It's Christmas morning. I'm the first one up, and I'm wondering, "Did we do the right thing?"

This is a common question you ask yourself when you're a parent. The topics can range from string cheese and jello lunches all the way to vaccinations, from teaching a two-year-old to use a can opener to choosing to homeschool.

And there's no one to tell us "yes" or "no," to give us parents a passing grade. Our end result is our child's happiness. And sometimes that's hard to measure - especially when we can't see what might have happened if we'd made a completely different choice.

Now the Christmas question is on the table. It's something Ronak and I have been wrestling with since our little guy was born: What do we tell him about Santa?

When he was 5 1/2 months, we didn't really need an answer. When he was almost 1 1/2, we mentioned something about Santa filling stockings, but didn't stress the point, since we weren't sure about it ourselves. (Our son loved seeing and saying "Santa," although that word was just as popular with him as "snowman.")

This year, Santa was a guy who sat under the city's beautiful live oak tree; he was a guy who sat in front of the pool in a Round Rock park, and he was a guy who sat in a chair at the Ultimate Mom's Club Christmas festivities. Our little guy wanted to say "hi" and waved at him from a few feet away.

When the Mom's Club Santa tried to make conversation with my son, my son seemed very confused. Why did this man care what he wanted for Christmas, if he liked trucks? After all, he'd just met the guy. He told the man in the funny red suit that he liked "vans," waved goodbye, and looked for some toys to play with.

Did we do the right thing? He seemed happy - which was my only clue.

My son and I were taking a walk yesterday evening, and I asked him a few questions about Santa to see what he'd say. (He'd been very interested in the library story time books that talked a lot about Santa bringing presents. He was learning about Santa "on the street," since we hadn't said anything ourseves.)

Before I relate what my little guy said, I should probably give a little background on why there was a Santa question in the first place. First of all we're thinking parents - probably over-thinking is more accurate. We are always questioning if we are doing the right thing.

Secondly, Ronak and I come from two different cultures with different sets of holidays, so we have to evaluate what we want to pass along, what's meaningful.

Thirdly, when I thought long and hard about Santa, I didn't like what he stood for all that much. Kids are told they will be rewarded with material goods if they are well-behaved, honest, kind people. I think that being a good person is it's own reward, and getting a Buzz Lightyear action figure for Christmas won't make a kid a better person. It's an unnecessary focus on an extrinsic reward.

And what about the kids whose parents are going through a rough time financially? They won't see as much under their tree on Christmas. Should that lead them to believe that they are on the "naughty list"? Or should their struggling parents go into credit card debt to prove to their children that they really are good (and obviously their parents are too)?

On the other hand, Santa is fun, magical. Who doesn't love to see a plate of cookies and cup of cocoa disappear, stacks of presents spilling out from under the tree, stockings filled by unseen hands? It's fun, exciting. Much better than waking up Christmas morning to finally get to open those presents from Mom and Dad, isn't it?

I honestly don't know. I smoked out Santa when I was a kid and realized on my own he was a lie, but in that moment I chose to preserve the lie for my younger brother Jeff, because I wanted him to be able to enjoy the magic a little longer. (see Santa Trap)

In this age of technology, I expect many a Santa Claus is caught on hidden Nanny Cams. We could leave it up to the kids - let them choose if they want to act detective and expose the lie or just enjoy the ride.

My son is a lot like me, so he would probably be asking for surveillance equipment in his letter to Santa. Am I ruining the magic by not giving him a good Christmas mystery to solve? (Well, there's always the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too. Maybe we could keep one. What's better: a bunny who brings candy or a fairy who pays you for lost teeth?)

Anyway, to keep up the magic, you have to focus on quantity, not quality, because there have to be a lot of presents to make an impressive display, so your kid is sure beyond a doubt that he was good this year. (Of course, there will always be a lot of presents when you are giving from both yourself and your alter-ego, Santa.)

(Side note: why does Santa bring the really cool stuff, and parents get to give socks? Maybe Santa should be rewarding good behavior with a sturdy pair of shoes, not fancy scooters. Yes, I'd like proper credit for my good deeds too. But I don't even get a "thank you." It's all Santa, Santa, Santa. Or it would be, if I mentioned him at all.)

Anyway, we followed our little guy's lead and didn't say much this year. And he only wanted to see Santa and say "hi." So that was the extent of our "teaching" him about Santa.

And now, here is the conversation I had with my son about Santa to see what he had "learned on the street":


Mommy: Tell me about Santa.
Son: He flies.
Mommy: What else?
Son: He drives a white pickup truck.
Mommy: And?
Son: And an SUV.
Mommy: Cool. Tell me more.
Son: SUV is blue.
Mommy: What do the reindeer do?
Son: They ride in the back.
Mommy: Who drives?
Son: Santa.
Mommy: Where does Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife, sit?
Son: In the middle.
Mommy: Next to Santa? On his lap?
Son: No, in the back.
Mommy: Where is Rudolph?
Son: In the back with the reindeer.
Mommy: How does Santa fly?
Son: On a kite.
Mommy: Tell me more about Santa.
Son: He has a lot of toys.
Mommy: What does he do with the toys?
Son: Goes to the playground.
Mommy: Then what does he do?
Son: He plays with the reindeer.

I like my son's story better than anything Ronak and I could ever come up with. Because let's face it, the magic is in the moments that we spend together, laugh together, walk together, talk together, play together.

Christmas isn't about a guy in a red suit who brings you stuff you want if you are good. It's about sharing yourself (and your toys) at "the playground" with all the people (and reindeer) you love. That's something to celebrate.

Merry Christmas! :-)

I know that deep thinking usually doesn't come to mind when you see Halloween on the calendar, but, for me, every holiday has become a time for evaluating and re-evaluating and re-evaluating. Because I have a child now.

Even before my son was born, I was trying to think about the holidays and how we would celebrate them, if we would celebrate them. We have a lot of holidays to choose from, as you may know, if you've ever tried to visit the Indian Embassy in DC. (Between the American holidays and the Indian ones, it seems like that place is never open.)

Holidays are important, because they are part of our culture, our traditions, that we pass down to the next generation. And being a half-British/half-mutt American, I've never felt like I had a lot to pass down. Besides eating the occasional Yorkshire pudding and drinking tea, all I have are my holidays.

But what do those holidays mean? What will I be passing down?

Halloween is any easy one to begin with, because I haven't enjoyed the holiday for a very long time.

It was fun when I was a little kid. I loved the costumes. My mom would make ears and a tail and paint an animal face on me. Or I'd make an outfit "all by myself" from a paper grocery bag that I decorated with crayons. ("I'm an owl.")

I'll never forget the year I was R2-D2. My dad made a costume from two huge boxes that he spray-painted silver. It was so heavy it made my shoulders ache, I didn't really look like R2, and the bottom box was so tight I could barely move my legs, but I loved being R2-D2. It was probably my favorite costume. The Halloween parades at my elementary school were fun, and my brother Jeff actually won a prize with that heavy, boxy R2 costume.

Each October 31st, my mom would take us around to the neighbors' houses. Many of them were elderly shut-ins who didn't know it was Halloween and were just happy to have visitors. They'd give us a quarter or a half dollar and admire our costumes. We'd all catch up, and that would be the end of a pleasant Halloween.

Then one year, my mom joined up with two other moms, and we didn't visit our rural, elderly shut-ins. We went to Stone Road, and I had my initiation into the "real Halloween." It was scary. Crowds of masked faces moving from house to house, receiving treats - and tricks - from strangers.

At one house, a mummy ran out at us while we were collecting our treats. Then the scarecrow that had been sitting in a chair got up and came toward us too. (The scarecrow was only a little less scary, because one of the older girls in our group recognized her classmate inside the costume and said "hello.")

I didn't like this Halloween. As a child who kept my possessions by the side of my bed in case of fire, flood, or nuclear war, I didn't really need anything new to be afraid of. The world as it was was frightening enough for me.

My next bad memory of the holiday was at my childhood church. For some reason, my church put on a huge haunted house each Halloween. And once I joined the youth group, I had to participate.

Someone who obviously didn't know me very well cast me as the girl who gets her hand cut off and screams.

I say they didn't know me well, because I wasn't a screamer. Boys would tell me on the elementary school playground that they noticed that I didn't scream like the other girls. I don't know why, but it just didn't come naturally to me.

And rehearsals didn't help at all. My partner, the boy doing the chopping, was extremely unhappy with me. He would chop and then scream in a very high voice, pretending to be me. Between groups, he would scream in a different voice, demanding that I do my own screaming. I don't know how I looked to the people walking through. I was scared, sad, and just wanted to go home. After that experience, I really didn't like Halloween at all any more.

What was to like? Being frightened, scaring others, flaming bags of dog poop on your porch, the rotten eggs, the shaving cream in your mailbox, etc., etc., etc.

And what about "trick or treat"? It's extortion. I know, as an adult, I got my car egged when I didn't cough up the candy. (I had just moved, and I underestimated the number of trick-or-treaters I would get, and I ran out of candy early that night. Sadly, my polite, apologetic note on the door was not well-received.)

But even with all these negative experiences, I'm still conflicted today. I don't want to toss the holiday out altogether.

I like to see my child's face light up when he swishes his giraffe tail - the one that I made for him, just like my mom used to make costumes for me. I like visiting neighbors and catching up. I even like neighborhood Halloween parties that are kid-friendly and not scary.

But I don't like "trick or treat" or being scared for fun (whatever that means) or the flaming bags of dog poop.

This year, we compromised. Our little guy dressed up as a giraffe. We attended the neighborhood party. And we stayed at home in the evening, so our son could see his friends come to the door for pretzels and raisins. (Yes, no candy. And please don't egg my car for that.)

Luckily no one scary came to the door. And no one knocked after we turned the porch light out to put our son to bed. And no one left a "calling card" to remind us to have candy next time.

But what about next year? What if we aren't so "lucky"?

I read on that there have been pushes to make the American Halloween "into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft."

I like the sound of that, so I've already begun talking with one of our neighbors about planning a kid-friendly party for next year. We can keep the best parts of the holiday: costumes, friends, fun. And leave the scary, unpleasant stuff out, because fear and rotten eggs are definitely not things I want to pass down.

So it's been almost a year since my last post, and I have a series of excuses at the ready to relate....

Excuse #1

I'm a mother of a two-year-old now. A two year old who has never been much of a nap taker and who has far more energy than I do. Taking care of his needs takes up all my time. And at the end of the day, I'm too tired to form the sentences and to remember those smaller things that make up sentences, you know, those... starts with a "w." Anyway, those w-things appear in my head in witty dialogues throughout my day, but by the time my little angel is finally asleep at night, my head is devoid of any thought except to see what I can watch on Hulu or Netflix in between loads of laundry.

Excuse #2

I've been so busy with company. My mother-in-law was visiting for almost 6 months. Then my mother was here for a month and a half. Now I'm getting ready for my youngest brother to come stay with us. You know how it is with visitors, they turn your life upside down. There's extra preparations and extra work. And there's socializing and driving places for shopping and festivals. And there's watching Netflix videos together. There's just no way to fit in writing between all the activities. And besides, wouldn't it be rude to sit with my back to my visitors while I wrote down all those witty dialogues that contain all those w-things that might possibly involve thinly veiled anecdotes about those very visitors?

Excuse #3

I upgraded to the latest b2evolution release, and I lost my skins, so my website looked like an inconsistent, amateur mess. And I couldn't remember how I had customized those skins in the first place. And the software had changed so much, I wasn't sure I should even bother remembering; there was probably a new way to do it now. And it wasn't easy to find a solid block of time to read online manuals and to experiment with code (see above excuses), so every time I'd try to work on the problem, I'd be interrupted, and by the time I got back to looking at the manuals and the code, I couldn't remember what I had done the last time. So I was always starting at square one. And looking at my messy site just depressed me too much to even think about w-things and blogging. So I plugged into Hulu and Netflix and forgot that I had ever even had a site and wondered why I bothered paying to be hosted.

Excuse #4

My husband works from home a lot, so I either have to kick him off the "good computer" or I have to work at the almost 9-year-old dinosaur computer and try not to fall asleep while I save my posts or wait for previews to appear. Zzzzzzzzzzzz... (Sorry. I just hit the "save" button. Must have dozed off waiting for the screen to refresh. Now, were was I?)

Excuse #5

I lost myself somewhere, and that is the real, unveiled truth. I became Mommy, daughter-in-law, homemaker, play-date-arranger, grocery shopper, meal preparer, laundry cleaner, etc.

At first it was difficult pushing down the little voice inside me that was screaming to be heard. But after numerous recitations of a litany of "first I have to's," the voice became quieter. Then, after subjecting her to entire seasons of television shows on Netflix and Hulu, the voice became dejected and only sulked. But she sulked quietly, so it was easy to fill my days with chores and time passes.

I stayed comfortably in quadrants 1 and 4 (from Covey's First Things First of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) until recently.

What changed?

I made new friends, had conversations, noticed my multisyllabic vocabulary coming back to me, read articles and books for myself again, got off caffeine, remembered that those w-things are words and that they are still retrievable - even at the end of the day when my little angel is asleep in bed.

And I remembered who I am and what I enjoy doing most (writing) and when I am at my best (when I am writing and not when I'm watching too much tv).

And I remembered that I not only enjoy writing, I'm actually good at it. And I'm not finished. I still have a lot more to say.

Some of my stories may not be ready to be told (excuse #6), but that doesn't mean that I can't leave those ideas to percolate and move on to other story ideas on my list.

I have to get out of my own way, getting caught up in worrying about what is marketable and worrying about who will read what I am writing and what they might think. I also need to stop adopting personas and stop pretending that I am more confident than I am and know more than I do.

I need to remember my passion and follow it wherever it leads.

And tonight it has led me to work on the dinosaur computer and post to my still-messy site while my two-year-old sleeps and my brother plans his trip to Texas.

So long, Excuses! Hello again, Me!

The transition to digital has been a series of ups and downs for us with disappointments, challenges, found gems, lost gems. You see, we are one of those households with an old TV, no cable, and rabbit ears - well, ear singular, since one broke off during a previous move.

The converter box - We applied for one of those government coupons, but it didn't arrive in the mail before we moved (so the new tenants in our old apartment must have gotten it instead). We applied for another coupon at our new address, but it arrived just as our baby was due, and by the time we were capable of opening our sleep-deprived eyes, focusing, and reading our coupon, it had expired.

Since we'd already received one at our house address, we couldn't request another coupon (even using my name instead of Ronak's, which doesn't make sense because we have different surnames, so we could be of different households. We aren't, but we could be).

Finally, the day came when we could reapply, but we'd be on a long list - which would be just fine, because they postponed the switch to digital, right?

Wrong! Many of our local stations decided to switch on the original date. So we researched converter boxes in a rush and bought one sans coupon.

Installation and Programming - Ronak hooked the box up. He tried to program it, and our baby was happy to help. Together, they successfully found some channels - including new ones in English, Spanish, and a computer-generated voice. (Unfortunately their combined effort also led to the on/off switch not being properly programmed, so we have to use the DVD remote or get up and push the on/off button on the TV.)

We were very excited to see that we got additional PBS channels and an extra CBS retro channel. This was exciting because we could watch It Takes a Thief, A-Team, Kojak, Ironside, Simon & Simon, Knightrider Battlestar Galactica, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rockford Files, etc. (Not that we had much time for TV with a small child.) We discovered new classics, and I realized that some of my old favorites were not worthy of the term "classics." We saw we had new craft, cooking, and travel shows on PBS. Then we suddenly realized we had no Fox channels at all.

This was a problem, because two of the very few shows we watch are So You Think You Can Dance and Dollhouse - both on Fox. We hit the internet to research again, and found out we needed a new antennae. Fox's signal wasn't strong enough to be picked up by one lonely rabbit ear.

Ronak considered building one out of coat hangers, but with a small baby in the mix, there just wasn't the time nor the space for such a project.

Ronak ran out to Wal-mart to buy one. (For anyone who knows us this was an extremely difficult decision, because Wal-mart is evil, but the antennae was going to be another unbudgeted addition after we had already had to purchase a convertor box without a coupon.)

So Ronak, with a heavy heart, bought the antennae at Wal-mart and checked it out in the parking lot. Lucky he did, because the box had been repackaged and was missing pieces. As he was taking it back into the store, he witnessed a customer, who had left her dogs in her car in 100 degree heat, screaming at an animal rescue person for trying to take her dogs from her. That was the last straw. Ronak returned his purchase, and left for the slightly pricier but also (hopefully) less-evil Target where he bought an antennae that was unopened and intact, and he drove away from a parking lot where the customers were kinder to their pets.

The antennae worked! And we were able to pick up Fox.

Recording Shows - I happily programmed the VCR (Yes, VCR. What do you expect from people using a single rabbit ear for years?) to record Dollhouse. We record most shows we watch because we live in central time where prime time ends at 10:00 pm (9:00 pm on Fox and CW), and we are parents with a busy schedule from dinnertime until 10:00 pm (if we're lucky). There's eating, play time, bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, story time, bed time, kitchen cleanup, and by the time we can sit down and relax, prime time is usually over. (Besides, most TV shows are not baby-interesting or baby-appropriate.)

Anyway, I set the VCR to record Dollhouse. Later that night, Ronak and I eagerly rewound, hit play, and all we saw was snow, snow, and more snow. Luckily, the episode was available on Hulu the next day, but we still needed to know what went wrong, so we could correctly tape shows in the future.

We finally figured out the problem: I had taped the VCR's channel 7 when I needed to tape the converter box's channel 7 that could only be retrieved through recording the channel "Line 1" on the VCR.

Armed with our new knowledge, Ronak set the VCR to record Dollhouse the following Friday. We eagerly sat down to see the show, knowing we'd done everything right this time. But there was no sound, only subtitles. We looked at each other blankly, then realized that Ronak had the converter box set to mute - which apparently it can record in.

The next week, we used line 1, made sure mute was off, and were able to enjoy a little prime time shortly after real prime time. And we haven't had any weird VCR recording malfunctions since.

But we still need to figure out a workaround when we go on vacation. The converter box shuts itself off when the TV hasn't been used in a while, and if it's off, there's nothing coming in from Line 1, but snow, snow, and more snow.

And I have to say I miss the days of grainy picture and garbled sound. I grew up on that fair weather signal. Now, we either have it or we don't. We'll be watching a show, then the picture and/or the sound just isn't there suddenly. Makes for challenging viewing some days when we have to guess the words and/or scenes we are missing.

But it's still cheaper than cable, and we get more channels than the 1-4 I was able to watch growing up in the Hollow (depending on the number of leaves on the trees), so I guess I can't complain - much.

I hadn't been to an eye doctor since I moved to Austin 2 1/2 years ago, because, frankly, I don't like to go to any kind of doctor if I don't have to - and I still had a supply of contacts, so I didn't have to.

But this summer, after almost 3 years since my last exam, my lens supply was dwindling and I was started to have trouble focusing, so I hit Yelp and hoped for some decent reviews for optometrists located in Cedar Park. (I mistakenly chose a dentist way down in South Austin. Not good to have healthcare visits that could be considered day trips.)

I have certain criteria when I choose an eye doctor:

  1. No liquids in my eyes (a.k.a. dilation).
  2. No super-strong prescriptions. I'm not looking for eagle vision, just the regular human variety.
  3. No inappropriate comments or glances. (Yes, Dr. Weber, this rule was made just for you.)
  4. Don't call me. I'll call you - and only if I am out of contact lenses.

You'd think that I should have run out of lenses long before three years, and you'd be right. I should have, but I stretch them. A daily would be a weekly; a weekly a monthly; a monthly a yearly... You get the idea.

Long ago I saw a special, investigative, behind the scenes report on the contact lens industry. They revealed that contacts cost just 8 cents to make, but are sold for much more. (My Acuvues cost $45 a box which breaks down to $7.50 a lens.) They also said that there was no difference between disposables (daily/weekly/monthlies) and non-disposables (yearlies).

So, being the frugal-distrusting-of-doctors person that I am, I didn't keep track of how long I wore those "monthly" contacts and popped them in every morning until they tore, escaped down the drain, or irritated my eye. (Actually those last ones were kept in a spare "holding container" until it could be determined if they were responsible for the irritation or if it was really a stray eyelash or piece of grit.

With this system, one month disposables can last as long as a year if they are treated with care and the benefit of a doubt. I've been prolonging the life of my contacts for years and with no repercussions - I thought.

Until this summer when I started having difficulty seeing, focusing. It scared me - enough to try out a new eye doctor. (And my contact lens supply was running low anyway, so making the appointment was inevitable.)

This was my first eye exam since becoming a mom (and the first in almost three years), so I was rusty and I was busy and I ran out the door forgetting my spare pair of very outdated glasses, my contact case, and my saline solution.

Anyone who is as myopic as I am knows that missing all these items makes for a very strange visit. Once the contacts were out, I was walking blind. I couldn't even see the face of my new doctor to know if he were violating rule number 3. His blurry high-energy head was flitting about like a swarm of blurry peach butterflies.

He told me something new: eyes need to breathe and mine hadn't been. He said my Acuviews were good contacts but old technology, and my oxygen-deprived eyes were compensating by growing blood vessels all over my eyes. (I had noticed that they were redder than before but attributed this to my baby and lack of sleep). He wanted me to try out some new lenses that let in more air.

I was dubious, but I thought it couldn't hurt to try a free pair of new contacts. (I was wrong.)

He also told me that the intense over 100 degree, dry heat was probably the cause of my inability to focus. The desert conditions were drying out my contacts in a way I'd probably never experienced before, causing visual disturbances. He said he'd had a steady traffic of patients with the same problem.

That was a bit reassuring, but I still wondered if these new lenses were more costly and if scaring me with the idea of blood vessels growing all over my eye was the marketing tactic. (I studied advertising in my psych classes. I know about using fear as a motivator.)

I decided to take his trojan lenses and do some research on the internet once I got home. I had some trouble seeing on my drive back, but I didn't know if I should attribute that to the new lenses or to seeing nothing but blurry shapes for the last half hour.

When I checked the web, I found out he was telling the truth. Eyes that don't breathe develop blood vessels that can eventually lead to vision problems. I decided to give the new lenses a week to see if things improved. The doctor seemed to think that the vessels might recede a bit even after that short a time.

But day two with the new lenses, I was feeling nauseous and still having trouble focusing. I had to take a trip to San Antonio the next day, and decided I would just wear my old Acuvues. At home I could close my eyes occasionally when I felt ill, but that wouldn't be possible while I was watching that Nish didn't fall in the water at Riverwalk. So I skipped a day, then went back to the doctor's experiment.

When I saw him the next Monday, he told me that my eyes were much better. He asked me how I liked the contacts, and I told him they made me want to close my eyes and vomit. (And they dried out faster than my supposedly oxygen-depriving Acuvues.)

Apparently I'm not the first person to have experienced such a thing. He explained that the chemistry of the contacts were incompatible with the chemistry of my tears. (I'd never heard of such a thing.) And he gave me a new brand to try for another week.

Well, these contacts were much better. I was able to walk without holding my head, and there was no nausea - a vast improvement. But were they really better than my old Acuvues?

I found out while cooking up a stir fry. I cried.

I've been chopping up onions for years without any effect. I thought maybe I had extraordinary eyes, immune to the potent fumes. Seems I was just wearing super shields that weren't letting any air through at all.

So I bought a year's supply of the new contacts, promised myself I wouldn't stretch them, and began crying over onions, because my eyes gotta breathe.

(Epilogue: There's no way I can stretch these contacts, because they tear before the thirty days are up. Guess that's the cost for getting oxygen to my eyes?)

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)


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