Christmas in June

Yesterday, Liam and I were building a train track, and, as usually happens, we ended up just one piece short of what we really wanted to build.  After a bit of trying to make it work with the pieces we had available, and then, failing that, trying to convince Liam that perhaps a redesign was required, I remembered that we had some extra train track pieces stored in the closet.  They’re in the closet because they’re for the Christmas train, not the “regular” train.

Every January and February, I slowly start to squirrel away the Christmas decorations and toys.  I do it stealthily, and gradually, to attempt to avoid an all-out uprising in favor of keeping our Christmas decorations up until summer.  Understandably, the boys love their Christmas stuff, and they generally object to having it put away.  With a few exceptions (both Liam and Benjamin have several Christmas-themed stuffed animals that stay out all year because they are so dearly loved) the decorations and toys get put away eventually.  (I stand firm in the face of adversity because I really belive they’re more special to all of us if they only come out for a little while each year.)  The manger scene, the Christmas train, the Santa books — all of it eventually gets boxed up and put in the closet.

But yesterday, to solve our engineering problem with the train, I decided to retrieve a single piece of curved track from the closet to complete our creation.  Ta-da!  Success!

Kind of.  Because, of course, Liam quickly figured out that where there was one piece of the Christmas train, there would be more.  And he began to ask, very sweetly and “Please please please!” if I would get the Christmas train out for him.  And, as kindly as I could, I explained that the Christmas train was put away for the season.  But he persisted in asking for it.

And, after a few minutes, I went ahead and got it out.  Not because I was frustrated or overwhelmed with his asking (which was actually uncharacteristically respectful) but because, why say no?  Sure, it’s not Christmas.  Yes, it’s June.  The Christmas train has been put away for about 5 months now, so it seems plenty special to get it out and enjoy it again.

And so, we had Christmas train construction and play time last night.  We got out the rest of the track, the Christmas train, the gingerbread cookie decorations (note — not real cookies), the Christmas wreaths for the train set and, of course, the little plastic Christmas trees that go with the set.  Because, why not?  Christmas is great and it’s really nice to just say yes once in a while for no real reason.  Liam is so happy.

(The only unintended consequence is that Liam now has us counting down how many days until Santa comes . . . oops!)  Merry Christmas to all (in June)!

Kinder Eggs

20130423-154836.jpgOf all of the sweets available here in Austria, I think the boys have become most fond of Kinder Eggs (as long as you don’t count gelato, which is definitely their favorite). For those who aren’t familiar with them, a Kinder Egg is a chocolate egg (about the size of a real egg) wrapped in foil, and inside the hollow egg is a plastic capsule that contains a toy. The toy is (by necessity) usually something very small, and found at random — there isn’t anything on the outside to indicate what kind of toy is inside — it could be a small race car, a figurine, a glider, a magnifying glass . . . I’m actually quite impressed at the variety of things we find in there. (Many of the toys come disassembled and need to be put together out of rather small parts. This is part of the reason for their ban in the US — in addition to a law from the 1930s forbidding any toy to be embedded inside of candy.)

The boys love them. The chocolate is reasonably good, but the combination of chocolate and toy surprise is irresistible to my kids. They have become the most common choice when they kids get to select their own treats from the store. Benjamin commonly asks for them in both English and German (“Kinder Eier”) which causes me to suspect that they are also probably a topic of conversation at school.

Last night, after dinner (and Kinder Eggs), we were talking with the boys about our friends who will be visiting from the US in a few weeks, along with their 3 year old daughter. The boys were discussing which toys they think she’ll like the best, and after hypothesizing that the race cars, trains and bikes will probably be her favorites, Benjamin said, “I know! I think she’ll like the Kinder Eggs the best! Do you think she likes Kinder Eggs?” to which I replied that I wasn’t sure she’d ever had one, because they don’t have Kinder Eggs in the US. Benjamin’s jaw dropped, and he said, with some awe, “Wow. Austria really DOES have some pretty good stuff.”

Alpine toys!

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Salzburg, we stopped by a little town near our hotel for dinner.  On the way back to our car, Benjamin and Liam froze, wide-eyed and completely captivated by a window display of a toy store.  As a parent of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, this is nothing new.  I was preparing to round them up and herd them back down the sidewalk when I took a closer look at the display.

It was an entire window display scene of Playmobil dolls and toys, all very clearly set in the Alps.  And it was fantastically cool.


There were mountain cable cars, perfect little Alpine homes and restaurants, mountain climbers, mountain rescue helicopters, hikers (with the type of walking sticks I’ve only ever seen in this part of Europe), cows with wreaths of flowers, and dolls in dirndls and lederhosen.  They all looked just so perfectly Austrian.  I’d never really seen anything quite like it. I was as enthralled and giggly as the boys, gazing at the display and discovering tiny details.

After getting home and doing some research, I came to find out that Playmobil is a German company (which I didn’t know, because I was familiar with them in the US, and had never seen any toys which particularly gave away their origins) and that they usually release their toys first in this part of Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.).  Then some (but not all) types are released in the rest of the world, including in the US.  So, although I’m skeptical that these Alpine toys will ever be released in the US, if they ever are, it won’t be until next year at the earliest.

I’m kind of glad that the shop wasn’t open, because I suspect I would have gone in and gone on a little Austrian toy shopping binge that probably wasn’t necessary.  I do think, though, that the boys may receive a few of these for their birthdays, or maybe for Christmas, this year.  I think they’re fantastically cute, and I think they’ll probably be a great way of helping the kids hold on to some of the memories of their experiences here.  (And, at the very least, Mommy wants to play!)

Being the little brother

Liam received a birthday present in the mail today — from his Grandma — two presents, actually:  one for him and one for Benjamin.  We got the package early today, but waited to open it until Benjamin got home, because I knew how excited he’d be.  When I told him, on the way home from school, that we had a package from Grandma waiting for him & Liam, he became a bouncing, whirling ball of 3 year old excitement.  When we got home, he didn’t even want to wait until he had taken off his shoes and sweatshirt (for B, this is saying something) — he wanted Liam to open his present!

Of course, Benjamin helped him.  The idea was for Liam to decide which one he liked and for Benjamin to have the other.  Benjamin decided, before opening the wrapped packages, that the first one would be for Liam and the second would be for him.  (I give him MAJOR credit for deciding that the first gift was for Liam.)  The gifts were two soft cars from the “Cars” movies.  The first one was Mater, and the second one was Lightning McQueen, which worked out very well (I suspect that regardless of the order they’d been opened in, B would have ended up with Lightning McQueen, but as it was, he got to stick to his initial plan).  Liam showed no particular preference, so I went with Benjamin’s choice.  Liam is very happy with his new truck, and B is happy with this car, and that works out perfectly.

I think, though, as a little brother, you must end up spending a lot of time being the sidekick — Robin to Batman, Mater to Lightning McQueen.  And I think that’s fine, for now — Liam is thrilled with his new truck (and I’m sure he would have been thrilled with the car, if it had gone the other way).  But there will be a day when Liam doesn’t want Benjamin to choose which toy is his, and there will be a day when Liam prefers to play the hero.

There’s a part of me that dreads that day — there will be fireworks, I know.  But, at the same time, I think this is one of the great things about having siblings:  it is so much easier to live through that drama as a child instead of having to wait until you’re grown up to discover the world doesn’t turn around the place you stand.  It’ll be an interesting day, when it comes to pass.

I am so happy to watch my boys together.  Benjamin very sweetly took Liam’s truck into his room and put it in his bed before I put Liam down for his nap today.  They played and raced together all afternoon.  Liam is so happy to play with his brother — he likes his truck, but I think the best present for him is being able to play cars together with Benjamin.  He is a happy little 1 year old.

Birthday shopping and a lost balloon

This morning, Benjamin and I set out to do some gift shoping for Liam’s birthday (which is Monday, but we’re celebrating tomorrow).  We’ve already gotten him a book and a replacement for another toy that he has that’s worn out (which was a hand-me-down from Benjamin, who got it as a hand-me-down from his Aunt Margaret — so Liam’s simply getting a new incarnation of it).  I wanted to get him a couple of fun, new things for his birthday, too.

We left the house intending to go to the big mall, which is towards the outer parts of Vienna.  As we got to the courtyard of our building, we ran into one of our neighbors, and when we told her about our plans, she instead pointed us towards a big toy store which was much closer to our house.  I had no idea it was there!

We found the toy store — it is FANTASTIC.  I’m disappointed that we ever trekked out to the mall when this place is so close.  Benjamin and I looked all through the store for toys for Liam’s birthday.  Every 30 seconds or so, Benjamin would stop, point, and gasp, “Oh my gosh!” at some toy he had just seen.  They had everything:  books, blocks, dolls, trucks, cars, games, arts & crafts supplies, bikes, stuffed animals.  The store was four floors of toy shopping fun.

Benjamin was such a great helper.  He helped me pick out things for Liam (and suggested many things which, although not age appropriate for Liam, would have made lovely gifts for a 3 year old I know).  He was so thoughtful and kind when he was choosing things — he really thought about what Liam would enjoy.  I had an idea of one thing to get for Liam, but Benjamin was adamant about another toy — we went with his choice.  He was so excited about the idea of Liam playing with his new toys and so excited that it’s going to be his birthday.

010After we had chosen two gifts for Liam, we went downstairs to the balloon section.  I was going to select a few “1st birthday” balloons, but Benjamin had his heart set on a frog and a pirate ship that he found — really cool ones.  He really wanted them for Liam.  So, we went with those.  We purchased everything and opted to walk the 20 minutes home so we didn’t have to deal with the balloons on the train.  (I was having visions of us getting on the train and the balloons getting stuck on the opposite side of the door — birthday balloon carnage!)

The weather for our walk home was perfect:  sunny, cool and beautiful.  Benjamin and I talked about the things we saw along the way, and he talked about how excited he was so give Liam his presents.  I tried to impress upon him the idea that these things should be surprises (the thought is rather lost on him).  It was a perfect morning.  I was so impressed with how kind, well behaved and sweet Benjamin had been, and I, too, was looking forward to presenting Liam with his gifts and balloons.

And then, at the end of our block, Mommy blew it.  I shifted my grip on the bag of toys and I must have let go of the balloons.  I jumped in time to grab the frog, but I wasn’t able to catch the pirate ship.  We stood on the sidewalk and watched, helplessly, as it drifted up and up, past the buildings and into the sky.

Benjamin was devastated.  He sobbed, he screamed, he shook.  I felt like doing the same thing, but all I could do was to hug him and tell him I was sorry.  Mommy messed up.  Mommy made a mistake.  I didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.  I feel terrible.

Instead of arriving triumphantly home with our packages, we were disappointed and sad.  After getting home and calming Benjamin down, I left the boys with Dan and went back to the store to try to find another one — but of course, it had been the last one.  I 012know Liam doesn’t care — he never knew there was a pirate ship balloon, and he’s thrilled with the frog.  But Benjamin is so sad.  He was so excited to give it to Liam, and he keeps telling me he’s worried about the balloon — he wants to know what will happen to it now.  All through the day, he’s had bouts of crying about it.

My sweet boys.  I love them so much.  Benjamin’s sweet enthusiasm this morning was wonderful to experience.  His sadness and disappointment are awful.  Liam is so excited to have his frog balloon, and I know that he’ll love his presents — most of all the ones that Benjamin chose for him with so much love.  Best of all for his birthday, though, Liam has a sweet and wonderful brother who loves him.  We are all so lucky.