Our grandchildren and their gifts

I don’t particularly like shopping for gifts, except when it concerns our grandchildren. My wife Karina and I have four: two girls and two boys, one each from our four children. Sprung from the same genes, they seem so unlike one another in habits, temperament, and obsessions. Nothing reflects this better than the gifts they wish for at Christmas.

Julia is a Grade 12 student, a manga and animé enthusiast, and an avid ice skater.
At 17, she is the “Ate,” whom her much younger cousins all adore.

Like the rest of her generation who are digital natives, Julia’s world revolves around her laptop and iPad—devices that are essential to school work, but which also serve as her vital link to her classmates and friends and to the virtual universe they share. Surprisingly, she does not use a mobile phone and does not care to have one.

The only time I don’t see her without her devices is when she is on the skating rink. There, on that gleaming frozen surface, she glides and flips and jumps as though she were in her own private dreamland. But this is space she shares with her friends from varied age groups and backgrounds, with whom she carries an interminable conversation about techniques, exercises, and school.

Seeing her on the skating floor among her friends, I feel assured she has an active social life outside of the digital community she inhabits a good part of the day. I watch her on the rink doing her routines repeatedly, and marvel at the effort and the discipline she puts into her chosen sport, even as she admits she does not aspire to raise her skill to a competitive professional level. Skating remains a passionate hobby for her, not something she intends to pursue as a profession.

Unlike Julia, Jacinta or Chewy is not much of a gadget user. A voracious reader and keen writer of children’s stories, Jacinta also sings and composes her own songs. She can spend hours inside a bookstore, deftly navigating her way among the various shelves. She wears a look that signifies a spacious imagination. When she is not reading a book, she is writing one. When she is not playing a board game, she is designing one. When she is not singing a song, she is composing one. Her mind seems constantly engaged, and one catches a glimpse of this when, out of nowhere, she pops a question or makes an observation that has nothing to do with the moment.

Chewy and I share a hobby—raising bantam chickens. She treats them as pets, assigning them unique names, talking to them, feeding them from her hands, and putting them to roost when they are little. She knew enough about bantams to be able to give a lecture to a high school class that invited her to talk about chickens.

Our two grandsons are Xavier, who is turning six in a few months, and Alonso, a cheerful two-year-old toddler. They both live abroad with their parents. Xavi, as we like to call him, loves motor vehicles. He can mimic the distinct wailing sounds of a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. He grew up watching them from his parents’ condo in Singapore. He can play for hours by himself, building structures with his Lego blocks, and filling up the small communities he creates with various types of vehicles. He is also hooked on digital games, besting my scores on the Lumosity app a couple of times.

Xavi is easily the most affectionate of our grandchildren. He is sweet, spontaneous, and sociable to a fault—almost the opposite of the reserved and reticent Julia and Jacinta. Over lunch the other day, he looked at us with his striking gray eyes and declared: “I am so happy to be with you this Christmas, Loli and Lolo, and I love you both very much.” I was half-expecting him to then borrow my smart phone to play a game, but he just smiled and pressed his face on my arm.

He is aware that he can work instant magic on other people. Last week, when he arrived at the airport, a few days ahead of his parents, we met him at the arrival area. He was with his nanny. It was taking unusually long for the immigration officer to process their passports. We could see the officer talking to Xavi’s nanny. Xavi is half-French and carries his father’s surname. Then I saw the little boy speaking to the officer. A minute later, they were let go. According to Xavi, the man wanted to know if he was Filipino. This third-culture kid confidently replied: “My father is from France, my mother is from the Philippines, and I am from Singapore.”

It’s too early to tell if Alonso, who lives in California, is as gregarious as his cousin Xavi. But this toddler has lovely eyes and a killer smile that could melt anyone’s heart. He also talks a lot. He too loves vehicles, especially trains. So, we know more or less what to get him for Christmas. With Xavier, there was no need to guess what he wanted—a Lego bus that he kept going back to at the toy store. When he became desperately insistent that it’s what he wanted for Christmas, his grandmother had to tell him that this was exactly the present she had bought him—but now the surprise was not there anymore. He was profusely sorry.

Julia, who has never asked us to buy her clothes or shoes or anything she felt she did not need, timidly asked, for the first time, if she could have a pair of new Edea skating shoes with matching blades for Christmas. When the stuff arrived the other day, her face glowed so radiantly that it could have lit the entire Christmas tree. It takes so little to make children happy. With Chewy, a book would usually suffice, but after Xavi introduced her to Monopoly, she asked for her own box. I got her one, knowing that, before the holidays are over, she will likely come up with her own design of the game. What a joy it is to have the gift of grandchildren.

Merry Christmas, everyone!