The Gift

The GiftIt appeared to be the most unfortunate sequence of events possible. In a moment of serendipity, however, I discovered what I had been aimlessly searching for in the emptiness of my world.

I didn’t tell Amanda about my plans. It would be of little consequence whether I told her or not. I had to work late. It didn’t matter that it had nothing to do with what I had been sinking every waking moment of my life into for the past two weeks. I was on the brink of completing negotiations for the million dollar sale of a highly sought after loft on the Upper East Side.

The bottom line is that I wouldn’t be home on time. That was all that was important. Amanda and Emma would be on their own for dinner. I knew that this was our weekly family time, and I did feel guilty about bowing out of my obligation as a husband and a father to my seven year old daughter again, but my hands were tied. I was the only one available.

Phillip had an urgent situation arise at the last moment that needed immediate attention. It was something about his son and wife breaking down on the way to his holiday chorus recital. He dropped off everything I would need in my office before darting towards the elevator.

I begrudgingly made my way to the bookstore around the corner from our office. I cursed this unexpected turn of events under my breath. I should have been etching seven digits into a ledger book in my quest for a successful real estate transaction, not reading about sugarplums and candy canes in this wretched getup.

It was a way for our business to give back to the community. I had successfully avoided involvement for as long as possible, until now. I slipped on the pants, pulled the jacket over the top of my white oxford shirt and tie, and made sure to remove the white semi-curly locks from under the collar.

I stuffed the down pillow under the oversized jacket before affixing the beard that scratched at the natural stubble I had accumulated over the course of a usual day.

“Ho, ho, ho,” I uttered monotonously and sarcastically.

“C’mon, Drew. Show a little holiday spirit. This is for the kids, after all.” The elf dressed in pointy shoes and a green felt costume was in a much more festive mood than me. I recognized her as an intern from the accounting department.

With hot cocoa in their hands, the pack of children congregating in the back corner were waiting for Santa to begin reading the Christmas story. I could be more useful to kids, and Emma in particular, if I could ink that deal still sitting on my desk. This certainly wasn’t the ideal way for me to help provide for my family’s well-being.

I put on a façade, enough of one at least, during the reading of the Christmas story. Now for the tough part. It was the children’s opportunity to come sit on Santa’s lap and express their deepest wishes for Christmas morning. The diminished distance between the children and me would make it infinitely more difficult to feign jolly tidings for the season.

The line of twenty or so children seemed to continue on forever. After about forty-five minutes of the same requests – PlayStations, iPhones, puppy dogs, and Barbie dolls, everything changed.

“How about some pizza, sweetheart? Daddy has to work late tonight.”

“Sure mommy, can I get extra cheese?”

“Absolutely, dear.”

They frequented the small mom and pop pizza parlor too many times to count. It had become their stand-in whenever Drew was otherwise preoccupied helping to support their luxurious lifestyle.

Amanda watched as Emma pulled the gooey cheese farther and farther away from her lips. Her arms weren’t long enough to prove victorious over the playful ploys of that extra cheese.

She smiled, watching the innocence of youth, before reaching over and helping to put an end to the struggle between the young girl and pizza slice.

“How about a chocolate chip cookie?” Amanda didn’t need to ask twice, and she didn’t need a verbal answer as Emma’s eyes opened wide and the smile spread across her face.

Amanda knew that The Book Nook was known for their freshly baked cookies. It would be the perfect treat to take Emma’s mind off her dad’s absence yet again.

After taking the first bite from her second gooey concoction in as many hours, Emma noticed the line of other children. Curious as always, she craned her neck and stood on tiptoes to get a better view.

“Mommy, mommy! It’s Santa! Can I get in line? Please?”

“Sure, honey,” Amanda replied as she wiped the excess chocolate that was left at the corner of Emma’s mouth.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. What were they doing here? Amanda was focused on her coffee. I assumed it was her usual double mocha latte. The young boy presently sitting on my lap didn’t receive full attention as I tried my best to grab Amanda’s.

Her eyes finally locked on mine. I could tell by her confused look that Amanda didn’t know why Santa was shaking his head while looking in her direction. She finally did recognize me as Emma began trotting towards the elf and hopping up to sit on my lap. It was a place that she hadn’t been for far too long. She seemed to be more comfortable on Santa’s lap than my own.

“Ho, ho, ho!” I bellowed in as disguised a voice as I could muster. The smile on this little girl’s voice was so genuine. I hadn’t seen it in such a long time. No, I guess that’s not the right way to put it. I hadn’t recognized it, buried in my own self-absorbed pursuits.

“What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

I already knew she wanted the new bike with training wheels we had looked at a few weeks ago. I also knew that she had several books lined up on her Santa list. She was an avid reader for a seven year old.

It should have been easy for her to express the contents of her list to Santa. She had been talking about it nonstop. But still, Emma sat there on my lap with a perplexed look on her face, deep in thought about something.

“Santa, you are magic, right?”

Uh oh, I didn’t like the direction this was going.

“Santa always tries his best,” I replied.

“Well, I already sent you my list. But, I’d like to change it. If I still can.”

Okay, this was magic that I could certainly handle.

“What would you like, sugarplum?” I became distracted by what might be forthcoming, probably the more expensive bike that was three price points above what Amanda and I agreed would be appropriate for her age. No matter, I’d find a way to make it happen. I always did.

“I was wondering,” Emma continued, “if you could get me a bottle of minutes.”

In a more confused tone than Santa should probably have in his voice, I offered, “What do you mean?”

The imaginative seven year old, wise beyond her years, continued with her Christmas wish.

“My daddy works so hard. Every time I ask him to play with me, he always tells me ‘give me a minute’.”

She paused before continuing. “I thought maybe if I could give him a few minutes, he’d be able to play with me more.”

Santa is supposed to be jolly. He isn’t one characterized by tears. This one came close to tears upon learning of this little girl’s Christmas wish.

“Santa will do his very best.” It was the only response I could come up with in the moment.

The look of elation and hope on Emma’s face as he hopped off my lap and bolted back towards Amanda was heartwarming.

“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, Emma,” I shouted out to her.

She stopped in her tracks and turned around.

“You know my name?”

“Ho, ho, ho! Of course I do. Santa knows everything. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Santa,” replied Emma with a look of wonder and amazement on her face.

The last time I remember sitting on Santa’s lap was as a ten year old boy. I was convinced, however, that I had just been fortunate to visit with him once again in the form of a seven year old girl.

Maybe Santa didn’t know everything, but this particular one knew more than enough now.


Family tree

around-the-treeIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. ~Edward Pola & George Wyle

During the last quarter of the calendar year, I am fortunate to celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, as well as the wonderful holiday season that radiates an ambiance brimming with cheerfulness, kindness, happiness, and hope. Extend our festive season into the first month of the following year and I can include the birthday of our son in the celebration. It truly is a magical and special time for our family.

As tradition has it, the day after Thanksgiving announces the beginning of the Christmas season for our family. This usually involves several round trips into the attic, retrieving the numerous storage bins filled with ornaments, decorations, and lights. Oh, and of course the Christmas tree. For many years, we have lived with the same artificial tree that makes its annual pilgrimage from attic to living room and back again. With the retirement of that tree last year, we have entered a new era.

A time characterized by the smell of fresh Douglas Fir pine needles, a live Christmas tree. And so we set out on our journey, virtual axe in hand, to converse with the trees, searching for a perfect match. Like a well-formed classified ad, we were a family looking for a tree filled with love and gratitude. And one that could tolerate three curious cats 😉

Have you ever seen one of those commercials where the husband measures the size of his entertainment center? For the sole purpose of making sure he doesn’t get cheated out of the maximum TV size that he can fit into the allotted space? Well, that was me. With tape measure in hand, I was measuring the distance from floor to ceiling so as not to be cheated out of the maximum Christmas tree experience. And we did pretty well. Once we came home with our new addition, we had at least three inches of room to spare 😉

With the soothing and melodic Christmas sounds of Jim Brickman playing in the background, we were like little elves working our way through the house, splashing holiday cheer on shelves, walls, and even ceilings. Every nook and cranny deserves to take part in our celebration of the season. However, the tree is always reserved for last. Without saying so, it holds a very special place in our hearts. It is a monument of sorts to our family and the memories that we have made over the years.

Each ornament that we hang upon a branch reminds us of a memorable time in our lives. The popsicle stick decorations we forged with our own hands as children over thirty-five years ago, memories of past family vacations, special events like our engagement weekend and wedding day. And then there are those ornaments that touch your core in a completely unexpected way.

As I come across an ornament made by my son six years ago, tears begin to form in the corner of my eyes. It is not an ornate work of art, yet it is a masterpiece. A small paper plate has its edges adorned with small pieces of multicolored tissue paper like the petals of a flower. And in the middle is a picture of my then four year old son. His smiling face is more innocent, pure, and loving than ever.

We are asked to pose and smile for pictures all the time. Me? I would rather catch an authentic moment of laughter, an unbridled joyous celebration, a twinkle of unexpected wonder in a child’s eye. And that’s exactly what I saw in this photograph, all wrapped into one like an early Christmas present with a big red bow tied on it.

appreciate-what-you-haveMost of my tears shed on that day flowed from a feeling of happiness upon recalling such a wonderful time in our family’s life. However, if I am being completely honest, I believe some of those tears held a moment of sadness. For not fully appreciating that time in my life six years ago. For not completely savoring the presence of that present. The gift of a loving family.

As a child running out of my room on Christmas morning, eyes incessantly fixated on the floor, I was anxious to discover what gifts lay beneath the tree. As the years have passed, my vision has gotten worse in some respects, and better in others. As I put on my glasses, I no longer focus on what is down beneath the tree, Instead, my eyes now gravitate upwards toward the memories held within the ornaments on the tree, to the people around it. Yep, things are definitely looking up. Enjoy this moment. Right now. It only comes around once and it is a miracle waiting to be discovered.