I love Christmas. The bells, the Bing Crosby crooning, the scarf and toque weather, the feeling like we all love each other a little more, the food wrapped in bacon, the sugar, the candles that smell like trees I’m not allowed to have in my apartment, the time off work – all of it.
Well, I hate one part of it. The day after Christmas when I stand on the threshold of my five-year-old daughter’s bedroom, my arms groaning with all her new gifts received from family and friends, and the sinking feeling that we’ll have to move in order to make room for all the new loot.
My kid is spoiled. All year round she quietly smuggles in new and ridiculously tiny playthings from Grandmas and Happy Meals, so that when the holidays roll around we reach critical mass.
I’ve tried to do monthly purges from her room but inevitably she catches me red-handed or spies a decapitated plastic dog head in the trash that “OH MY GOD IS HER FAVOURITE EVER MOOOOOOOM NOOOOOOO.”
So this year when I’m asked by well-meaning Aunties and Uncles what Stella would like for Christmas, my new answer will be: NOTHING. Then I will calm down, lean in and plead, “Take her on an adventure, anywhere. Spend time with her. She will love that more than a bucket of plastic dog heads.”
This idea is brilliant on so many levels.
Selfishly, I don’t have to spend the back half of my holidays re-arranging her room to accommodate the new circus tent and life-sized cupcake beanbag chair (actual gifts she has received before).
Truly though, if Stella gets to go out with her favourite adults, she is collecting childhood memories that she will delicately carry into adulthood.
I know this because when I think back on my childhood, the greatest gifts I ever got were the times I spent with beloved relatives. Getting dressed in a special outfit, being strapped into new backseats, going on little adventures to new locations – the zoo, a new park, the aquarium, restaurants with CLOTH napkins – this was bliss. After lights out I would sneak under my covers and uncap my scented pen and write all the details in my journal so I would have that day with me forever.
Toys come and go: they break, they get left on benches, they get pocketed by so-called friends, they are deemed “lame” and “for babies”, they flip out of your bike basket and you run them over (RIP Rachel the Cabbage Patch Kid).
Time you spend with your favourite kid will be stamped on their heart forever. Without boring Mom and Dad to be killjoys, even the simplest of errands feel like Disneyland.
The way it feels when they held your hand, while running wildly down the sidewalk; the soaring delight when they get to order whatever they want off the dollar menu, the way they quietly bloom when they are allowed to try something new all by themselves, these moments will be filed and stored in the happiest parts of that kid’s brain.
Toys are fleeting; moments that make memories are forever.
The best part though about giving experiences as gifts is that while you’re out adventuring with the kid, being awesome and meaningful and magical, their parents are child-free and get to do whatever they want.
It’s the gift that truly keeps on giving.
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