What Christmas is All About

Emma sharing toys with her new baby brother.

As I suspect every parent (and frankly anyone over the age of about 10) can tell you, parenting is hard. When things go wrong with your kids, you may not admit it to others, but you know it’s entirely your fault. When things go right, again, you might take some credit publicly, but you know that you had nearly nothing to do with it.

Scilla and Charybdis.

At least that’s how it seems to me.

On Christmas Eve, I loaded up the Santa Tracking App thinking Emma would love it. She did. One of it’s features lets you send a selection of texts to Santa, and he’ll send a response. Unfortunately, “Bah Humbug” just happened to be one of the several texts that you could send to Santa. And it just happened to be one that Em decided to click on. The response was, “Looks like somebody wants a nice piece of coal for Christmas.”

She didn’t come talk to us about it, but it bothered her the rest of the night. Following our other traditions, Em wrote the letter you see below to Santa as she left him his milk and cookies before bed. She didn’t want Laurel to read it, but I did.

Emma's letter to Santa

The letter reads:

Dear Santa

I sorta a mistake You see I acenndenty (accidentally–she didn’t want our help with spelling) pressed bahum bug (bah humbug) by mistake and if  you forgive me I left you some cookies and milk if I’m still on the nice list I will believe in you forever and write on the back please


Before she went to sleep, I talked to her about how since Santa knew EVERYTHING, he certainly knew when things were accidents. She fell asleep with a smile on her face.

See. The screw-up was entirely mine. I thought that a Santa tracker would be fun; it turned out to be frightening–at least to a girl who just turned seven and sometimes makes a mistake.

Then there’s the other side of the coin.

In a pre-Christmas visit, Nanny was hanging out with Emma. As adults often say, Nanny told Em that she loved her more than anything. Em, as kids often respond–and it strikes me that Christ reportedly asked Peter something similar, decided to test that love by asking if the love Nanny had for her was greater than the love she has for others.

“Do you love me more than Teresa?” she asks. “I think I love y’all in different ways.” Nanny responded.

“Do you love me more than Matthew?”

While Nanny was thinking of the best way to respond, Em freed her of the dilemma, by saying, “It’s okay if you love him more, Nanny. He needs it more than I do.”

At which point Nanny, I suspect, gave her a hug to hide the tears.

For myself, I’m glad that Em didn’t say it to me directly. I’m really not sure how I might have responded. I am, of course, amazingly proud of the fine young girl my daughter is becoming. I remember watching her play on a playground outside of a McD’s once with some older kids. She was easily half their age. At three, she was doing well to just keep up, but she had talked them into following her suggestions for what to play. (God, save her from politics. Please.)

But of course, once they realized that she was three, and it wasn’t cool to keep doing what a three-year old wanted, the older kids began to do their own thing. Em, deciding that she want to keep playing her own game, said that she would join them when she was done.

I remember thinking and saying to Laurel that if I had complete control over the design of our child, that I couldn’t imagine making her as amazing as she turned out.

But as proud as I am of her love for her little brother, her knowing that he needs more breaks my heart.

We’ve tried to be open with Em about Matthew’s autism, but who knows if we’re doing the right thing. It started when she was almost four years old, and she asked, “When is Matthew going to talk to me?”

After we could speak, we talked to her about autism, and how autistic children sometimes talk a little later than others. That doesn’t mean that he’s not smart, and we’re working with him to help him talk more.

After that, Em began keeping track of every word Matthew would say; telling us to put it on his list.

So knowing all of this, I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that she would believe that it’s okay for him to be loved more. She certainly loves him more, and she, as all children do if we adults manage to not screw them up with our shortcomings and hatreds, shows us what love truly is. It’s realizing that others have needs that are at times greater than our own. But it’s more than just realizing it. It’s being willing to give up our wants, desires and even our needs to meet the needs of others. That’s what Christmas was and is all about.

I take and deserve no credit for this revelation. I’m learning from two great teachers. I just hope I somehow manage to not screw them up.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


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