Saturday, December 29, 2012

We are Family

Aunt Edna - National Lampoon's Vacation - We are Family - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
In years’ past, we end every holiday season having accumulated lots of material to work with for the upcoming year from time spent with family.  Some of it’s funny, like the impersonations you perform of Crazy Aunt Edna clicking her teeth at the end of each sentence or Dad walking outside immediately following every meal to de-gas his intestines.  Some of it is just annoying, like your sister always trumping your best story with one of her own that’s bigger and better or your nephew screaming bloody murder every time he’s in the same room with you, and he’s NOT a baby.  And some of it is just plain sad, like finding out the neighbors down the block are getting a divorce after fifty years of marriage or witnessing Mom drink herself into a tailspin of hateful comments before passing out while still seated at the dessert table. 

This year we didn’t visit with extended family over Christmas.  Leading up to the winter holiday we joked about not having to endure the in-laws squabbling about who spends more time with the grandkids or cousin Eloise complaining yet again how there’s not a decent single man left on the planet.  We banked on the fact that there’d be less hustle and bustle and more relaxing time because there’s no one to entertain and no one that wants to entertain us.  We expected a peaceful holiday but knew without a doubt, we’d miss our family over the holidays.  What we didn’t plan on was feeling cheated out of our yearly dose of family member mannerisms.

Part of the fun of the holidays for me is hashing and rehashing the moments, good, bad, or otherwise, that highlight each family member’s most endearing traits.  Those attributes, whether cute, obnoxious, or simply just familiar, make us who we are.  I like to think of these characteristics as those things that an artist would add to a caricature at Disneyland.  For example, my caricature body would have big boobs, but an even bigger mouth that would take over the bulk of the page, as it is always open saying stuff that oftentimes gets me in trouble.   Those sometimes ridiculous words that come out of my mouth, are undoubtedly the things that other family members laugh about long after Christmas tree is put out in the alley and the presents have all been put away.

Aunt Edna - National Lampoon's Vacation - We are Family - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
This year we visited various friends’ homes over the holidays of who had their own family in town.  While each household held the key ingredients to for a stellar cast of characters, and the makings of a good story line to later develop into an exaggerated production, it wasn’t the same as it wasn’t my own family.  The uncle that literally panted like a dog every time a sweet young thing came within twenty feet of him wasn’t quite as funny or memorable when it wasn’t MY uncle.  The step-mom who dressed like a girl hanging out in the red light district, complete with fishnet stockings, four inch stilettos and a bustier didn’t get the full belly-laugh from me when I recanted the story later to friends, as it wasn’t MY step-mom.   The brother who kept his Bluetooth on throughout Christmas Eve dinner and all-importantly kept checking his phone for a text from the office regarding that big sale he’s been waiting to close didn’t carry the same level of nostalgia as watching your own family members weave in and out of stages of life.

I guess what it comes down to the fact that we only derive true satisfaction out of teasing those who we love.  Yes I’ve had my periods of all-out making fun of people that aren’t near and dear to me, but that ship has sailed, as it just doesn’t seem nice or needed and quite frankly, isn’t as fun or meaningful as collecting quirky characteristics of those who are close to you.   Those little nuances, like Aunt Shirley making eye contact with each and every audience member while theatrically playing Christmas carols on the piano on Christmas Eve, make me treasure her for being her.  And Grand-Daddy starting every question with, “Now say” before asking, “what do you hear about so-and-so?” while his index finger covers his nose and this thumb is tucked under his chin in alleged contemplation, make him undeniably my Grand-Daddy.   It brings me that much closer to that family member each time I recount, replicate, or reminisce about, individual family members’ distinctive behavior.  Positive or negative, those traits make my family, and me, who we are.  So make no bones about it, I missed my family this year and all that they bring to the table with their own peculiarities.  I can’t wait to refill my own family material jar next time we’re all together!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just Be With Your Kids

Twinkling Christmas Tree Lights - Just Be With Your Kids - Parent Unplugged - Stacy Snyder
No matter how hard we try to slow down during the busy holiday season, sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle.  With gifts to buy, people to visit, services to attend, and cookies to bake, sometimes we forget what's most important is standing right in front of us, our kids.  Our kids need our presence more than the presents need to be wrapped or the tree needs to be trimmed or the walkway needs to be shoveled.

Yesterday morning I woke up early to fit in a workout before the kids rolled out of bed, anxious to start their days.  After the workout, I intended to take a quick shower, do a few minutes of work, then make breakfast for the girls and prepare their lunch so I could be ready for some holiday shopping and baking later in the day.  My plan was shattered when the kids woke up early and wanted to snuggle with Mom in front of the twinkling Christmas tree.  They didn’t care about playing or reading books or watching the boob tube; they wanted to sit with me and just be.  

The tree needed watering and last evening’s dishes needed washing, but when my eldest daughter said, “Mom, can you come sit with us for a few minutes?” I moved on impulse toward my girls.
We sat on the sofa admiring the darkness outside the window, the soft light illuminating from the angel at the top of the tree, and comfortably enjoyed each other’s company without saying a single word.  We held hands, snuggled under the blanket, and just existed in peace.  

It could have been five minutes or an hour, as the clock stood still.  We were afforded a moment in time without technology, task lists, obligations or organized activities.  While none of us consciously acknowledged it, instinctually we knew it was time to cast off the cumbersome pace of our lives and rest not only our bodies and minds, but also our spirits.  I looked at my kids and realized even though they’re growing up so fast, they still need their parents.  They don’t need us to necessarily do anything for them or give anything to them.  They just need us to be with them.

After a bit, we slowly started our day, but a different sort of day than usual, without routines to adhere to.  Beds didn’t get made, but I had the pleasure of watching my kids open their advent calendar and one child treasuring the gift singularly for a minute before sharing it with the other child who didn't get a gift, as they rotate days on the calendar. Their room didn’t get cleaned but the excitement shared from my youngest over an upcoming visitor that afternoon made it worth a week of piled up dirty laundry!  My shower didn't get taken but I had time to make an extra batch of oatmeal with love for my eldest, who wasn't satisfied with just one bowl.  The trash didn't get taken out, but we enjoyed a morning sing-a-long of Deck the Halls and I realized just what an amazing piano player my daughter had become.  

The impromptu family time fed all of our souls and we had a day like no other, where we each appreciated every single moment of the day.  I saw it in my girls’ attitudes, actions, and moods and I felt it in my core.  I hope the lesson of just being with my kids stays with me always, so that when I’m in the kitchen baking later today, I don’t prioritize the consistency of the cookie dough over my daughter’s request to for a hug and some quiet time.  I hope that my plan of painting the girls’ nails like candy canes over the weekend doesn’t trump their need to just relax and listen to holiday music together.  And I hope that a quick run ‘to see a man about a dog’ doesn’t take precedence over an afternoon of unscripted family time.  It’s the holidays and time to what better time to take action to NOT take action. Just be, just exist, just enjoy time with your kids and family.  Scratch off the shoulds and have to’s for today and just be with your kids. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Get Prepared

Most mornings my kids get up early.  They have plenty of time to wash, get dressed, eat breakfast, practice instruments and homework, and still usually have plenty of time left to play, all before school.  Why then, do we end up scurrying around like mice three minutes before the school bell rings each weekday trying to make it out the door in time to run to school without being tardy?

I think it has to do with overconfidence.  They get so proud of themselves for doing their morning chores without being prompted that they pat themselves on the back, and kick back on Easy Street to relax the morning away.  Conversely, I start each morning quizzing them if they’re on track in their morning routines, and am usually pleasantly surprised to find out they’ve already completed most all of their morning tasks.  I then congratulate them on a job well done and go about busying  myself with some other task that needs done.  We all then look at the clock in horror five minutes prior to the school bell time, realizing everyone still has to hit the bathroom, find shoes, coats, and book bags before we can leave to sprint to school.

It’s the same every day.  No matter how early or late we get up, or how much we prepare the night before, we’re always manic for a few minutes before leaving because we’re not totally prepared.  It makes no sense how we start out so strong and then fizzle out in the preparations.  It’s like singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and getting all the way down to 1 remaining bottle and not finishing out the chorus.  It’s like spending all day hanging outdoor lights and then never turning them on.  It’s like taking the time to write a book and then never trying to publish it.  It’s nutty.

My gut instinct is to get angry with my kids and ask them what they’ve been doing that they’re not ready to go to school.  Then I look down at my own pajamas and bare feet and wonder what I’ve been doing that I’m not ready to walk them to school.  I realize they’ve learned their preparation techniques from me.  How can you not pick up my smooth moves when you’re faced with it every day?

When invited to the Mother Daughter cookie exchange I immediately have my daughter pick out the cookie recipes, quickly scan the ingredients needed so I can jot down the things I need at the grocery, and buy them 2 weeks in advance so I’ll be ready to roll on the day of the party.  I get so confident in my prep work, though, that on cookie-making day, I realize I don’t have the pan I need to make them, and send my daughter to the neighbors upstairs to borrow a pan.  Relieved we don’t’ have to run out to buy one, I quickly realize I have no parchment paper, and then run to the neighbor across the street to borrow that.  Finally fully prepared to bake, I get the layer cookies in the over, leaving myself 30 minutes to prep the next layer that will be added as soon as they come out of the oven.  Impressed with my own ability to pull off the first half of the layer cookies, I spend this prep time doing dishes and busy work, so that when they come out of the oven, the whole family has to be drawn in to scramble to chop the chocolate that needs to be melted on top of the piping hot cookie base layer.

Maybe it’s self-created drama, this preparing almost to completion, then leaving the last step undone, so as to elicit intentional hysteria in the 11th hour.  Maybe it’s learned behavior, as I’ve witnessed my mom doing the same type of stuff both when I was a child and now as an adult myself. Maybe it’s genetically encrypted in my makeup, as I can’t help but think of my dad’s recurring taunt that Heredity is a Bitch.  Or maybe it’s just what it appears to be where we get proud of ourselves for accomplishing so much so quickly that we then overcompensate by backing off too intensely. 

Whatever it is, I wouldn’t actively change it if I could.  While I love the idea of always being on time, fully prepared, and ready for action, the reality is that life doesn’t happen that way. Life in general is messy and unpredictable, with lots of curveballs being thrown.  If my kids are always ready for school on time and never have to hustle to beat the bell because we’re too busy futzing around at home, will they ever have the wherewithal as teens to run after a bus they just missed, filled with the possibility that they just may be able to catch up with it at the next stop?  If they never have to settle for one blue sock and one black because there’s no time to find the matched set, will they ever be able to improvise in the moment when a full cup of java is spilled on their work suit on the way into a client meeting?  If my kids didn’t forget their lunch or homework or show and tell every so often and be forced to deal with the ramifications of hunger, punishment, and embarrassment, would they ever learn how to handle life’s bigger disappointments like failure and loss?

Maybe, just maybe, the lack of preparedness my kids are learning from my actions, is actually helping them prepare for life on their own one day.  Whether they keep my trait or they've already decided that this one quality is going to be the thing they handle differently as adults than their parent did when they were kids, they're unconsciously growing into the adults they'll one day become.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feed a Cold and Jib Jab a Griever

Feed a Cold and Jib Jab a Griever -Jib Jab - Elf Yourself - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder

December is finally here.  I’ve patiently waited all year….not for cold weather, family time, or Advent.  I’m not anxiously anticipating Santa, the gifts, or Baby Jesus’ birthday.  December for me brings the season of Jib Jabbing.  I spend the entire month making spirits bright by Elfing people.  It is by far the easiest and most time-intensive way to way to make people laugh!

You know what I’m talking about, the Elf Yourself from Office Max where you upload photos of yourself and your friends and family for free, and you’re instantly transformed into dancing elves in velour suits with candy cane leggings.  The very first time I made a video seven years ago, I knew I was hooked.  I laughed for a solid hour and watched it at least 20 times during that hour.  I laughed so hard I cried.  Then I sent it to everyone I could think of so they could laugh so hard they would pee.  Then I made as many videos as I could think of with as many people as I knew.  Then I sent those out to everyone I knew hoping they would get a charge out of seeing themselves in action.  By the time it was all said and done, I had blown about six hours Elfing Myself that day.  My stomach muscles ached and my voice was horse when I went to bed that night from laughing so hard.  I Elfed not only myself, but my partner, her family, my toddler, my dog, my grandpa, my parents, my boss, my co-workers, my neighbors, my friends, and their friends. 

I laughed, they laughed, we all laughed.  I think I created an Elf video every day that month of December.  My family made fun of me for my obsession, but we all laughed our Elfin asses off every time we watched or made one of them.  Work, home, cocktail party, I didn’t care….I’d find a way to work an Elf Yourself video into the conversation, at a minimum, but usually into the viewing range of the audience.  I made it through the normally self-created stressful holiday season without a scratch or nick by blowing time doing something that was FUN.  The annual tradition of ELF-medicating had begun! 

The next December I waited anxiously for the same video to make its way to the Office Max website.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the same concept, but a brand new scenery and song for the Elf Yourself video.  It was just as funny as the previous year’s, so I again went to town Elfing the house down.  Score for a new annual December pastime!  Instant laughter, raised endorphins, stress relieved, I was on cloud nine for hours on end, December after December.

A few seasons ago, I was annoyed to see that you could no longer Elf Yourself for free.  Jib Jab, the company that hosted the annual Elf Yourself videos had somehow parted ways from Office Max and was now charging for the service.  Having just gone through a complete financial overhaul, I couldn’t justify spending hard-earned dollars on Elfin Magic, so I spent one holiday season without Elfing myself one single time.  I made it happily through the busy holiday season by making online photo books and drinking hot cocoa with kahlua instead of marshmallows.  While the substitution was not unpleasant, it was not my normal shot of holiday cheer, so last year I bit the bullet and bought a Jib Jab membership.  Of course I made Christmas videos, which eerily were no longer elves at Jib Jab, as I’m guessing their separation from Office Max meant them leaving the elves to the Office Max, but instead popular people and animals.  The concept had evolved to uploading yourself in creatively made traditional and popular music videos and e-cards.

From 70’s-era disco wigged dancers to ice-skating polar bears, I had lots of new backdrops to work with.  I loved them all!  Just like a seasoned addict, the more you use, the more immune you become to the high, so you have to work harder to chase the high points, so I spent more hours than ever Jib Jabbing myself and my peeps into the holiday videos last year.  Jib Jab had risen to the occasion as well and had added all holiday and birthday videos to the roster for my viewing pleasure.  Not only did I make tons of Christmas videos, I incorporated Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and birthday videos into the mix.  I kid you not, I can remember every single video I’ve ever made and I can literally Laugh Out Loud just thinking about each one.  While I have to spend more time today making the videos because of all the choices and enhanced tools, the laugh factor is still the same. It’s one of the funniest pastimes I’ve ever participated in.  I highly recommend it.

This year, the Jib Jab holiday season coincided with the stressful end to a temporary job I’d been working. My spirits were low, my body sick with a cold, and the tasks of my daily life had piled up, unfinished, to the ceiling.  With the countdown on for my last day of work, I decided to reward myself on my first day of no work with a full day of jib jabbing.  I planned out the funny event.  It was scheduled into my calendar and my kids and partner were fully aware of its presence.  I didn’t plan anything else for the day, wouldn’t break for lunch, and decided to even blow off exercising to get right to the laughter.  I blew hours at the computer earlier this week on that day, sizing the faces of my partner and her family into a family sledding competition video, uploading my preschooler and her toddler friend into a sleigh ride video, and pairing both of my girls with a school friend in a dancing Feliz Navidad video, complete with sombreros and Mexican jumping bean dancing.  I laughed until I cried.  My kids rolled on the floor with uncontrollable laughter and the people to whom I sent the videos all relayed to me how much they not only laughed at and enjoyed the videos, but also how much they anticipated their arrival each year.  Apparently everyone benefits from my obsessive Jib Jabbing. 

I needed that laughter so bad.  I felt instantly healed and ready to take on the world.  I know with 100% accuracy that my first day of Elfing Myself….er…excuse me…Jib Jabbing (I’m like the people that still call their cell phones their Palm Pilots) this December has set the tone for the rest of my month, as life is way too short not to laugh and have fun, in whatever way suits you best!  Check out my retro Elf Yourself in Hip Hop Easter Jump