Monday, December 21, 2009

Santa, Kids, and an Elf on My Shelf

After weeks of us all being bombarded by Christmas ads from retailers, Santa's big day is less than a week out. It's almost sad to think about. I've grown accustomed to at least three commercials a day in which a group of confused elves, unable to complete their Christmas duties, show up at a Wal-Mart, a Walgreens, or a Radio Shack (those guys are still in business?) in hopes of finding the supplies they need to save Christmas. (Man, those advertising guys are original, aren't they?) I'll certainly miss the endless cantata of sacred Christmas hymns originally written to exalt the birth of our Lord and Savior that have been re-worded to sell ipods, cell phones, hi-def TVs, and state-of-the-art appliances. In the last month, I've watched Santa buy car insurance, purchase jewelry, talk to M&Ms, and oversee U.S. automobile manufacturing (thank you for the bailout Mr. President--apparently you saved Christmas). If only Christmas happened every month. Given enough ads I'm sure I'd eventually find out where Santa gets his colonoscopy, what brand of underwear he prefers, which NASCAR driver he supports, and whether its Cialis or Viagra that Mrs. Claus prefers to sneak into the big guy's stocking every year.

Of course, once you get past the almost nauseating commercialism of the season, Christmas is still a special and priceless family time. It's a time when you slow down a bit and enjoy traditions with your loved ones. This year, we continued established traditions and started new ones. Yesterday, my wife and I made our annual trek to the mall. No, we don't do our shopping there (my wife is the guru of finding great deals online and on Black Friday). Rather, we just go each year to get a photo of the kids with Santa to add to our collection. I stood in line for two hours holding our spot while Meredith and her mother took the kids around the mall. I don't know what did more to put me in the Christmas spirit, people staring at me with concern to see a grown man with no kids in line to see Santa , or watching frustrated moms yell at Santa's helper after she performed the unpleasant duty of telling us that Mr. Claus was about to take a dinner break and we'd have to wait one more hour. God bless us, everyone.

We also started a couple of new traditions. The most meaningful was our inaugural Gift for a Child party. Gift for a Child is a non-profit that is dedicated to encouraging and meeting the emotional and material needs of kids in foster care. It was started a few years ago by a good friend of ours and a heroic woman named Rene Gunn. Rene is an incredibly humble and godly woman who, despite being successful in the business world and having her own family, devotes all the time she can to helping children. She and Meredith came up with the idea of having a Christmas party in which guests would bring a gift to wrap for a foster child who otherwise might not receive much for Christmas. It was awesome! We had neighbors, friends from church, classmates and teachers from our daughter's school, and many others come to the party bearing gifts. We had all the fun and socializing of a normal Christmas party, but with a purpose. It was incredibly uplifting and served as a refreshing reminder of what the season is supposed to be about. We hope it is the first of many such parties. If any readers are looking for a way to make an impact in the lives of young men and women who have hopes and dreams but lack much of the love and support most of us take for granted, please go to and inquire as to how you might make a difference in one of these great kids' lives.

Our second new tradition involves Sam, our "Elf on the Shelf." Perhaps you have one too. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, Sam sneaks into our house every morning before anyone is awake and finds a spot to hide in our home. The first thing the kids do every morning is try to find Sam and uncover his hiding place. Then, at night, Sam slips away while we're asleep to report to Santa how the kids are behaving before returning the next day. Sam watches everything we do. He knows what we have and what we don't have. He keeps a watchful vigil taking note of everything that comes in and goes out of the Howard household. In the off season, I'm pretty sure Sam works for the IRS.

We're not allowed to touch Sam. If we do, he'll lose his powers. Also, Sam's not allowed to talk; at least not to the kids. Once, he did talk to me for a while after the children were in bed. Before he took off to make his nightly report to St. Nick, Sam and I sat on the couch, watched a little of Sportscenter (he's a big hockey fan), and had a couple of beers. He's quiet most of the time, but once you get a couple of cold ones in the little guy, he really starts to open up. He told me that the highest honor any elf can receive is to ride with Santa on Christmas Eve. "You do a good job of being the big guy's wing man on Christmas Eve," Sam told me, "and you can pretty much count on renegotiating your contract when you get back to North Pole." Sadly, Sam told me there have been times when an elf has lost his or her privilege to ride with Santa. I close out this final Dadlosophies of the year by sharing with you the top 10 reasons Sam shared with me as to why an elf loses his or her spot accompanying Santa in his sleigh on Christmas Eve...

10. Got caught letting Rudolph play reindeer games
9. Forgot and took Prancer out for a joy ride in North Georgia during deer season
8. Guilty of switching the naughty and nice lists just for kicks
7. Overheard responding to one of Santa's commands with a crude hand gesture and the phrase "I got yer jingle bells right here!"
6. Angered Santa by releasing tell-all book entitled
Santa's Sweatshop
5. Wore "Jack Frost: Change We Can Believe In" campaign button to work
4. Posted compromising pictures of Mrs. Claus at North Pole Christmas party on TMZ
3. Discovered moonlighting for Keebler

2. Caught selling advertising space for male enhancement products on Santa's sleigh
1. Resigned to become the president of Iran

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone! I'm taking a couple of weeks off. I'll return with new dadlosophies Monday, January 11, 2010.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Back to Bethlehem Y'all!

When I was seventeen years old, my Spanish teacher made a comment that has always stuck with me. "Trust me," he said, "the first twenty years of your life goes by very slow, but the rest of it will fly by faster than you can believe." Well, I'd have to say that my teacher was right. Now in my forties, I'm finding that the years zoom by. Case in point, it's already Christmas 2009. It seems like just last week I was taking down our artificial Christmas tree from last year and watching Oklahoma lose yet another January bowl game. But make no mistake, the yule tide sounds of Christmas carols, beeping cash registers, Black Friday moms sucker punching one another over half-priced Wii systems, and grandparent-induced guilt trips designed to ensure that we visit them on Christmas remind us all that, indeed, the festive Holiday Season has arrived.

I've always loved Christmas. As a kid, of course, you look forward to seeing what Santa Claus will leave under the tree Christmas morning. I can remember when I was a little boy and still believed that Kris Kringle delivered all the toys in person, without any help from Mom or Dad. My siblings and I normally had to lie in bed waiting until my mother came to get us and tell us it was time to go down the hall to see what toys Santa had left. Of course, if you hadn't been good that year, Santa would supposedly leave a lump of coal or a bag of "switches" in your stocking. (For you northern transplants, a "switch" was a southern word parents used to describe a stick with which they would beat their disobedient children. They didn't have to feel guilty or worry about being arrested because... well... it was a switch, not a regular stick.)

I remember only one year in which I really sweated it out, unsure if I'd find toys or a switch when I arrived at the Christmas tree. I was in the second grade. That's the year I discovered curse words. It's also the year I learned to cheat on homework. My buddy Ralph Canello and I would drop a few d-words and f-bombs over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the cafeteria, then return to Mrs. Stephenson's class early to copy Kim Wilson's math answers. We didn't think about the consequences. We were living life in the fast lane at John J. Blair elementary school. Then, December rolled around. Right about Thanksgiving I cut out the cursing and started doing my own homework (at least until January). I then waited nervously for Christmas morning. To both my surprise and relief, Santa hooked me up that year. I never worried too much about that naughty-nice list again. I figured Santa was either slipping and not that on top of things, or he was a lot more lenient than I'd been led to believe. Either way, I couldn't wait for school to start again so I could tell Ralph about all the f-bombin' toys Santa had brought me for Christmas.

Now I'm the dad. In addition to hopefully using less profanity, I also see it as my role to make Christmas special and memorable for my kids the way my parents made it special and memorable for me. That means consciously pulling myself away from work and the craziness of Christmas preparations to spend special times with my family. Christmas, after all, is about traditions. More than any specific toy or present that they'll receive, my children will look back one day and appreciate the things we did together every Christmas.

Take, for instance, last Friday night. Meredith and I loaded up our minivan with our kids and three of their friends from next door. Fortunately, the little girls next door are awesome and always a pleasure to have over. We didn't mind taking them because their parents have done such a great job of teaching them manners and respect. Still, six kids against two semi-sane adults is a challenging ratio. Nothing says "Jolly Christmas spirit" quite like trying to shove multiple booster seats and one toddler's car seat into a cramped minivan. After nearly dislocating my fingers and verbally accusing the seat belts of having a canine heritage, I finally--somehow--got all the seats in. Then, the joyous process of loading little people into just the right spot so that we all had room began. My wife and I looked like U.S. soldiers trying to pack fleeing refugees onto a helicopter during the Saigon Airlift. It was like a living version of that game psychologists make you play--the one where you have to see how quickly you can place different shapes into the right holes. Meredith would hand me a child, then I'd try in vain to fit him or her into a given spot. Eventually, after enough tears and screams of "Something's pinching my fanny!" I'd concede defeat, hand the child back, and tell Meredith to give me another kid. Finally, with all the refugees squared away and bundled up like midget adventurers on a Himalayan expedition, we headed north to Canton to visit Hopewell Baptist Church's "Back to Bethlehem."

I have to give kudos to Hopewell, the experience was really cool. Each Christmas they re-create ancient Bethlehem. Church members dress up as residents of the city or Roman guards, then do their best to make visitors feel like they're in Bethlehem the night of the Savior's birth. It's a lot of fun and very educational. I never realized "y'all" is a Hebrew word, but it obviously must be because all night long I heard phrases like "Shalom y'all" and "How far'd y'all come for the census?" Meanwhile, my kids had a blast. They learned about the synagogue, watched Roman soldiers parole the streets, and got to pet goats and see a live camel. Best of all, the experience got the kids thinking about Jesus. It was heart-warming hearing William ask when he could see baby Jesus, only to have his six-year-old sister, Emerson, explain to him that Jesus had actually been born a long time ago and that he had died on the cross and was already back in heaven. William thought about it for a minute and responded with the only words I guess a four-year-old could: "Then where's Santa?"

Aah yes, Christmas is busy. There are gifts to buy, plans to make, and work to rush to finish before taking a few days off for the Holidays. But most of all, there are traditions to be built and memories to make with your family. So I'll look forward to these next couple of weeks and do my best to savor them. Merry Christmas fellow dads. I hope you look back one day and realize that you took every advantage of making this one of the most fun and memorable Christmases your kids will ever know.

Monday, December 7, 2009

THANKS for visiting Dadlosophies: An Average Dad's Take on Life at Sorry, but due to a heavy workload there's no new post this week. You can scroll down to read all previous Dadlosophies. New posts will appear after 11am next MONDAY, DECEMBER 14th and the following MONDAY, DECEMBER 21st. After that, I'll be taking a break for Christmas and will begin posting again MONDAY, JANUARY 4, 2010. Thanks again and we'll see you next week.