December 25, 2015
By Ekta R. Garg
As I write this on Christmas Eve, my older child lies in bed determined to stay awake so she can board the Polar Express as it makes its way around the world. Earlier in the evening Nine and Seven’s faces lit up time and time again as they tracked Santa’s progress across the world on my husband’s cell phone. Before going to bed but after heading upstairs to brush their teeth, the girls came back down one last time to say goodbye to Sara, our elf on a shelf who has spent the last 10 days alighting on a variety of places around the house (and sometimes even making a mess. This includes pulling all of the shoes we have out of the shoe cubbies and and eating an entire container of homemade sweets my husband received as a gift from one of his nurses.)
Parenting brings all sorts of life surprises. In the early months and years the surprises come fast—the first time they smile, hold up their heads, roll over, sit up, stand up, eat solids, get teeth, get potty trained, go to school. The surprises start to slow down in their pace but don’t decrease in importance. The first time they write their names, figure out numbers and colors and shapes and more. At some point we get used to the surprises and they no longer seem like surprises, especially once kids get older and we spend countless hours as chauffeurs and personal assistants chasing down items needed for school projects and parties.
It’s easy to miss surprises in this phase of life, especially as I try to cram every free minute with editing or writing or marketing of my books. Often, however, life has a way of providing us with exactly what we need when we need it. Just as I get caught up with making the most of those free minutes, my children surprise me once again.
The early months and years for me are somewhat of a blur. Nine was just past two years old when her little sister appeared, so it felt for a short period of time like I had two babies at home. I guess, in a way, I did.
Within a year or so Nine had begun expressing herself in clear words, and the level of her language skills grew rapidly and exponentially. When Seven started speaking in full sentences, her vocabulary skills followed suit. Neither of them really indulged in baby talk for long, and the complexity of their language and ability to express themselves blew me away. Did all young children talk like this, I wondered?
Now, years later, I’ve almost—almost—gotten used to a startling level of mature expression of thought from my children. As they get older and their reading skills develop, so does their curiosity and their ability to ask questions. And expect answers.
Given all of this, then, the kids have really surprised me this week.
I keep waiting for them to come and tell me that the jig is up on this whole Santa business. That they know he’s not real. That they understand that Sara, our elf, really hasn’t flown from spot to spot during the week, that they know I’m the one who stays up late into the night brainstorming where to put Sara next while brushing my teeth and then making my way down the stairs bleary eyed to make it happen.
Nothing like that has happened. Instead, it’s exactly the opposite. The girls have raced around the house every morning looking for Sara, exclaiming over her new location and chiding her with love when she’s “made” a “mess.” They’ve left her notes and chattered excitedly as the presents we receive from family and friends have appeared under the tree, a few at a time, every day. Nine came to me with a serious face on Wednesday wanting to plan a cookie baking session so she could leave Santa homemade cookies when he made his way to our place.
And tonight. Last year the girls got fun Christmas socks as a gift. Tonight Nine said she wanted to wear the socks to bed. Why? Because when the Polar Express came around, she said, she knew it would be cold at night when she boarded the train and her socks would keep her warm. Seven, caught up in her sister’s planning, begged me to give her permission to wear her socks too.
How, I wonder. These two who read leaps and bounds ahead of their grade levels—after all, Nine read through the unabridged version of Great Expectations this summer—and who catch the tiniest of details. How do these two little women in the making cling so blindly to a concept that some of Nine’s friends have already begun telling her is just a cultural construct meant to delight children?
I don’t know. But they surprise me with their faith in Santa, with their belief in Sara, with the twinkle of Christmas lights I see in their eyes. With the depth of their holiday joy.
They surprise me and remind me to believe in the possibility of magic at this time of year. So once I turn off my computer after posting this latest Growth Chart, I’ll creep into our storage room for wrapping paper to wrap the last few gifts that arrived today from Amazon and leave them with the empty cookie plate and milk glass. I’ll wrap and smile and give thanks for these children who surprise me.
I can’t wait to see what surprises they share with us in the year ahead.