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Living Christmas in the Present

My two-year-old bounded down the stairs in his crocodile pajamas the day after Thanksgiving and yelled, “Mom! It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!” Unaware of this turn of events, I was a little surprised at the news. I looked down at his little stuffed crocodile head and then at his shining eyes.

“It’s Christmas?” I asked.

“It’s Christmas! Thanksgiving is over and now it’s Christmas!” My little dragon was bursting with joy, so he ran around the house once more for good measure.  I told him Christmas wasn’t for another month, but his crocodile tail had already disappeared into his brother’s room to spread the good news. After all, Christmas comes after Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving was over.

My blurry-eyed crew met up for breakfast and we discovered that Christmas was still a ways off, but tomorrow we could set up the tree. Four-year-old Caleb slumped in his chair and put a hand on his chin, looking thoughtfully off into the distance.

“Caleb, what are you thinking about?” I asked.

He looked at me, still absorbed, and said, “Mom, is it today or tomorrow?”

“It’s today dear.”

(Big sigh. Deeper slump.) “Mom, why is it always today and never tomorrow?”

I had to think about that for a while. The tree went up after breakfast.

Young children have a very broad sense of time. Everything is right now, and waiting is out of the question. If dessert comes after dinner, then two bites later, it’s time for dessert. If we’re going to Grandma’s in the morning, their teddy bear and pack are ready before dawn. If Christmas is after Thanksgiving, it should start the moment the dinner is gone. Kids are not naturally patient.

I can just imagine doing a marshmallow test with my three little boys. “If you eat your marshmallow now that’s all you get, but if you wait fifteen minutes, then you get two marshmallows.”  FIFTEEN MINUTES?! How long is FIFTEEN MINUTES? Is that before or after bedtime? The marshmallows would be gone before I left the room.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe we overstress this concept of patience. Christmas presents are a great example of stretching the limits of our eager offspring. We wrap presents the beginning of December and put them under the tree. And then we leave them there. For a WHOLE MONTH! Expecting eager, inquisitive fingers to leave them alone. To pretend they don’t exist.  And then what do we do as parents?

“Why can’t you kids just leave them under the tree? Oh, look at this one. It has your name on it. (shake shake) I wonder what it could be. Okay kids, don’t touch the presents.”  

DON’T TOUCH?! That’s like saying, “Here, grab this hot iron but DON’T SCREAM, okay?” The things we do to our kids.

So we teach our children patience while they stare day by day at their untouchable presents Then the big day finally comes and the waiting is over. Llittle Annie sits by her pile of presents, ready to rip them open, but she can’t. She has to WAIT HER TURN. Argh! She has to wait for daddy and mommy, her brothers and sisters, little Fido, and THEN she can open a present! One present. And it’s socks. But, no big deal, she has lots of presents. But she has to wait her turn. Again.

As adults, we have learned patience so well that we are always waiting to go into action. Things are not ‘now’, they are ‘later’ or ‘in a minute’. We’ll decorate tomorrow, we’ll go sledding after lunch. Do we really have to eat before sledding? I’ll read to you later. ‘Later’ is such a horrible word for a young child, and yet for an adult it can be empowering. I didn’t say no, I just said later. I’m still going to do it, just not now. Nothing is now. Everything is later.

The Buddha said,”The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

We need to live now. Enjoy every moment, and not put off what we can do today. With all of our busy lives, we need to take time for ourselves and our families. Don’t wait until the presents are wrapped and letters sent to enjoy the holidays. They will be gone before you know it.

“Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way. The past is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

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