One Man's Opinion: The Greatest Gift

It has probably taken me longer than it should have to realize that the greatest gifts of my life are often the more intangible ones, as well as the longest lasting.

Barclay, my first child, followed her mother into teaching, the two are both on the faculty of the same Gwinnett County elementary school, and as with her sister, Barclay shares many of her mother's mannerisms and characteristics, as well as the obvious physical resemblance.

Many of the lessons I learned through my first child, good and bad, have hopefully better prepared me for raising my second, Olivia. Though born with the genetic disability of Down syndrome, Olivia teaches me life lessons almost weekly. Her joy is contagious and her ability to make new friends is constant and instantaneous. Despite a decade and a half between my girls, the two half-sisters are quite close. Barclay's guidance and advice as an educator has also been invaluable as we step delicately through the minefield which special education in a public school setting can be.

Between them, the girls currently have 12 living grandparents, I won't bore you with the math, but it can make making everyone happy during the holidays a challenge. As I watch them both live and grow, I marvel and find great joy in noting expressions, gestures, and mannerisms shared with their ancestors, many of whom they've never met and know only through related stories and old photographs.

My paternal grandmother, Mary L. Crane, was a businesswoman and civic leader. She had few great joys in life and spent most of her time shepherding, some might say micro-managing, different aspects of the family newspaper enterprise. She wasn't one to smile often, or give herself time to relax, but when she did either it was real and genuine. My youngest has her smile, and the sometimes matching shoulder-shrug which together signaled true contentment. We lost Mary the week prior to Barclay's birth in 1992, and yet I still can feel her presence in Olivia's smile.

Barclay favors both of her grandmother's, Lynn Crane and Mary Lowery. Her maternal grandmother’s love for laughter, as well self-deprecating humor, are both frequently in evidence. And Barclay also shares these traits with her own mother, as well as a gesture ending with hands on each hip, coupled with a head tilt. It is hard to explain how much I enjoy re-discovering these mirrored micro-traits, movements and physical gestures mimicked between generations, especially when the younger never actually saw or experienced the trait being demonstrated by the elder. How exactly can genes do this?

Olivia and her mother, Tiffany often sit near or next to each other, and in a matter of moments both will have the same leg cross, with the same foot bobbing slightly. Whether it's nervous energy or more gene mimicry I’m still not quite sure, but when each is buried in a book or laptop or movie on television, and the two are half a room apart, with the same leg bob going...I'm convinced again it is more magic gene pool footwork at play.

These little memory 'gifts' of random DNA help the beloved no longer with us live on. I don't need a 21 & Me kit to frequently note who is related/connected to whom. And as we age and grow to become our parents, I note with each visit how often my sisters mirror our own mother, Lynn Crane, or how much my vocal timber and head tilt have become so identical to my own father, Jerry Crane.

So much of the holiday season is filled with time or memories of family, but now the 'greatest gift' for me is just watching my girls grow, loving life and others...while carrying along inside of each of them a little piece of the rest of us. Just as a smile itself can be shared, while also bringing back some wonderful of memories of that same smile from another face decades before.

Keep your family close and tell your children how much you love and cherish them, if not everyday, at least during this season of thanks and gracious plenty and celebration. You will be glad you did, and when they smile back at you, try and remember whose smile they are now also wearing. Merry Christmas, best wishes of the season and New Year to you and yours.

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