And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
This past weekend, we put up our Christmas stuff. This is no small feat; since we don’t have a basement, our “extra” stuff is stored in a storeroom a few miles from here. We have to drive there, hope that the security gate works, drive through, then walk through, the snow that often goes unplowed, haul the stuff to the car, reverse our direction, bring it home and haul it all upstairs. Last year, the gate on the way out wouldn’t open and we had to call the police to rescue us.
But once we did all that, I happily watched it all come together. Olivia and I decorated the tree. My husband and my son Andy set up outdoor decorations on the 2nd and 3rd floor decks. I set out and decorated a small tabletop tree on my kitchen island, facing into the living room. I put a light-up nativity scene on the piano, and my regular nativity scene on the coffee table. A ceramic Santa asleep in his chair, reminiscent of the one in my childhood home, went under the tree. A light-up star was strapped to the banister going upstairs, and some random ornaments, featuring my kids’ young faces, went on the banister too.
And that night, after it was all done, after we’d watched Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without A Santa Claus, I turned all the lights out, except the Christmas ones, and sat in the glow from the tree and from the fireplace. I just sat and basked and thought about previous Christmases.
Years ago, I was a decorating fiend. In my first house with my first husband, there was at least one Santa in every room, including the bathroom. Lights, garland, music boxes, figurines, everywhere. Then changes came into my life. The joy of Christmas was pretty much replaced with the need to be busy, to keep a roof over my head and my kids’ heads, and any reference to that joy was met with an “About what?” from me. All Christmas meant was more work.
The year of Covid and a Zoom Christmas left me just fraught with sadness. That year, Christmas became little boxes on a computer screen. The Christmas tree remained in the storeroom. But the next year, out it came. With it came a renewed sense of joy. When the joy of Christmas is brought up now, I want to just wave my arms like Vanna White and say, “Look! Just look!” At the center of my game show arm sweep would be four children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and one phenomenal granddaughter.
So I sat in the glow and thought. One certain Christmas comes immediately to my mind when I even think the word.
My son Andy, now 36, was a pretty mild-mannered baby and toddler. He is my middle child among my big kids. One day, in the middle of summer, this mild-mannered baby, who I never even buckled into the high chair because he would never try to get out of it, started shouting during lunch. I turned to find him standing in the high chair. He pointed at the television. “Want that!” he shouted. “Want that!” On the screen was an ad for Playskool’s Definitely Dinosaurs, realistic-looking dinosaur toys. I didn’t wait. I swept Andy and his siblings up and off we went to that mecca, Toys R Us. We found the dinosaurs and Andy picked out his first three.
Which became a full zoo of dinosaurs over the next several years. On a spring day, when Andy was in kindergarten, he told me he wanted the Definitely Dinosaurs ultrasaurus. I did my research and discovered that this was the largest dinosaur Playskool made, and I knew the price was far over what my then-husband would allow. I also found out that Playskool was discontinuing the line, and so what was in the stores that May was all there would be. I told Andy that it might be hard to get the ultrasaurus for Christmas. He confidently said, “Santa will get it.”
This is before the internet, so I wrote to all of my friends and family around the country, asking them to scour their toy stores for all of the dinosaurs they could get, but especially the ultrasaurus. I was able to collect a lot of them this way, but not the big guy, who I wouldn’t be allowed to buy anyway.
Going to the library, I asked the librarians to help me locate the name and address of the head of Playskool. Then I wrote to the man, telling him about my son, who was wishing on dandelions, throwing coins into fountains, and working on being as good as he could possibly be, six months before Christmas, so that Santa would bring him an ultrasaurus. “Please,” I wrote. “If you have one anywhere in any of your warehouses, please tell me where it is. I will find a way to get there.”
I received a letter back. The man told me that about a week before he received my letter, he received another letter from “Himself at the North Pole.” The man said, “He wrote me about a little boy in Wisconsin, who was wishing on dandelions and throwing coins into fountains, and who was as good as a little boy could possibly be. He asked me to send this little boy an ultrasaurus. You should be receiving it within the next two weeks.”
For free. I didn’t even get in trouble with my husband.
I never thought I would cry over a dinosaur. But I did over that one. The box showed up on my birthday, July 29, and so it served as two presents, one for me, and one for my son, who never had a doubt.
My son is 36. He still has the ultrasaurus. And I am forever grateful to that man at Playskool.
I sat last weekend in the glow of the tree, and I’ve sat there every night since, and I rejoice that the joy in Christmas came back to me. I am still suffused with the need to be busy, to keep a roof over my head and a safe haven for my kids, even as three out of the four have grown up and left home. My home does not have a Santa in every room. But it does have joy.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.