The Best Gift Ever

After a 2,000 mile Thanksgiving road trip, followed by a week of post-road trip utter exhaustion, we’re in full speed Christmas mode at our house. Mounds of boots by the door: check. Christmas tree cut down: check. Christmas Program at church: check.

Bundling up our kids to head out the door after church, our pastor stopped me and asked if I would mind being one of the volunteers to write about “My Best Christmas Gift Ever” for an advent season devotional. I agreed, with mixed thoughts of “that sounds interesting” and “why did I just take on another project.”

Sitting in the van on the way to my mom’s house after the three and a half hour marathon of the kids’ Christmas program practicing and performance, I felt more than a little fried as I tried to ponder my best Christmas gift ever.

Nothing really jumped out from my memory.

Perhaps my favorite gift ever was my Cabbage Patch Doll in first grade. It was the one I longingly stared at week after week at the hardware store in Plainview. I dreamed about getting to hold the doll in my arms. On Christmas morning, it was the first present I opened, and it was indeed the very doll I’d wanted.

Mahala Sibyl (yes, that was the name the doll had) was a great present and very memorable, probably because stared at her week after week in the store. I don’t know, though, if that was my BEST gift ever.

Then I realized the present that meant the most to me was not a Christmas present, but an unexpected birthday gift from my younger brother.

When we were kids, our grandma used to give us five dollars every year on our birthdays. My younger brother Matthew has his birthday two days before mine. The year that he was about six, he brought his crisp five dollar bill from Grandma along on a shopping trip to Rochester, ready to spend it the day after his birthday.

The day after his birthday, of course, also happens to be the day before my birthday. I remember being at the mall that day, looking at a little display of rings on the counter, on sale two for $5.

I wandered away then, knowing that I wasn’t really going to get them. Then I saw my mom helping my little brother with something at the counter, and I tried not to pay attention too much, although I knew what was happening.

Later my mom whispered to me, “Matthew just spent all of his birthday money on two rings for you for your birthday,” confirming what I already suspected.

We always had everything we needed, but as little kids, we rarely had money of our own. The five dollar bill from Grandma was often our entire cash earnings for the year. At nine, I fully understood the generosity of getting a gift that came from Matthew’s birthday money for the year.

On my birthday, I opened up a little box with two sparkling rings, one looked like a diamond, and the other was aquamarine. They were the same two rings I’d pointed out to my mom, but never expected to get. The rings tarnished over time, but I kept them safe in my jewelry box for years, and occasionally wore them even in high school. I think I still have them in my old jewelry box up in my mom’s attic.

Of all the gifts I’ve received over the years, it was the unexpected generosity and thoughtfulness of a little boy that meant the most to me. Matthew didn’t make a big deal about giving me a present, he just did it. And he never complained about not having money left over to spend on himself. That just the kind of person he was, and still is today. Even as a kid, that made a big impression on me.

That was my best gift ever.

Heading full speed into Christmas, I’m trying to keep all of this in my head.

My favorite present ever came from a generous little brother, and when asked “What was your best Christmas gift ever?”, nothing to me really stood out.

And maybe that is the most significant thing of all about Christmas: the lasting memories of Christmas weren’t about any specific gift. My memories are of the feelings that surround of Christmas:
-the excitement of decorating the tree,
-the secrecy of wrapping presents,
-the magic of the lights turning off in the church on Christmas Eve for the play,
-the anticipation on Christmas morning,
-the nervous excitement sitting in the crowded living room at Grandma’s house on Christmas Day.

Any one of those thoughts triggers story after story in my head about Christmas time. It’s not the presents, but the whole Christmas package that makes me so excited to celebrate Christmas with my own kids.

I’m writing this to remind myself as much as anyone. In my head, it’s easy to get stuck on needing to buy x, y, and z for my kids for Christmas to be “just right.”

In reality, the best gifts are getting to decorate gingerbread houses with cousins in Montana, cutting down a Christmas tree with family in Minnesota, and getting to hold a new baby cousin. That’s what they’ll remember.

So when Christmas morning rolls around, we’ll be up bright and early to open presents, but the best gifts we’re getting this year are nothing that can be wrapped and put under a tree.

Getting to hold a new baby of the best gifts ever.  Welcome to the world, Gabriella! Congratulations to Steve and April Kramer.

Getting to hold a new baby cousin…one of the best gifts ever. Welcome to the world, Gabriella! Congratulations to Steve and April Kramer.


A Life Interrupted.

Sometimes big life makes everything petty and small like blogs seem like a waste of time. The last time I posted was June 18th.  At the time, I was a few weeks behind on posting my newspaper articles to this blog, but had plans to get everything updated and current that week.

On the 19th, we lost my brother unexpectedly in a helicopter crash.  Everything else screeched to a halt.

My brother was an amazing man.  Please read his life story posted on the Hoff Funeral Home website.  Husband, dad, pilot, farmer, believer.  He accomplished so much in 44 years.

My brother, Mike Kramer.

My brother, Mike Kramer.

In the weeks since, I’ve written about him many times.  I’m back to my blog again because I want to share those things on the website where many people have access to them.

My dilemma is, though, that I was behind before that.  I have about four articles to post from beforehand, which now seem weird to post with all that’s happened since.

It’s a good reminder to me to just keep things current on here, and not have this sort of problem of posting articles a month (or more) after their written.

Anyway, I’m back to posting on the blog again.  I plan to post many of my already-published articles in the next few weeks.  I’d love it if you read them, especially the ones about my brother.


To My Kids on Mother’s Day

To My Kids on Mother’s Day,

On Mother’s Day, I want to tell you thank you for making me a mom.  Some mornings when I come down the stairs I don’t look very excited to be awake and making breakfast, and some nights I ask you if we can switch places and you can put me to bed.  Sometimes you drive me crazy.  But the truth is, I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

My kiddos and I making the best of the crazy May snowstorm by building a snowman.

My kiddos and I making the best of the crazy May snowstorm by building a snowman.

To #1, my seven-year-old girl:  I am so amazed by you.  I love your artistic, creative projects and paintings that you make and your beautiful handwriting.  You are so helpful when you know I need an extra hand.  I’m proud to have a little girl who is so thoughtful and considerate of other people and genuinely kind.  You are fun and silly and calm and quiet.  You are a wonderful, responsible big sister.  I love getting to run with you.  I also love hearing you read with such expression, and I love that you read the other kids bedtime stories.  You are so good at understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings, well beyond your years.

To #2, my six-year-old boy:  I just love the way your mind thinks about things.  You have such a clever, organized, imaginative mind.  You are my boy who will probably help me learn how to be organized.  Even when you are so sleepy in the morning, you take the time to fold up your pajamas neatly.  I love how you can design buildings and mechanical things in your head.  I love your crayon drawings of tree houses that you color in deep, bright colors.  I love that you ask to play a board game, with just you and me.  I love your fancy bike riding tricks.  And do you know what I really love?  I love seeing how much you love your little sister.  You can always make her smile.

To #3, my three-year-old:  I love your sense of humor and your little jokes.  You make me laugh.  I love to see the projects you create using your two favorite things: strings and hooks.  You are so creative, and I can’t wait to see the things you will make when you get bigger.  You are a sweet boy with a kind heart.  Sometimes you look at me with so much love in your eyes that I can hardly imagine someone could love me so much.  I love watching you run.  You bounce and skip across the grass so lightly that you look like you are floating.  I can tell you are thinking a lot because you ask good questions and you use big words when you tell stories.  I like reading with you on my lap before nap time.

To #4, my girl that just turned two: How did we ever get such a great little girl?  You are such a loving little person.  I love watching you take care of your babies: rocking them, singing them songs, and making nice beds for them.  Everyone just falls in love with you because you’re so friendly.  You like being held by so many people and you will give a hug to anyone that needs one.  You are also such a smart and funny little girl.  I love your silly dances and how you tell knock knock jokes, even when you’re nursing.  You make me laugh.  I love when you tell me the bathroom floor is “hot lava” and I can’t touch it, or when you pretend I’m “baby monster” and you try to take care of me.

Being your mom is a lot of work, but all of you are also so much fun.  I love watching you grow and learn.  It’s fun to look back at pictures of you from when you were babies, and see how much you’ve grown.  I love to see you learning your letters and learning to read.  I’m proud of how you are learning that being part of a family means that we all need to help out and love each other, even if we don’t always get along.

You might not know it, but I learn a lot from you.  You teach me to give even when I’m tired, and you help remind me to have fun and enjoy the best things in life.  And one of the best things in life is being your mom.  Thanks for being my kids.  

Love, Mom

Mom Goes Bump in the Night

Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.

I can’t remember the last time I slept all night.  It wasn’t this month.  It wasn’t the month before, either.  I honestly have no recollection of the last time I crawled in bed and remained there until the morning.

Researchers now say that a person with sleep deprivation suffers some of the same hazardous side effects as being under the influence of alcohol.  Getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night, like drinking, can affect coordination, reaction time, and judgment.  Six hours or less?  That’s pretty common for me.  What does all this mean?

I’m drunk, even without a drop of alcohol in me.  Who needs a margarita?  I’ve got sleep deprivation, thank you very much.  My oldest will be seven in January, and I’ll classify the last few months of pregnancy as rotten sleep, so that makes seven years of drunkenness, no bar needed!

I’ve personally conducted extensive longitudinal trials on sleep deprivation over the years.  While I conduct my personal research in flannel pajamas pants rather than a white lab coat and my time is free of charge, my findings are just the same.

The four accomplices that keep me up at night, in a Halloween lineup: Ladybug, Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and the Tooth Fairy.

After particularly rough nights, I often wake up with what feels like a hangover: exhaustion, bleary eyes, a pounding head.  Unlike a big night out, though, I have no wild stories to show for my exhaustion.  Although, sometimes my late nights do involve stories of people throwing up in strange places.  But when the people are my kids and it’s my job to clean up the mess, there’s not much entertainment value in recounting the story to my friends after the fact.

Theoretically speaking, I probably should get to sleep through the night by now.  Our baby is now 18 months old, but she still usually wakes up once a night.  All sorts of people tell me their wonderful children started sleeping through the night at six weeks or something magical like that.  Sometimes I just don’t really believe them, and sometimes I feel a little envious.  Other times if I know them well enough, I put on my mock horrified look and jokingly exclaim, “Are you sure that’s normal?!  Is the baby getting enough to eat??”  I believe in equal opportunity, and even parents of perfect kids should have the chance to feel unsure of their parenting techniques, right?

The joy of a sleeping baby.

Truthfully, though, it’s not just our sweet baby girl that is the culprit for my sleep-deprived state.  She has three other young accomplices.  The beauty of sleep-deprivation, though, is also loss of memory.  When I wake up in the morning and I try to recall why I’m so knackered, often I can hardly remember.  Usually the nights are a blur.

In the last week or two, though, I began to keep track of my late night escapades.  Well, I sort of keep track, with no financial backing for my sleep deprivation study, I’m not exactly fastidious about documentation.   Oh well.  Below are some of my recent sleep interruptions:

1.  God Was Bowling:  The recent colossal thunderstorm that came through with lightning and thunder all night brought a wonderful amount of rain and a pitiful amount of sleep.  My three-year-old wandered into our bedroom scared of the storm.  I tucked him back in bed, explaining that the loud thunder was just the sound of God up in heaven bowling.  When God does a really good job knocking down the pins, it’s very loud, and the angels use their cameras to take pictures.  That, of course, is why we have lightning.  I added in ridiculous sound effects and a cheering section to make my story more convincing (all the while not waking up his brother in the same room).  My little boy went bowling twice in the last month, so he is quite an expert about all things bowling.  The notion of God bowling was enough to keep him in his own bed for the rest of the night.  Score for Mom!  Back to sleep.

2.  Puke in the Sink Makes me Happy:  (Sorry folks–Just skip reading this if you have a weak stomach.)  Last week my five-year-old coughed hard enough in the night to make himself nauseous.  He wandered into my room saying his “throat felt funny.”  I took him to the bathroom thinking a sip of water might get rid of the tickle in his throat, and as soon as we walked in, he promptly threw up in the sink. I cleaned him up and held him until the shakiness went away, and tucked him back in bed with a big bowl next to his pillow.  Afterward, I scooped the mess out of the sink.  A wave of gratitude came over me in addition to my own wave of nausea from the task at hand.  At two in the morning, I felt so grateful to be cleaning a mess out of the sink.  Had it happened a few seconds earlier, my bedroom carpet would have been the disaster site.

3.  Running from the Bulls:  A few nights ago my six-year-old came to my bed, telling me of her terrible bull dream.  Part of me felt secretly a little pleased and nostalgic.  I clearly remember scary bull dreams as a child.  And in the 4 AM haze, I thought to myself, “how wonderful, my daughter is truly growing up in the country.”  I don’t know what the standard scary dream is for an urban area, but I certainly do know that big scary bulls are pretty standard dream fare in rural places.  I initially felt inclined to tell her, “Don’t worry, you’ll have many more scary dreams about bulls,” but even in my sleepy haze, better judgment won out.  Perhaps I’m not completely “drunk” after all.

4.  A Towel is Almost as Good as New Sheets:  A few times a week, we have wet sheets from a kid or two.  I help my kiddo change into dry pajamas, and then the sleepy mom in me just spreads a thick towel over the wet spot, making a dry place to sleep.  Maybe it’s sleep deprived poor judgment to not change the sheets immediately, but I know I’ve still got pretty good reaction time.  A towel gets us back to bed in just a few minutes and it does the job until the morning, when I change the sheets with daylight and slightly more coordination on my side.

5.  Home and a Kiss:  Last night I brought our crying baby into bed.  Usually she just wants a quick pick-me-up of nursing and then I return her to her crib in about ten minutes.  This time, though, I zonked out.  A few hours later I woke up to a baby head hovering over me, with eyes wide open in the moonlight.  She looked at me, leaned in and gave me the softest little kiss on the lips, and then snuggled back in next to me and went back to sleep.  I fell back asleep, too.  A little while later she woke me up when she quietly mumbled, “Home.”  She understands what home is, she says it with excited relief when we pull in the driveway after being gone.  And in the middle of the night with the security of finding herself wedged in between Mom and Dad, she knew she was home.  That kind of sleep interruption makes my heart melt.

So after seven years of bad sleep, when my son vomits in the sink, I think “wow, that’s lucky,” when my daughter has a scary bull dream, it reminds me of my youth, and a wet bed?  Well, that’s  just a whole upgrade from a pile of barf, right?  Researchers might call that “impaired judgment,” but I’ll just call that seeing the silver lining in life.  And if a baby wakes me up in the middle of the night to kiss me, well, I certainly can’t complain about that.  Someday, we’ll all sleep through the night. Someday.