She sat there calmly. Not crowding around the tree with her cousins and siblings, searching for a tag with her name on it.
She watched it all with a small, contented smile, cheering when her sister got the doll she wanted and waiting patiently for her turn.
She laughed at the adult jokes being tossed around, and pulled her young cousin on her lap when he tried to sneak into the kitchen for more cinnamon cake.
Her boxes were significantly smaller this year. Each thing she opened was packed carefully to the side, out of the way of stampeding toddlers and over eager preschoolers.
There were clothes, shoes, soft blankets and a couple of sophisticated electronic devices. Decorations for her room. Jewelry. Gift cards. Books.
There were no toys. No dolls. No remote control cars. No brightly colored, plastic, noise-making things. The only gift remotely toy-like was a scooter – a scooter that was made for adults. When I asked her why she wanted one, she told me she needed more exercise. (I’m not sure that really counts as a toy.)
I don’t know quite when it hit me that my big girl could no longer really be called a child. Maybe it was when I looked through her gifts and realized that I would have liked to have received some of them myself.
Part of me wants those childlike days back. I want to shower her with Barbies and princess games. I want to play dress up and tea party, and snuggle up on the couch for an episode of My Little Pony.
The rest of me, though, is fiercely proud of who she’s becoming. I love her grit and her grace. I love watching her think through problems and help her younger siblings with theirs. I love that she makes witty comments and occasional dry remarks.
She likes to read, fish and write poetry. She likes to play strategy games and watch YouTube videos. She uses adult coloring books and helps her brother with his tooth brush.
I don’t particularly enjoy the hormone surges, the emotional explosions and the retreating to her room, but I understand them. I understand the need for solitude in the face of crazy because I have felt that need myself.
She’s changing. In amazing, astounding and wonderful ways. I’ve seen it happening over this past year, but this Christmas it finally hit me – that little girl is gone. That little girl trying on my high heels, with sticky fingers and a sparkly tiara. She’s not coming back. I’ll only see her in my memories and the few pictures I took as I followed in her wake.
But this almost teenager – she’s here now. And she’s pretty awesome. I’m so excited to get to know her, too.
Sandra Samoska is a writer with a love for Jesus and a love for family. When she's not chasing around her four kids and doing all the things, you can find her writing about the ways God shows up in our every day lives.