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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: The gift of childhood

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Two of my greatest gifts Boston and Beckham.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert

“Isn’t Christmas magical with kids?”

It was a text I read from my good friend a few days before Christmas.

Yes it is, and a little overwhelming, too. I tried so hard to “create” a magical Christmas for my children this year, such as decorating a big, beautiful tree (that died a week before Christmas), hanging homemade gingerbread men banners in my boys’ room (a sorry sight I must say, as most of the “men” looked rather misshapen), and spending the better part of an hour getting them all dressed to have fun in the snow only to hear knocking on the back door three minutes later with shouts of “I’m ready to come in now, Mommy!”

One day early in December, I made a Costco run. While wandering through one of the Christmas aisles, I spotted an “Elf on the Shelf.”

“Perfect!” I thought. I had seen numerous posts of my friend’s elves doing all sorts of mischievous things while the kids slept — such as giving mini-concerts to fellow stuffed animals on tiny, toy pianos. So I grabbed an elf and quickly explained the details to my kids.

“We get to name him, and then he comes alive at night and watches you during the day!”

My 5-year-olds’ eyes grew wide.

“He reports to Santa if you’ve been naughty or nice,” I said.

He looked at me suspiciously.

That night, I went to find “Thomas” the elf to make his shelf debut. But he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, I crept upstairs to the older boys’ bedroom, and there, pinned underneath my 5-year-old, was Thomas. I didn’t think it was worth it to wake him, so I quietly left, thinking I’d start the magic the next night.

Morning soon came. As I was downstairs making breakfast, I heard my oldest son tromping down the stairs.

“Good morning!” I said cheerfully. “Did you sleep well?”

“Mom,” my son announced, “Thomas is not real!”

“What?” I said.

“I was with him last night,” he said. “And guess what? He didn’t come alive!”

Racking my brains, I quickly countered with, “Oh, but he doesn’t ever come alive if you’re watching! It’s just like ‘Toy Story.’ He only comes alive if there are no people in the room!”

Feeling triumphant, I turned back around.

“Mom!” my son exclaimed. “Look at this thing! Feel it. It’s stuffed. You think he can come alive? You think he can talk? No. He can’t.”

I stood there completely dumbfounded. What in the world do I say? Do I force this whole “Elf on the Shelf” thing? Do I try and make him believe? Would giving in mean he’d miss out on a magical Christmas of elfish mischief like powdered-sugar snowball fights with action figures?

Worried that if he was too logical for Thomas the elf, he might also be too logical for Santa, I hesitantly asked the dreaded question:

“Boston — do you believe in Santa Claus?”

“Yes,” he responded immediately.

I let out a sigh of relief.

“And I believe in God the Eternal Father,” he said and walked away.

What an important lesson I learned that day! I realized I had spent so much time trying to create a magical Christmas that I had forgotten children have an innate ability to summon magic and wonder all on their own. For the most part, if they’re fed and well rested, children are unfailingly optimistic. They are always looking for fun. They laugh easily. They focus on the positive and have a unique ability to look for the good in situations, and in each other.

And they believe. Perhaps not in “Elf on the Shelf” or Santa Claus, but they do believe in Christ. Even their tender hearts know this truth.

These last few months, I’ve watched with surprise how quickly my 5-year-old seems to be growing up. And it’s breaking my heart.

In that same text message, I shared a thought with my good friend: “Isn’t it interesting how Christ came to Earth as a baby?” Heavenly Father very well could have sent him down to Earth at any age. He could have come as an adult, just as he appeared to the people in the Americas after his crucifixion.

But he came to Earth as all of us do. Mary gave birth to Jesus. She rocked him, fed him, probably stayed up late soothing him to sleep, taught him, cared for him and oh, how she must have loved him!

Christmas is magical with children, but life is magical with children. Every day is full of wonder and new discoveries. We are taught in the scriptures to “become as a little child” (3 Nephi 11:38). We are born in complete innocence and angelic light. We are as pure as the snow, and spend most of our lives trying to keep that purity and light.

I spend so much time waiting for my children to grow up. Sometimes I find myself saying, “I can’t wait for them to be a little older so I can … ” Yes, maybe day-to-day life would be a little more manageable with older children, but it will also be perhaps a little less magical when they suddenly grow up.

This next year, I want to strive to fully enjoy my children as children.

How grateful I am for the gift of childhood.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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