Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What every kid needs for Christmas.

I woke up on Christmas morning sandwiched in the bed between two of my sisters. Amanda was 13, I was 7, and little Annie was going on 6. I’m not sure why we decided to sleep in the same double bed every Christmas Eve – but now that I really think about it, it was probably some ploy constructed by my parents to get us as far away from the Christmas tree as possible. Ugh, fooled again.

My sisters and I waited for an entire three seconds before slipping out of bed and starting our eager trek to the Christmas tree. I can see Ann now, her hand curled in front of her face, chewing on her fingers out of pure anxiousness.

At the time, my 7-year-old me didn’t know that this particular Christmas would be my favorite Christmas.

The first thing I noticed this Christmas morning was the finished glass of milk we had left for Santa. Wow, he really drank it, I thought. There were only cookie crumbs and the carrot we left for Rudolf was gone, too! I had never been so happily stunned.

But my strongest, most profound, penetrating memory of this Christmas involved examining the ash around the fireplace. We had a real fireplace with real wood and real ash and real fire, and on this morning the ash was spilling away from the grate and covered the floor in front of the fireplace. Looking into the ash I saw footprints – boot prints, actually. Not only were there boot prints in the ash, there were boot prints all over the living room. Ohmigosh ohmigosh ohmigosh...SANTA WAS HERE! Santa was here and he came down the chimney! On Christmas! The most famous person I had ever known HAD BEEN IN MY HOUSE.

I imagined Santa wiggling down the chimney. I imagined the ash covering his boots and the majority of his soft, red pants. I imagined him being happy to eat our cookies and I wondered if the milk had still been cold for him. I imagined how excited Rudolf would have been knowing we remembered him, too. I imagined Santa being as quiet as a whisper, tip-toeing around the stockings and tree, carefully placing our presents...

Oh, right, THE PRESENTS!!!! OMG PRESENTS!

I have no idea what I got for Christmas that morning. I dig and dig into my memory, and I am at a loss. I know my mother filmed the whole thing (until I was 10 I thought the VCR-sized camera on her shoulder was an actual body part), but I don’t know if that’s the Christmas I got the bike, or the Dorothy doll, or the Easy Bake Oven.

I don’t remember the presents. I honestly, most sincerely, don’t remember what they were that morning. I don’t remember what was in my stocking. My parents had already given me the best gift of all...

...an imagination.

This has always been my favorite Christmas morning of memory, but it isn’t until now that I really know why.

I had spent so much time obsessing over how Santa was in our house and imagining what he looked like, what he felt, and how he maneuvered around the tree. Seeing the missing cookies and the boot prints gave me an opportunity to explore, imagine, guess, evaluate, and best of all, think. That’s not something you’re going to find on sale on Black Friday. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for using my dad’s hunting boots to make those footprints, and for their willingness to dirty the house with ash. The repercussions of which they will probably never fully understand or appreciate no matter how hard I try to explain it.

If your children have really been good this year, and you want to give them a gift that will last them a lifetime, they deserve the gift of imagination.

Are you stuck on imagination-giving ideas? I know, it’s tough, because it’s nothing you’ll find in a catalogue or on the Web. Here are five imagination gift ideas that are surprisingly cheap and in abundance.

#5 Dirt.

Dirt is the Transformer toy that has truly stood the test of time – just add water and it turns into mud. Pretty sweet. Leave the hand sanitizer at home with this one, and let your kids play in the dirt. They could make mud pies and dig little holes and discover bugs. Dirt is the gift that keeps on giving.

#4 A drum kit.

Pots + Pans + 2 Wooden Spoons = Drum kit.

If you feel like going above and beyond this holiday season, have your kids make a guitar out of a tissue box and rubber bands.

#3 Paper towel tube.

Remember how much you loved playing with the cardboard tube inside the paper towel roll? It is a vehicle for indoor sword fights, being Captain of a ship, or just spying in general.

#2 A stick.

Remember sticks? Those were good times. Great for outdoor sword fights and general weaponry, hiking, exploring, poking unknown specimens, throwing against trees, bushwhacking, baseball (the ball, of course, would be a rock).

#1 A cardboard box.

The mother of all childhood imagination. Cardboard boxes can be a fort, submarine, house, cave, spaceship, airplane... If you’re a parent, can you remember a Christmas when your kid spent more time playing with the box the toy came in than the toy itself? Point made.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice – whatever it is you’re observing this holiday season, it’s time to open your heart wallet and give the children in your life whatever they desire. They have been good, right? So they really need that iStuff and the Nintendo thingy and whatever Elmo toy is hot this year.

Empowering your children to imagine, explore, discover, and think is the best gift you could ever gift them. And best of all, it comes in a box.