Latest Chart: Christmas wishes

December 25, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In a year full of so much strife, pain, and loss, it seems like a luxury to have a day of joy and laughter. Yet today has been just that. In the movie version of 2020, Christmas this year has been the part of the film that offers a respite after the buildup of drama. It’s been a day full of the idyllic scenes that make the Hallmark Channel so famous.

We’ve had the copious presents under the tree; some of them were practical items (sweatshirts) and others were indulgences (a Harry Potter bracelet for Fourteen; a hoodie with Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan on it for Twelve.) We’ve spent the afternoon playing board games that involved loud protests about when it counts for someone to yell “Uno!” and bursts of giggles about ridiculous clues given during Taboo. We’ve even shared some Christmas chocolate, an occasional treat and indulgence indeed.

This week leading up to Christmas Day has had its fair share of typical holiday moments too. We decided on the day the kids’ break started that we’d watch a movie every single day. To combat drawn-out discussions about what to watch, each family member got to choose three movies and write the names on individual slips. Every day, we’ve taken turns drawing the slips and have dutifully sat to watch one another’s choices amid groans and grins (depending on how much we liked that day’s feature film.) By the end of break, we will have watched 15 movies—a marathon that is a record for us.

Fourteen put her best acting skills to use for the past three weeks, insisting that I must have been the one to place a mystery gift under the tree when she knew very well it was her dad who put it there. (In fact, she was the one who wrapped it for him.) She demanded on a daily basis that I “confess” to being the Secret Santa, even going so far as to say I could “confide” in her and that we didn’t have to tell anyone else that I’d done so. In this house, she’d easily win an Oscar for her pitch perfect performance. Not once did she drop the character of “impetuous, impatient teenager wanting answers immediately.”

In a burst of bravery, Twelve decided to ask her friend group what pictures they’d like her to draw for them as Christmas presents. She ended up drawing 11 pictures, and they ran the gamut from How to Train Your Dragon characters to snowy scenes of a home in winter. She wanted to do a good job, and she began working on the pictures in late November. With online school keeping her busy, she finished the pictures last weekend. We decided the best way to make sure the pictures got to all her friends on time was to hand deliver them. The excitement Twelve experienced in seeing her friends face to face at a social distance in the last two days totally eclipsed her embarrassment in sharing her drawings with everyone.

My own contribution to this holiday break has been challenging myself with a variety of new and fun meals to make. I’ve spent more than my fair share of hours planning, cooking, and washing dishes afterward. It’s been a delight, though, to hear the sighs of pleasure at the table and the demands that I replicate the meal of the moment. More than once, Fourteen has said, “Make more right now.”

In this week and especially on a day like today, it’s easy to forget the challenges we’ve experienced this year. Is that okay? I don’t know. My husband and I have spent most days this year trying to guide, coach, goad, chide, encourage, and, on occasion, reprimand the kids as they’ve encountered the unexpected. We’ve talked multiple times about how we’re living through a historical event and how reading about history in an article or watching a documentary about it is much easier. Even today FaceTime and phone calls reminded us how we’re separated from our extended family because of the pandemic.

Yet, after this year, today seems like a full dose of normalcy. The kind that doesn’t need a follow-up dose three weeks later. It’s allowed us to exhale and smile with relief afterward.

The new year is a week away. We have no idea what 2021 will bring us. After this year, I think we’ve all learned to make the most of days like today. The days when we can treasure one another from start to finish.

Maybe that’s one of the lessons we’re meant to learn from the pandemic; maybe we won’t rush through the precious moments so much anymore. We’ll live through every moment—really live through it, as opposed to styling it or capturing it or rushing through it. We’ll live the moments and create the memories we keep talking about. The kind of memories filmmakers rely on for inspiration in their blockbusters.

I hope you all experienced peace and love today. I hope the new year brings you prosperity and good health. More than anything, I hope 2021 brings you moments to remember.

Latest Chart: The death of holiday magic

December 16, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

It’s finally here. That time of year when we see a multitude of children’s faces upturned in that magic known as the holiday season. Tinsel, stockings, elves—all these things appear when we least expect them to.

Especially the elves. The elves show up on top of the mantle, sitting high on the Christmas tree, hanging from a chandelier. They steal cookies and Chex Mix and leave fun notes for the kids.

Sometimes the elves show up buried in a box in the back of the closet. And then the magic dies.

When we first moved to Illinois three years ago, I went to Target and bought an Elf on the Shelf. The girls were 7 and 5, the perfect ages to enjoy this part of the Christmas season. And they did. They named the elf Sarah, and, boy, if we didn’t have quite the time making sure Sarah made it around the house every night during December.

I even managed to pull off quite the coup when we got Sarah into the car two years ago and convinced the kids that she’d flown into our van to make the trip to Myrtle Beach with us for the winter break. Because it’s a 13-hour drive, we always stop about halfway and stay in a hotel for the night. Before we took all our stuff out of the car, I moved Sarah to a new position so that we could keep up the charade. The kids actually believed she’d moved during the course of the night.

So you would have thought that if I could pull that off, I could handle hiding Sarah when we moved to the new house this summer.

You would have thought, right? But you know what they say about the best laid plans. All my meticulous planning and organizing couldn’t hide the box from Target. In the course of unpacking everything after the move at the beginning of the summer, the kids found it. And it truly blew—them—away.

When I realized they’d found the box, dread flooded my heart. In almost 10 years of parenting, I’ve done a lot of thinking on my feet. I’ve made up so many things on the spot. But even the most creative writer’s mind wouldn’t have been able to explain this one away.

“You mean she’s not real??” Eight exclaimed, holding the elf with its frozen smile and eyes looking off to the side in an impish manner.

“You guys were the ones moving her around?” Ten echoed.

I only had one response, and it really didn’t help. I could hear Mary Poppins in my head chiding me for the way I behaved: “Close your mouth, please, we are not a codfish.”

“Does this mean Santa isn’t real either?” Ten asked, suspicion clouding her eyes.

“No, no, Santa’s real,” I said, my conviction sounding weak even to me. “It’s just that he wanted to give kids something fun to believe in.”

“I can’t believe she’s not real,” Eight repeated, crestfallen.

Ten took Sarah and put her on the window seat. “We had so much fun guessing where she would be every night.

“So who ate the cookies?” Eight asked, referring to one of the snacks the girls had left for Sarah.

“Well, Daddy took a couple of bites and then I put the rest away,” I admitted.

“And the Chex Mix?”

I told them I’d returned it to the pantry too.

Eight’s shoulders slumped. “She’s not real.”

I urged the girls to think about the fact that their father and I had wanted Christmas to be special, to be fun. I encouraged them to consider what a challenge it had been for the grownups in the house to find new places every night to set Sarah. They seemed slightly mollified but not by much.

“Look at it this way,” I said in a consoling tone. “Now that you know you can play with her, you two can take turns putting her in different places for each other to find.”

The shrugged in mild compliance at the idea. In the bright sunny days of summer, with Christmas still months away, it sounded like something fun to do. A way for them to enjoy the holidays in a new way.

Since the start of December, though, neither of the girls has mentioned Sarah. Not once. They used to talk excitedly about her arrival and wonder whether she would make it safely back to the North Pole every night.

Now their attention remains on other things.

I’m actually sad about the fact that they found out Sarah isn’t real. That’s probably what prompted the note Ten left for the Tooth Fairy a few weeks ago that ended with “P.S. I know you’re Mommy.” Although she hasn’t said anything about Santa, when she left her Christmas wish list on my nightstand last week I saw a similar note on the bottom of that: “I know you are Mommy and Daddy.”

Granted, Ten and Eight aren’t going to be kids forever. At some point they’d find out that while Saint Nicholas was a real person, Santa is not. But I really hoped they would have gotten the chance to believe in Christmas magic a few more years. It would have kept them younger a little longer. And they’re already growing up fast enough as it is.

I could have believed that my babies were still just that. My babies. Not these grinning faces with smarts well beyond their years and the snappy comebacks to match.

I wonder: if I start believing in Santa again, does that make up for all of this?