Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Presents vs Time

Christmas is upon us once more. As the parents of 19 and 15 year old children, it has been quite some time since there was anything “fun” under the tree. By fun I mean awesome toys that strike the imagination. I have to admit that with the exception of McDonald’s toys or other rinky-tink items, I have ALL of my children’s favorite toys in storage waiting for the day when they would like them back for their own children. Back in the “fun toy” days before wrapping, my husband and I would dismantle toys from all from the horrible Fort Knox shrink wrap, ties, staples, and other torturous packing and reinsert them into the box so that the kids could start playing right when they opened them without any pieces thrown away on accident.

It was always hard to find a place to stop shopping when they were little. The temptation to spend without reservation was always there because there were SO MANY choices. Fortunately, our children always preferred playing outside when they could so we didn’t have only video games under the tree. Our daughter never liked dolls – so Little Pet Shop and the like found places with GI Joe’s and other toys that required imagination. With a daddy that always worked swing shift, our children knew how to play quietly. They would take their toys into the living room and set up kingdoms of their own and be entertained for hours, so imaginative toys ruled the day.

As often as Tim’s schedule would allow we used to have “coloring nights”. This was different than family night. Family night was watching movies and eating popcorn (and was hard to come by because Tim was often not home), but friends and family might still drop by or call and we were open to whatever might come up. Coloring nights on the other hand, were sacred. We shut off all phones (cell AND land line). Locked the door. Pulled the curtains. Put a sign on the door that we hoped visitors would come again some other time as we were unavailable. Looking back, I think the act of putting the sign on the door made the fact that we were devoting our UNINTERRUPTED time to them a solid thing. We had piles of coloring books and a giant tub of crayons. We put the coloring books very close to one another on the floor so that when we laid on the floor to color our heads were almost touching. Tim and I would color and be silent. As a parent, it has always been hard for me not to prod and pry to get every last detail. Tim is always the smarter one. He just asks a question or two – enough to open a door – and then he waits for THEM to talk. On coloring night in the space of our silence, the children would begin to talk. Talk about their day, their friends, their dreams, their worries. It was amazing the amount of insight into two little people that would come out during those few hours. Sometimes we would laugh until we cried. Sometimes their thoughts would extend into what was going on in the world in general – political, medical – whatever they might have heard on the news (because their mom is a news junkie) and shock us with how much they understood. Now, those moments seem crystalline in my mind. If it were a movie it would be a cold winter with snow blowing, looking in a window at a family. The movie lens would have a filter on it so that the scene was all misty and magical looking on the edges to emphasize the togetherness of the family against the outside world.

The other day I ran across the basket of coloring books. You could not possibly have enough money to offer me to buy those coloring books. Looking back on the pages I can tell which child colored what (different styles) and which ones we colored. When I am old and gray and my mind is gone, I hope that someone gives me a coloring book and those days come back to me. Obviously as a sentimental person, I knew that the kids growing up would come too soon for me. I just didn’t know HOW too soon. Son is 19 and living on his own. Daughter is 15 and already working towards her goal of being a hospice nurse. They have occasional days where it is obvious that someone spoiled them (I don’t know who she was but when I find her I will smack her!), but for the most part they are well on their way to being people who give something to society. I am proud of them for being independent thinkers and making their way, but I miss the days of “coloring nights”.

Both of our kids have said they don’t want much for Christmas this year. Son wants a new cap. Daughter wants fuzzy socks. Maybe what they really need is a coloring book and new crayons.

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