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Modern Parenthood

The holidays mean reflection via Dylan Thomas for one middle school class

Christmas tree decorating, watching 'The Grinch,' and playing in the snow are staples of their winter holidays, say seventh- and eighth-graders in Maine.

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And once the tree is correctly placed, bringing the outside in, and turning the house inside out with the aroma of spruce or fir, the decorating begins. “I get the white, wooden snowflake,” writes Meredith, “and Sawyer gets the wooden moose that has a string attached to make its leg move when you pull it. We hang them on a different branch and go back to get the next ornaments. We hang up angels with newspaper for wings, Pillsbury dough men, cupcakes with shiny pink and green frosting and Minnie and Mickey Mouse bobble heads. Then, we grab our mugs and Dad puts another log in the fire and we sit back to play a few card games and enjoy our work.”

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Correspondent

Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for Teachers.net. He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.

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Who wants a useful present, “such as warm, fluffy hats, and soft, handmade scarves; socks and white T-shirts?” You can’t play with T-shirts, thought Gabriel. Uncle Ely to the rescue: “There appeared a blue Yamaha RC snowmobile, with batteries.” Think of all the mystery, majesty, and quasi-ecclesiastical authority in the phrase, “There appeared.” Game Boys we have heard on high, sweetly beeping all o’er Maine. What would Dylan Thomas say? “Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were remote-controlled, battery-operated Big Wheels in Wales….” It’s hard to hear the absence of the sound of snow filling the fir boughs above the mechanical whine and torque of the latest radio toy vehicle.

There are essential letters. “I was worried whether I had been clear enough in my letter to Santa,” wrote Madison. “I had asked for a Barbie Car. There was a lot at stake this Christmas, and it was my first letter to Santa. I was four.”

There are snow days, gifts of leisure time packaged and delivered with the actual raw materials of fantastic winter play. Not too many snow days, please, lest we find ourselves paying for them with school days in July – a high interest rate, to be sure. Just enough. “The huge snowdrifts from the plow make excellent forts,” wrote Meredith, “and the pile of snow at the bottom of the slide is soft and powdery from the dry wind and freezing air.” After a full day of such cold-pile jumping, “a hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and a peppermint stick” await inside.

And finally we all close our eyes with something like this favorite Christmas poem by Bill Watterson: “Tomorrow’s what I’m waiting for, but I can wait a little more.” We can all feel what it’s like to think, just before slumber, as Thomas did, “I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

And we can all hear the other tongue of the sea, lapping at the silken shore of memory and care. And there appeared peace.

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