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The sombre debates currently coursing through our society will continue apace, as well they should. A quick scan across the media, and various websites suggest that other things are happening too, and in a complex society nothing really stops. While we mourn our dead, we also keep on living, doing what we can to engender hope in our children.

Christmas is almost upon us and that is a time when we renew our faith in our families. We can, just for the moment, put aside the cares and frustrations, the anguish and desperation of the modern world, and simply enjoy our children.

I do understand that not everyone can do this, and not everyone will choose to, yet most will.

I also accept the contradiction apparent in the fact that I am an Atheist, others are Jews, Muslims and many other religions. I still celebrate Christmas (not holiday), because for me, a guy brought up by atheist parents in a family that attended church only for weddings and funerals, Christmas has a deep and abiding meaning.

It means family. Nothing more, and nothing less. One of the benefits of moving to the United States has been the addition of Thanksgiving to the repertoire. I now have two occasions where I may do nothing other than celebrate my own family, while, at the same time wishing for better circumstances for families less fortunate than mine.

Nonetheless, this family time does not go smoothly unless the adults in the room make it so. The kids? Well our kids are like everyone else's. Rapacious monsters with a healthy acquisitive streak, tempered only by a "cuteness" that they use as a weapon of mass destruction when faced with parental opprobrium. I feel reasonably confident that parents the world over will recognise the description :)

We have always maintained the fiction of Father Christmas. Nothing wrong with entering the magical world of children, and encouraging them to stay there for as long as possible. We still have one who is young enough that, although she wears the time-worn expression of one who is in touch with the realities of a cruel world, she cannot quite be sure. Nine, going on nineteen. If you have one of those you will surely extend your sympathy to me and her Mom!

We have a middle boy aged eleven. He is rather less "streetwise" than his younger sister. He is content to let the outer world float gently by while maintaining straight As and concentrating only on the immediate things that take his interest. He is a boy, and that brings with it a certain approach to life that baffles his sisters, and his Mom at times. I lose count of the times I say "Jodie, he is just being a boy". She gets it really, because she is married to me, a guy who has remained "just a boy", but it can be a frustration. (As I write this she is correcting me "All guys remain "just a boy", they just get bigger" .. says she)

Yamaha Pacifica and Line 6 Amplifier for MichaelAnyway, the boy has only one ambition for this coming holiday season. By the time he returns to school, he hopes to be the proud owner of an electric guitar. That is it. So just to show that his parents are completely in tune (sic) with this modest ambition, here is a picture of something we have hidden in our closet ...

What prompted this piece was simply a comment by our eldest ... not, for a minute, forgetting my two older sons living in England.

Mackenzie is fourteen. Normally, after making an announcement like that I would be moved to add a very large :: sigh ::, and parents of teens, their teachers and everyone who has the misfortune to make contact with them would understand. In this case though, our teen had her difficult years much earlier. Those years coincided with her father leaving the family and my arrival. It was hard on her. The others are far too young to remember a time when their Dad was at home. Indeed the youngest was still in diapers, but for Mackenzie it was tough. We traveled a long road with our eldest daughter and are extremely proud of the inquisitive and intelligent young woman she is becoming.

This morning, however, she was reminding us of a time when, in her view, we failed miserably as parents. I do need to preface this by letting you know that she had a big grin on her face.

Like all families we buy the presents sometime before the actual event, then face the tricky task of maintaining a level of secrecy that would engender pride in the CIA. There is a pregnant pause between buying the gifts and concealing them in wrapping paper, then hiding the whole thing in a small house full of children who know that there are presents hidden somewhere. Their commitment to the idea of "Father Christmas" notwithstanding, they also know that their parents buy the presents.

One year, when Mack was about seven, it became clear that the normal curiosity we expect and encourage had somewhat overstepped the mark. The kids know that even if they happen to catch a glimpse of presents before the day, they are not allowed to touch them or investigate further. Mackenzie had, very clearly, "investigated further" and had been quite unable to conceal the evidence. I am sure there is more than one life lesson in this, but at the time we were simply concerned with how to deal with the one act.

We are not alone in this. Every family has to deal with incidents large and small, and they all find their unique way forward. It was a minor thing but we were determined that it would also be an important one. It was, by coincidence, also the one year where we had really struggled as a family. That year anonymous "Christmas Angels" had gifted us a generous amount of gifts for our children. As adults we were upset that the gifts had not been respected. Mackenzie wasn't responsible for that, she was just a kid, but we felt it.

So we decided that Mackenzie was going to be a Christmas Angel for a young girl living in our street.

We had her completely open the "Bratz Doll" that she had lifted the paper from and peeped at, and re-wrap it. We had her invite the other girl and her Mom to our house, whereupon Mackenzie gave the beautifully (and tightly) wrapped present to this other child.

We had a wonderful Christmas that year, and our children had plenty to keep them occupied even if we did end up one doll short. Personally, I believe that Bratz Doll gave Mackenzie a great deal more than she would ever have learned from keeping it, and that was brought home to me today.

I had completely forgotten the incident, and simply listened, amused, as she re-told the tale this morning. Clearly one of us had never forgotten, and she was reminding us that one that occasion, we got it right.

I'm proud of what my children are becoming. There will be bumps along the way yet they are to be expected, and we will deal with them. We will continue to pick them up when they fall, and love them unconditionally. We will equip them to make informed choices, then try to help them understand the consequences of the choices they make. On occasion we will have to show them a boundary they crossed, and help them understand why they shouldn't do that again.

Children have been in the news because of the most tragic of circumstances. As parents we also have to help our children understand that the world is not always the safe place we have created in our home.

Then the day will come that we send them out into that world. If I have one hope it is that they will make our world a better place than we have been able to.

_

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