Children as Teachers

The Christmas season began with the traditional sleep-over for my granddaughter.  Macy embraces traditions and decorating the tree is one of her favorites. We debated how to string the lights. Macy likes the colored lights. I like the clear ones. We ended up using both and placing way too many of them on our tree.

When we finished decorating, we hid the extra Santa ornaments all over the house. I marveled at how clever this eight-year-old has become in hiding them—under cushions and inside coat pockets! When her dad texted to say he would be late to pick her up, we squealed with delight. We agreed to play Weird but True.  She beat me soundly. She actually knew that butterflies taste food with their feet.

When her dad tapped on the door, Macy was busy making a list. “We have to plan ahead, Gigi. Last year our gingerbread house collapsed. Check this one out on Amazon. It is prefab!” She pointed to my computer screen. The post-it note she crunched into my hand had the make, the model, even the number!  “My intention is to build you the best gingerbread house ever!”

“Intention?” I asked. “Where did you get that word?”

“From you!” Macy laughed as she hugged me farewell.  Intentions. Lists. Plans. Wasn’t this the year I was determined to ditch Christmas lists. Wasn’t I working on being in the moment? Anyway, I ordered the prefab gingerbread house.

Often Christmas feels like I have watched a feel-good Hallmark movie, but I have not lived it. With mile-long lists, the holidays slip into a blur of delightful—but rushed—moments. This year I consciously set about cutting back on intentions, lists, and “must-do’s and choosing activities that would give me joy. I wanted to live these moments. It proved to be a challenge.

I held space for events like three-year-old Harper’s Christmas program and Macy’s Christmas recital. I didn’t buy many presents this year, but I tried to choose them more thoughtfully and be mindful of why I was choosing them. But in the weeks before Christmas, I still proved to be more Martha than Mary.  I cleaned. I scrubbed. I baked coffee cake from my mom’s recipe and iced dozens of sugar cookies. (I ate a good number of them, too!) I relented and made endless lists in preparation for Christmas brunch with cheesy eggs, bacon, and cinnamon rolls that my youngest son claims is his favorite meal of the year—although he no longer eats bacon.

On Christmas morning my family arrived, and there was a flurry of opening gifts, surprises, and the experience was laced with mimosas, coffee cake, and followed with the celebrated cheesy eggs. But this year was different. I did ignore the dishes, and I let everyone find their own coffee or tea. After breakfast I hid behind my Christmas tree with the overload of twinkling lights. There for nearly an hour I simply held my son’s newborn, Evy, and she graciously rewarded me with smiles and baby coos. I was able to reflect on all the wonder of Christmas. A child. A tree. The day slipped by too quickly, but I felt there.

Nearing dinner time, Macy took my hand and guided me to the dining room table where she and her three-year-old cousins Harper and Steven had been laboring over my present. When I entered, Harper shouted, “Surprise, Gigi! We made you a beautiful gingerbread house!” Steven clapped joyfully. Perhaps in the back of our minds was the collapsed gingerbread house from last year. This memory made the children’s success—even with a prefab house—all the more magical.

Late Christmas night, after I cleaned the sticky candy bits out of the carpet and swept the gum drops from the floor, I found my gingerbread house sitting on the kitchen bar. I paused again to reflect. While I will never fulfill all of my intentions or plans, I need them—just as Macy did, but most importantly I realized I need to pause, reflect and seize magical moments before they slip away. I am still learning how to find this balance—but the children are such wonderful teachers.

To all of you, now and in the coming New Year, I wish you intentions, wonderful plans, moments of magic, and, of course, children as teachers.