You know how whenever you get the most elaborate, expensive gift for your kids--that you're so excited about because you think they'll be so excited about it--all they want to do is play with the box?
The damn box.
Now, I know that this changes as kids get older, but for little ones, the box is really what's exciting. It holds all sorts of possibilities because it's empty. It can be filled with memories and imagination and play and--depending on how big it is--different family members.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you get your kids an empty box for Christmas, but I think we'd all do well to take a step back and recognize what's truly important to our kids. When we see the joy of the season through their eyes, we're reminded what the holidays are truly about--and at the risk of sounding corny, what life is truly about.
I realized this last weekend when I took my kids to Sesame Place. I was excited to take the toddler for the first time because she's obsessed with Elmo and friends, and I thought she'd be in complete awe. I was right. She was.
And I was equally excited to take the preschooler because we'd been there on a mommy-son field trip before little sister made her big debut, and we'd had an amazing time. I'd been wanting to go back ever since, and I thought he'd particularly love the rides and the shows this time around. I was right again. He did.
What I hadn't expected was why he really loved the day. The next morning, when we were all still in jammies and having breakfast, he told me:
"Mom, I loved our family trip yesterday."
"You did? Me, too. Why did you like it so much?"
"Because my wish came true."
"Your wish? What was your wish?"
"I don't want to tell you."
"Please can you tell me? I would love to hear it."
"It's for you and me and Daddy and my sister to all be together as a family. Can we go on a family trip again soon?"
Oh. Oh. That's what he loved most: for us to be together as a family.
It's not that we don't spend time together as a family because we do. I mean, we do, right?
The complicated answer is: sort of.
Since our daughter was born, my husband and I have been doing a lot of tag-team parenting. I'm home with the kids during the day, so I'm trotting them all over the city, and I take them on a lot of field trips when school's not in session. And, of course, we all get together with family and friends and plan the occasional big family outing. But on a regular day, when my husband and I are both home and free, it usually goes something like this: He'll get the 4-year-old into the bath while I get the baby to bed. I'll do a project with the 4-year-old while he plays with the baby. One of us takes both of them while the other does work or runs an errand.
We're both spending quality time with the kids, but quality time as a whole family of four? It's kind of out the window most days.
It's not that I hadn't thought they'd noticed...but, well, I kind of thought they hadn't noticed. Or, more to the point, I guess I didn't think it mattered to them in that way. It apparently does. Kids don't miss anything, do they?
So, a reminder to all of us: We have the power to give our children the best gifts ever--without spending a penny.
Family trips, even if the trip is just a walk around the neighborhood or to the park.
Family projects, whether it's building an elaborate Magna-Tiles tower, playing a board game or watching the kids put on a "Broadway" show in the living room.
Family silliness and belly laughs.
Family breakfasts on the weekends.
Family dinners at least a few times a week.
Family movie night and snuggles on the couch.
Family anything and everything with everyone who makes up your individual little family unit--even if it's just for 15 minutes a day on the busy days--as long as you're doing something all together for the sole purpose of being together.
We're all busy, but we have to reprioritize and make the time for this because it's that important.
So, yes, of course you're going to pay attention to your kids' sweet, eager pleas to Santa, but don't go too crazy. The toys will be relegated to the corner in favor of the box, and even though that box is pretty darn exciting, it can't hold a candle to you.
This post originally appeared on Momsanity.