Family Holidays


When my first son was born, I received several toys as gifts. They were designed for infants, with smooth edges and soft materials, and I looked forward to the days when he’d be old enough to play with them.

As he grew, we added more age-appropriate playthings with bright colors and cheery noises. We also added baskets and buckets to hold the toys when they weren’t in use. Not everything got put away every day, but the routine worked most of the time.

Over the years, our family increased, as did our toy collection. And as the children got older, the toys became smaller, with detachable pieces and parts (so many pieces and parts). They became louder (so loud). Gone were the sunny rhymes, gentle music, and simple designs of the baby items; in their place were roars and sirens, bells and whistles, ceaseless chimes and tunes, symbols and signals that echoed favorite cartoons or movies or adventure stories.

We still had the buckets and baskets, but the cleanup routine didn’t work as well as it used to. In the rhythm of daily life, we chose to prioritize other activities. But every once in a while, I’d steel myself for a Day of Sorting and Culling. I’d put the pieces and parts back together, designate storage locations, fix and group, discard and organize. It was both frustrating and soothing, an exhausting exercise that yielded satisfying results.

Eventually, however, the toys would resume their command of the house. The parts and pieces would again lie in wait, preparing for their assault on our bare feet in the middle of the night or angling to be the first to get caught in the vacuum cleaner hose. We’d sigh and complain, but we also found it comforting, this youthful clutter, one of the realities of raising children.

Then one day, after the parts and pieces were culled and sorted and organized, the baskets and buckets filled and straightened…they remained that way. The contents went untouched; the toys were no longer appealing. My children had outgrown their playthings. They’d moved on to new activities, new interests. It had happened without notice, seemingly overnight. I’d blinked, and it was over.

I suppose I’m thinking about these things today because it’s the time of year when kids are making their wish lists, describing their dreams of what they’ll find under the tree on Christmas morning. I’m remembering the fun of those early morning hours when the presents were opened and the excitement was tangible, sparkling in the air amidst the delighted cheers and smiling faces.

I don’t miss the clutter and the chaos of the plastic and noise, but I do think fondly of the days when my family was surrounded by childhood magic. I’m grateful for those experiences and memories, for the imaginary fun they contained.

Our Christmas mornings no longer include toys, but it’s not too late to help to make those moments possible for other children. There are many organizations working to bring happiness to families this holiday season, and today’s cuppa celebrates the people who devote their time and energy to this work. It also reminds me that it’s still possible to be a part of the special fun that comes from pieces and parts, sirens and music, cheery symbols and childhood clutter.

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