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Clippings: My parents know the value of quality time

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Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s Sunday night, a few days before Christmas, and we’ve been scurrying around getting things ready for the holiday — cleaning, wrapping gifts … Sarah and the girls took a sled down to the brook and collected pine boughs, then they decorated the house, made it look and smell like a festival. I spent half the day in the office getting things ready to take a day off.

After dinner I made hot cocoa, and Sarah found a cracked peppermint candy cane to break up and dunk in our cups. Now we are all in the living room, where the new (to us) woodstove casts a warm and happy glow over the surroundings and the mood. The older daughter, still in her jammies (even went into the woods that way), is reading a book; the younger girl drawing Christmas cards; Sarah cutting up an old book for Christmas ornaments (if it were me I’d just hang the book by a string, but she actually folds the cut pages into clever shapes that delight the eye and excite the imagination). Christmas music streams on the computer — Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

This is an unusual moment of tranquility. It has been a busy year, OY! I somehow thought that once the girls got out of diapers and into school our lives would return to normal, and Sarah and I would get back more time to ourselves. Boy was I wrong — we are busier than ever.

How — oh how! — did you two ever manage raising not two, but seven kids? No, seriously, how did you do it? Take Christmas, for instance, the busiest time of year. Not only did you somehow manage to pay for a cornucopia of gifts for us (remember, Dad, how when I asked you how you got by on a teacher’s salary you responded, “Oh, John, it was the miracle of the loaves and the fishes”) but you found time to think about what would make each of us happiest, shop for the gifts, wrap them (sometimes) and create a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebration. The shopping alone would wear out my body, my patience and my spirit. That doesn’t even account for the effort put into refereeing among seven immature individuals who all knew each other’s points of vulnerability in excruciating detail.

I remember one Christmas, Mom, when you took me to the Smitty’s Uptown to help me find a present for my big brother Mark. I must have been very young because we settled on a hand puppet in the shape of one of the Muppets. We had a limit on the cost of the gifts and all of the Muppets were too expensive, except for a specially marked Bert (Ernie’s better half) that had experienced a rough ride during shipping. One of the salesmen came over to help us out and he kindly suggested that you could easily wipe the dirt off Bert’s face and sew up the rip in his signature striped shirt and turtleneck. You paid the reduced price, performed the repairs when we got it home and helped me wrap Bert. It was so exciting to get to use your special scissors from nursing school, and I liked how you showed me to turn the edge of the paper before folding it across the bottom so that the edges would all be look straight.

I’ll ask you again, how did you have the energy, the intelligence, the flexibility, the wisdom, the patience and the good cheer to parent not one or two, but all SEVEN of us? My brothers and sisters and I were sooo lucky to have you as our parents. No children ever felt so well loved and so well cared for. I don’t remember you not having time for us, you were magicians able to create enough time and attention and love to fill up the greedy needs of child after child after child … I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Did I mention how busy we have been? In addition to us both working full-time, there is preparing dinner, making sure homework and chores are completed, getting independent-minded girls into bed with the lights out on time. And there is the nearly endless carting around of the girls to play rehearsal, dance class, violin lessons, more dance class, athletic practice, visits with friends, errands, outings, etc., etc., etc.

One of my favorite times of the day is 8 to 8:20 each morning; that’s when I drive the girls to school. It can be stressful as hell getting out the door, but once we leave the driveway I get a few quiet minutes with two of my favorite people in the world. We talk about the day ahead and life in general. Sometimes they say the darnedest things, and I always learn a little bit about what makes them tick. Sometimes, if there’s not much going on in their lives that day, Sophie will say, “Daddy, tell us a story about when you were a little boy.” So I do. And, almost always, there you are, Mom and Dad, either at the center of the story or hanging around in the background — two more of my very favorite people in the whole world.

Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad!

Much love, John

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