It was the 5th day of Hanukkah, and I suddenly felt Jewish-mom-guilty because all the gifts that we had given the girls had been very small and simple. Our kids really don’t need anything at all – except maybe some jeans without holes in the knees - and so we prefer to celebrate the annual holiday without lavish, expensive gifts. A typical gift might be a new book (seriously, this is the BEST gift ever, so why spend money on fancy electronic stuff when you can get endless pleasure from a great story???), or perhaps a gift might be some new funky socks or a craft project.
But as I fried up my umpteenth batch of latkes, the oil addled my brain, and I felt an unexpected urge to have a BIG box for each girl to open, just on the last night of Hanukkah. I imagined how their eyes would widen when they saw three enormous boxes on the table.
Earlier in the day, I had seen these really awesome American Girl play sets at Sam’s Club. One was a pretend airplane scene, where you could imagine that your doll was taking a trip to faraway exciting places. It came with maps, little cardboard airline tickets, a tiny travel bag, mini sodas and pretzels for the airplane, etc. Since it was all mostly cardboard accessories (no doll included), the price was reasonable. I usually steer clear of American Girl stuff because it is sooooo expensive, but the grandparents had purchased a doll for each of my older girls a few years ago, and this type of role-play set would be ideal.
I drove back to the store, put the airplane set in my cart for Katie, and then I found a second cool set that included a theater scene with a pretend cardboard stage, a notebook to write a screenplay, a microphone, playbills, etc, which would be perfect for Annie Rose, who sings her way through every day and writes books, plays, and stories on every spare scrap of paper she can find.
For baby Cleo, I found a toy farm that included all the usual animals, and I gleefully raced home to wrap the three gifts. I prominently displayed all three boxes on the table, and waited for the girls to wander in and say, “Oh my God! Are these for US?” At which point I would say, “You have to wait for tonight, and then you can open them!”
The gifts sat on the table.
The girls came home from school. They asked for snacks, playtime, help with homework. No mention of the gifts.
Nor the next day.
Nor the next.
Hanukkah ended, and I decided that as soon as the girls asked about the gifts, I would say, “They are for YOU! Open them!” But I wanted to wait until they asked, simply because I was so astonished that nobody wanted to know why there were three ginormous wrapped gifts on the table.
What should I do? Put the gifts in the closet for next year? Wait until each girl’s birthday, remove the Hanukkah gift wrap and rewrap it in birthday paper? Donate the gifts to charity, because clearly my kids aren’t too fixated on them? But that didn’t seem fair, because I had picked out these gifts specifically for my kids, and I knew for sure that each of the girls would derive hours of pleasure from these toys.
So, I waited. I waited. As soon as someone mentions the gifts, we’ll open them, I promised myself.
And then on the 58th day, Katie’s friend L came over to play, and L pointed to the presents and said, “Who are those for?” And Katie called me over, and she asked, “Who are those for?” And I screamed with excitement and laughed and said, “They are Hanukkah gifts for YOU and I’ve been waiting to see if you would notice them!”
“Cool,” Katie said.
“Can we open them?” Annie Rose asked.
Katie has turned one wall of our basement into a travel agency. Annie Rose has written songs for Cécile Rey, her American Girl doll. Cleo built a farm. Everyone is happy.
I still wonder how long the gifts would have sat there if Katie’s friend hadn’t pointed them out! Andrew posits that the gifts became part of the background imagery of the house, and the girls simply didn’t notice them. Funny how three enormous presents melted into the background, but if I put a single chocolate cupcake on the table, everyone pounces in an instant. It’s all about priorities, I guess, and chocolate trumps presents any day in this family.
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