So, What To Do About Christmas?

elf-on-the-shelfI remember Christmas being a time of joy and anticipation, a time for tradition, a time for sharing with family.

Two years ago, we got custody of Mary Ellen one week before Christmas. Her parents retained parental rights and were allowed supervised visitation. They spent the night at our house Christmas Eve, and we did the best we could to make the celebration the next morning child-centered.

By last Christmas, her parents had unsupervised visitation, and we hoped they could regain custody within the year. Although we have the right to have Mary Ellen on Christmas day, we thought her parents should start their own tradition. Santa Claus came to their house. We were not invited.

This year we are establishing our own tradition knowing it may be for one year or forever. Last week Mary Ellen wrote a letter to Santa Claus, and over the Thanksgiving weekend, she, Papa, and I decorated the tree. I must say that a Charlie Brown tree with one decoration on it and a blanket around the trunk appealed to me. Lugging the boxes down from the attic has become more difficult with each year. But seeing Mary Ellen’s pleasure at helping to decorate made it worthwhile. In the next day or two, we will string cranberries.

Elf-on-the-Shelf arrived yesterday morning. (For those of you vacationing on Mars the last few years, the elf is magic. She observes the child’s behavior during the day and is whisked to the North Pole to report while the child sleeps. The elf then reappears at a different spot the next morning. The rules are that the elf is not allowed to talk and the child is not allowed to touch her. Got it?) Mary Ellen named her elf Sheila. I read Sheila the letter to Santa because Mary Ellen was a bit too much in awe to read it herself.

Christmas Eve, Mary Ellen will make glitter reindeer food with her mother and then return to us. Christmas morning, we will find that Santa visited our house and that his reindeer ate their snack. Her parents will be invited to join us.

I wish Mary Ellen could experience the stability of the same type of tradition I had. But life is full of adjustments, and I need to remind myself that this adjustment is mine. Mary Ellen doesn’t know the difference. I need to keep focused on what’s really important–that she feel loved and valued and that the sparkle in her eyes lets us know she’s happy. Of course that’s what is important all year.

Just What Is a Real Grandma

Mary Ellen’s parents have told her I’m not her “real grandma.” So I’ve been thinking about that. I sure feel like a grandma. She and I love each other. I was at the hospital as she was being born and held her before she was an hour old. When she was five, we—my husband, the “real grandpa” and I—were asked if we would accept custody of her. We both said yes with no hesitation.

I had two terrific grandmothers. They were alike only in that they were women true to themselves who loved their families and expected the best from all of us.

Edna Melin, my dad’s mother, taught piano in rural Missouri. She kept a meticulously clean house and was an excellent cook, making everything from dill pickles to potato chips, French bread, and tomato juice. She quilted with perfect, tiny stitches and crocheted bedspreads and tablecloths. If relationships are identified through inherited traits, she’s not my real grandmother.

Myra Cooper, my maternal grandmother, was active in community projects, Democratic politics, and worked in the family business. She loved music but didn’t play an instrument. She was on the cusp of the women’s lib movement before it was named. A live-in cook prepared her meals and cleaned her house. I’m the live-in cook in my house, but except for that, my life comes closer to mirroring hers.

When I was with either of my grandmothers, I felt protected and happy. They rarely had to set rules or enforce discipline. My parents did that. They gave me gifts twice a year, but my parents supported me, although we were far from wealthy.

But custodial grandparents feel like every day is what Mary Ellen calls “opposite day”. We set the rules, enforce them, encourage positive behavior and splendid dreams. We set high expectations and work to be examples for reaching them. We pay for the food and gasoline, for clothes and soccer fees. We chauffeur to school, parties, doctor appointments, and Brownies. We get to know her friends, their parents, and often their grandparents. We host overnights and play dates. We attend teacher conferences. We make sure that teeth are brushed and bedtime is kept. This litany isn’t intended as a complaint–just the facts, ma’am.

That’s not what my grandparents did, so maybe I’m not a “real grandma” after all. But, like I said in the beginning, it sure feels like I am—and that makes me happy.