Monthly Archives: December 2012

Milk, Cookies, and Delight

Sometimes an attic is all it takes to delight children.

This afternoon, the boys and I made cookies. Jacob has been talking about setting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus for several days, and of course the fact that we had made cookies reminded him of this – as I figured it would. So after the boys got into their pajamas and all ready for bed, we set out milk and cookies for Santa.

The boys have always known that Santa is pretend, but love the stories and traditions anyhow. Never mind that Christmas was 3 days ago, and they’ve already opened their presents. It’s SANTA! It’s magic! It doesn’t matter!

I asked Jacob, “Would you like me to pretend to be Santa tonight?” A big grin, then “Oh yes, dad! Do it!”

So after I read them their bedtime story, sang them a song (Jacob chose a Latin hymn – that’s my boy!), and tucked them into bed, I pretended to be Santa. I went back downstairs. I drank the milk and ate the cookies. Then I went to my small future present stash, selected a few small items, and put them under the tree. I gave it a few minutes.

Then I crept up to the attic. I snuck along the wood floors quietly, until I was above the boys’ room.

Then I jumped. And I scraped a wood chair along the floor. And then I yelled out – “HO HO HO! Merry Christmas!” I had a brief conversation with Rudolph, then made some sliding noises. I was silent for a few seconds, then made some more noise and said, “Wow, Rudolph, Jacob and Oliver left some great milk and cookies! Let’s go deliver the rest of our presents!” And made some vague sleigh taking off from the roof of a house noises.

I crept back down the stairs. I put my ear to the outside of the closed door to the boys’ bedroom. I heard Jacob excitedly jabbering, “He said milk and cookies! He liked them! He really liked them! Ooo butterfly, he was here!” (Butterfly is a stuffed, er, butterfly that he sleeps with.)

I gave it a minute or two, then I went in. “Jacob, did you hear something?”


“What was it?”

“Well, it was a loud thud! I sat straight up like this. [ he demonstrates ] Then I heard ‘ho ho ho’! And ‘milk and cookies’! And I was excited like this!” [ more demonstrations ]

“What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know! Dad, what did you do?

I told him. It only increased his delight.

“Did it sound like Santa’s sleight landing?”

“(annoyed) No, dad. It sounded like a crash. (brightening) And then Santa coming down the chimney with presents! Oh, it is so exciting!”

(We don’t have a chimney)

It was still magical, even though he knew exactly what happened.

For his part, Oliver slept through it all. He will still discover the empty plate, empty cup, and slightly less empty area underneath the tree. And neither boy knows about the thank you note from Santa yet. I anticipate smiles in the morning!

Glockenklang, Forever

Jacob (and Oliver too, somewhat) has taken quite the interest in Christmas music this year. Perhaps it’s singing in the choir at school, or perhaps it’s just him getting older, but in any case, Christmas music fascinates him.

And no song more than Jingle Bells. I have recordings of it by several artists in different styles, and he has his favorites and often wants to hear them – again and again.

The other night at supper, he said, “Dad, can you sing Jingle Bells in German?” Kind of a random question. I normally try to keep books and devices of all sorts away from the table, but my son had just asked me to sing. In German. I don’t believe that had ever happened before, so I wasn’t going to say no! I got my tablet, pulled up Google, and found some German lyrics. Not exactly a translation, but it fit the tune, so that’s what counts.

So I started singing, and when I got to the chorus, and sang Oh, Glockenklang, Glockenklang both boys bust up laughing. They thought Glockenklang was a hilarious word, and loved to hear it. Oliver requests I “sing Glockenklang” every so often now. He has this eager anticipation when he does it, as if he knows I’m going to be hilarious — so much so that he almost starts laughing before I even say a word.

Then yesterday at breakfast, Jacob requested more German songs. I finally got a couple of hymn books (one of which, Gesangbuch mit Noten, really is a German songbook). I sang some songs in German for the boys, while they enjoyed their blueberry crepes. Sadly Stille Nacht and O du fröhliche did not prove as hilarious as Glockenklang, but they got impatient as I looked through the idnex between each song, saying “Dad, just sing more German! Don’t look at those pages!” So I guess it was a hit.

I’m not sure where this sudden fascination with German music came from, but it appears to be leaving me hungry.

While driving around, Oliver requested I sing Glockenklang in the car. I said yes, despite not remembering even one German word to that song except for, well, Glockenklang. So I just filled in with some random German words I do know. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have memorized the rest of it either.

The other day, we went to the annual Christmas concert at the local high school. It was perfect for the boys – various styles of music, an interesting old auditorium, nobody was going to care if they weren’t perfectly quiet, and the price was right, too.

The band played first, and both boys sat there, paying great attention, soaking it all in. They loved the cymbal crashes and Jacob seemed to dream of playing the chimes and bells. At one point, I whispered to Jacob that I could feel the timpani on the wood floor in the auditorium, and he tried it, and made his “Hmm, I just learned something interesting!” reaction.

As is tradition, the concert concluded with singing the Hallelujah Chorus – and anyone in the audience that wants to sing is invited on stage to join the choir.

I remember being in high school for that concert, and after practicing it in school, the great fun of being joined by many powerful voices from the community all around me on the risers. So this time, while my parents stayed with the boys, I was one of the many that went up to join the choir. It was no less thrilling all these years later. Ending with “Forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah!”, and feeling it, right then, put a huge smile on my face.


A couple of weeks ago, I walked in to a nice, sit-down restaurant, with a smile on my face. It’s the kind of restaurant with folded cloth napkins on the tables. “Table for three, please” – as Jacob and Oliver were with me.

This much isn’t unusual. I have periodically taken them out to eat for quite some time, and they enjoy it.

But there were a few unusual things about this particular day. I suppose the main one is that they had just been doing this.

Yes, painting your own face can be a lot of fun. And also serious business.

The boys and I were in Santa Fe, NM on a train trip. It had been a year since their last train trip, and that’s longer than they are typically used to. I’d taken Jacob on a train trip with just the two of us before, but this was the first trip with just the two boys and me.

And one of the places we visited was the excellent Santa Fe Children’s Museum. It may be the best children’s museum I’ve ever seen. Not the largest, or the flashiest, but that’s part of the reason I say “best”. They had chimes (and many other percussive “instruments” to produce different pitches, including mounted hubcaps and varying length wooden planks). They had a great magnets table with washers and nuts, so children can build their own bridges, stairs, etc. using magnetism. A giant bubble table, tunnels to crawl in outside, etc. A great place.

And, apparently, the thing they were really known for — I did not know this in advance — is the paint your own face station. Jacob and Oliver really got into it. Oliver informed me he was a lion and I heard “ROAR! ROAR!” periodically all afternoon. Jacob asked me to help paint a J, and the spirals, on his cheeks. After some careful thought, he informed me that he was “spiral man”.

Next to the paint your own face area was a clean your own face area. Most kids were being helped to clean their own face by their parents on their way out. Jacob and Oliver protested that plan, so I figured, if they want to enjoy painted faces all day, why not?

And this, of course, led into lunch with self-painted faces. Nobody at the restaurant commented, but the owner had a huge grin when he saw them. (It was a Mediterranean place, and I’m sure the owner would have commented had there not been a language barrier.) Incidentally, the boys became quite the fans of souvlaki.

Later, as we walked around Santa Fe Plaza and another museum, they drew smiles all over the place. Several kind people asked them, “Did you enjoy the children’s museum?” Yes, everyone in Santa Fe seemed to know precisely where kids with painted faces had been that day.

Santa Fe is an amazing and beautiful city. It was warm and friendly, and the architecture and layout was fun to see – and pedestrian-friendly. We walked past the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi several times, and went in once. For some reason I could never fully explain, I could often smell their incense even a block or two away. It added to the crisp wintry feel of the plaza.

The point of the trip wasn’t Santa Fe, though. It was Jacob and Oliver on Amtrak, which is the thing they were really most excited about – of course. They were excited as usual, and despite the fact that the train comes through this area only at around 3AM, were plenty excited to be on the train. And, in fact, didn’t fall asleep again until about 5 due to the excitement (though they did an excellent job of being quiet). Of course, 6AM was “morning” so they were wide awake by then.

Jacob had been planning what he’d eat on the train for days already, and had announced he would be having French toast for breakfast and pizza at lunch. He was a bit disappointed to see that French toast wasn’t on the menu this time, but pancakes saved the day.

While waiting for the dining car to open at 6:30, we went to the lounge car for awhile. I had brought along various things for them to do on the train, of course, and among them was a notebook and some markers. Jacob loved drawing suns and stars, and sometimes writing short notes. He gave notes to several friendly people that happened to be visiting with us on the train. Oliver enjoyed it too, but he was more intrigued by the cheap set of multi-colored post-it notes.

There were two happy, and somewhat tired, boys getting off that train in the middle of the night when we returned.

The world is still a good place

At times like these, it is easy to think of the world as a cold, evil place. Perhaps in some ways, it is. I saw this quote from Fred Rogers floating around today:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

Sometimes I think that Fred Rogers’ wisdom is so often under-appreciated. What he says is true, very true.

I know what it’s like to fear for my child’s life. And sometimes the shoe has been on the other foot, when I have been one of the helpers.

Many of you know these last few months have been the most difficult in my life. And despite having gone through the deaths of three relatives, nothing has quite compared to this.

I can not even begin to express my gratitude for all the care, compassion, and love that has come my way and towards the boys. People I barely knew before are now close friends. Random strangers have offered kindness and support. I have never before needed to be cared for like that, and in some ways perhaps it was hard to let myself be cared for. But I did, and all that caring and generosity has made an incredible difference in my life.

Most of us don’t see our pain on CNN or BBC, but that doesn’t mean it’s less real. And it doesn’t mean there’s nobody that cares. Open up to others, let them care for you. Things can and do get better.

The people in Newtown did nothing to deserve this. No matter what evidence is found, they will never get an adequate answer to “why?” Children have been frightened, families torn apart, lives ended, for no reason at all.

But they will survive the terrible pain. In time, they will find happiness again. And they will feel love and compassion from people around the world — something to sustain them in their grief. I am certain of this.

I recently read this quote, part of a story about a dying cancer patient:

“Don’t forget that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day.”

Yes, the world is still a good place.