My 3-year-old had the best idea, and we just ran with it.
Like many other moms I know, I'm the keeper of Christmas at our house.
Present buying for a comprehensive list of extended family members, friends and teachers? All me. Baking cookies, purchasing Christmas outfits, ordering and addressing Christmas cards? Yep, that's me, too.
I do my best to keep my plate purposefully light, sidestepping traditions that seem steeped in pressure. We don't do an Elf or a Christmas bucket list. I love the idea of a Kindness Advent calendar, but I know even that would be an over-commitment of resources.
Before you think we're a houseful of Grinches, we do have a small handful of things we try to do every year. Our decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving. We do an Advent book and calendar each night. We always buy gifts for a less-fortunate child in our community and the past two years we've taken freshly-baked cookies to the owners of the house with the best Christmas light display in the neighborhood.
But my favorite tradition, the one I look forward to all year and savor every moment of, wasn't even my idea.
It was our first Christmas as a family of four. Our daughter, Ellie, was 6 months old and our son, Nathan, was almost four. One afternoon I was cleaning up the kitchen when Nathan came in.
"Mom, I want to buy a gift for Ewwie." He held up his dinosaur piggy bank. "Wif dis."
"You want to use your own money to buy a Christmas gift for your sister?" I asked, making sure I understood his plan.
"Yep. When can we go?"
"Oh buddy, I love that idea. Let me talk to Dad when he gets home and figure out a time."
We went shopping that night, just Nathan and me. Our one-on-one time had been hard to come by since Ellie was born, and I soaked up the time strolling the toy aisles hand-in-hand.
Nathan took his task very seriously; we visited three stores in the quest for the perfect Christmas gift for his baby sister. He considered rattles and stuffed animals and a very elaborate stacking game.
This thoroughness was typical of Nathan. He was (and still is) a slow-moving child. He comes to his decisions carefully, which, as you can imagine, means I spend a lot of time saying, "Hurry up, Nathan," and "Come on, Nathan," and "We're going to be late, Nathan." But not this night. This night, we moved at his pace, and he seemed delighted.
More than once he asked me if he needed to hurry, and I assured him we had plenty of time. Watching his face light up in response, I made a mental note to move more slowly more often.
At last, purchase in hand, we made our way up to the register. I helped him count out his dollars and pay the cashier for the toy camera he selected. We headed across the street to a bakery to share a chocolate chip cookie before heading home.
As I tucked him into bed that night, well past his bedtime, he said, "Thanks Mom. That was really fun. I think Ewwie is going to love her toy I got her."
"I think so too, bud. You're a great big brother. I love you."
Three years later, Ellie is big enough to join in the fun, and this year I took each of them on a separate shopping date. I blocked out the whole evening, so we had plenty of time to roam the toy aisles at their pace, eat a special treat and check out Christmas lights on the way home.
It's nice to slow down a little in the bustle of the holiday season.
My children teach me a lot about gift buying and thoughtfulness—I'm always surprised at how carefully they choose their gifts and how well they know the recipient.
It's a reminder to me, as I work my way through my checklist of to-dos and gifts to buy, to slow down where I can and be deliberate with my generosity.
I don't think Nathan knew what he was starting with the $10 from his piggy bank three years ago. His simple request has turned into our most treasured tradition, but then, it seems Christmas is always best-viewed through the eyes of a child.