Coping With The Mountain of Christmas Toys

This is a blurb I wrote last Christmas for our local paper. I am reminded of it by others who read it and mention it to me now, a year later. Thought I’d take a moment to share it with you…

As the mother of five tween/teens, I look forward to the magic of Christmas as much now as I did when they were all much younger. A lot of that anticipation is due to the spirit of giving that my husband and I instilled in the kids. From the beginning, we tried to impress upon them the responsibility of their fortunate circumstances.
We explained to them that we pay Santa for the gifts he brings. (This usually takes place at the mall while we are waiting for pictures…) It also helps to explain both the limits to the jolly elf’s generosity, as well as the imbalance of favour the kids discover upon their return to school; and parents still have the final say over what and how much Santa brings.
We also laid down the law early on as we began to fall victim to the overwhelming abundance of toys that accumulate with a house full of children. We soon decided that Santa would not be bringing anything into the house unless there was someplace special to store these new belongings. This quickly turned into a mass clean up through the house during the entire month of December. Old toys, games, clothes, etc., were sorted through, cleaned up, and organized. Things that were still wanted, found a home in closets and on shelves. Games and toys with missing and broken pieces were discarded.
But it was the items still in good condition that never seemed to actually find a spot in the owners’ hearts or imaginations that brought out the true gift of the season. We bagged these things and left them under the tree on Christmas Eve, for Santa to take with him. There are many families who can’t afford to pay Santa for gifts, and our kids were thrilled at the idea of lending St. Nick a hand!
As the Christmas season is a time of joy, it is also a time of stress and change for many families. While we enjoy our family time, we now realize that domestic violence, stress, and poverty can all peak during the holidays for others. And our Christmas Eve contributions to Santa’s sleigh surely find their way to women’s shelters, hospitals, and preschools throughout the community.
It’s all a way of getting the kids more involved in giving, without having to have money in their own little pockets. And a note from Santa on Christmas morning thanking them for their help usually overshadows the presents they themselves receive.

Best Kids’ Halloween Party – Ever!

When we moved to a new house, our kids were faced with the challenge of making a whole new circle of friends. Three of our five were in middle school, and the social pressures of the pre-highschool crowd were enormous. Even for my brood who were pretty fun kids.

October came around, and the Dad and I decided to help them all along a bit. Figured it’d be a bit of an investment in their emotional well-being.

We threw them a Halloween party.

Not just any Halloween party. The best Halloween party – ever!

We had each of the three kids invite five friends. Themed invitations. Costumes required.

We decorated the house. And planned and planned. And wondered, right up until the last moment, if any or all of our ‘events’ would work.

The kids were mixed up into teams – we threw everyone’s names into three separate hats – to compensate for the fact that they were in three different grades, 5, 7, and 8. Our kids were the three ‘Captains.’ And we started the night with a giant wall poster chart to keep score. Here’s a break down of the events:

Pumpkin Carving: The obvious – a knife and a few spoons, lots of newspaper. Each team had to choose the two most creative members, who would carve their pumpkins into the most entertaining result. You would be stunned at how many of these regular, average kids had never carved a pumpkin before. Way more fun than anyone expected. And enormous pride taken in what turned out to be a very loud competition!

Bobbing for Apples: Again, the obvious. Choose one team member who doesn’t mind getting good and wet. Face makeup earned an extra point. How many apples can you catch in your mouth, no hands, from the big bin full of water, in one minute. The tiniest of the girls won. She caught six. Outstanding!

Scavenger Hunt: Each team was given a copy of a list of questions. Points awarded for the most correct answers. How many bags of milk in the fridge? (Hide one in the apple drawer.) When did the Mom and the Dad get married? (See photo on living room wall – though shocking to find that our own kids were stumped…) What does the sign on the front door say? What’s the last word in the National Anthem? Every attendee took this task very seriously. We really wondered if their teachers had ever seen them so intensely focused on finding answers to questions…

Song Parody: As a team, re-write  – and present! – the words to Itsy Bitsy Spider. What a show!!! A few inappropriate lyrics – and every team included one or more bodily functions – but some of the most entertaining presentations we’ve ever seen!

Find the Worms: This was one we weren’t sure about. We bought three new mop buckets from the dollar store, and filled them with Jello. Each bucket took about twelve packets of Jello:  grape, cherry, and lime, to get the Jello as black as possible. Thankfully, it got a little cold outside so the Jello could set – we hadn’t given any thought to how we were going to get three buckets in the fridge. But set it did and it smelled incredible!
After the Jello cooled – and before it set – we dropped in some worms. I had found packages of neon coloured gel shapes – the kind that stick to the ceiling when you throw them up in the air. I suppose you could also use gummy worms, but in this case colour mattered – and gummy worms are usually multi-coloured.
So at the party, each team had a bucket. They chose one member and set their buckets of Jello in front of them. Each team was charged with the task of finding all 6 of the worms of a certain colour – team 1 was looking for blue worms, team 2 green, and team 3 yellow. The challenge was that each bucket contained two dozen worms of varying colours, only six of which were the right ones. Oh, and the one member pulling the worms out of the bucket was blindfolded, had to find the worm at the bottom of the Jello, clean it off, and listen to the directions of the rest of the team as to whether the worm stayed out – or went back in the bucket!
With 18 kids screaming like their lives depended on it, instructions were pretty hard to understand for the blindfolded kid. You would think the kids had all the fun here. But watching this fiasco was worth every drop of sweat it took to mix up all that Jello. Took about a half hour to find all the worms, and it was fabulous!!

Eat the Worms: The highlight of the night. I made some pasta dough and mixed in some brown frosting dye until the dough was streaked with dark brown over beige. I rolled pieces into worm shapes and boiled them up. Basically, spaghetti. Then I took three plastic tubs of crushed oreos – dirt – and put five ‘worms’ into each one. Mixed in a little, geez-louize, they looked just like worms in dirt!
The teams were told to each pick a member for the worm-eating contest. I took the three kids in the kitchen and showed them the challenge. We all tasted the dirt and the worms and decided it was all edible and agreed not to tell anyone else what the stuff was really made of.
When the time came to eat the worms, the crowd went nuts!! We had falsely assumed that each team would get the full five points here – but alas, when faced with the distressed reactions of their friends, reason failed our worm-eaters. One boy manage to eat two. Another couldn’t keep down three – we felt really bad about that… But the girl put away all five and walked away with the challenge. Even after knowing the secret in the end, most of the kids agreed that they wouldn’t have been able to do it. But, apparently, ‘It was awesome!!!”

We videotaped on and off throughout the whole evening. The kids had arrived at 5pm. When the parents came to pick them up at 11, we were just tallying results. We asked them to come in – this mattered to the kids – and watch the closing ceremony. In the end, the winning team members were each awarded a brand new can of name-brand tuna.

Sparking extreme curiosity in their parents, the kids enthusiasm and excitement forced us – 18 kids and almost two dozen parents – to all sit back in the living room, piled into every corner of floor and furniture, to watch the entire two hour video of the whole night. The cheers and laughter as we watched them relive their competitions were some of the most rewarding reactions imaginable. The last of the party-ers left about 2am. We were exhausted.  But it was truly the best halloween party ever!

Those kids are all finishing highschool now. But every Halloween, we still hear our kids – and their friends – reminisce about that night.

Yeah, we still see most of those kids regularly. Definitely a great investment!