The holidays are upon us! We’ve been reading The Grinch and gearing up for a fun celebration, though we approach that, in our family, in a decidedly low-key way. We try to limit holiday travel, and even (erm, especially?) extended family shenanigans; we clear our schedules and cozy up together, at home, instead. This tradition of small-scale winter holidays was born the Christmas before we had Kaspar, when Aaron and I turned down all in-law advances and stayed in Brooklyn, just us, together. We slept in, bought ourselves a Wii, ordered pizza and spent Christmas day ‘bowling’ in our tiny living room. It was the best. Stress free. Since then, Christmas has been more about the kiddo, and less about sleeping in, but still – because it’s a (newish) family tradition – we’re all about lazy, home-style Christmas breaks. (Don’t worry: we make sure to visit with all of the grandparents before and after the holidays happen. We’re selfish about Christmas morning proper, but the season is all about sharing good times with the fams.)

Streamlined, small-scale gifting is a part of that tradition, too. Back in Brooklyn, where space was limited and ‘stuff’ just got in the way, we thought carefully about anything new that came into our home. And while everything may be bigger in Texas, we still do our best to stave off the endless stuff-pile that is American life (especially American life with kids!). We focus on just one or two main presents, per person, choosing items we think will inspire lots of fun throughout the year to come, instead of just ending up in a pile, forgotten. This year, Kaspar is getting a talking, plastic Spiderman action figure (it begins), which Aaron bought for him… and is very excited about. I’m sure Kas will be, too. But his main present is one Aaron and I made together, which was inspired by a photo his teacher sent to us from school one afternoon. In it, Kaspar sat at a small table, wielding child-proof scissors and carefully cutting a piece of paper into a million little bits. Beneath the pic, his teacher typed: “He focused on this work for a full twenty minutes!”

Kaspar is super proud of his new scissors-skills – he’s apparently been showing them off for the rest of the school’s staff, when anyone happens to stop by the classroom – and I’m impressed  and pleased with his recent capacity for focus. He loves to draw, cut, and make stuff; if markers, paper, paint or glue are involved, he’s all-in. But what struck me the most about that photo wasn’t Kaspar’s focus, or his craft. It was his work station – the table and chair. 

I regularly set up activities for Kaspar at our kitchen table, at home, and he’s always excited when I do. But if he had a little space to call his own, with creative materials to choose from, I know he’d dive in and get his paper-cutting (etc.) groove on independently. (Independence is his thing these days. Like whoa.) So I hit up Craigslist and found a wooden table and chairs another mom was selling for $25. Two hours later – after running the idea by Aaron and showing him the listing – I had the table and chairs in the trunk of our car, and big plans for their renovation in the front of my mind.

As you may have noticed, I am somewhat impulsive when it comes to projects; Aaron, on the other hand, is a planner. I’m big on concept; Aaron’s thorough with details. I cut corners, and am content with “good enough”; Aaron likes to do a job right when he decides it’s worth doing. But, he can sometimes take forever to even make up his mind to embark on something. (For my part, I often embark on said somethings without adequately preparing, then quit half-way through when the somethings go South.) Surprisingly, our very different project-making styles support each other (and cancel their respective pitfalls out) when we go in on things together. Our recent activity table makeover was a perfect example of this unique alchemy.

Aaron actually didn’t feel, at first, that the table and chairs needed to be painted at all. He viewed them with a purely utilitarian eye, and said they’d be fine for a work space for Kaspar just as they were. I, however, felt that of course they’d need a full DIY makeover. The previous owners (aged 8 and 5) had drawn on them with crayons, and their mom had painted over their surfaces with one coat of white paint. Not only could you see through the paint, but it wasn’t glossy. And I hate the feel of rough paint. Ugh. Besides that, the whole point was to make something amazing out of something that was verging on junk. Concept, remember? (And yo, we were talking about Christmas… we may be low-key, but we’re not total slackers.)

I think Aaron pretty much heard all of this as ‘more to do’ in our long list of lots to do, so I told him not to worry about it; I’d take care of everything. I intended to get the job done right. As in, I intended to do some actual planning and get the proper materials before beginning. (I am so much wiser now that I’m 28!) I headed over to a nearby store, Treehouse, which is essentially an environmentally-conscious (and independent, local biz) version of Home Depot, bringing one of the chairs with me. I told the head paint guy what I wanted to do, and he deftly interpreted my descriptive words (“shiny, smooth paint” = polyurethane layer, apparently) and hooked me up with a pint of VOC-free bright green paint, and one of low-VOC (no-VOC once dried) polyurethane. (I had some acrylics at home for detailing… And Aaron had agreed, before I left, to rock out his art skills per my conceptual requests once the project advanced to that stage.)

Getting there...
Almost done...
By the time I’d painted the table and chairs green, and added a red border on the table-top (I did this by taping it off, then painting… a good way to work with limited artistic talent), Aaron could see where the project was headed. Which is to say, he saw the conceptual light. I imagined fox and raccoon faces painted, respectively, on each of the chairs, but he suggested we go with stylized silhouettes instead. He also added some deer to the table top. The result is current, yet classic. I love it! (My man's a genius.) Aaron does, too.  And so will Kaspar. We’re going to stuff his stocking with art supplies, and we still need to figure out a kid-accessible shelving/storage setup to house them in (ideas?). But we’re 90% of the way there. Christmas, here we come.
This activity table and chairs cost under $100 total (and we have tons of paint and poly left over), is made with recycled and non-toxic materials, and is completely unique/one-of-a-kind. It also made for a fun bonding activity for the hubs and me (cuz, truth is, that Wii has pretty much collected dust since the little man arrived). Best of all, I know Kaspar will use it all the time. I can’t wait to see his face when he first sees his very own workspace. And I look forward to admiring all of the masterpieces (and shredded-paper messes) he creates there. 
Do you like it? What are your kids or loved ones getting for Christmas/Hanukkah/end of Mayan time? Do you have any new-ish traditions? Do you embrace, or stave off, gifty 'stuff'?
12/19/2012 14:22

It's FABULOUS!! Love love love it! Where are you hiding it so he doesn't see it?

12/19/2012 14:24

And in answer to your question... My little girl is getting way too much, but we really don't get her stuff throughout the year, and it's her last Christmas as an only child so... That's my excuse for going nuts (and I did). She's also been opening a book every day for the "12 days of Christmas". Other things range from dress up shoes and dresses to a basketball hoop and take apart airplane.

12/22/2012 11:33

Ooo good gifts! We're giving Kas a basketball hoop, too; another Craigslist purchase. A take-apart airplane sounds so fun! I can't wait to see the cute dresses and shoes you got for Lil' J, too. :-) We're hiding Kaspar's table in our bedroom right now, keeping the door closed. At night we move them into our bathroom so he doesn't see them when he comes to wake us up in the morning (or the middle of the night...). Three more days! Is it me, or is giving great gifts to our kids as fun as getting gifts was when we were kids ourselves?


Leave a Reply.