Every year I pretend we are not approaching the holiday season, when everyone seems to be either in good cheer or suicidal. I fight off the approaching season like a bad cold, preferring to avoid the extra work, expectations, financial burden and the ache of happier Christmases past when my family was closer in every way.
But a day arrives when I give up my resistance and throw my arms open to embrace Christmas present. I cook up a vat of spaghetti sauce with lots of garlic and while it simmers the day away on the back of the stove, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ floats through the rooms, Ken lugs the decorations down from the attic and the house is slowly transformed with ribbons and bows, reindeer and wreaths, lights and stars that sparkle. We pull out our favorite ornaments and settle them in their traditional spots. (They are the ones with stories attached: the little stuffed Santa we found in the mud on our front lawn the first Christmas we lived here, the porcelain Bluebird, the rocking horse with red reins). The highlight decoration; however, is a child’s toy.
Several years ago, while finishing up some last minute shopping, I heard a little girl begging her mother for a musical toy she had discovered on the bottom shelf of a rack. There were three cats sitting on a pillow, each wearing a night hat with a bell on the end. When she pressed a button on the paw of one of the cats, all three sprang to life with a loud “Meow!” and sang, all the while smiling and looking at each other, flipping their hats and making the little bells ring in time to the music. It was so cute.
The little girl dragged her exhausted mother to the display, “It’s the last one, Mommy! Can we buy it?” She pushed the button. The little cats sang, the bells tinkled and when the song was finished, the mother was smiling too. Then she looked at the price tag.
“Too expensive,” she announced, and took her daughter’s hand and walked away.
I glanced around the store to see if anyone was watching, then pressed the paw. The cats sang “Meow! The heads swiveled, the bells rang and they sang their song for the third time. I looked at the price tag.
I put it back on the shelf. It was absurd to waste that much money on a toy when we don’t even have children.
I glanced at the stuffed dogs, ponies, mice, reindeer and Santas still on the shelf. They were all smiling at me. I picked up a set of Christmas towels and passed my hand over the soft terrycloth, and then put them down and picked up the toy again to check the price one more time in case it had suddenly gone down, or maybe I had read it incorrectly.
The head voices started up:
“You’ll be sorry if you don’t buy it.”
“It’s too much money. Remember those bills coming in next month?”
“That’s next month. Worry about that then. Buy yourself a toy, for chrissakes.”
“I can live without it.”
“Ken would like it.”
And we have all lived happily ever after.
Go ahead: press the paw. You know you want to….