For a solid year, Lu has been terrified of Santa.
On Vashon, Santa Claus comes around different neighborhoods every night, on a lit-up fire truck blaring Christmas music, accompanied by firemen elves who toss candy canes to any kids waiting on the street. It’s pretty hokey magical, really. Even before I was married or Lu came along, I loved the night when Santa came to our part of the island.
However, last year, we forgot to prepare our kid. So when we were sitting in the living room reading books before bed in the semi-darkened room, the knock on the door came as a shock to her. It was friends letting us know that the fire truck was approaching. Danny and I tried to take Lu outside on the porch, to let her see the light approaching, hear the tinny singing from the speakers, and see Santa for the first time in her life. She wanted nothing to do with it. It was as though the front door was a force field and we could not pass over it. She sat scrunched into us on the couch, wanting nothing more than for it all to go away.
It makes sense, really. That’s a lot of stimulation. Also, the mere idea of Santa is kind of intimidating. He’s knows everything about you, including where you live and what you want for presents. And somehow, miraculously, he makes it to all the houses in the world, all the presents loaded into one not-that-big sleigh, never making a mistake. Seriously? It doesn’t really add up, does it?
We didn’t tell any of that to Lucy last year. For her, the lights, the noises, the jolly man laughing too deeply? It all just freaked her out. Whenever she has had a nightmare in the last year, she has screamed out for me. When I hold her and make her feel better, then ask her about her bad dream, she has always said one word: SANTA.
This year, however, she’s older and less fearful about the unexpected. She’s excited beyond words. It’s Christmas time.
On Saturday evening, Vashon shut down the streets in town for the big Christmas parade and lighting of the tree. Lu and I walked downtown holding hands, talking about the time to come. She ran down the sidewalk when she saw her friend Zea. “My best friend Zea is here!” They hugged, then held hands as they walked toward the little wooden booth downtown where Santa was. Without hesitation, she climbed on Santa’s lap for her picture with Zea. And when he asked what she wanted for Christmas, she said, “A candy cane?” That tiny sliver of candy wrapped in plastic made her perfectly content.
After dinner with Zea and her parents, and Abigail and Hazel and their parents (all dear friends of mine), we walked to the corner where Danny’s restaurant is. (Sadly, he had to work, but we stopped in several times for hugs before the dinner rush began.) Lu asked to sit on my shoulders, once she saw that her friend Hazel was on her dad’s shoulders. We waited in the wrong place for the parade, then rushed to the corner with the rest of the town to see the high school marching band play Christmas music, then watch Santa go by on a lit-up sleigh pulled by a John Deere tractor. My brother, who is the music teacher for the elementary school here, led the third graders in a round of Oh Christmas Tree. (Sadly, the mics didn’t work. But Lu sang with them anyway.) And then we all oohed and aahed as the tree in town lit up with 10,000 lights.
I’ve never seen Lu so happy as she was that evening. I felt the same happiness.
This year, for the first time, our little one is excited about the coming season. She understands just enough to know that special things happen now. We’re pretty light on the Santa story, not really religious so not talking about the manger, and determined to not make it about the presents. Instead, we have been talking about lights in the darkness, giving to the people we love, making paper snowflakes and presents for the birds, giving toys to the kids who cannot afford any, and making memories with small moments of loveliness.
I’m the least crafty person on the planet, but this year I have been learning how to make construction paper chains for the tree, contemplating making a gingerbread house, and thinking about dozens of baked and sweet treats to give away as presents. Lu has loved every moment.
It makes sense the holidays happen this time of year (at least in this hemisphere). It’s dark by 4:30 now, a little cold, a little dreary. The twinkling lights on the tree truly do give me a lift each evening. And now, with a three-year-old giggling with glee when we gave her a Santa hat, or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time, I’m excited about this holiday for the first time in decades. I want to share it all with her.
This year, we’re making everything we can by hand or find through thrifting. There will be drawings and photographs for grandparents, a trunk full of dress-up clothes for Lu (we’re going to our favorite thrift stores soon), and copies of well-loved books we have checked out from the library a dozen times for her very own. Even though I might kick myself later, I’ve made up the list of people we love to whom we want to give presents, and I’m baking and making treats every day for the next few weeks. It will take a lot of time, but I’d rather spend my hours baking and wrapping then shopping at any store. Except the bookstore. We’re buying books newly discovered cookbooks, transporting fiction, and non-fiction stories that have grabbed us this year.
So, for the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing what we’re making, what we’re gifting, and and what we’re creating. We thought you might like to hear some of our ideas and share some of yours too.
I thought I’d start today with some of the art supplies Lu has been loving lately.
Creative Beast. That’s her. This kid walks through our door and starts asking for paints right away. She’s coloring in coloring books (“Look Mama! I drew a girl!”), asking for paper and grabbing crayons out of the bin of crayons, markers, and pencils we keep out all the time, and begging to spend some time fingerpainting with us. We say yes.
If I’m going to buy anything new for her, it’s art supplies.
Here she’s painting with Clementine paints. I really love these. They are free of any chemicals or additives, using mineral earth pigments. That’s what I really love about them the colors. They’re rich, nuanced beyond the typical little-kid colors. And the texture is wonderful soft and durable and much more like adult paints than the ones you buy for kids in the grocery store. Lu loves them.
Lately we have been making letters and spiders, Santas and little men with Mama K’s Aromatic Play Clay. It’s a gluten-free play dough. For awhile, we tried using the typical PlayDough in our house, because it seems that Lu is okay with gluten. But I found that if I played with her, as we both love, then I ended up with it on my hands. Unless I became a little obsessive about washing my hands every five minutes, it was too easy to transfer the playdough on my hands to my mouth somehow. I wanted to play with her without worrying about growing sick.
Mama K’s is the best play clay we’ve found. It’s not just that it’s gluten-free but it’s much better than the traditional stuff. Soft and pliable, this makes great play over and over again. I love that the colors are more unusual than the typical green, blue, red, and yellow. Primary colors are fine, but the moss-green, lavender, and soft orange make for imaginative play around here. Best of all for the mamas and papas these are made with essential oils that smell mighty fine. I love the bergamot, cardamom, and sweet orange the best. After playing with these for an hour, as happens often around here, my hands smell good. And there’s no gluten clinging to them.
It’s probably no surprise that Lu loves to play with her food.
She had her own little wooden play kitchen for the first two years of her life and she loved it. (There’s a photograph of her in our cookbook, stirring a pot with a pen at that kitchen.) It came from her friend Iris, so it came with good kitchen karma. She outgrew it last year and we gave it to a friend for his kitchen explorations. I love that the giving and cooking has continued through friends. Luckily, her grandparents bought her a a little pink retro kitchen. When she isn’t sitting on the countertop, stirring and sifting with me, then she’s standing at her little pink kitchen, making us stews and soups, baking cookies. It’s amazing how little it takes to create a sacred space for a kid.
She loves the wooden food set made by Melissa and Doug. We do too. It’s basic and simple: pieces of wood painted to look like waffles or butter or cartons of milk. The Playspace here on Vashon, an open space for parents and kids to play together, has a similar set. Lu is always laying out pots and pans, arranging food, and asking her friends to join her for a feast.
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.
These are some of the art supplies we have been loving, ones we have been using to make paintings of Christmas trees or handmade cards. There are plenty more, of course. What are some of the art supplies for kids you love?