My son, who has been working in Japan, is on his way home. We haven't seen him in several months and I'm hungry for some time with him. My son has grown up to be a wonderful man; an adventurer, a tinkerer and a master of creating complex machines from bits of metal.
He'll be home for Christmas Eve and wrapping his gifts and putting them under the tree, thought about the boy who loved contraptions and I was reminded of something he taught me one Christmas years ago.
(I had to do some digging to find a copy of this early column.)
The Spokesman Review
December 25, 2003 | Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Valley Voice
Early each Christmas morning, as I turn out the lights and make my way to my bed, knowing I will be pulled out of it again when the sun rises, I stop for a moment, overwhelmed by memories and the knowledge that time is flying past me.
The children, who have been the reason I wake each morning and fall into an exhausted sleep each night, are growing up so quickly. Already one has left the nest, and another is perched on the edge. Their Christmas lists are more sophisticated now, with high-tech gadgets replacing Easy-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe.
When my son was six, he fell under the spell of a miniature arcade game, the kind where you manipulate a giant claw to pick up prizes and stuffed animals and drop them down a chute. He wanted the game more than anything and put it at the top of his Christmas list.
He was thrilled when he found the game under the tree and played with it constantly. But it was a complicated toy that was never meant to go the distance. When it stopped working, he was disappointed and put it away in his closet.
I didn't think about it again until the next year on Christmas Eve when I was getting everyone ready for bed and another visit from Santa. He walked in and placed the broken game under the Christmas tree with a note asking Santa to please repair it.
I could only gape at him, speechless. It was already midnight and to paraphrase the poet, there were miles to go before we could sleep.
My little boy had no idea that his mother was staggering under the weight of postpartum depression or that his father, who was in graduate school and wearied by final exams, was scheduled to work a 24-hour shift on Christmas Day.
My son wasn't jumpy and distracted from listening for the cries of the colicky baby sister or thinking about the 2 a.m. feeding that would cut into the few productive hours of the night.
The way he saw it, Santa brought that game to him and he would want to know there was a problem. And since the big guy was going to be in the neighborhood, it wouldn't hurt to have him take a look at a broken toy. So he left it with a note asking that Santa "make it work again."
Somehow, the two elves-in-residence, Sleepy and Weepy, did everything that needed to be done. The baby got her 2 a.m. feeding and Santa placed the surprises, including the refurbished toy, under the tree before the children woke with the dawn.
I was watching my son the next morning when he found the game. He was pleased but he wasn't surprised. It was just where he expected it to be. His face shining with pleasure, he took it to the kitchen table, turned it this way and that to admire Santa's handiwork, and began to play contentedly while new presents waited under the tree.
Whenever I am confronted with the reality that life doesn't come with guarantees, I think about that Christmas morning. And when I think about it, I wish I could be seven years old again, with that much trust in everyone around me to do the right thing. I wish I hadn't learned that sometimes things break so completely that no one can fix them, not even Santa. Not even for a day.
Now, years have passed. Dad got through graduate school, Mom got over the blues, and the new baby stopped crying. The toy, which wasn't built to last, stopped working again and found its way back to the closet, to be eventually taken apart and its parts scavenged for a little boy's inventions.
For my son it was proof that Santa cared enough about him to take the time to try to make something work again. For the elves, it was an exercise in patience. For all of us it was a sweet reminder that love has responsibility.
Maybe this year under the tree I'll leave my heart, just to see what Santa can do.