By Shelley Grieshop
ST. HENRY -- It was a party of ones.
Nine 1-year-olds playfully tugged at branches and ornaments on the helpless tree in the corner as the Homan family Christmas party got underway Saturday.
Bernie Homan, great-grandmother to all the busy nine toddlers, took the noise and commotion in stride.
"They're so much fun," says Homan of St. Henry, although she wasn't the one scrambling behind them as they attempted to empty the gift table.
Oddly enough, 10 of Homan's 24 great-grandchildren are 1 year old during a 14-day window this holiday season. The youngest are a set of twins, Luke and Bennett Gels, who celebrated their first birthday Friday. The oldest, Sullivan Woods, will turn 2 New Year's Eve. "It's just a funny coincidence," says Jane Woods of St. Henry, grandmother to three of the 10. "We just started adding them up a few weeks ago and thought, wow, this is kind of neat."
Although the three girls and six boys seemed to heartily enjoy the day, their parents appeared somewhat exhausted. That's not unusual, says Dr. Sarah Fillingame, a child psychologist at Children's Hospital, Dayton.
"Toddlers don't get stressed by holidays, as a matter of fact, they are oblivious to it and tend to enjoy the excitement," remarks Fillingame. "But their parents, on the other hand, don't always handle it well and toddlers pick up on that."
Fillingame, a mother of two who is enjoying her first Christmas as a grandmother, says there are a lot of ways to keep your sanity during the holidays.
"My first bit of advice is to keep your child's routine as normal as possible while maintaining a sense of reality," she says.
Hmmm, maybe easier said then done?
"Not really," says Fillingame, who's been on staff at the Dayton hospital for 20 years. "If grandma wants to open presents at 2, the parents have to speak up ahead of time and let her know that's nap time. Planning ahead will keep everybody's sanity."
Even grandma wants her grandchildren at their best, she adds.
Whether the party is at grandma's house or Aunt Bessie's, survey the area when you arrive, Fillingame suggests. Stairways must be barricaded and sharp objects and foreign foods removed from a toddlers' reach. Check the stability of the tree so it won't easily fall over and remember: blinking lights and shiny ornaments are a magnet to little fingers.
"No ornaments should be hung at the bottom where a toddler can reach," she says.
Holiday parties are a time for sharing, but not colds and flu.
"I see parents, who in my opinion, are overprotective," says Fillingame, adding that pediatricians everywhere will scowl at her reply. "It's going to happen, children will be around people coughing and sneezing. Kids do have to build up immunity."
Of course, always keep children away from anyone with more serious signs of illness such as fever or vomiting, she adds.
Most parents will agree that getting a child to bypass the chocolate-covered cherries for broccoli can be a battle of wills no one wants to witness. Fillingame advises parents to surrender, but only for the day.
"We're talking about one day here, one day of a child's overall nutrition. You can look the other way this once," she says.
Bernie Homan, 82, says she and her husband, Al, who died in 1999, used the buddy system to keep their family of nine children happy and healthy during the Yuletide season.
"We worked together to pull it off," she adds. "Sometimes we just had to laugh when things didn't go the way we planned."
Fillingame says it's important for parents not to "flip out" over the little things while trying to create the perfect Christmas.
"The reality is our kids just want a simple Christmas, spending extra time with their parents and extended family," she says. "Maybe we should take lessons from our little guys."