Sometimes when you think you have the least, you have the most. Sometimes less really is more.
I came across a photo the other day that was the physical expression of less is more. I was transported to a time when I didn’t have deadlines and my biggest concern was whether the snowsuit fit my three-year-old this year. Obviously I wasn’t in Texas, or at least Austin.
It was a particularly cold winter. We had just come in from an outing in the snow with our two-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Of course the outing begins with a twenty minute assembly of two children, four mittens, two snowsuits, two hats, four rubber boots, and two scarves. This is more complicated than it sounds—one of them always decides a bathroom trip is necessary after we have zipped the snowsuits.
My youngest was having a tough time with all the gear. Imagine that you can hardly walk because you’re wrapped in ten pounds of long johns, sweaters and wool, plus a final outer coating of down pillows. Her arms stuck straight out sideways and her legs were splayed in opposite directions. Her movements were…robotic comes to mind.
We had almost a foot of snow. Not too much for an adult but when your knees are only eleven inches off the ground, walking in this stuff is a formidable task. Mainly it’s slow. But the sled makes it all worthwhile. We were walking to the top of the hill just for that purpose—a grand sled ride down—when I realized I was missing a blue snowsuit.
Turning, I found her face-down in the snow, looking like a giant blueberry, trying to roll over. Her arms were of no use since the snowsuit prevented any forward motion; they could only flap about five inches. Same with the legs. After a serious fit of laughter, I picked her up, brushed snow off her face, and we went on our way.
Returning to the warm fire that evening, I was distraught. Christmas was only three days away and we were absolutely broke. To me, the perfect gift was a day such as we’d had, but you always want to give more to your children. I felt that I’d let them down by not having money for gifts. My husband and I reasoned that they were too young (and we lived too isolated) to have expectations. They expected what we told them to expect. They wouldn’t know it was Christmas if we didn’t tell them. They had no sense of time, and Christmas could come next year.
But, you know, it just didn’t feel right. Logical as it was, not talking about Santa and having no Christmas tree just wasn’t right. Surely we could do something, being resourceful and all.
I was also thinking of the coming months. Being snowed in with two toddlers is the boot camp of patience building. Like the military, first they tear you down to nothing. They start with your mind and progress to your nerve endings. Then it’s up to you to build yourself back up, hopefully into a kind and patient parent. New toys were the tools of war. You learn to use them to your advantage. The thought of a toyless winter wasn’t a pretty prospect. Sure we cooked and painted and read and built block houses, but the mental and physical dexterity of a toddler is somewhat inhibiting to any task takes more than ten minutes or requires more than two steps.
I was making my last trip into town before the big day, driving past the toy store with craned neck. Circling back just for the torture of temptation, I noticed two large appliance boxes behind a store. it was definitely an “Aha!” moment. We could build a cardboard castle for them. It was free (the biggest advantage), relatively simple, and original. I spent a couple of hours gathering eight appliance boxes and strapping them into the back of the truck. I had a plan.
After the children went to bed on Christmas Eve, we gathered several cans of paint, tape, staple guns and knives, and then went to work on the boxes. We also had two bottles of wine, crucial supplies for any serious advancement. It’s amazing what two art majors can do with cardboard. The night was filled with planning and laughter and by morning we had a four-foot by twenty-five foot castle, complete with turrets on each end and a drawbridge in the middle. It was painted to look like stone and even had flags that almost reached the ceiling.
When our children awoke to find what Santa had left them, they went wild. They could walk upright through the eight-room castle. There were windows that opened, arched doorways, and a trap door. I’ve never seen them so happy.
They played with that castle through late February, when wear and tear had taken its toll. By mid-March the castle was reduced to three rooms and by late April it was gone altogether. But they didn’t care and neither did I; by then they were outside again.
I’ve thought about the simplicity of that year. Christmas Eve was special too, staying up all night, stoking the fire, building a gift with my loved one. The warmth came from more than the fire and wine. It was what Christmas Eve should be.
Since then, I’ve since spent thousands of dollars on my children and no small sum on my granddaughter, but I have yet to repeat the sheer glee of that year. Maybe it’s time to gather some boxes, paint, and a loved one, and build a Christmas castle for our granddaughter. Oh, and a couple of bottles of wine—I think I hear Santa calling with recommendations on vintage.
May your Christmas embrace life’s simple pleasures.