My Christmas came early

Published 10:00 pm Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! What a joyous time of year for both young and young at heart.

This year was particularly wonderful because Christmas came early. We don’t have any family in North Carolina, and it’s no fun having grandchildren but not being close enough to be part of their lives or with them for special occasions.

This year I decided to visit my son and his family. Unfortunately, my wife was unable to make the trip, but encouraged me to go alone to celebrate the holidays. What’s the big deal? Well, my son, his wife and my six grandchildren live just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, and that’s not a trip you take frequently.

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The non-stop flight took almost 16-hours, and if you’ve never been on a really long flight, it can provide a new meaning to the word eternity. However, it was the price to be paid to see all the grandchildren, especially since it’s been two years since our first trip to South Africa.

My son met me at the airport and drove me to his home where the first of many surprises awaited me. All six children were dressed up and beaming with smiles as I entered the front door and then broke into a song to welcome me back to South Africa.

I unpacked in my room, and can you imagine the looks of surprise and delight as I entered the living room loaded with gifts for each of the children, four girls and two boys – ages 14, 12, 9, 7, 5 and 3. I figured why wait, it’s been two years, so I’ll just spoil them right out of the gate, and there’s no better way to break the ice with children than presents. Within minutes I was showered with hugs, kisses and shrieks of “Thank you, Poppy.”

The time with the children was magical and unlike our first trip when my wife and I took the entire family on safari to one of the top five wild game preserves in the world, Kruger Park. This year, with the kids a little older and more grown up, it was decided to spend the time nearer to home enjoying and really getting to know each other.

It’s amazing to see how grown up the kids had become, and notice how each one has a different area of interest, talent and skill. For instance, the oldest, my 14-year old granddaughter, is an avid reader, a brilliant student, and a ballet dancer. Her three sisters are showing talents as musicians and artists, while the boys, the youngest of the children, are typical rough and tumble little boys. The older boy, Ezra, is an absolute little “hellion.” Watching him prompted me to tell my daughter-in-law that I was sorry. She asked why I was apologizing, and I said, “Because Ezra is just like me, and you’re going to have your hands full.”

Time flew by, as I again bonded with the children, all the time knowing that it wasn’t to be permanent. Long absences, especially away from young children, may make their hearts grow fonder causes some memories to fade.

On this trip, I believe that I left behind something far more important, though less tangible than the gifts I had brought. Because they are a bit older I provided my grandchildren with some awareness that they are part of a legacy of Americans, all members of a larger family and a bigger world than the one in which they are living and growing up. With the abundance of laughter, hugs, and kisses, they now know that there are other people around this big world who truly and unconditionally love them, and contributed to making them who they are.

For me, this was a second trip of a lifetime, and one that depending on many variable factors, may not again be repeated. I arrived back in America happy to be home and be with my wife. I shared with her my sense of joy and satisfaction in knowing that I was able to have the opportunity to share quality time and joy across three generations with my family.

This year Christmas came early. I was in the form of six grandchildren who willingly gave me the best gift ever – their love.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at