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Christmas letters are family history records for the future

Posted December 26, 2016

A Christmas card, 2016.

Dear posterity, friends and family:

I am legitimately looking older this year. My daughter asked me today why I have so much white in my hair, and I told her it’s from all of my kids yelling at me. That doesn’t explain why I’ve got spots appearing on my face and lines around my mouth and dark circles under my eyes, but that’s part of growing up.

In 2016, we all grew up a little more.

These days are filled with ups and downs that can change in the flash of an eye, as quickly as my children have grown in height, humor and attention spans. Today, before my daughter asked me about my white hair, my 5-year-old son joined me on the driveway as I shoveled snow. It was hard and heavy, and as he walked around on top of it, it got more and more compacted.

“Don’t walk on the snow, buddy, it makes it harder for me to shovel,” I told him.

“OK,” he said. Then, he moved to another spot on the driveway and walked on the snow some more.

In 2016, this boy graduated from preschool and started kindergarten.

He knows the first and last names of all of the children in his class, and he makes a point of being a genuinely charismatic little guy who can sound out words and color the most profound stick figures you ever did see. He joined a T-ball team, scored at least 10 goals in soccer and learned how much he loves to win. In 2016, he cried when he lost and got mad when I tried to help, and tying his own shoes frustrated him to no end. He has grown so much this year.

The little one that follows him around has grown up too. The youngest in the family, baby brother to all, used to wander into my room every night at about 2 a.m. and sleep on the floor because he couldn’t stand to sleep alone in his own room. He was worried about the spider that he saw walk across the floor once. I killed the spider in front of his own eyes but still, he just can’t shake the terror. His room is forever tainted with the ghost of that spider, and it haunts him in the darkness.

When we let him sleep in the same room as his siblings, he stopped waking up and walking to my room. In 2016, he grew to have a sense of comfort and trust from being around his brother and sister. Sometimes they still scratch each other’s faces from eye to ear, and sometimes they shove each other’s heads into the floor, but at the end of the day, they want to be together. They show concern for each other, and they hate to see their brother or sister be sad.

In 2016, they shared their Halloween candy with each other just to be kind.

As quickly as days can change from up to down, another day begins — another month, another year. After a night of camping in bear country this summer, we began our day with my daughter declaring, “We’re still alive. I think we’re going to make it.”

In 2016, my children appreciated being alive.

I really prepared for that camping trip. In 2016, our family started camping again, and I was a little rusty. We made foil dinners on our first night, ground beef, sliced potatoes, onions, carrots and cream of chicken soup all folded up and thrown on the fire. Rookie mistake. The flames charred the bottoms beyond edibility. My daughter said it was a “total failure.”

But she is not. She, my eldest, turned 8 and moved into her own room. She is sensitive and kind, funny and quirky and dramatic. In 2016, she started vacuuming the house every Saturday, and she complains about it every minute. She stopped playing soccer and started singing in a choir, and she can go from standing to a backbend just by reaching her arms over her head and folding her body in half. In 2016, she started playing the piano and loving to read. She is a wonder to behold — a joy, and a source of many white hairs.

As quickly as time can flash by, bad times become good. Tonight as I shoveled the snow, I yelled at my son for making it harder for me, and he sulked up the driveway into the garage. I figured he was mad, but he wasn’t.

He was looking for a shovel.

In 2016, my 5-year-old joined me on the driveway, digging into the ice and snow. He grunted with each scoop, straining under the weight, giving his all to help me. In 2016, my Christmas wish came true.

We learned to work together.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.

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