On my daughter’s first Christmas, it snowed in Tillman’s Corner. I can’t find any official record of the occurrence, and I’m not sure why, but I am quite sure it really happened. It lasted about 15 minutes, and I and several family members gathered on my back porch and held out our hands to catch the soft white flurries as they gently fluttered from the sky.

We bundled up the baby over her red velvet dress and brought her outside, and she laughed as I held her and spun her around, as little white flakes clung to her long eyelashes. It was one of the most magical days of my life, and in my delirious infatuation with the beautiful creature in my arms, I almost felt like the universe had conspired to give her the closest thing she could get to a White Christmas in Mobile.

A lot has changed in the past nine years, including my realization that the universe most certainly doesn’t revolve around me and my children, and that Mother Nature has far more important concerns than providing us with a charming and delightful holiday weather experience. I think she proved her point with that frightening tornado she sent to visit last Christmas.

Another thing that’s changed is the presents. For the first few years, my kids were thrilled with things like flashlights and bubble wrap. When he was 2, Ben’s favorite gift was a canister of cheese balls, and when a relative gave Kaya a giant dollhouse when she was 3, she spent more time playing with the cardboard box it came in than the actual toy.

Of course the next few years they were all about the toys, and it was so much fun picking out all those pretty dolls, teas sets, Hot Wheels and monster trucks. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed watching their dad assemble all those race car tracks and Barbie castles late Christmas Eve, and then taking it apart and starting over at 2 a.m. when he realized he’d left out a critical piece. I didn’t laugh (much); I just poured him another glass of eggnog and handed over the instructions he refused to read the first time around.

Back when I used to dream about having kids one day, I always figured playing Santa would be the best part of the job. It has indeed been everything I imagined and more. There are few things more wonderful than a pair of wide-eyed, messy-haired kids jumping on my bed at 5 a.m. shouting, “Get up! Get up! Santa came!” even when we were up past 3 finishing that damn train set.

When I was growing up, my family had six kids and very little money, and we always knew better than to ask for “stuff” throughout the year. But thanks to a Christmas Club account at my father’s shipyard job, my mom got an extra check every December, and while it couldn’t have been much, somehow she knew how to make it stretch enough to make us all feel like our dreams had come true.

She made Christmas so magical for me and my brothers, and although she never got much more than handmade cards and that weird sculpture we built from sticks and rocks, she seemed to enjoy the day more than anyone.

Now, I get it. It’s just so wonderful seeing little faces light up on Christmas morning, and somehow it’s even more fun from this end of the deal. I look forward to it every year, and though I know it’s not forever, I never want to see it end.

Last year was the first year Kaya didn’t ask for any toys, and her wish list to Santa was full of things like clothes and music and art supplies. I actually got a little misty-eyed while shopping for her brother, and I found myself strolling through the girls’ toy aisles just to savor the sweet memories. She still humored me by talking about “Santa,” but she started rolling her eyes and using air quotes whenever she said his name, being careful not to say too much in case “the kid” (i.e. Ben) was listening.

The jig was up for her by the time she was 6, when she cornered us one day and revealed her suspicions. “I noticed something really interesting about Christmas,” she said in a rather lawyerly tone (no idea where she gets it). “We always buy gifts for our friends and family, and Ben and I get gifts for our parents and each other, but the two of you don’t give us ANYTHING! Either y’all are some seriously cheap parents, or…maybe you guys were really Santa all along!”

D’oh! Such a simple mistake.

Looking at their wish lists this year, with things like tablets and video games, I wish there really was a tubby guy in a red suit to foot the bill. I kind of miss the simple days of cheese balls and bubble wrap, and I’m certainly glad I had kids before there was such a thing as an Apptivity Seat which, if you’re wondering, is a bouncy chair for newborns and toddlers designed to hold an iPad. What, your 3-month old doesn’t have an iPad yet? Get with the program!

Even if I could afford it, there’s no way in hell I’m paying $500 for something that will probably get left in the rain or maybe even flushed down the toilet one day. However, “Santa” is at least considering one of the ancient tablets left over from the dark ages (i.e. 2011).

I just hope they understand it’s not about the presents, but more about creating warm memories, no matter how meager the loot. These days are just so sweet and it’s all going by so fast. Sometimes I wish I could slow it down, or perhaps hit “pause” long enough to really savor the moments. Maybe there’s an app for that.