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The Most Valuable Gift You Can Give Your Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

"Do you remember when?"

These words make their way to our table at dinner time, in the car and into the covers during bedtime cuddles. Lately they have meant so much, mostly because they are strung to moments. They've been assigned to memories that have managed to etch their way into the hearts of my daughters. Little do they know, they're etched in my heart, too.

So many times, especially around this time of year, our focus is on material things, on wish lists and presents that will soon make their way beneath the tree. But the greatest gift we can give our children isn't something that can be wrapped and tied with bakers twine, garnering wonder and anticipation every day leading up to Christmas morning. And it most certainly doesn't cost a thing.

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Sometimes we parents put pressure on ourselves to find the perfect gift; one that they will squeal over as they tear open the wrapping paper. We want to get them the thing that they've always wanted (for like two months or two weeks). We peek at their Santa letters and create our shopping lists. We become superstar consumers in an effort to make our children happy. But I wholeheartedly believe that the thing they want most is our time. The thing they will treasure most is us.

The memories we make are priceless and yet they are the things that will be cherished the most. No need to make room in your budget, only your heart. As time goes by I find myself increasingly grateful for these "Do you remember when" questions. They're always tied to a special memory; sometimes they elicit laughter, sometimes our eyes become glassy. And although, I admit, I enjoy seeing the looks on my children's faces on Christmas morning when they finally discover what was in that box all along, I've found that the magic on their faces only lasts for those few glorious moments.

And then, just like that, it's gone.

They'll probably outgrow the doll. But one doesn't outgrow memories.

But when I give them my time, when I make memories with my girls, the magic isn't contained to just a few moments. Instead, we get to experience it again and again each time "we remember when."

So, while I've spent some time thoughtfully picking out presents that I hope they will ooh and ah over and want to keep for all time, I've also made an effort to spend more time creating memories that they will cherish and love for all time. They'll probably outgrow the doll and the denim jacket complete with iron-on patches that's perfect for a budding designer. A day will come when they will no longer turn the pages of that beloved book, and next year this year's Christmas pajamas will be too snug. But one doesn't outgrow memories. You keep those and carry them with you. And if you're fortunate you get to add to them.

Our time is a gift we can give our loved ones that won't require us to open 20 browsers, search for promo codes and fill our virtual baskets. Nor will it require us to brave store parking lots while declaring that we will not return to the mall again until after December 25. These are all things we do out of love, but certainly they're not a requirement for a magical and memorable childhood, let alone Christmas.

We can sit with our children and linger in the wonder of their childhoods. We can stay up late watching Christmas movies, belt out Christmas carols while driving in the car, give kisses underneath the mistletoe and let them hang ornaments on the tree exactly where they want them. We can giggle at how cute they look with hot cocoa mustaches and hold them close while reading Christmas stories. We can engage in random acts of kindness alongside them and show them that even Scrooge can find his Christmas spirit again (because let's be real, sometimes the most wonderful time of the year doesn't feel wonderful). We can remind them that the most precious gifts we will ever be given are our people and the most thoughtful gift is time.

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Next year there will be new gifts to be had and more paper to unwrap. But the memories we make this year will be the ones we reminisce about for years to come. Even the most mundane moments will matter because we were together.

Eventually, many things will be forgotten. But chances are, even if they do forget, you won't.

"Today is a gift. That's why it's called the present."

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