My daughter Summer married her college sweetheart in the month of December. Several years and six children later, Josh and Summer are still sweethearts. And the only way they can get away for a few days together is when a grandparent is present.
This is where I come in.
In two days, I’m boarding an airplane and hurtling toward New Jersey to send The Parents on an anniversary-celebrating trip (rumor is they’re going to Disney World).
I’m also going to Jersey as a Christmas gift to me.
Consider these gifts you can wrap up and give to you this holiday season:
1. The gift of staying connected
In widowhood, I set a determination to be with family and friends at holidays and milestone events. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if it’s sometimes lonely in those places. Staying connected with our people sends this message: You’re important to me.
But I think we get so much more in return. Speaking from my experience, connectedness provides an overwhelming sense of belonging.
This wisdom from Brené Brown:
Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.
2. The gift of being in service
When our children were young, the luxury of getting away with my husband, Gary—which usually meant grandparental intervention—was … well, a luxury. And now I get to be in service in this same capacity for my adult children.
Here’s how being in service is a gift to the one serving: By showing kindness or assistance to others, we give ourselves deep, overpowering, crazy joy.
3. The gift of creating new memories
As in years past, the grands and I will go ice-skating. And we’ll walk through all the stages of a local live nativity scene, complete with donkeys and sheep and camels and Roman soldiers on horses. And we’ll do a neighborhood scavenger walk, and make homemade pizzas, and read bedtime stories, and build Lego creations. Who needs Disney World when there’s ice-skating, pizza, and Legos?!
Here’s the cool thing about making memories, especially when documented with an excessive amount of photos: They can’t be taken from us.
4. The gift of recollecting old memories
Every time I visit, the four youngest grandchildren (a.k.a., The Littles) want to watch the Grandpa Video, created by son-in-law Josh for Gary’s Celebration of Life service. They’ve seen this video several times, but we’ll probably watch it again this year. And we’ll probably stop repeatedly because they always have questions: “Wait, how did that bird get on his head?” “Did you climb that mountain?” “How old is Mom in this picture?”
It does my heart good to remember this courageous, witty, kind man I was married to for so many years, and to share recollections of him with the grandchildren he didn’t get to meet.
Instead of shying away from remembering the times that were better, richer, fuller before life’s circumstances changed everything, consider the memories as a gift we give to ourselves and others.
5. The gift of adventure
Three years ago, my son, Jeremy, and daughter-in-law, Denise, celebrated a milestone anniversary by renting a villa on the coast of Puerto Rico and inviting family and friends to join them.
Although this didn’t occur at Christmastime, it was, nevertheless, a gift from me, to me. Because I had more fun than a grandma ought to be allowed while hanging out with an energetic group of adventure-seeking young people around the pool, on the beach, stand-up paddle-boarding down a lazy river, and partaking of fabulous local cuisine.
Every time we say Yes to adventure, it makes us braver for the next undertaking. (So maybe this particular item should have been labeled “the gift of courage.”)
6. The gift of positive self-talk
Sometimes it’s easier to stay home because we’re a fifth-wheel single person. Or because we have cancer, or we’re not as mobile as we used to be, or we’re on a special diet, which is too much trouble to impose on others.
And sometimes we play the It’s-their-turn-to-visit game.
Practice repeating after me:
“It’s their turn to visit, but it’s easier for me to get on a plane, car, or train headed in their direction.”
“My doctor says I can travel, so why not.”
“I am not a fifth-wheel. My family and friends want me there.”
7. The gift of one-on-one time
While Gary was still alive, we started a tradition of taking each grandchild out individually for a hot chocolate or ice cream cone. It’s one thing to enjoy burbling, rowdy, laughter-filled group moments … and it’s quite another to give your undivided attention to one little person at a time.
Being present and engaged isn’t merely something we give to whoever we’re present and engaged with. It’s also a gift we give ourselves. Because when we invest in creating solid, authentic relationships, the investment comes back around. Only multiplied.
8. The gift of joy
Though this is surely a difficult season for many, there is still much to be grateful for. Part of my gratitude list from last year at this time:
Safe flight to the land of kids and grands
“Cantique de Noel” playing on Pandora — breath-taking keys and strings
Raucous games of Uno where grandchildren show no mercy on their old and decrepit grandmother
Every one-on-one conversation over chocolate steamers and Chai lattes
Every bedtime story, cuddle, kiss, tickle, giggle with The Littles
Every eye-roll from The Teens as I channel their grandfather’s corny humor
This wisdom from David Steindl-Rast:
The root of joy is gratefulness.
When I focus on all there is to be grateful for, joy overtakes my heart and soul.
Go ahead, wrap up several priceless, gleeful gifts for yourself: family-and-friend time, remembering sessions, gratitude, adventure, positive self-talk, being in service — and see if joy doesn’t wrap you up this holiday season.