Friday, December 21, 2012

Parenting Tips: The Mess is the Memory

By Deborah Pace Rowley

One of my favorite Christmas memories involves three clear glass jars shaped like Christmas trees. Every year my mom would fill the trees with candy and use them as a centerpiece on our kitchen table during the month of December. Every year my brothers and sister and I would sneak candy out of the jars. My mom started taping the jars closed to prevent the red and green M&Ms from mysteriously disappearing. This made the challenge even more fun! Could we sneak candy out the jars and replace the tape without Mom noticing? Keep in mind that these jars are clear and any missing candy is noticeable immediately whether or not you replace the tape!

My mom took all this in stride. She kept refilling the jars and re-taping the lids. I think she knew how much we enjoyed sneaking the candy. She couldn't just leave a bowl of candy out for everyone to take at will. It wouldn't have been the same. Of course, she would pretend disappointment at the constantly shrinking supply and chagrin that her taping efforts were so unsuccessful and she would fill the jars again. Even now, my siblings and I laugh when we see the glass Christmas tree jars. What a fun memory!  

Now I have a candy tradition in my own home but it doesn't involve taped jars. Our candy is set out openly in a wooden Christmas sleigh. What makes our candy special is the story behind them. Every year I have to purchase several tubs of Bob's red and white stripped mints to refill our sleigh all the month of December. We call our mints "Sabrina's Mints" because they were a favorite candy of my children's Aunt Sabrina. She would keep a stash stored in her bedroom to pull out every time her nieces and nephews visited around the holidays. Sabrina had a rare disease that left her confined in a wheelchair. (A wheelchair that my children loved to ride on.) Sabrina's birthday was December 23rd and she died before her 29th birthday. This year we have made a greater effort to eat only healthy foods but the kids insisted that we continue our tradition of Sabrina's mints. How could I refuse?

What do these stories have in common? They are part of a lesson I learned as a young mother when we were invited to the lavish home of one of my husband's clients. She had a gorgeously decorated living room and an ornate Christmas tree. On the couches were some Christmas pillows. This gracious host handed one of my children a Christmas pillow and said, "These are perfect for throwing. I got them for my grandchildren so they could throw them when I wasn't looking!" Then she winked. I was so surprised. Her home belonged in Better Homes and Gardens. Could it be that the magic of Christmas wasn't in how everything looked but in how these items brought us together and created playful and joyful memories?

Since that powerful lesson I have been more patient with how my children interact and play with our Christmas decorations. I love to watch my youngest daughter pull all our reindeer ornaments off the tree and play with them under its branches. All of her older siblings did the same thing. She is unknowingly carrying on a Rowley Christmas tradition.

Then there is Grandpa's miniature ski village that lights up at night. Who knew that tiny Polly Pocket dolls would fit so perfectly next to the houses and enliven the scene with their play? I love to watch Katie and now Cameron and Brooklyn gather around the village to play together. Yes, it is fragile. Yes, it might get broken. No, it wasn't made for that purpose. But I know that each time I get out this piece to decorate my future home I will remember. Katie will remember too and tell her children about this happy memory.

Even as I walked around my house to take these pictures, I had to refrain from resetting up my stuffed Nativity scene. The darn camels with their spindly legs just won't stay standing up and they really won't stay up when Anniston comes over to play with them.

I love how the first thing that she wants to do when she arrives is pick up our full-size baby Jesus and carry him around. Yes, sometimes we have to retrieve our baby from under the couch or down the stairs but I love the tender concern that she shows for the baby. It makes me smile and brings the Christmas spirit.

The title of this post is "the mess is the memory." Remember this as you clean up after your kids this holiday season, refill jars, rewrap presents and straighten the decorations for what seems like the hundredth time. Our Christmas decorations have value only if they make memories for our children. Hint: They won't do that just by being looked at.

Case in point: Our already munched on gingerbread house. :)

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