What children really want from Santa

Believe it or not, a cold, rainy December day in 1972 was one of the best days of my life because it gave me the one thing I wanted the whole time I was growing up.

It wasn’t Christmas yet and if I’d ever thought to write to Santa about it way back then, to put it into words, I surely would have done so.

No, this was the best day because our career mom was home from work and the bluster outside showed every sign of keeping all of us house bound.

To this day, I cannot remember every award-winning news story she wrote or each accolade she earned as a Bay Area journalist of note. I do remember that she was a remarkable woman, the best mother in the whole world and that she loved us fiercely.

But I remember that particular day in every detail because she was home with us three kids. We had her all to ourselves.

Oh, the luxury. We had the pure joy of an entire day together as a family. No meetings, no deadlines, no homework, babysitters or hectic schedules.

Ordinarily, we’d have put a bunch of records on the high-fi or turned the AM radio way up while we did our chores and picked up the chaos that three kids can make in no time flat.

But this day was different.

I can still see mom popping a big kettle of popcorn while she looked back at us and said we should find something good on TV to watch.

There was no Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. Videos and DVDs had not been invented. Local TV offered a whopping six channels of network broadcasting and PBS.

But there was one station that played old black-and-white movies and we loved it. My sister clicked the channel knob and landed there just in time for something we’d never seen. Our little brother was wondering if anyone planned to make some hot cocoa. Yes, we told him. On the first commercial.

When mom brought the buttery popcorn into the living room, we piled onto the sofa around her like a human sleeping bag. Snuggled up, we watched the classic Christmas movie together and felt that deep happiness that comes from having the gift of time together.

I share this with you today because time is precious.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, the home furnishings giant IKEA brought this message home with a poignant video called “The Other Letter.” You might have seen it, hankies in hand. It’s a youtube staple.

In the 2:41 film, IKEA Spain asks several children aged 4 to 9 to write their Christmas letters to the Three Kings (essentially equivalent to a letter to Santa). After the children joyfully complete their wish lists, the interviewers ask them to write a new letter but to their parents.

You guessed it. Every child asked their parents for things focused on spending more time together, reading to them, playing ball, doing activities or having dinner with them.

Free stuff, simple stuff. Stuff that wasn’t focused on STUFF. They asked for their parents’ time.

I know this is harder than it sounds. I wish I could find a way to make it humorous. I know we don’t want to hear it, that it’s a lot to support a family and keep commitments to our jobs. I know it feels like everyone seems to need things from us and it’s hard, maybe even close to impossible, to get time for ourselves. You’re doing a wonderful job, trust me.

As I look back on the years when my own little girl was growing up, I really wish I had just sat down and played Barbies with her more.

And in my head, I can still hear the refrain of Harry Chapin’s Billboard 100 folk-rock classic from 1974, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” His wife Sandy wrote the lyrics before their son Josh was born and it still rings true today.

I’ve long since retired my son’s moved away.

I called him up just the other day.

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time.

“You see my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu.

But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad.

It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me.

He’d grown up just like me.

My boy was just like me.

With the holiday countdown now measured in days and hours, please accept my heartfelt wishes for all your beautiful winter celebrations and most of all, that you will be blessed with the best gift of all, time with those you love.

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