Recapturing the Joy

Recapturing the Joy

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Recapturing the Joy

My husband, John, loaded parcels into our van while I brushed off a half-inch of new snow from the windshield. John’s usual patience was wearing thin as we headed to yet another shopping mall.

We had made our list and checked it twice, so we knew exactly what to shop for. But as the day wore on, we felt increasingly frustrated. Our teenage and young-adult children had made very specific requests. Now we were taking a grand tour of half the malls in the city to fulfill them.

As John searched for a parking space, he thought of the time we ordered a coaster wagon with our hoard of Green Stamps. “They sent that red pedal-car instead, which was worth several more books. The kids played with that car for years.”

“Remember Angel and KimSue?” I asked. “We gave those dolls to the girls when they were almost too old for dolls. But they became the most treasured dolls of all. There was something special about those Christmases, John—more excitement, more uncertainty. I liked them better.”

“Yes,” my husband replied, “a lot more uncertainty. Twenty years ago a teacher’s salary hardly paid for a decent Christmas.”

Laughing at our shared memories, John and I headed into the mall. We hunted for a sweater for Marjorie, our oldest, who was twenty at the time. Kristin, nineteen, wanted a coffeemaker for her dorm room. We probably would buy the ever-popular jeans for Tim, our fourteen-year-old son. Melissa, eighteen, needed lamps for her first apartment.

Lights, tinsel, music. The stores were sparkling with holiday cheer. But I noticed none of it. I was thinking about the surprise and joy on my kids’ faces when they were small as they ran to the tree on Christmas mornings. No one was ever surprised now. Suddenly, John said, “This is no fun. I want to buy toys!” He had read my mind. Of course, I thought as I stuffed the list in my purse, That’s the magic we’re longing for. Toys!

We talked a mile a minute about what to buy for the kids. “What about Melissa’s boyfriend?” asked John. “He’ll think we’re crazy if everyone gets toys.”

“Let’s just do it!” I said.

We erupted into laughter as we made our choices. Tim would like something mechanical. We put a robot-type toy in the cart. We hoped Melissa’s boyfriend wouldn’t be embarrassed with the truck we picked out for him. A Dressy Bessy doll would be just right for Kristin. Melissa would get a pull-toy telephone. We remembered how much Marjorie loved jack-in-the-boxes and bought her one.

Without being quite aware of it, we also purchased the sweater, the lamps and all the other everyday gifts.

As soon as we returned home with arms full of bags, everyone knew something was afoot. The secrecy and smiles seemed like those wonderful Christmases years ago when our kids were little. John and I just grinned when questioned. Everyone, no matter how blasé their attitudes had been, began to be very enthusiastic about Christmas. The tree lights burned a little brighter. The twenty-year-old crèche figures seemed less shabby. The growing pile of wrapped packages was intriguing after all.

Our family gathered on Christmas morning with rolls, coffee and juice. By this time John and I were experiencing equal parts of anticipation and anxiety. What if they all thought it was a dumb idea? Maybe they had been adults too short a time to appreciate being a kid again.

John gave each child a single gaily-wrapped package. On the count of three, I told them, the gifts should be opened. The kids looked at each other as if to say, “What gives here?” But within minutes the floor was littered with wrapping paper and ribbons.

The scene that unfolded brought tears to our eyes. At once the truck was zooming across the floor. Kristin was playing with her doll. The jack-in-the-box was both delighting and terrifying Marjorie. Melissa was pretending to talk to her boyfriend, Ryan, on the toy phone. Tim was taking the robot apart just as he had always disassembled every other toy. We were astounded and overjoyed by their reactions. That childlike magic had returned.

The “toy” Christmas became an instant tradition in our house. Now, ten years later, our family has spread across the country. Sons-in-law, a daughter-in-law and grandchildren have enriched our circle. Still, the requests for toys are at the top of everyone’s lists. One year Kristin asked for a favorite book from her childhood. The successful search for that out-of-date book was an exciting adventure in ingenuity rather than drudgery. The coffee table in Marjorie’s Victorian cottage holds a small train and track. Dressy Bessy sits on the bookshelves in Kristin’s California house. The toys given to Melissa and Ryan over the years now make their home in our grandchildren’s rooms. Tim has moved several times, but the carton labeled “toys” has never been lost.

Who would have thought that the act of giving toys to our grown-up children would bring such excitement, joy and closeness to our holiday and our family? We never know just where or when we will find magic. Sometimes, I suppose, it simply finds us.

Lee Sanne Buchanan

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