Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Even Better Than the Tree

The magic is palpable here. It surpasses even my highest expectation. Ben could not be more excited about Christmas: everything from the tree to the lights to the stockings to the music to the books and pajamas and parties and activities have him spinning in a reverie of delight. "Can we keep the Christmas tree up all year until next Christmas?" he asked yesterday.

Abby is absorbing everything, too, in her sweet two-year-old way--trying to understand, watching her brother's excitement, asking questions, studying the trimmings. She may not be able to remember last year's celebration or fully anticipate what is coming, but as we drove into our driveway Saturday night and saw the Christmas lights Josh had hung with care earlier that day, she said, "I luhv our Chrihsmahs lighs." And yesterday, she told me quietly, "I luhv our Chrismahs twree." A few days ago, I caught her just gazing at the tree from her perch in the kitchen while I prepped dinner. When I asked her what she was looking at, she said, "Duh ohrnamens."

The kids' favorite car game right now is "find the Christmas lights." When we drive after sundown, a common occurrence now that the sun sets at 5 o'clock, they both point out with limitless excitement, "Christmas lights! Christmas lights!" The last set we see receives as much enthusiasm as the first, and they find the meager displays as praiseworthy as the elaborate. Christmas cheer in any form is an equal opportunity wonder-maker.

The highlight of the weekend for Ben, of course, was the fire department Christmas party Saturday night for the volunteer firefighters and their families, where Santa arrives in a fire engine with Mrs. Claus to deliver toys to all the boys and girls in attendance (and for the record, this is about the most authentic and warm Santa and Mrs. Claus I've ever seen--no fake beard here). When Santa walked in the door, I diverted Ben's attention from the balloon lady to his big, red coat, and Ben's face burst into joy. He began jumping up and down and pointing and then handed me his balloon mountain lion so that he could more effectively clap and cheer. I could see the rapture on his face--his little boy wonder radiating from his bright eyes.

Santa did not disappoint. When it was Ben's turn to climb into his lap, Santa asked Ben what he wanted for Christmas. "A little Santa toy," Ben answered with all sincerity. Mrs. Claus even stopped to admire Ben's mountain lion as they walked to their seats of honor in the great hall.

Abby, a darling in her red sweater dress with white faux fur trim around the collar and cuffs in true Santa style, caught the Claus's attention from the crowd. They waved and smiled at her throughout the evening, and though she waved and smiled back, she did not feel quite the same warmth when her turn came to sit on Santa's lap. She fretted and cried, so Josh got to sit on Santa's lap with Abby on his, earning him quite a bit of razzing from his fellow firefighters. I have a great photo, now, of Abby's little face flanked by Santa's on one side and Daddy's on the other.

So far, this season is proving to be everything I had hoped. The kids are like little fountains spilling over with joy. They, and Ben especially, appreciate everything. There is no selfish materialism, no bah-humbug jadedness, no disappointed disillusionment. Just pure, unadulterated exultation.

Children are beautiful in this way, and their wide-eyed perspective redeems all the work of parenting--indeed, refocuses all our parenting energies. They invite us back to a world of magic, beckoning us to marvel at the simple loveliness around us. They divert our attention away from the politics and injustice and corruption of our grown-up systems and establishments to behold with open eyes and hearts that which is good, and true, and beautiful. That is their gift to us.

So now, Josh and I will return the gift by searching for just the right "little Santa toy" to leave in Ben's stocking on Christmas Eve, our small contribution to the magic. And we'll sing Christmas carols before bed and look for Christmas lights as we drive and stare at the ornaments twinkling in the glow of the tree's lights, not just for the kids, but because we have rediscovered our own childhood wonder through them.

And while, technically, this may be "the most wonderful time of the year," with Ben and Abby in tow, the magic remains long after we take down the tree and pack away the ornaments. You see, Ben, we may not be able to keep the tree up all year, but Mommy and Daddy do get to keep you...and that's even better.

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