31 January 2005

Single...With Children: You Can Never Say "I Love You" Enough

Single With Children: This Christmas, remember important details

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 12/25/02

By now, your living room probably resembles an obstacle course, depending on the age and developmental stage of your children. There could be anything from plastic kitchen sets to electronic game systems that look as if they belong on the space shuttle or sound systems that might be capable of registering a reading on the Richter Scale.

There might be a few gifts that were surprises and probably a couple of omissions that were disappointments. I hate the feeling of not being able to provide every item on my son and daughter's Christmas list but am reminded that perhaps not being able to do so is a very valuable present in itself. In fact, it's something we might do well to remind ourselves of from time to time. Materialism has never been age-specific.

Because I'm writing this a few days before the big day arrives, Christmas Eve will find my daughter, her boyfriend and the gentleman I'm seeing all vying for sleeping space. It's fortunate that there are three sofas in my living room. Since Justin and I are still in residence, we will have more comfortable accommodations.

This Christmas, I want to remember details and not just things like filling up stockings and making certain the corresponding bow goes with the matching gift paper. I want to take the time to record things, such as what it feels like for all of us to be together now that my daughter has her own apartment and no longer inhabits a room in our home; mindful of the fact that my son is now in his sophomore year of high school and not too far from leaving my nest. I want to have photos to look at and study and fill them with images that will someday jog my memory. I don't want photographs of what is under the tree, but of who is around it and just how much each one of these special people means to me.

Christmas, just like every day we wake up and are permitted another shot at living our lives, is an exquisitely precious gift cloaked in the opportunity to cherish those we love. The living, breathing, human "presents" that grace the days that make up our life.

I want to be especially cognizant of how blessed I am to still have my mother and father with me, who, even though their age declares them to be in their late 70s, are still so sharp and vital and such important facets in our daily lives. Being human, my kids and I no doubt take these two amazing fixtures for granted and wrongfully assume they will always be there to pick up the slack and do all of the special things they do without being asked or expecting so much as a "thank you."

This Christmas, I want my parents to really know, deep down, just how much they enhance every day we are graced with their presence. I want them to feel how grateful I am that there is a pot of coffee waiting for me each morning, that my yard is meticulously manicured and edged because of my father's expert precision with a weed eater. I want both of them to know how grateful we are that, as we come and go during the course of our days, we appreciate that they make certain the dogs and cats are taken care of, the mail is brought in and the deliveries are received. It's so easy to take such things for granted. It's essential that we extend our gratitude for such selfless acts of kindness performed from heartfelt love.

As I get older, I realize more and more that expressing such sentiments and thankfulness is something that should never be put off for too long. Christmas provides us with a wonderful chance to let our relatives, our friends and coworkers know how much we treasure and value their place in our lives. It takes such a small amount of time to jot down a note or even send an e-mail saying thank you. It can turn a difficult day into a much easier one when someone we love and care about is told that they matter; that they have made a positive contribution in our life; that the simple fact they are alive means something very special to our emotional well-being. It's an easy thing to overlook, but it's an important thing to practice. Kind words are exceptionally powerful and vastly under-used.

So yes, a few presents will no doubt be excluded from the list my kids have created for me (complete with hyperlinks!). As recently as last year, this would have instilled a great deal of guilt in me, and I would probably have felt inadequate because of my not being able to meet some lofty materialistic expectations. The concept of exploring the deeper meaning of Christmas should have been practiced many years earlier, but it's never too late for any of us to learn important life lessons.

Thursday will find us scattering again. My son will fly off to his father's to share the remainder of the holidays with his stepfamily. My daughter will return to work, and I will head out of town for my own version of "meet the parents." As we go our separate ways for a few days, it is my hope that we will carry nice memories of not simply the presents we received, but the love that we exchanged and feel for each other. Let it be the love and not the merchandise that colors our memories and elicits a smile.

In the grand scheme of things, those presents we obsess over eventually will either cease to work, gather dust in some corner and maybe even be forgotten after the novelty has worn off. The great thing about love is that it never gathers dust, can be renewed over and over and still have the same amazing effect every time we exchange a warm embrace or heartfelt expression of affection. No batteries are required and no currency has to exchange hands. It's what this season is about. Love is, without question, what matters most at the end of the day.

I hope that this Christmas we try to make our deep appreciation and love for each other the central focus of our celebration. For everyone who takes the time to read these words, I wish the very same for each of you.

May the love and warmth of this holiday season far outlast whatever comes in a box wrapped underneath your tree. May we all remember that the best things we can deliver to those we love most, come wrapped not in shiny paper with a bow attached, but in a hug, a kind word and a smile.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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