Aside from the gifts of love, compassion, empathy, friendship, and all that good stuff, the best holiday present a parent can receive is a nice notebook - a nice notebook and a roller-ball pen.
OK, so your kids might not come through this year. No matter. You can come through for them - again. Buy yourself a notebook; you get to choose the size, shape, and heft that are just right. You buy the pen that has the right grip and ink flow.
Then you start making entries: Recall the charming and alarming words, phrases, and expressions that dotted your kids' childhoods. This collection will be your gift to them.
As small and as "wise" as tape recorders and video recorders have become, they're rarely handy when we need one. And they require voltage. This may be retro thinking, but paper seems handier.
Here are some of the things I've scribbled down to document various parent-child eras.
"Rhapsodies?" I ask. "You want to listen to rhapsodies?"
"Dad, be serious. I said rap CDs. R-A-P compact disks."
"And later I wanna watch reruns of some SNLs."
"You want to watch reruns of S&Ls - savings and loans?"
"Dad, what are you talking about? Read my lips: S-N-L, 'Saturday Night Live' reee-runss."
My 14-year-old son feels the need to spell things out for me, to slowly mouth the words that I can't seem to decipher. He offers charade gestures and makes comments about my hearing.
We are separated by 41 years and, seemingly, different dictions and vocabularies. Still, one of the many pleasures of my fatherhood has been collecting the words and phrases that he uttered when the words were new and he was testing sounds - long before he was testing boundaries.
Perhaps he was 2 or 3 years old when he drowsily asked for his "plillow" and squiggled to get "com-tor-fall" and, fading, asked for a "close-your-eyes book."
There were the times that he spoke of "Talian" or "Towel-lee-anne" (i.e., Italian) food; when he bent down to look up the "chim-men-nee." He pointed to an insect when he accused, "It bited me." He was probably feeling profound when he wished "gradulayshuns."
He may have been 4 years old when he was taken with announcing the names of basketball players: "Hah-hah-keen Elijahjohn" and "Shakeyda Moneel." It may have been around that time that he wielded "wuponds" and confessed, "I'm a little bit bad and a little bit good." He also wanted to learn how to play a card game he called "Jim Runny."
When I had the presence of mind to do so, I scribbled these tidbits on scraps of paper. But I neglected to date them and never deposited them in one place. Over the past few years, these scraps of paper have turned up when I'm rummaging for some receipt or unaccountably unpaid bill.
With a nod to posterity, I began stuffing those scraps in a file, which I misplace, then occasionally locate when I unearth still another scrap from yesteryear.
It would have been easier if I'd gotten a notebook in the beginning.
My son may or may not think these "recordings" worth keeping, but I hope he'll have kids of his own someday, and they might. The jottings in that notebook will be my gift to my son, or to his children. It may be one of the nicest gifts I can give myself - and them.