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downers: advent calendars

There’s always a wide chasm between my aspirational parenting and my parenting reality, and that chasm is neatly embodied in our advent calendar. I didn’t have an advent calendar growing up, so they were foreign to me from the get-go. But I saw this cute felt number in a Pottery Barn Kids catalog when I was pregnant and had to have it. The only time I respond to the emotional manipulation of Pottery Barn Kids, by the way, is when I am pregnant or newly delivered of child. During such times, I’m a pungent stew of hormones and neediness, and sometimes the only thing that can make it better is to buy something cutesy and then monogram the shit out of it.

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So, back to the calendar. I bought it with only the vaguest notion of what an advent calendar means, or entails. All I knew was, if other kids had these things, my kids weren’t going to go without. Our calendar is displayed prominently in our dining room, across from my seat at the table, where it sits in silent judgment of my deficient mothering. The first problem with the advent calendar is that there are so many days in December. I know it’s 25 days, but it literally feels like December is seven years long when you are trying to figure out unique gift concepts for each pocket.

And about those pockets. The pockets on mine are approximately 2 inches by 3 inches, and sewn flat. I also have two kids, so I have to fit two of the item into each pocket. To give you a rough idea of how much the dimensions of those pockets limit my options, here’s a list of the things I have found that can actually fit into those pockets.

1. Andes mints (2)

2. Starburst (2)

3. Quarters (2)

4. Peanuts in the shell (2, but very tight squeeze)

5. Binder clips (2, the small size)

6. Splenda (2 packets)

Given these kinds of options, my kids would be happy if all 25 pockets had Andes mints or Starburst in them, no question. But I can’t live with that. I just can’t. For starters, I’m not sure Tate knows how to eat a Starburst yet. I sat down to dinner and found an oleaginous pink square with bite marks, stuck to my placemat. And what would 25 days of sugar teach them, anyway? That Jesus wants them to have candy? That their mom lacks creativity, and sufficient motivation?

So I’m forced to spend my downtime thinking of things to stick in those pockets. I went shopping today with my friend Alena and all I could think about is that advent calendar with all its empty pockets. So annoying. And that’s why I’m so pleased with tomorrow’s selection, which are free sample atomizers from the Nordstrom perfume counter, two of which slide into the pocket for December 4th as if they were made for it. I think Finn is really going to dig the Tom Ford White Patchouli, because he’s really my glam boho at heart. And definitely the Balenciaga for Tate. “A fragrance that is mysterious and fragile, yet leaves a lasting trail.” Tate is all about a lasting trail of odors. He’s going to love it.

Sigh. Just 21 days to go. Please help.

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69 Comments Post a comment
  1. Trang #

    You could make coupons for each child to redeem something each day. like a cookie, or trip to a movie, drive to see christmas lights or any treat or activity you would already do this time of year.

    December 6, 2012
  2. Right there with you. I actually sewed 24 adorable, Swedish/modern/country style pouches to serve the same purpose. The boys get all excited about this. Then I forget to put anything in the pouches for the first three days. The rest of the days? They now contain candy canes left over from last year, and many of what my kids call “hairdresser mints”–you know, the lame kind that businesses give out for free. Go Mom! Let’s just embrace it.

    December 6, 2012
  3. Lori #

    Presence of Mind on Hawthrorne has that wall on the west side with lots of very small knick knacks for kids and kids at heart.

    December 5, 2012
  4. The chocolate coins from Trader Joe’s, bag of assorted sizes, may fit those tiny pockets. They’re from around the world; I’ve seen kroners, euros and US denominations, so you could even pretend they’re educational!

    Or you could print out a bunch of corny christmas jokes and riddles (think christmas cracker jokes).

    December 5, 2012
  5. String tied in a circle (for playing cat’s cradle), rubberbands to start an official rubberband “ball”, character/superhero buttons, wands from 2 bubble making jars, a jacks game broken out into however many squares (get an extra ball to make it a 2-way), scavenger hunt clues to find anything that won’t fit “hidden”, crayons, golf pencils, playing card w clothespin (to make bicycle wheel noisemakers), keychain/backpack charms, sidewalk chalk, tickets to represent a special trip somewhere (movie, museum), coupons for solo time with Mom/Dad…. I realize these are beginning to sound like some “we never knew we were poor growing up” gift collection so I’ll stop now.

    I used to be charmed with the idea of counting down via advent calendars. We tried them all – the remove a loop a day versions, the “open a door for a scripture verse” type, the chocolate every day kind – they all had their ups and downs. Now our kids are grown (but don’t have kids of their own yet) so we simply let the month slide by unmarked. And….thanks to you….I am reminded of why to be grateful for where we are rather than fret about where we “could be” in terms of family situations or holiday observations. I go nuts trying to find appropriate stocking stuffers for my grown kids and realized…it doesn’t matter how old they get…it is always SOMEthing making Moms a little crazy this time of year.

    December 5, 2012
    • thank you for that awesome list of ideas! and yes, there is something about december that takes the momsanity/dadsanity to another level

      December 5, 2012
  6. We never had gifts in our Advent Calendar! We had a stuffed Santa that we moved from day to day to countdown for Christmas.

    December 4, 2012
  7. My Godmother always gave us ours and they were pre packaged. It was always a piece of chocolate. You could find some chocolate coins and put them in a few pockets. 🙂

    December 4, 2012
  8. Israel Askew #

    Now I’m finding enjoyment in thinking about all the little things that could go in those pouches. I cracked up in public at a mall play park reading this one.

    December 4, 2012
    • mall play parks are so terrifying. that is all

      December 5, 2012
  9. You could get a 25 piece Christmas puzzle and place one piece in each pocket so that it fits with one from the previous pocket.
    When it’s complete, modge podge it together and use it for next year’s Christmas decorations. Hmmm, maybe I should do this.

    December 4, 2012
    • yes, too late for this year but i have high hopes for 2013

      December 5, 2012
    • Trang #

      That’s such a great idea! i will have to file this for next year

      December 6, 2012
  10. not a parent #

    Why not put pieces of a puzzle in the pockets and put the puzzle together on Christmas? Just a thought by a guy who can barely abide other people’s kids.

    December 4, 2012
    • this is an excellent idea, one that i will endeavor to remember for next year’s effort

      December 5, 2012
  11. Balloons, tootsie rolls, super-hero band-aids? I know the band-aids sound funny but when my boys were that age I would catch them trying to put band-aids all over their arms!

    December 4, 2012
    • yes. i hear a lot of “mommy i need a band aid.”

      December 5, 2012
  12. If you have slightly bigger items than you could tuck them somewhere else (under your tree, in a certain drawer, etc.) and slip a note into the calendar. Just a suggestion. In lieu of an advent calendar at all this year we just have a basket of Hershey’s kisses. What about marbles? Or bouncy balls?

    December 4, 2012
    • marbles. yes. tate is safely out of the eating marbles phase

      December 4, 2012
  13. That boy looks totally jazzed…not! Would a Hot Wheels fit? I just can’t imagine what you’ll get two of in those little pockets, as adorable as they are. On the other hand, I don’t want to be negative, but I feel like it might just be time to scrap that sucker and invest in a couple of more user friendly calendars or just order two of the Lego advent calendars or something equally as awesome. Quite frankly, even as an adult, I would be happy with the Lego one, but I’m pretty much a woman child so that goes without saying.

    December 4, 2012
    • the lego calendar, which i saw for the first time only last year (after i’d bought this ball and chain), totally blew my mind. i mean, i could hand sew all their advent treats and it would mean less to them than a lego advent calendar

      December 4, 2012
      • Sad but most likely true…so sorry, but Lego pretty much trumps all.

        December 4, 2012
      • demondoll247 #

        Yep, Legos rule their little hearts. Since you already have an advent, may I suggest the ‘wedge’ that separates the locked-in/stuck blocks? Or even get a package of characters and shove them in the little pockets?
        BTW, we get a Lego advent on sale for the next Christmas season- one of the only things we manage to plan ahead…

        December 4, 2012
  14. Suzanne #

    I always feel so bah humbug at this time of year. We do advent calendars… actually, my Mom does advent calendars and then I argue with my kids about them. She bought these really cute elves that are 5′ tall and they have pockets of various sizes. She spends the entire year culling gifts for her 4 grandchildren. She then painstakingly wraps them all beautifully and designates which grandchild they are for (cause she doesn’t buy them all the same thing). And here’s the thing – the kids LOVE the idea of the advent calendar. And generally, they are unimpressed every day when they open their gift. It’s all just STUFF and I am so over the amount of STUFF taking up space in our lives. I really like Heidi’s idea of slips of paper with things you can do together or things they can do for other people in their community. I refuse to fill the elf. I think it’s a waste of time and money and it’s 95% full of things the kids don’t want or need. I have a hard time with this holiday. It’s so commercial, and as a non-religious family, we don’t celebrate Christ. It’s empty and yet I feel compelled to wrap up enough stuff for my kids to put under the tree – even though they already have a house full that they are bored with. I want my kids to know how fortunate they are and I don’t know how. I’m pretty sure that more stuff is not the answer though. Oh, and for what it’s worth, my Mom doesn’t give a shit how big the pockets are. Whatever doesn’t fit just goes in a big basket below the enormous elf and the kids get to choose on an ’empty’ day. Can’t wait for the elf on the shelf post. I need to keep inventing reasons he’s in the same place every day.

    December 4, 2012
    • i feel like tillie and lucas must really love their grandma. joking aside i told myself this year that i would focus on the traditions that mean something to me—which are mostly food-based—but there is something about how excited they get when they come downstairs and look for the elf or whatever. also not being religious, i secularized this holiday long ago, and now i just think of it more as a month to celebrate childhood. koreans have a children’s day and i think of it as kind of like that, on ‘roids

      December 4, 2012
      • hallerwoman #

        That is the hardest part for me. I don’t want to rob them of the joy, but I also don’t want to teach that joy comes from stuff. A fine balance.

        December 4, 2012
    • but joy does come from stuff. i imagine i will feel very joyful when i check tate’s folder at pickup today, for example

      December 4, 2012
      • hallerwoman #

        touché.

        December 4, 2012
  15. sbt #

    Wait a minute. You’re supposed to get a mini-gift in your advent calendar for each day of December? And each kid gets their own gift?!! Hmmm. Somehow my mom had all three of us hoodwinked into thinking the fun was in hanging a little ornament on a felt tree with 25 branch-tips on it – and every morning in the spirit of cooperation we had to decide whose turn it was. You’re way ahead of that Yoona! I say cut yourself some slack and go with the Andes mints every day. Jesus wants you to support the local dentists.

    December 4, 2012
    • great, now i feel like i need a felt tree with 25 branch tips.

      December 4, 2012
  16. CathyP #

    We like to give our kids little written affirmations, so that could be a good thing that would fit. Ours are in a journal which, sadly, hasn’t been written in for months now – not because they don’t have plenty to affirm, but we’ve just gotten lazy. 🙂 But you could write them on little slips of paper to fold and put in. Our kids LOVE hearing their affirmations! Good luck!

    December 4, 2012
    • these suggestions are starting to make me feel like a really crap mom. affirmations: lovely

      December 4, 2012
  17. I must commend you on really knowing the good brands. Balenciaga? Ford? Most heathens would stick with Drakkar Noir.

    you’re being hard on yourself. Stick with what the kids want. Or you can put Nordstrom’s gift cards in there. Then offer a nickel for them.

    December 4, 2012
    • a gift card will not fit. too wide. plus my entire budget for the calendar is like $25. i suppose if i make some of them i can splurge on other days. hmm. also, i will be sad the day i no longer respond to a whiff of drakkar noir

      December 4, 2012
  18. Heidi #

    Some of our advent calendar spots are filled with a small ornament that my kids can hang on the tree – your boys might like that. I found some tiny ornaments at Michael’s and Hallmark, like a mini snowglobe, a little tinkly bell, a glittery bird and a little horn. I use the same set of things each year, with a scripture or bible story to read for each one that relates to the item, so at least I don’ t have to scramble to come up with new stuff each year. Some other edibles you could use – goldfish crackers, swedish fish, gummy bears, raisins or pistachios. Or fold up a piece of paper with a “treat” on it like – “make cookies with mommy”, or “get donuts with daddy”, or even a service oriented thing like “help a neighbor” (and maybe you could prearrange with someone something small they need done), or “visit someone who is lonely” (a retirement home perhaps), or “give a toy to someone in need” (at a shelter or through one of the many programs at Christmastime). Organize your 25 things once, save it, and reuse it year after year like I do! They forget the details in 11 months, they only remember that it was fun to discover it each day! Ours are very simple but when you ask my kids what they love about Christmastime, the advent calendar is their favorite.

    December 4, 2012
    • i really like the idea of making some of the treats more outward looking–service, community, etc. i am inspired. thanks!

      December 4, 2012
      • Heidi #

        Seriously don’t be too hard on yourself and compare yourself to what other moms do. I understand the overwhelming aspect, and even though I organized mine several years ago and do the same things each year, I’m still only about a day ahead of where we are. Last night I had to sneak in and shove the item in the pocket a few minutes before we did it. If it just makes December stressful for you, don’t do it. I’m the only one in our household who seems to make any of the “special” things happen, although I’ve heard that some dads actually shop and bake. Not here. There’s only so much each of us can handle, and when it stops being fun, it starts making us bitter. More bitterness we can do without.

        December 4, 2012
  19. Stickers! They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!

    December 4, 2012
    • yes, yes. stickers, now why didn’t i think of that

      December 4, 2012
  20. ooh ooh ooh I always had a thing for pensil sharpeners and erasers when I was a kid too

    December 4, 2012
    • this is an excellent idea. the sharpener has the requisite air of danger

      December 4, 2012
      • glad you like it and apologies for my current lack of spelling skills

        December 4, 2012
  21. Maybe some appropriately themed band-aids? Fun twirly straws? “Coupons” for fun activities with Mom and/or Dad? (Coming out of the woodwork here but love your blog!)

    December 4, 2012
    • must we involve play with mom and dad?? just kidding, sort of. my kids go nuts for band aids, great idea. and thank you!

      December 4, 2012
  22. jo #

    goto collage in sellwood or on alberta. they have tons of little gems and trinkets that my kids think are so special. tiny crayons, stamps, japanese erasers- endless possibilities await you there!

    December 4, 2012
    • I think cuz was telling me about this place–she mentioned the cool stamps in particular. I will definitely check it out, thanks Jo

      December 4, 2012
  23. Rachel #

    Lego people….Two might fit? But then you’ll have to step on them later.

    December 4, 2012
    • I tried this–they fit but one has to pop out the top. 😦

      December 4, 2012
  24. mileszoo #

    Not sure of your beliefs about God, but could put a scripture to read each day or how about a fun activity for you and the boys to do together?

    December 4, 2012
    • great idea. mini tic tac toe squares maybe

      December 4, 2012
      • mileszoo #

        Sorry wasn’t clear about the fun activity to do. On slips of paper write an activity per day like Watch a Christmas show or bake cookies. Take a walk around the neighborhood and look at lights.Make a special ornament, etc.

        December 5, 2012
  25. Mari #

    Yoona this is spot on. We have an advent calendar with slightly bigger windows but the stress of filling them is also slightly bigger {thank goodness for lipmann party store}. I was at a party when a dad complained about the things his older kids were expecting in theirs and I think I decided at that moment we will have to give this thing away… I am regretting our purchase as much as the dreaded elf on the shelf. Which if you haven’t bought I wouldn’t recommend, though it would probably make for an excellent blog post.. Happy holidays. -mari {friend of emily jones}

    December 4, 2012
    • The elf on the shelf post is coming my dear. And lippman’s is simply brilliant. Thank you

      December 4, 2012
    • Also, Emily rules

      December 4, 2012
      • Mari #

        Emily does rule. I knew dripping her name was a good idea… My only useful suggestion is temporary tattoos. Your kids will look so hip by the end of the month.

        December 4, 2012
      • But…I loathe applying them. If I had girls it seems like this would be easier. I say that a lot

        December 4, 2012
      • Mari #

        Dropping. Oops

        December 4, 2012
      • Emily Jones #

        Mari! Yoona! You’re embarrassing me.
        I was just going to say that I am in shock that an advent calendar could require such creativity. My sister and I did one when I was a kid, but it was filled with prepackaged bad chocolate. We loved it anyway. It’s something about the countdown.
        I agree with the suggestions to cut yourself some slack, and maybe save the creative doodads for their stockings. I’ve been stressing a little on how to fill stockings without spending my entire gift budget and you have gotten some helpful suggestions here.

        December 4, 2012
      • Emily Jones #

        OK, despite everything, this post made me realize I want an advent calendar in our house, so I started looking online, and remembered we also had a cute one where you hung a little sewn ornament from a button every day. I feel bad for throwing my mom under the bus with the bad chocolate story.

        December 5, 2012
  26. do they still make micro machines? or those tech teck skate boards?

    December 4, 2012
  27. Chicago Jill #

    Chapstick! Travel-sized Kleenex! Staples? Eye drops? Earrings? Ohhhh… lame. 😦

    December 4, 2012
    • Chapstick is actually a great idea. I am so excited that this post is generating ideas that will make my life easier. Thank you

      December 4, 2012

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