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The best gift from your kids is awareness of your own shortcomings

"What should we get the kids?"It's probably one of the most-asked questions after 8:30 p.m. this time of year, leading to talks about budget, the clothes they're outgrowing and what gift will really light up their eyes on Christmas morning.But I ...

Kris Kerzman's second-grade daughter drew this picture of truffula trees from Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" for him, which hangs at his desk at work. Special to The Forum
Kris Kerzman's second-grade daughter drew this picture of truffula trees from Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" for him, which hangs at his desk at work. Special to The Forum

"What should we get the kids?"

It's probably one of the most-asked questions after 8:30 p.m. this time of year, leading to talks about budget, the clothes they're outgrowing and what gift will really light up their eyes on Christmas morning.

But I think there's another question in there to be asked: "What have the kids given us?"

Aside from lice and a nasty chest cold picked up at preschool, the things our kids give us are immeasurably valuable, even if they typically cost nothing. They might be actual tangible things, but most often they're insights into the human condition, and of those the most valuable teach us about ourselves.

Kid art

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Our kids love nothing more than to get out the paints or markers and start dabbling around on paper (or, in some cases, their bedroom wall).

Our oldest, a second grader, is currently deep into her "family/house/tree/sunshine" phase. She has also created some lovely likenesses of yours truly, complete with out-of-control beard, and her mom, complete with over-emphasized hair style and acute sense of fashion.

She also draws a great monster.

Our youngest, 2, hasn't quite hit the representational phase, but he definitely has a style: monochromatic squiggles.

After debating over a color, he draws in close to the paper and creates a pageful of small, tight lines and curlicues which might be christened "moon" or "Papa" or "Darth Vader." They're minimal and refreshingly modern.

And kid art, my friends, is the best art. It's the purest representation of your child's abilities and awareness of them.

It's often the best they can do at something when they have few other avenues with which they can prove just what that is.

It's fun and engaging, with them making a mess and getting the pride of showing mom and dad the Thing They Did.

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Plus, I get to hang those at my desk, where I show them off to coworkers.

As gifts go, they rank right up there. But it's the things kids don't intend to give you that make the best gifts.

'We're all works in progress'

Whenever she learns a lesson the hard way, our daughter gets a reminder from me that, much like some pieces of art, we're all works in progress. This usually follows some lapse of reason or misguided aggression.

The thing is, our kids aren't the only works in progress. We adults are works in progress too, constantly learning from our own mistakes, our own lapses of reason, our own misguided aggression.

Whenever I let my emotions get out of hand and say something I shouldn't, or I notice that I'm exhibiting the same laziness or indifference I call out on her part, I remind her that I'm also a work in progress.

It's rather humbling - fessing up to your kids about your own shortcomings.

That's the best gift our kids give us. Inasmuch as they reflect the example we set for them, they show and tell us exactly who we are. It can be unflattering, to say the least, and if we're being cynical, they show us that childishness isn't something you just grow out of.

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But if we're being optimistic (and this is the best time of year for that), then we take all that our kids mirror at us and let it prove that kindness and generosity are very real. That humans are flawed, yes, but our care for each other is more the norm than the exception.

Yep, sometimes they paint outside the lines and on the walls. But they do it as a gift to you.

Kris Kerzman is audience engagement specialist for Forum Communications and father to 7-year-old Edith and 2-year-old Anton.

Kris Kerzman's second-grade daughter drew this picture of truffula trees from Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" for him, which hangs at his desk at work. Special to The Forum
Kris Kerzman, digital content producerMichael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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