As every parent knows, there is nothing that quite matches the anticipation of a child in the weeks leading to Christmas. The pile of loot, cleverly hidden beneath brightly wrapped boxes and colorful bows scream out "Bounty" to every child's inner pirate. Race cars and games, action figures and clothes, dolls, books, and legos. Lions, tigers, and bears - oh my! Along with the traditions and treats and toys that surround the day, we hope we are creating not just a day of fun, but a memory they will treasure, along with the gifts, long after they have gone from being our little boys and girls.
The realist in us knows that is not going to happen. We know every year when New Year’s rolls around we will be sweeping up errant pine needles, tucking away garish decorations and plucking forgotten legos from between sofa cushions. By spring Dads will be tripping over action figures and threatening to throw away the next one left in the hallway. By summer, most of the new clothes have been outgrown. And, by the time the next winter rolls around, there will be a new list of "must have" items and last year's prettily wrapped gifts forgotten. But that’s okay.
In my own adulthood, I don’t remember any of the presents my favorite uncle bought me, but I will always remember him teaching me to swim in a golden colored lake surrounded by cypress trees. I still hear timber of his voice as he countered my frightened “I can’t” with “you can”. I can still feel his broad hands against my ribs while I kicked frantically….and the indescribable pride when he let go and I clumsily doggie paddled my own way to shore.
I’ve long forgotten which specific toys were under the tree from my mother on any given Christmas, but I’ll never forget the comfort of leaning against her knees while she patiently scratched and oiled my scalp before executing a complex design of interlocking braids. At least once I’d feel the sharp rap of the comb on my hand and hear “All this thick ass hair and you got the nerve to be tender headed.” It was a weekly ritual of love that I will always treasure.
My childhood was liberally sprinkled with sprained wrists from tree climbing gone wrong because I was always determined to reach the highest branch, skinned knees from falling off bikes I’d been warned were too big for me to ride, bee stings from playing in fields that were off limits. One and all were met with roughly administered first aid, a gruff “that’s what you get” and I was unceremoniously ushered back out into the world to try again. My family brought many of the presents that I thought I wanted once a year, but daily and unknowingly gave me the greatest gift of all - the gift of being fearless.
We don’t know which gifts and memories will make up the fabric of our children's life. But, in the end, it probably won't be a single thing we bought from a store, wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a bow. It will the unintended gift, the one we don't even know we're giving, that will end up being the one most treasured.