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Christmas for Tots: creating family traditions

Despite being from the same faith, my husband and I come from families who celebrated Christmas quite differently.  This has meant we needed quite a lot of discussion to figure out what Christmas means to us as a new family unit.  Depending on how widely your backgrounds differ, it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate for new parents.

bah humbug    vs   elf

image credit                                                           credit

My mother-in-law is Dutch, and this heritage has strongly influenced her approach to Christmas.  Christmas Eve was quite special, attending midnight services when the kids were old enough. Christmas Day was more about being together than presents, and therefore low-key.  From an early age, my husband and his brother were told the truth about Santa, and viewed him like any other fictional character.

My family LOVED Christmas.  It was a big deal in our house – lots of decorations, advent calendars, learning about how Christmas was celebrated in other countries, carols, the works.   It’s still my favourite time of the year.  As Christians my parents taught us that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we still did Santa and Christmas stockings (actually, we had pillowcases – my brother and I thought this was genius as you could fit more in!).  Christmas Day meant a lovely dinner with all the trimmings, with our extended family.

So you can see we had quite different Christmases!

nativity

image credit

My husband did not want to ‘do’ Santa with our children, and I am absolutely fine with that.  We agreed that we didn’t want to go overboard with gifts for the children.  The idea of buying kids super-expensive gifts for Christmas grates with me, and I hope that my kids will eventually learn that there is so much more to Christmas than presents.  Having said that, I don’t want my kids to miss out on the joy of waking up to a stocking of presents on Christmas morning, so they are getting them, albeit in the knowledge that the gifts are from Mum and Dad.  Sausage is getting a few inexpensive things in her stocking like a calendar with baby animals, a marshmallow Santa, and whiteboard markers (which she will not be able to get into without adult help!).

I read about a family who give their children three main presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus, so we’re going with that idea.  For her three presents she is getting:

  • A blackboard/whiteboard, which we got at a half price sale for $25.
  •  A playhouse – admittedly I only got this as it closely resembles one I had as a child.  My brother and I spent many happy hours playing in that thing! Cost – $25.
  • A book called Lulu’s Loo, as we are about to start toilet training.  Eloise has another Lulu book, and they are absolutely delightful, and also totally spot-on when it comes to what little girls like.  Cost $14.

lulu2

Chipolata is getting a cool polished wood turtle toy from Trade Aid ($25) and a book ($9).  He’s four and a half months old.  He’ll be more happy with some paper and some tinsel, but these are gifts he can grow into.

That’s actually more money than I would have liked to have spent, but I just could not go past that playhouse.  I know it will get used.  Next year all our presents for the kids will be handmade, as we are doing a spending fast.

My Dad gave Sausage a chocolate Advent calendar, which has been very helpful at building her anticipation of Christmas day.  Now it is empty, I will take off the cardboard and save the chocolate moulds to make Christmas chocolates with her next year.  I will definitely be making an advent calendar for her next year – perhaps one with decorations to put on the tree.

Tonight we started our first Christmas Eve tradition – home made pizza, and a movie.  My brother’s wife passed away this year, so he joined us, and I hope he will be a part of this tradition in the years to come.  We watched The Polar Express, which Sausage enjoyed quite a lot.  I did have to fast-forward through the slow-moving sections, but we still got the gist of the movie.

On Christmas day we will have a simple breakfast (although I will miss my Mum’s amazing pancakes…), let Sausage open her presents from us and then we are hosting lunch at our house with our extended family.

If your tots are ‘newly minted’ like mine, here are my tips for creating your own Christmas traditions:

  • Start off small.  Particularly if your kids are under two, they won’t remember what you did when next Christmas rolls around.  There’s no need to go the whole hog with Santa photos, driving around to look at the Christmas lights, Carols by Candlelight etc.  Park those for later years when they will actually be appreciated.
  • Keep presents few and simple.  Tots get overwhelmed quite easily, so showering them with gifts will most likely send them into overdrive.  A friend said her three year old was given lots of gifts by his grandparents last year.  He unwrapped the first one (a set of toy cars) and was so enamoured with that present, the rest were totally ignored.  This year his grandparents are keeping it simple and giving one gift only.
  • If you know your children will get lots of gifts from friends and relatives anyway, stagger them.  Let your children open presents received before Christmas early, or save them for later on in the Christmas break when boredom threatens to sink in.  Give your own gifts to them first thing in the morning if you are meeting with family later in the day.  Ask relatives in attendance if they mind your tot opening their present another day (although most people want to see their little faces when they open them, quite understandable!).
  • Choose traditions that will grow with your children.  Even as a jaded teenager, I still loved watching cheesy Christmas movies and singing carols.  Post-dinner Charades and Santa photos?  Probably not top of the list for teens.
  • Choose traditions that respect your family’s beliefs and heritage.  D and I are fortunate in that we are both Christians. but many couples come from different faith or atheist backgrounds.  This may mean compromise if one of you wants Santa and/or Christmas, while the other doesn’t.  There is always a middle ground if you can get creative.  We ‘do’ St Nicholas on December 6th in homage to my husband’s Dutch heritage (albeit very low-key), and my daughter really loves her books about him – although the other day she saw a picture of Santa and said ‘There’s Jesus!’, so clearly we still have some work to do, separating St Nick from the Jesus story!

I’d like to leave you with some words from one of my favourite carols “I heard the bells on Christmas Day“:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Playgroups Part Two: How to choose a playgroup

In my daughter’s short time on the planet, we have attended several playgroups.  Some have been simply wonderful, and others only so-so.  Here are my tips for choosing a playgroup that will keep BOTH child and parent happy.

  1. Don’t believe the hype.  When my daughter was born we were living in a much bigger city than Whanganui, and there were a dazzling array of ‘baby sensory’ classes or ‘swim classes’ that I could have taken her along to (at around $100 per term), to give my precious wee bundle the best possible start in life.  I have lots of friends who – along with their babies – LOVED this sort of thing.  It got them out of the house, meeting other parents, and gave them ideas for things to do at home.  But don’t go in the belief that this class will make your kid the next Einstein.  Sausage was about four months old before I took her along to any sort of playgroup.  I didn’t bother before this because  I had lots of mummy friends at home with their kids so I didn’t feel socially isolated, and I felt confident in my own abilities to entertain my baby.  I simply waited for her to start showing that wonderful curiosity in the big wide world that babies eventually do.  Your kid will not be disadvantaged if they aren’t bedazzled by a playgroup from birth.
  2. Consider the interests of your child.  Sausage and I go along to a Mainly Music playgroup which she and I both enjoy.  My tot is just crazy about music, y’all.  Most kids are – but after speaking to lots of the mums there, many reported that once their son hit around three years of age they lost interest in going along as they just wanted to run around and play, not sit and sing songs.  It’s a (mostly) boy thing.  If you have a kid who can’t sit still, you’re probably better off opting for an unstructured playgroup that has plenty of outdoor space.  Or going to kindy gym to burn off some of that energy.  If your child loses interest in a group that they previously enjoyed, tune into them to find out why.  It might be that there’s a kid in the group who is mean to them, or maybe it’s simply because the activities on offer no longer float their boat.  They’ve moved on and have grown up.  Dancing was sooooo last month, Mum.
  3. Consider the age of your child.  If they haven’t reached toddler status yet, think about taking them to a group that specifically caters to babies.  I did take Sausage along to Playcentre – which is amazing – but I recently pulled her out of it as she was just too young to really participate in most of the activities on offer there.  There were a handful of younger kids there, but the majority of the kids were aged 2+ and as such, most group activities were well beyond Sausage’s abilities.  We will definitely be back once she is walking/running with confidence and is dexterous enough to get really messy in true Playcentre style.  For now, an unstructured playgroup with lots of Sausage age-appropriate toys are really rocking her world.
  4. Consider the personality of your child.  An extroverted kid like mine isn’t terribly phased by large groups, but if your child is an introvert, they would probably be better off with a smaller playgroup, or even just playdates with one or two other kids.  Some groups can be really large and therefore really LOUD, which can overwhelm a sensitive child.  Bear in mind that kids can go through ‘clingy’ phases – don’t fight it if your little one is suddenly glued to your side at a group that they previously loved.  Give it a rest for a couple of weeks and then go back and see how they are.
  5. Consider your own interests.  Does the thought of going to a particular playgroup make you cringe for whatever reason?  If you’re just not feeling it, hunt around for a group that is more your style.  It’s okay.  Lots of parents quit going to groups because they find it too damn loud or stressful, and lots more quit because they aren’t able to connect with the other parents.  It’s okay.  I stopped going to a baby playgroup that came out of our antenatal classes because although the people in it were lovely, I just didn’t ‘click’ with them.  I soon found another playgroup where I made friends.
  6. Consider your own capacity.  I found Playcentre a struggle as it requires a decent amount of parent participation.  This is not because I didn’t want to participate, but because I have had terrible pregnancy fatigue.  I switched it out for a low-key group where I’m not needed to help set up or clean up. They couldn’t care less what time we turn up or leave.  Once baby number 2 arrives and Sausage is ready, I’m hoping to have the capacity to return to Playcentre.
  7. Consider the cost!  Some groups are really expensive to attend, and many require payment up front and as a bulk sum (for instance, a playgroup we attended in our last city was $50 a term.  It was worth it, that group was awesome).  If money is tight (and let’s face it, for most of us it is), you may be better off joining groups where you pay-as-you-go.  That way if little Johnny is sick or you go on holiday, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted money.  You can often attend one or two sessions at most playgroups for free, to see if you like it, so shop around to find one that suits both your tot and you.  And honestly, many of the groups that just charge $1 or $2 a session are just as good as the more expensive playgroups.

Happy hunting!

 

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Playgroups Part One: How to find a playgroup

You might think that finding a playgroup for your toddler  is a no-brainer.  But if you are new in town, or simply new to parenting, it can be trickier than you’d expect.

playgroup

 

Photo credit

Since moving to Tawhero in Whanganui, I had to quickly find out what playgroups were available for my (then) 11 month old to go to, otherwise we would have both suffered from a serious case of cabin fever.

I don’t know if it’s just Whanganui, but it was NOT easy to find out what groups were out there.  Most playgroups don’t have websites or even a Facebook page, which I find bewildering in this modern age where setting up some sort of social media page takes all of five minutes to do.  Often it’s because a lot of playgroups are run by volunteers who may not have the time or skills to set one up.  Or maybe it’s just because word of mouth has kept them in business for years so they don’t think they need to.  But this is of no help to parents new to a neighbourhood.  People, if you run or help with a playgroup that does not have any social media presence, for the love of God, please do something about it if you can.  Do it for the new mamas out there who can’t wait to find you.

If the internet isn’t all that forthcoming here’s how to find a playgroup in your area.

  1. Get thee to a playground.  Hell, just get out of the house and go for a walk.  You are bound to run into other parents that you can pump for information.
  2.  Get thee to your local visitors/information centre.  The one here in Whanganui rocks.  Most info centres should have playgroup information at their fingertips – although bear in mind that there is a chance that it might be out of date (as they rely on groups keeping them in the loop with regards to any changes of time, contact details etc).
  3. Read your local freebie newspaper.  In Whanganui we have two excellent free community newspapers:  The Whanganui Midweek and the Rivercity Press.  Free papers tend to have higher readerships and lower advertising rates than mainstream newspapers, so many community groups will post advertisements in there instead.
  4. Subscribe to your local mainstream newspaper.  Other than dressing my daughter for the day (I am so making the most of choosing cute outfits for her while she still lets me), my morning pleasure is reading the Whanganui Chronicle over breakfast, when I am not being interrupted by my toddler.  Sometimes groups may advertise in there or may be a feature story.
  5. Join local Facebook groups.  Prior to moving I joined a Facebook Group called Whanganui Mummies which has been a mine of information.  I would never have found the newest playgroup that Sausage and I have started going to if someone hadn’t mentioned it on Facebook (again, this wonderful playgroup has no social media presence, like a Facebook page).  I was looking to switch playgroups to something a little more low-key than our previous one (more on that in Part Two: How to choose a playgroup) and this one fit the bill nicely.  And it’s within walking distance of our house.  Brilliant.  You don’t necessarily need to join a parent Facebook page.  I’m also a member of several other local pages that keep me up to date with what’s happening around our city and most members wouldn’t mind answering a playgroup related question.  Most people LOVE to be of help.
  6. Go to your local library.  Mine even has a playgroup!  Many libraries like ours have a reading/singing time (usually free) once or twice a week.  Reading = fun times for your kid.  What could be better?  Libraries invariably have a community noticeboard and you might find playgroup fliers there too.
  7. Ask at your local Church/Community Hall/cultural group.  The first playgroup I took Sausage to here was Mainly Music at St James Presbyterian Church in Whanganui East.  I found out about it because we started attending the church (D is in the process of becoming a Minister).  Most churches in New Zealand run some kind of playgroup, as do many ethnic community groups (e.g. Chinese language group).
  8. In New Zealand, ask your Plunket Nurse.  They will be able to recommend groups in your area, and can put you into a PIN group too.