No matter what I buy my four children for Christmas, someone is always unhappy. This year was no exception.
One afternoon a few weeks before Christmas, seven-year-old Rebecca sat down at the kitchen table before she started her homework. “I’m going to write a letter to Santa Claus,” she announced.
“That sounds like a good idea,” I told her. I handed Rebecca a piece of paper and a pencil.
Leaning over the paper, Rebecca wrote, “Dear Santa, I would like a dolly that looks real and a cradle.” Rebecca paused and looked over at four-year-old Angela, who kneeled by the coffee table playing with her plastic Lion King figurines. “What do you want for Christmas, Angie?” Rebecca asked.
Angela didn’t look up. “I want a dolly with everything,” she answered.
Rebecca wrote, “Angela would like a dolly with everything.”
“Lucy,” Rebecca called into the living room, “what do you want for Christmas?” Lucy walked around the corner holding the book she’d been paging through. She thought for a moment then said, “I want the Prince of Egypt video and some Prince of Egypt guys.” “Guys” are what my girls call their plastic figurines.
I looked down at Lucy while Rebecca wrote out Lucy’s request. “What if Santa can’t get Prince of Egypt guys?” I asked. “What else might you want?”
“Nuffing,” Lucy answered and carried her book back to the living room.
“What about Johnny?” Rebecca looked up from her letter. Eighteen-month-old Johnny toddled over, reached his fat hand up onto the table, and tried to pull Rebecca’s letter to the floor. “No, Johnny.” Rebecca snatched the paper back.
“Just tell Santa that Johnny wants a truck,” I said to Rebecca.
Johnny didn’t object.
Ten days before Christmas, I stuck my list in my purse at 8:30 p.m. The kids were in bed. My husband Jack sat at the computer ordering family presents on-line. “Good luck,” he said as I headed for the door.
At 9:00, the parking lot at the local Toys R Us was three-quarters full. Inside the store, bewildered dads and moms with sleepy toddlers squirming in their carts wandered down the crowded aisles. The shelves looked as though gorillas had run through the store waving their long arms and randomly tossing toys here and there. I wheeled my cart to the doll aisle. A hundred baby faces stared into space. Some smiled. Some cried. Some looked surprised with little o-mouths, like their mommies had just changed their diapers using ice-cold baby wipes.
I hunted for the right dolls. Rebecca’s had to look real. Angela’s had to have “everything.” I chose three or four realistic-looking babies and put them back before I found “Newborn Jennifer.” The box said, “Filled with warm water, Jennifer has the size, weight, and wiggliness of a real newborn.” I set Jennifer in her box in the cart. I found a cradle for Jennifer and tossed that in too. After some more searching, I found a baby doll packaged with a swing, baby carrier, diaper bag, food, bottle, change of clothes, bib, spoon, fork, dish, and diaper. “I think this is as close to ‘everything’ as I’m going to get,” I muttered to myself. The doll didn’t look as realistic as “Jennifer,” but Jennifer didn’t come with “everything.” I said a little prayer that Angela would be happy and moved on.
I had no trouble finding Lucy’s present. The Prince of Egypt, an animated retelling of the biblical story of Exodus, recently came out on video. Toys R Us had plenty of copies. The figurines were another story. When I asked where I might find figurines, a teenaged clerk pointed me toward the back of the store. I found World Wrestling Federation figurines. I found little G.I. Joes. I found the scary guy from Scream and Psycho’s Norman Bates, complete with a bloody butcher knife. I didn’t find anything from The Prince of Egypt. No Moses. No Pharaoh. No Pharaoh’s daughter. Instead, I got Lucy a Play-Doh spaghetti factory and a Barney bike helmet and said another little prayer. I got Johnny a toy vacuum cleaner that makes noise and a fireman kit. I knew my mom was getting him a truck.
Christmas morning, Rebecca tore the wrapping off Newborn Jennifer’s box. After my father had undone all the twist ties and tape holding Jennifer in place, I filled her soft rubber body with warm water from the kitchen sink. Rebecca cradled Jennifer and gently pulled Jennifer’s baby clothes up over her floppy limbs. “Mommy,” she told me, her eyes shining, “she’s not exactly what I had in mind. She’s better.”
Angela stared at Jennifer, then ripped open the wrapping on her dolly’s box. “Look at all the stuff it has,” Rebecca exclaimed. “Angela, your doll has everything.”
Angela seemed satisfied. For about three hours. By early Christmas afternoon, Angela followed Rebecca around the house begging to hold Jennifer. “Rebecca, you need to share,” Angela whined.
“But she’s my brand-new doll,” Rebecca protested.
“I want a dolly, too,” Lucy joined in.
The next Monday morning I drove the girls to Toys R Us. We walked directly to the doll aisle and picked out two more Newborn Jennifers. We paid with the Christmas money my mom had given the girls. “Are you happy now?” I asked as we headed home.
“Yes,” they called from the backseat.
For now, I thought.