I'm patting myself on the back for being so quick to post this time. Really it is just a case of insomnia (in the daytime, but I didn't sleep all night, so it counts).
This year Lucas (and I...although I play a minimal role) started up the youth group at our church again. It has sort of minimally functioned the past couple of years, but we decided that we were starting to get a large enough group in that age bracket that we needed to really invest consistent time and energy. I'm so glad we have. One of the bonuses is that Ryan and Allie LOVE youth group night. I get it. I remember when I was little and my parents were the youth leaders. I loved when the high schoolers would come to our house. I felt like I was hanging out with grown ups, and the attention they gave me made me feel so special. I see that now with Ryan and Allie. They get so excited when their "friends" show up. Because it starts a little before the twins' bedtime, we usually let the kids join them for a little snack, singing, and maybe watching a short game. The twins especially love snack time...and the youth especially love sneaking the twins extra snacks. It's a win-win. This past week, we realized that 1) it was the only Sunday we could have youth group in December and 2) we had a Little Caesar's make your own pizza kit with enough individual pizzas for all of the youth (Thank you Nana and Poppy!!!). So we decided to turn it into an Advent Party with pizza, games, prizes, etc. We started it extra early, which meant the twins got to eat dinner with the youth. So exciting. Since we weren't sure there were enough pizzas in the kit for the twins, we let them make their own homemade pizzas.
That is her stretching-far-to-reach-the-cheese face.
In the end, they loved the process of making their own pizzas, but didn't like the pizzas they made. Figures. They still had a blast being part of the youth party.
Every year we like to go and experience the Nite Lights at the nearby fairground. Seriously, the best Christmas lights display I have ever seen (and if you have seen our neighbor's house, you know that's saying something!). This year, we managed to combine some Christmas shopping (the twins' advent activity for the day was to take their own money - from their piggy banks - and buy a present for each other. My savvy shoppers managed to buy 2 presents each for $10! Even better, they really thought about it and picked presents their siblings will love) at our favorite toy store. Thankfully, the toy store has free wrapping, so we wrapped those babies up right away to make sure no siblings peeked (and then let the twins hide their bag of presents once we got back home for extra excitement).
Then we surprised the twins by going to see the lights (technically, we had already seen them. But, not only were the lights better this time - they had the music, mom - but the Winter Wonderland was open after).
Warning - I got much better pictures of the lights than of the kids in the Winter Wonderland after. My apologies. Lucas got me a new lens (to replace the one we broke a while ago), and I'm having so much trouble re-adjusting.
I love the creativity of the lights. Not only are there so many Christmas-themed displays that are so funny (a cartwheeling ginger bread cookie for example), but they have a lot of other creative displays (a cowboy lassoing a bull for example)
An Elf riding a hot air balloon. They also ride trains, helicopters, airplanes, and pickup trucks. We love all of the transportation themed displays!
A present cannon. The presents "fly" over your car!
I especially appreciate that they don't leave Christ out of their Christmas display. First you drive through a tunnel of lights with lit up angels playing their trumpets on the sides (the twins favorite part). As you go, you see the shepherds watching their sheep and the wise men following the star. Then they all converge at the manger. Even better, this display is at the center of all of the the others - a wonderful reminder of what is at the center of all of our Christmas celebrations.
At the end of the lights (it took us 25 minutes to go through - and we didn't go slow), they have the winter wonderland. I took much better pictures last year. Our favorites are the live reindeer.
Allie asked their names. They are "Blizzard" and "Nick," in case you were interested.
There was no line at Santa, so we asked the kids if they wanted to go and see him. A little backstory...***spoiler alert (for any young children)*** we don't "do" Santa. Let me start by saying that this is no judgement on any parents who do. For us, keeping Christmas as Christ-centered as possible meant moving Santa to a supporting role. This is, of course, tricky because we don't want our kids being "that kid" who tells all the other kids that Santa isn't real (we are not in the business of ruining other kids' - and parents' - fun), and because Santa is everywhere. So, we actually talk about Santa a lot. I tell the kids about the legend of Santa - a man who cared so much that he went around to the houses of all of the kids whose mommies and daddies couldn't afford gifts to give them presents for Christmas. Why? Because he knows that Christmas is about God giving us the ultimate gift of love by giving us Jesus, and each gift we give shares God's love to others, and he didn't want a single person to have a Christmas without someone sharing God's love with them. I tell them that he did such a great job of sharing God's love at Christmas that we remember him today, and that every time we see Santa we can be reminded of his example and how we should try to share God's love with everyone too. As of right now, we don't talk about Santa not being real (so that they don't even have those words to accidentally devastate other children). But we don't tell them that Santa will, or will not, bring them presents for Christmas (in fact, other than buying presents for each other, we don't talk about the presents they will GET at all - only the presents they will give). We don't tell them they have to be good to get presents, from us or Santa (because we like to see presents as a metaphor of God's grace, which by definition is given despite the fact we don't deserve it). And, on Christmas, we won't pretend any presents are from Santa. I know that some people think that I'm depriving my kids of some of the magic of Christmas. I get where they are coming from (and love the effort so many parents put into creating a magical Christmas for their children). But I honestly think the simple story of God coming to earth as a baby is so incredible, it far outshines the temporary magic of belief in Santa (and, I'll be honest, I don't want to deal with the devastation I have seen so many parents handle when their kids discover Santa isn't real). Again, I don't say this because I think no one should do Santa, or because I think my way is the only way (in fact, I think I'm an incredibly imperfect parent and often pray that God's grace will cover my many weaknesses). I can't say often enough that I firmly believe we as parents should encourage and support the decisions we each make for our unique family made up of our unique individuals and circumstances (with the obvious exception of abuse and/or neglect). I say all this because the way I have gone about things meant that our kids are not used to being asked what they want for Christmas, nor were they prepared for Santa to ask (or, for that matter, the idea that Santa would actually bring whatever they did ask for on Christmas), and that is key to the story.
So...the story at hand...Santa invites Allie and Ryan to sit on his lap. Ryan flat out refuses (I told them as we were walking up that they didn't even have to talk to or go near Santa if they didn't want. I get how intimidating it can be for a stranger to ask you to sit in his lap, and Ryan is especially shy). Allie hesitantly gets on his lap, but she won't look at him. Then he asks her what she wants for Christmas and she gets this look on her face - like that is the silliest question to ask. He asks again and she kind of looks around embarrassed (at this point I am feeling terrible that I did not prepare my children for this question) and then mumbles something under her breath. I was pretty sure I heard something about "dollars," but Santa was convinced it was dollies (and that sounded better), so he promised her dollies (she laughed and looked at him like that was another really funny thing to say), and then gave her a candy cane and she hopped away. Ryan gave Santa a high five for a candy cane (they LOVE candy canes...) and then we left. In all of the potential scenarios I imagined, it was pretty much the least awkward.
A little later, Allie and I take a trip to the bathroom. The second we are alone, Allie says, "Mommy, do you know what I said to Santa?" I respond that I don't and she says, "I told him I wanted dollars. Tens and twenties. Wasn't that funny! And then he gave me a candy cane instead. Which is about the same. I like candy canes!" I was so tickled. When faced with a question she wasn't sure how to answer, she responded with a quote from one of her favorite movies - Merry Christmas Charlie Brown where Sally is dictating her letter to Santa! A quote from a movie intended to get a laugh - she is so the child of Lucas and myself! Even better - she considers candy canes as good as money. I love this age!
We finished off the night with a lap through the Christmas Tree festival, a viewing of the puppet show (that they not only remembered from last year, but enjoyed with a ton of giggling and minimal eye covering from Ryan - my shy, sensitive little guy), and the craft provided by Home Depot (they got their own orange aprons!). Then we headed home.
Lucas and I discovered that we had an entirely free Saturday (which is extremely rare). We talked about what we might do with our free time, watched a movie, and stayed up far later than we normally would knowing there would be plenty of time for naps the next day. We were basically like kids on Christmas Eve. Not long after we went to bed, Allie woke up with a raging fever...and woke Ryan up...and there was little sleep in our house the rest of the night. Oh well, it wouldn't be the holidays without some sickies in the house, and at least we were already planning on laying low!