This is the best time of year to be sentimental.
It’s exhausting, cumbersome and messy to decorate my home at Christmas. It’s expensive to bake stuff that you’re just going to give away. Frankly, I’m not particularly moved to scale porch railings and rappel from tree branches to hang icicle lights that – let’s be honest here – don’t resemble frozen water. That’s more for the neighbors and nosy passersby anyway.
Yet I do it. All of it. Year after year at Christmas.
SOME OF MY MOST valuable items aren’t worth a dime. They stay tucked away in a plastic bin, in the back corner of the shed behind my garage, for 340 days of the year. They mean so much to me, though, because of the sticky residue left by fingers coated with a saliva/candy cane mixture, the scribbling by a 4-year-old on a homemade ornament and overpriced watch batteries that are almost dead because my daughter loved to hear it play its song.
The cookies I bake aren’t about eating them. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and get tired of keeping them from the idiot cats. The cookies are about the time I spend making them. The time I spend listening to my daughter suggest we should open a restaurant, ramble about a TV show or beg to use the gaudiest sprinkles in the cupboard even though they’re meant for Easter.
The lights are on a timer. While they look the same each night, based on the number of hooks and zip ties I could find in my tool box each particular year, they still trigger surprise and excitement from my daughter’s eyes and lips every time it gets dark enough for them to turn on.
NO PARENT CAN truly give his or her child every Earthly possession they want. Even those with the financial means to do so are stymied by the fact there will always be something “better” than what’s already been purchased. Poor families struggle with money and are delighted to give their children anything at all. I’m somewhere in that vast, fortunate middle; I don’t even try to meet every want on my child’s Christmas list – a policy she expects these days and doesn’t bother trying to buck with outlandish requests.
But the richest parents can give their children their time. The lucky parents have unconditional devotion to offer – the unspoken promise that he or she will spend at least some time by their child’s side every day. Every parent struggles, but only the parents who are truly poor struggle with this. And it has nothing to do with money.
OH, TO BE A child again. I cannot say this is true at her current age, as the toils and chains of society have clutched her in their omnipresent grasp like anyone else, but there was once a day when all my daughter needed to be happy at Christmas was a tree, lights and me. Those things alone made it the most wonderful time of the year. She needed only wrapping paper and bubble wrap under the tree to be happy on Christmas morning. It was the season that piqued her soul with pleasantry.
I have embodied my father’s spirit at Christmas. His quiet happiness over things often taken for granted was passed from his generation to mine. But it wasn’t always this way. I, too, once spent days studying toy catalogs, writing down my list (complete with item numbers) on loose leaf notebook paper that was not college ruled. I even came up with methods to maximize what I received on Christmas morning, such as writing down a bunch of things I didn’t really want around the things in an effort to guilt my parents into getting me the good stuff once they realized all of the things they wouldn’t be getting me.
I was a ruthless Republican at Christmas as a child – and I know my daughter, as are many children, is the same way, deep inside.
So it’s nice, these days before Christmas, to pull the ornaments from wads of tissue and paper towels stuffed into gift bags from years past, look at them, touch them, remember the days from which they came, be reminded of how quickly life moves and – finally – smile. It’s good to be that age again. It’s a warm smell, a soft feel.
Yes, Christmas lasts much longer than a day when you are a parent.