Let’s face it; 2020 has not entirely been our friend. It has been one of those junior high stab-you-in-the-back and pass-notes-about-you-in-homeroom type “friends.” No thank you. Been there. Still in therapy for that. But there is some redemptive beauty and strength with which the holiday season seems to envelop us that makes me extra giddy this year… especially this year. The lights are up early. Check. Four of the five trees are decorated. Check. Check. Stockings are hung by the fireplace with care. Check. Check. Check. (And seven more checks…) But my eight kids will never see what has been looming in my heart and brain – nearly a year’s worth of Christmas preparation: the clue-of-the-year. Kind of like all things motherhood, the Christmas clue-of-the-year is an all guts, no glory endeavor. Tons of work, dozens of logged Pinterest hours, tedious planning, secretive missions embarked upon, zero credit. And, it’s 100% worth every second and bead of sweat.
Over fifteen years ago, we sent our first child to kindergarten. Like many other mothers, I was uber-concerned about his education. And by that, I mean the school bus. I knew his teachers would knock it out of the park, but what about all that “stuff,” the unwritten curriculum, that little kids learn from big kids on the bus? I had to be proactive. Nothing would crush my little guy’s soul more than some pre-pubescent jerk telling him there was no Santa Claus. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch! I figured the only way to combat the spirit-extinguishers in life was to make my own magic. And, that I did! I developed a relationship with Impish the Elf and invited her to join our holidays. You see, Santa’s magic, the real magic, is only seen by the deepest of Santa-supporters. There are simply some things … things like Impish the Elf… parents could never pull off. It is impossible. So, Impish began showing up each Christmas with one magical experience after another. Each year, she would cleverly wrap gifts for Santa, but never put names on any of them. Rather, she would leave a clue in children’s stockings to help them solve the mystery of which presents belonged to whom. As the children grew, so did Impish’s sophistication. Year after year, Impish returned with a new thematic clue-of-the-year… Candyland Christmas, Pirate’s Treasure Hunt Christmas, Secret Agent Spy Christmas, Christmas Carols Surprise Christmas, World Travel Christmas… The list goes on and on. Just like that, a tradition was born, a holiday tradition so laden with anticipation and problem-solving and mystery and magic it just had to be real. Come on, this mother could barely keep up with the laundry. There was no way she could ever manage something this arduous!
The results were instantaneous and enduring. Now, a decade and a half later, our kids begin speculating about Impish’s clue-of-the-year in October. What will she do this year? How will we know? We’ve spent Christmas mornings deciphering secret messages with decoder rings, filling in missing lyrics in Christmas carols, following a pirate’s treasure map around the house, and even out the front door. Impish has not just given us gifts, she has given us experiences and memories. She has blessed us with anticipation and excitement we feel deep in our bellies. She promotes togetherness and problem-solving. She encourages us to be present in our family Christmas morning presents. She even inspired me to start a children’s book series about her! We are doing so much more with so much less under the tree!
I have always felt that parenting is entirely too overwhelmed with the hard stuff. The pressure is immense; we want to raise Rhodes Scholars, Division I athletes, maestros of music, and aficionados of all things relevant to societal success. Wouldn’t it be great to spend at least one part of the year, the holiday season, focusing on the absolute best part of parenting? Making magic for our children and keeping magic in their childhood is not only fun, it is essential. Let’s set our imaginations on fire with all the ways we can protect the innocence of childhood… especially in a year like 2020. Maybe my little elf friend, Impish, can help you too!