to see if it’s close only to dislodge it from its spot. She’s had that loose tooth for over two weeks, and she was ecstatic that it was finally out because she couldn’t wait to see what the Tooth Fairy would bring her.

You’d think that, with over two weeks of warning, we’d be ready for this night. Us? Are you kidding me? Nope. Not even close. Hey, in my defense, I’d spent the previous week cooking four casseroles and four different types of cookies for our holiday party, while getting the house ready and solo-parenting both girls while My Guy was in Chicago for work the entire week. I had nothing left in me after the party. Not even a measly thought for the inaugural Tooth Fairy visit. Rather, especially so, since it was another task on an already busy season.

My Guy didn’t understand what the big deal was: Why not just leave her money? We don’t have to do anything crazy. Not everything has to be magical.


I had to disagree with him. Sure, I wasn’t exactly prepared, but I also wasn’t willing to just leave money - tooth fairy was not a thing in my childhood in Malaysia, but I knew I didn’t want it to be just about the money. There’s a “fairy” in this myth we’re recreating for our kids, for cryin’ out loud. OF COURSE there has to be magic.

There’s an elf on some shelf somewhere in the house, and my girls have reindeer food ready for when Santa gets here on Christmas eve. Why the hell would we stop at the Tooth Fairy?

They believe, and because they believe, there’s a certain magic that captivates even us, the cynical grownups who know better. It would certainly be easier if it’s just about presents and who got what. But then again, they have a lifetime of cynicism and materialism ahead of them, I’m not willing to jumpstart that very unromantic part of life for them. A childhood of magic and mystery is so fleeting after all. There’s an innocence so pure and joyous in their beliefs that even I feel swept away by them. Why not prolong it as much as we can, to preserve that innocence that we know will all too soon disappear altogether eventually?

That’s when I scoured the internet for ideas at 8PM on a Friday night. I was already in my pajamas so you can imagine I wasn’t already feeling particularly ambitious. Pinterest, as usual, made me feel like the worst mother in the world when I saw just how elaborate some ideas were. For the sake of self preservation, I stopped visiting that torturous site and finally settled for a little note, printed in 5-pt font, from the fairy. Thank goodness for glitter glue, which most mothers of young girls seem to have at their disposal, I was able to create a fairy dust effect on the note and the money. There. Magic. Done.

In the morning, she rushed to find us with the money and the note, thrilled that the Tooth Fairy came, grinning proudly to show off the novel gap in her teeth. It wasn’t much, but apparently, it was enough. She believes, and that’s all that matters.



I know I’m among so many parents who do what we can to preserve the childhood innocence in our kids. As adults, our views are dulled by the constant barrage of news of violence and cruelty, and it’s in this season that we have to work especially hard to add that magic back into our lives. To make sure that it’s not just about the presents or cookies.

It’s about family time, it’s about sharing and giving, it’s about creating magic in a world that is sometimes rampant with ugly realities. As I listen to NPR’s report about the evil execution of over 100 children in Pakistan, about Ebola taking yet another life, and the unrest in New York and Ferguson from police brutality, I see flour strewn everywhere on my once clean kitchen floor because of a certain three-year old who’s helping me with the cookies for the first time this year, and I just suck it up and resign myself to an afternoon of more cleaning when she’s napping.

To hold on to this magic, even if it feels like grasping desperately at the most delicate, most breakable straw, it’s the very least I could do.




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