Until that moment, I was on top of my Christmas game.
I’d sent the packages to relatives in advance of the rush, draped lights on the shrubbery, hung a wreath on the door... and put a line through every item on my Christmas gift list. That year, I was ready.
To celebrate the season, we bundled the kids up in the back seat and took them for a surprise drive to see the Christmas lights in Farmers Branch. My son’s eyes were wide with fascination and my daughter excitedly pointed and giggled at the glowing displays. I squeezed my husband's hand and felt pride at delivering such a wonderful event to my family.
The crowning moment was when we rolled down the windows and Santa approached the car. As he handed my daughter a tiny candy cane, he asked her a single question. “What do you want for Christmas this year?”
She answered quickly and with some urgency. “A teacher Barbie...that’s all I want...a teacher Barbie.”
My husband and I froze (and I don't mean from the weather). We looked at each other in confusion. There was no teacher Barbie on the list. It was mere days before Christmas. Mentally I was already punishing myself. How could I have missed this? Her voice gave away how important it was to her. I questioned her about the other items on the list...the ones I had wrapped and hidden already. She would not be swayed.
There was only one thing in her mind that year.
My husband could see the panic on my face but he grasped my hand and tried to reassure me. "I'll just find one,” he whispered.
That was easier said than done. He searched, I searched. Between phone calls and visits, my husband and I covered most the toy stores in the DFW area. My mother-in-law covered the rest.
I felt defeated. There were no teacher Barbies left on any shelf. As mom-in-charge of Christmas buying, I had failed. I kept seeing her face looking up at Santa's.
Fortunately, my mother-in-law did not give up. She was not about to allow her granddaughter to experience disappointment on Christmas. She contacted her daughter who lived in another state. My sister-in-law joined the search, and found the last teacher Barbie in the US (at least I think so) They promised to overnight it but by this point, I was feeling hopeless. It was December 23.
The box arrived on Christmas Eve. Literally, that evening. Unbelievable. With the children hovering by my side, I slipped the box to my husband. He slid it under the bed.
Do you know what else is unbelievable?
We forgot it.
We had a list of things to do and we both just forgot to get it out again and wrap it.
Fast forward to the next morning where my daughter has opened up her gifts and no teacher Barbie shows up. Worst feeling ever. Tears glistening in her little eyes and my throat burning with my failure.
My husband whispered to me..."Distract her, I’ve got this.”
I took my daughter to the kitchen, poured her some hot chocolate and wiped away her tears. We came back and found her daddy peering at the fireplace.
“Something’s in there...something must’ve gotten caught in the logs.”
My daughter is very smart and knew exactly what happened. She explained it to us: “It fell from his pack when he came down the chimney. He must not have noticed it, so he didn’t wrap it”
We nodded and I silently toasted my genius of a husband.
One of my best memories of Christmas is how we scrambled so we didn't disappoint a little girl. I have other great ones- the year my husband fell into the pool with the Christmas tree in his arms, the morning my brother-in-law appeared at the door as a surprise to his wife, the reflection of the Christmas lights in my children's eyes.
I had a recent disconcerting conversation with my daughter. I need to think about it more (I'll tell you later)...and continue to remind myself of what Christmas memories are supposed to look like. It's more than gift-giving, it always has been.