Perusing my children’s Christmas list this year, I noticed an emerging theme: laptop computer, video games, cell phone apps, headphones, iPods. Electronics. I could probably do all of my shopping in one store. It could be the easiest Christmas of my parental life.
I should have been ecstatic, but I wasn’t. In fact, I was sad. I didn’t know why, exactly, because I didn’t really have any grand gifts in mind for them. It certainly was better than the year my son asked for Super Bowl tickets. (“Sorry, sweetie; Santa stays away from sports these days. He’s a Bills fan like Mommy.”) But something felt . . . missing.
Shortly after, I was going through some old columns and came across one from a Christmas many years ago, when our kids were toddlers and we had to put together every single toy they received. The memory made me smile, involving as it did the vision of my husband poised over a dinosaur racetrack with a hammer.
Other memories from those days make me smile as well, picturing my kids together, whether playing with their toys, doing crafts, or maybe curled up on the couch watching a video. And it struck me that somewhere along the line, my kids started growing apart, in different directions, intersecting at dinner and passing in the halls. To get a picture of them together these days, I have to schedule it.
I thought back to my own childhood when I was their age. There were six kids, one bathroom and one car; some days the togetherness was unbearable. Christmas, though, always brought a truce to the bickering, the fighting, the perpetual irritation that seemed to blanket us back then.
We made our lists together, shared with each other our most secret wishes, conspired to somehow convince Santa that we’d been good all along. We chopped down the tree together, decorated it together, hung stockings together, and read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” together.
We’d wait excitedly for A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas to come on TV and play Christmas albums on the stereo and while away endless hours playing Scrabble and Battleship and Barrel of Monkeys and Yahtzee. We’d have heart-to-heart talks about school and life and crushes, and my brothers actually treated me like they liked me.
Eventually, of course, life went back to normal and it was every sibling for himself. But the memories of those bonding moments—the simple fact of them--would never be erased.
One of the hardest pills to swallow about technology today is how it can rob our children of human interaction. They can be in the same room playing video games or computer games or cell phone games with their friends across town, with little if any acknowledgment of each other. Sure, they don’t fight or argue or hit each other with Giant Tinkertoys (um . . . other kids did that, too, right? Wasn’t just me?), but at the same time, they don’t really talk, either.
So I can’t wait to cut down the tree this year, because it’s something we always do together. My son and I traipse endlessly searching for just the right size and shape, my daughter critiques each one, and eventually, right before someone is ready to scream, my husband gets down on his back and cuts one down. We drag it to the car—sometimes easily, sometimes not—and put it on the roof and hope to God the entire way home that one of us knew how to tie a knot. When we get it home, we perennially scrape the ceiling before admitting it’s too tall, cut off another foot, struggle to get it in the stand, and, when it’s finally up, pray the cats don’t knock it down.
Is it pretty? Not always. But it is always remembered fondly, and it is time spent doing something together, talking to each other and watching my kids just being with each other. I’m hoping I can find more such opportunities for them to discover what a cool sibling they have. Maybe someday it even will lead to a heart-to-heart about school or crushes or sports.
While they will most likely get some of the things they want for Christmas, what I’d like to give my children is the one thing they don’t even know they’re missing: each other.
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at email@example.com.