It’s the simple things that count at the holidays

  • Thursday, November 28, 2013

This past weekend my sister, her husband and two kids drove from Daphne, Al., to Greenwood, Miss., to spend the weekend with my family. We had plans on celebrating Thanksgiving together a little early, since we live so far apart and don’t normally get to see each other on holidays. That was until my sister, Blair (Aunt B to my kids) had a brilliant plan.

Blair called me on Thursday morning and preposed that we have “Cousin Christmas.”

“Let’s just pretend that Friday night is Christmas Eve. We can make hot chocolate and let them watch a Christmas movie then Saturday we can make a big breakfast and let each kid open one present…”

I was at the grocery store shopping for the weekend as we spoke, so I wheeled myself on over to the toy aisle to pick out something for Tucker and Lucy, my niece and nephew. I was torn, as you are while shopping for children whom you adore, with parents you actually like - should I get them a toy that they would find amazing and wonderful and risk the wrath of my sister and her husband when they realized there was no off switch? Or play it safe and give them a toy that was kind of lame but would keep me in my sister’s good graces?

I bought Lucy a Dora doll that sings, speaks Spanish and has no off switch and Tucker was the proud recipient of his very own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Fighting Buddy. Every time you punch the turtle he almost screams one of ten fun phrases. Obviously, if Tucker was going to keep whacking the doll around, he needed something to do the whacking with - so a threw a plastic pair of nunchucks into the buggy as well. (I’m surprised my sister is still speaking to me.)

Once we realized my sister was going to be in town I called my sister-in-law, Jeni in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and invited her to come and bring her two girls.

Which is how it came to pass that on Nov. 15, there were seven children between the ages of 9 and 2 in my house, as well as five adults and a fully decorated Christmas tree - listen, if my kids, nieces and nephew were going to have Christmas at my house, they weren’t going to ever be able to say, “Hey remember that time we had Christmas at Rah-Rah’s and there wasn’t even a tree?”

No ma’am. Not going to happen.

On Friday Blair and I went shopping for supplies for dinner that night and for our breakfast the next morning. I was going to make an Oven Baked Caramel French Toast Casserole and B was trying to decide if we should do eggs and bacon as well. As we got out of the car she threw her hands in the air, “What the heck - I’m making eggs, bacon and grits - It’s Christmas.”

We had hot chocolate and popcorn that night after all the kids were scrubbed clean and in fresh jammies then we began the head scratching process of finding a spot for everyone to sleep. My house became an obstacle course of sleeping bodies, palettes covered every square inch of the floor. Getting seven children to go to bed on “Christmas Eve” was decidedly more difficult than getting three kids to go to bed, but eventually everyone passed out.

Blair was willing to wrap all of the kids presents - one for each child - if I could produce wrapping paper and tape. The best I could come up with was a roll of butcher paper and duct tape. My sister rolled her eyes and started wrapping, while Jeni used a couple of red and green Sharpies to decorate the packages.

The adults laughed until we cried, and the kids cried until they laughed a few times but the whole weekend set the tone for me for the holiday season. Every year I try to keep things small, but I have that last minute panic that I didn’t do enough, I didn’t get my kids enough stuff. Maybe I should have done more. But this weekend reminded me that kids are smarter and more pure of heart than we sometimes give them credit for. Each child was overjoyed at the one gift they got. Not knowing exactly who purchased their gifts, they spent a good half of an hour thanking each other for whatever they got.

The thing that touched me the most was that even though my kids knew it was “Cousin Christmas” and enjoyed getting a gift, their focus was on each other. I made Aubrey and Emma go to school for half of a day on Friday and Emma told me no less than 13 times before she got out of the car, “Bring Lucy when you come get me and don’t leave her in the car.” She wanted all of her friends to see her two-year-old cousin.

They played outside, rode bikes, filmed a new episode of “The Very Serious Cooking Show,” and attempted to use a drawing app on the iPad to draw Disney characters. (Which was a highlight for the adults when a drawing of Goofy’s hat went seriously awry.)

They enjoyed each other so much it actually made my heart ache. (And we laughed so hard at that picture that it made my face, stomach and sides ache.)

My goal for the holiday season this year is simple: family.

Robin O’Bryant is an author, humorist and speaker. Her latest book is “Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.” Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter and visit her blog at www.robinschicks.com.

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