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Second Thoughts: Another Christmas past, but not forgotten

"Look what I have," said my niece, the tiny girl who had worn her hair in Cindy Lou Who pigtails for our family Christmas party.

There nestled in her hand was her mother's long-lost ring, an anniversary gift from my brother-in-law. After misplacing the ring in the months-long rush to keep the kids and home on track, manage the family wreath-making business and prepare for the holidays, my sister had searched the house from top to bottom, even digging through two containers of recyclables and the compost bin.

Then just before Christmas, without effort, Gabby found the ring in her pencil case.

In a few weeks my sister had lost a blue sock, a gallon of Georgia Peach paint and the ring. Weeks of searching turned up none of them. I wouldn't have worried about the sock. But the other losses left my sister doubting herself, her control of things. To her, me and probably most of us, that's a big thing.

We joked that when Gabby found the ring, she also found her mom's sanity, which had been lost too.

But isn't that what children do regularly, especially during the holidays, for all adults?

My husband harangues me about delaying (forever) reading the instruction manuals for new electronics. But in 10 minutes on a December Saturday, my nephew J.T. taught my sister and me the basics of texting. It's an easy, if totally unnecessary, skill, and it's fun.

My nine-year-old blond-as-can-be grandson Andrew left us in wonder and delight with his plan to wear a fake black mustache while he took the role of the innkeeper in his church's Christmas pageant.

At our church on Christmas Eve, the second grandson, 4-year-old Will, squirmed and flirted with a college-age choir member and then waved sweetly from the back when his grandfather joined the other singers in the front of the church.

"So cute," cooed our friends.

When the girl asked his name, he told her he usually says, "William," but added that he does have a second name and a third -- first, middle and last. We're surprised he didn't give her his phone number.

During a lull in our Christmas party between the food and the opening of gifts, my 11-year-old nephew suggested the 30 or so of us play Bingo. He, of course, would call the numbers.

When she won, an adult cousin asked what her prize was.

"There are no prizes," said Alex solemnly.

But he was wrong. They were among us.

During the holidays we fill our time to overflowing with lists of things to finish -- cards to mail; piles of gifts to buy; colorful paper to fold, seal and then rip apart; little lights everywhere; decorations both fanciful and elegant; and food, so much food.

But compared to our children, it's all just so much fluff, just filler.

It is the children who hold in their hands and imaginations the magic and meaning of the season. The rest, borrowing a word from Cindy Lou, is "superfluous."