14 moves in 18 years. That was the reality for my son Joseph. In his 18th year he calculated the number of moves we’d made in his lifetime. 14 … 14 in 18 years. Some of those moves were across town, but some involved packing up every earthly possession and 5 kids, and boarding an airplane to fly halfway around the globe.
Boxes, bubble wrap, packing paper and packing lists. I have a well-developed, extensively tested system for packing, moving and unpacking a household. But that’s a post for another day.
In an early move, when bubble wrap was beyond my budget, I discovered that the newspaper office sells “end rolls”. When they run the paper through the printing presses there is always some left on the roll. Those are the end rolls. Not only that, they can be purchased for next to nothing, currently $1.50 at my local paper. The diameter will vary. I have had rolls as large as 18” across. Through the years, we have used miles of this stuff. It makes fantastic packing paper and it’s much more budget friendly than bubble wrap.
One of my favorite uses for the end roll is wrapping paper. Throughout most of our life, the monthly income would fluctuate, sometimes quite drastically. One December we were hit particularly hard. I had no idea how I would buy presents for the kids let alone paper with which to wrap them.
After I’d figured out how to have something for them under the tree, I still had the dilemma of how to wrap those gifts. Then it occurred to me. I had a newspaper end roll. I had planned to create stamps out of potatoes but I happened onto two foam angel stamps marked down to mere pennies.
At home, I gathered the kids around, unrolled the paper across the table, retrieved a bottle of gold paint from my craft closet and spread it on a plate. I carefully showed them how to place the stamp in the paint then on the paper. The three of them shared the two stamps and before long we had a nice roll of glittery, golden, angel wrapping paper.
Every present, purchased or made was wrapped in golden angels. It didn’t matter that the paper was all the same. The golden paint caught the lights from the tree. The packages shimmered and the kids beamed. They proudly showed their creation to guests and visitors.
That started a favorite tradition. We didn’t always make wrapping paper but every couple of years we would return to the practice. We added stamps to our collection. As the kids got older, more creative and more skilled the end product changed. But the shared fun, the bonding, the sense of pride, the love, these things remained.
For this post, I anticipated making some paper while the kids were at school or work. Then the girls got wind of my plans. The protests were loud and complete. Three girls (those kids still at home), three voices, making their desires known. They wanted to help! You aren’t going to do that without ME?!
So, with a great deal of effort, we found a time when all were home and homework was done. An iPhone provide the Christmas music, an essential element of the experience. Three girls, ages 21, 18 and 15 gathered around the table once more. We pulled out the paint and paper and stamps and they went at it. I think they enjoyed it as much last night as they did when they were children!
I smiled, not the smile that is merely a polite expression on one’s face, but the kind that reaches to the very soul. The kind that reflects a heart at peace and full of joy, a heart that has found a moments rest among the busyness of life and of this season. A heart that remembers the meaning of the season because the love of the season is reflected in the faces of her children.
We laughed. Anna painted a star and announced she’d created a self-portrait. Later she painted a gift box and announced the same, “I’m a gift,” she said. Yes, she certainly is. Then she stamped out golden angels at a pace to rival the printing press. Alia was slow and meticulous, using brushes to add detail to her stamped images. Abigail’s boisterous voice filled the room and shook the rafters as she bent over her section of the paper.
We wanted a snowflake and a star so we carved them out of potato halves creating our own homemade stamps.
They decided hand prints would be fun, and paper with their handprints would be perfect to wrap my gift . They painted Anna’s nose red, and she posed her gold paint covered hands to resemble antlers as another girl snapped a photo.
Amidst the laughter and painting one of the girls paused and thoughtfully asked, “Did we make paper when we were little because you didn’t have money for wrapping paper?” Silence. Where noise and laughter had echoed seconds before, silence. 3 sets of eyes, all turned to me, all waiting for this answer. I am not sure why it mattered to them, but I knew it did. I knew this question was about more than wrapping paper. “Yes,” I said. “Initially, that is how and why the idea came to me. But you guys loved it and it gave you such pride and that’s why we continued.”
I went on to explain to them that sometimes the hard circumstances in our lives can lead us to things we might not have found otherwise. We had some tough years, especially early on, but without those years I do not think I would have taught myself the things I did. I would not have developed some of the skills and creativity that I so value, that have become a part of who I am.
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. This is truth has been born out in my own life time and time again. And sometimes, the result is so much more than even our wildest hopes can imagine. That Christmas, all those years ago, I was simply looking for a way to wrap gifts for my littles.
I got that and something infinitely more important and precious. That need created treasured memories for my kids. It gave their little selves a sense of accomplishment and pride. It fostered creativity and created a space for laughter and fun and love. The times we gathered around the table with stamps and paper and paint are worth a thousand times more than the money I saved on the wrapping paper. Store paper would have been forgotten as quickly as it was crumpled into a black trash bag and put in the bin.
I doubt the kids can tell you what they got for Christmas that year. But they remember the paper. Because ultimately it wasn’t about paper. It was about family, about memories and creating, about being together, and laughter and love. As we celebrate that baby in the manger, the very essence of love itself let’s not forget that here is where the real magic of Christmas is found.