The Pretty Christmas Lady at the Top

“He’s going to bake me in a pie!” The tot rushed at me as I walked in the door, tears pouring down her cheeks.

“Nobody is going to bake you in a pie,” I said, hearing a devious giggle from the older brother nearby. Immediately the tot stopped crying and carried on about her business. Sometimes we all just need a little reassurance—toddlers are just a tiny bit more ridiculous about it.

The Christmas Walk

Evening Walk

I tossed Big Dog’s leash onto the table, where the metal clanged. Big Dog looked at me, innocent eyed. It had been a less than peaceful walk. Headphones on, I was deaf to the sounds around me. We walked on the street next to a house, and a small dog decided to lunge at Big Dog. The dog was about twice the length of Big Dog’s snout, but his ego must have been making up for the rest. Big Dog of course lunged forward, trying to pull me toward the dog’s property—he couldn’t be shown up by that midget. The instantaneous thought was that if this had to happen, it would be in the street. I jerked him backward, as that little fool hardy thing charged us onto the blacktop. And then, the little creature changed its mind at the last second – a Christmas miracle.

Adrenaline still coursing through the veins, I traveled to the garage to be handed down the Christmas decorations from the attic. I was telling the story of Big Dog the Beast, when the bottom side of a box gave way at the attic door, and Christmas ornaments rained down the steps and onto the garage floor. The tot spoke up quickly, in her most cheerful tot voice.

Sweet Christmas Optimism

“I will help you pick them off papa’s floor!” The tot was excited about this, and apparently thinks the garage is her papa’s exclusive property. Fragments of childhood memories were scattered all around, several shattered, but it was hard to be sad about it with such a cheerful assistant.

Thanksgiving was still so fresh on the mind.

We don’t generally decorate before the first of December—November belongs to fall and not until the first day of December does winter and Christmas arrive. The kids were excited about it though, so it seemed unnecessary to wait.

Cheap people buy a fake Christmas tree and keep it for ten years. Ours might be going on year twelve. I strongly dislike putting the thing together, but this year I had the boy to assist with his five-year-old abilities of having me do almost everything, and then having me do the rest of what he was doing. It was a boost to tree-putting-together morale.

“Ooo, it’s almost up!” The tot said when I had attached three branches to the very bottom. Such a good, cup half-full kind of girl she is. Three down, fifty to go, I thought. After this exclamation she sat down in a pile of boxes and declared, “I’m sitting in the Christmas tree house.” The sound of her feet drumming against cardboard was a rhythm to work by. Fluff the branch, hand it to the boy, then help him snap it in; fluff, hand, snap…fluff, hand, snap…fluff, hand, snap…

Those Christmas decorations you never quite know what to do with.

The Pretty Christmas Lady at the Top

I can never quite reach the top of the tree, so I just throw garland and lights up there and hope for the best. My tree always strikes me as the work of someone on her fourth mug of the spiked eggnog. Fortunately after the children finished putting the newly mangled ornaments onto the tree, it was so coated no one could really evaluate the look of intoxicated disorder. I moved on to other decorations that needed to be crooked or otherwise set in place haphazardly.

“My finger!” the tot ran to me, tears running down her cheeks. She held up a tiny pointer finger, looking slightly more pink than normal. I eyed the boy. That decorative nutcracker was essentially a little sister trap, just waiting there on the hall table, begging to be used. I gave him the look while he feigned innocence. The tot quickly forgot her troubles, looking up at the top of the tree. “Lift me up, so I can see the angel.”

Wondering about that pretty lady at the top…

I remembered then how it was as a child. That angel looks so beautiful to little girls—more classy and elegant than a model on a magazine cover, more mysterious by nature, and elusive so very high up. She looked with wonder up at the pretty porcelain cheeks.

I stepped back and gazed at our work. Not half bad for a Day-After-Thanksgiving Christmas tree.

The Schoolhouse in the Spiderweb

Among the excavators and the backhoe, sat the boy. Slowly bits of stone were being excavated from the construction site, piece by piece. It was the makings of an archaeological dig to explain the history of the bit of sand near our raised septic tank. What might be found within that raised septic mound was something no construction worker, or his mother, was prepared to find. The boy is an expert at turning anywhere into a schoolhouse. 

I observed all this from leaning out the back door, after I’d called the boy to the table for school five minutes earlier. He was playing the I can’t hear you because I’m so far away game. The boy’s next tactic was of the I’m so tired variety. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

“Good news! It takes about an hour to go through math, reading, writing, and grammar! You will be done in no time.” The boy has no idea that regular kindergartners spend eight hours at school, and accomplish way less. 

That is the first year of homeschooling, in a nutshell.

The Schoolhouse in the Woods

Fast forward one hour. We were standing on a boardwalk over a pond, heading to the woods. It was Nature Walk Day, and our curriculum had us examining the weather.

After a bit of walking we found our tree, where we had observed moss two weeks prior, and lichens the week after that. We sat down in the pine needles and got out the nature journals so that the boy could document his observations. Meanwhile, the tot stole colored pencils, demanded snacks, and stomped around our pine needle floor like the Godzilla version of a toddler. Toddlers without naps morph into all sorts of unpleasant creatures. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

Fast forward another half an hour.  Out of that woods sat a playground. On it sat a contraption made for a mother to swing while facing her tot. And on that swing, sat us. I love the feeling of the stomach flying up into the throat as the swing offsets the body’s equilibrium. The tot’s face was spread with a wide smile. As she veered upward, her blue eyes met the background of the matching blue sky. Those blue eyes were like two windows of blue sky in a field of blond daisies blowing in the wind. It was a sight so beautiful, it could make a person laugh. I laughed, while my stomach flew into my throat, and then back down again, over and over. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

The Schoolhouse at the Park

Meanwhile, the boy was struggling to pull his short self onto the high swing adjacent to us. He succeeded. Then he asked for a push. I told him the only way he’d ever learn was to do it on his own. I coached him while my stomach was bouncing up and down, and then the magic happened. He figured it out. 

In the span of two hours: learning to capitalize the months of the year, observing the raindrops in a spiderweb, and figuring out how to swing. A healthy mixture of school and home, well blended—discipline and fun. 

The Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

Fast forward another four hours, back at home. The boy, the tot, and the boy’s two best friends were standing in the dining room. The boys were squirming, almost tackling each other as I clapped my hands and spoke loudly above the ruckus.

Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

“Later this week we will be getting together with family to celebrate Thanksgiving. Tonight we are recreating the actual first Thanksgiving meal. It took place very near our home in the year 1565, when the Spanish landed here and the Timucuans welcomed them.” I passed out some copies of the sketches made of the natives in that time period. Handsome, chisel-muscled, nearly naked natives stood at attention, their bodies covered in tattoos and their hair tied up in topknots. 

I was telling a half-truth. The actual first Thanksgiving probably took place about five years prior, when the French landed just a bit farther up from us on the first coast of Florida. But the French were lacking in food, so the natives were kind enough to provide for most of their feast. I didn’t have any gator tail on hand, so we were sticking with the other, easier first Thanksgiving. 

Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

“The Spanish brought ashore soup made of salted pork and garbanzo beans, dry biscuits, and red wine, which we will be eating tonight. The natives offered several things, including squash, which we will also be eating tonight.”

A Schoolhouse Everywhere

My short speech was complete, and the boys went back to wrestling like wolf pups. I sat down at the table with my red wine and very good friends, musing. Homeschooling is historically relevant dry biscuits dipped in ham and beans.

Simply put, homeschooling is a complicated act of love and devotion to the future, accomplished in schoolhouses located everywhere. 

Those Pretty Sparks Don’t Stay Lit in the Sky Long

I woke up bright and early because there was a toddler sitting on my chest. “Read books, Mama,” she said with enthusiasm, her bright blue eye gleaming. Good god it’s too early for this. I read one book and persuaded her away from the other by saying: “Today is the fourth of July! It’s a holiday.” I slipped out of bed while she was still thinking that over.

image-2018-07-05.jpgFirework flowers that drop sparks into the pool.
The boy had already updated his calendar, glad to finally be able to use the little “Independence Day” magnet. Like a doting homeschool mother, I allowed him to nix our schooling activities for the day and replaced it with a five minute discussion while holding the globe. I explained how tiny little England, way over in Europe, owned the USA, and already I felt us falling down the rabbit hole. Explaining history to kindergarteners is complicated. The United Kingdom does not even accurately appear on my preschool-appropriate homemade globe of only the basic shapes of the continents. Explaining how the tiny mystery island had control over the enormous piece of land that is the USA is confusing. “Well, back then there were only 13 colonies – like states…” I said. We escaped the rabbit hole with the knowledge that it is officially time to get out the real globe. I gave the boy a stack of American themed mazes and slipped out of there.

image-2018-07-05 (1).jpgNature’s fireworks
I went into the kitchen. I needed to knock out a couple things before the guests arrived. I started a peanut butter pie—one meant to be uncooked and kept in the fridge. I proceeded to make a beautiful crust—every piece of butter was blended smoothly into a beautifully textured dough. The edges were scalloped to perfection. The peanut butter filling was fluffy as whipped cream; the chocolate layer atop gleaming gloss. I went to put it in the fridge, and then it hit me. I never baked the crust. Shit.

image-2018-07-05 (2).jpg

So then the guests arrived. Children poured into the house like water bursting out of a busted hose. Similar to being soaked by that hose water, joyous noises saturated the house. Covered dishes and bottles of alcohol, bags spilling over with bathing suits and towels came in too. The French doors clip-clapped against each other with a steady rhythm throughout the afternoon. The stack of fireworks on the buffet was continually visited by children.When is it time? They knew the answer to that question, but the sun was so lazily moving through the sky. Stories, jokes, vodka and sprite cluttered in around the dining room. A good friend set the tarot cards on the table, for the seasonal reading. Gold light trickled in through the thin curtains, setting the mood despite the background revelers. Three mysterious looking cards were flipped upward onto the table, and the interpretations began.

Children burst in again. Still not time to do fireworks. Paper crafts and glue hit the table, and four new Statutes of Liberty dawned the dining room with their crowns. The statues paraded through the house in one quick swoop, before returning to ask about the fireworks. The peanut butter pie was set on the table and good news! Baked peanut butter pie tastes just like one enormous Reese’s cup. Success.

Mother Nature began her fireworks just prior to dusk. The clouds were lit with delicate pink and gold. The preparations began: Hosing the children down with bug spray made of something fancy, finding eight misplaced little shoes. Flashlight? Check. Does anyone have a lighter? Scramble, shuffle. The dogs started to pace nervously—Old Man Dog ready for the excitement, Big Dog stressed by the anticipation. Outside, blue light had fallen on everything. There were loud pops and giggles. Finally, a lighter was located with stern instructions. Point the sparkler away from everyone! Pictures and pictures and more pictures of the obligatory child-with-sparkler pose.

image-2018-07-05 (3).jpgA grainy picture still preserves a moment…
Us folks in the quasi-country like fireworks, so much so that observing a show requires not a lot of effort on our part. The neighbors lit the sky in every direction with out-of-state fireworks to rival the professional show downtown. We did our part with a few spinning UFOs, and a couple sparkly fountains. The night grew lazy with all those stars; the mosquitos grew ambitious. One more sparkler? Can I do one more? One adult was left in charge of a box of matches and the Sparkler Children. The adults went inside to the fake light of the sleepy dining room. Yawning adults started to collect their wet bags of bathing suits and towels and empty casserole dishes.

I tinkered around the house, picking up a few things, but not really making an effort. Holidays aren’t for cleaning. I tucked exhausted children into bed under a fan on high speed and the very distant booms of parties still partying. Another beautiful summer holiday on the books. Time just keeps moving forward—got to enjoy it. Those pretty sparks don’t stay lit in the sky long.