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Since Acorn will be with his father Christmas morning, Santa made a special visit to our house Friday night/Saturday morning.
Friday night I read the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (more usually known by its first line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas”) to Acorn. Saturday morning he woke a bit earlier than usual. I heard him stirring and went in to check on him. “Santa was here?” he asked sleepily.
“Yes, he was,” I said. And a joyous day dawned.
A week or so before, I had taken Acorn to visit a mall Santa Claus. He spoke very quietly with Santa, and I couldn’t hear most of what was being said, except that he told Santa he wanted a train; Santa couldn’t get Acorn to name anything else he’d like for Christmas; and, apparently mistaking him for an older child, Santa tried fruitlessly to suggest that Acorn might like something besides toys for Christmas. “No, just a train.”
Afterwards, I asked Acorn what he had asked Santa to bring. “A blue and grey train,” he told me. That was the single thing he asked for. I assumed it was a Thomas train, and asked if he knew the train’s name, but Acorn didn’t know. I tried looking for a blue and grey train among the Thomas engines, but I couldn’t find one. In the end, I shrugged it off as a mystery and didn’t worry too much about it.
Until Santa time. After we’d read the classic poem about Santa’s visit. After I’d tucked an overtired Acorn into bed. After I retrieved all the gifts from the closets where they’d been hidden and arrayed them on the floor, and sat down to play Santa. Then I saw it: a blue and grey train, with three cars.
My mother and I had been shopping at a discount gift store, the kind that sells overstock from other places, sometime in the weeks before Thanksgiving. We found gifts for various nieces and nephews, cousins and grandchildren. And a few things, mostly some books, for Acorn. We arranged to keep these secret from Acorn by taking two carts; one held Acorn and our coats and handbags, the other our intended purchases, which we shielded from his view.
Acorn saw a couple of things he wanted enough to ask for, but he’s more relaxed about disappointment than the typical three-year-old. Oh, he’ll ask why he can’t have whatever it is he wants, but 99% of the time he accepts a “no” and moves on. It was that way this time with the remote control helicopter. With the overpriced toy firehouse. With the enormous plastic cement mixer.
But not with the blue and grey train. We’d have snuck that into our cart regardless, but he threw a fit wanting that train. He yelled about how much he wanted that train. Not having enough money was not an acceptable reason. He cried. Finally I was able to convince him to come to the bathroom with me, and he leaned his head against my shoulder, exhausted with longing, when I lifted him from the cart.
And he didn’t ask for that train again. Didn’t mention it, in fact, for another six weeks: not until I told him to sit on Santa’s lap and tell Santa what he’d like him to bring for Christmas. “A blue and grey train.”
I remembered buying the train, of course; but I had forgotten what colour it was. Now it was staring me in the face. The train was originally to be a gift from my parents, not from Santa, but with it being the only thing he asked Santa to bring… We rearranged our plans for which gift would be from whom.
And on Saturday morning, our Christmas morning, the first thing Acorn saw was his blue and grey train. His whole world, all that morning, was filled with that train; even as he opened and admired other gifts, he kept returning to the train. The only thing he had asked Santa for. The train we didn’t have enough money for when he saw it at the store (as he later explained to his grandfather). Santa came through. And my son just had his first experience with a Christmas miracle.
Until now, I was a little bit torn about the whole Santa business. It felt like I was manufacturing a pretense; and though it’s a strongly supported pretense culturally, the whole thing just felt strange to me. Encouraging my son to believe in a myth, rather than simply telling him about the traditions surrounding exchanging gifts this time of year.
Now, though, I see the power of this story. It’s a little bit of magic that we, as adults, can make real in the lives of our children — for just a few years. Mama and Gran-Gran couldn’t afford to buy that train, but when Acorn asked Santa for that one thing, Santa made it appear. To him, that makes the train a tiny bit more special than it would be if it came from me, either now or back when he first wanted it so badly.
And to me, that light in his eyes and contentment in his whole body language is all the Christmas magic I need.
I am a participant in Holidailies 2007.
“I don’t want peanut butter on my sandwich, just jelly.”
“Well, you should have peanut butter. It has protein. You need protein.”
“Potein? What that?”
“Protein’s one of the things you need to grow up to be big and strong.”
A thoughtful frown. “I don’ want that on my sandwich.”
“Hey, do you know what muscles are made of?” I feel Acorn’s skinny bicep, and flex my own and to show him. “They’re made of protein!”
He giggles. I turn back to the bread and the knife.
“So. How about if I put just a little peanut butter on your sandwich?”
“No… I want WOTS of peanut butter! Put wots of peanut butter on my sandwich!”
The sole focus of Acorn’s speech therapy for the last five months has been on getting him to correctly pronounce /f/ sounds. He can do it most of the time when reminded, but in casual speech it usually comes out as some other sound. A couple of months back, he learned the word “fart,” and while he didn’t find it as amusing as some people’s children seem to, he’s usually a very polite child and wanted to excuse himself after that.
So he started saying, “Excuse me, I charted!”
Doesn’t quite have the same effect, does it? And thus I found myself painstakingly teaching my three-year-old to say “fart.”
“No, Acorn. Fart. Fffffffffart. Fuh, fuh, fuh. The sound that an F makes, remember?”
“Fuh, fuh. Fart.”
I was inspired to share this last story thanks to a comment at Finslippy. It amused me to realize that unlike the commenter’s child, my son can say Nemo just fine, but one of the major taboo words in our culture would come out of his mouth as “chuck.”
I am a participant in Holidailies 2007.
“Acorn, quit poking the cat with your baton.”
“I not poking her. I teaching her. I helping her learn.”
“Oh, really? What are you teaching the cat?”
There passes a long moment filled with frantically rolled eyes, a twisted mouth, and several “um”s. At last, he comes up with an answer he thinks will be acceptable.
“I’m teaching her about Jesus!”
I am a participant in Holidailies 2007.
Acorn carefully lays his little doggie down in her fluffy dog bed. She immediately jumps up and starts running circles around him again, so delighted is she that he’s home again after two! Whole! Nights! with her boy not here, absent while he was gone to his daddy’s house.
So Acorn picks her up again, and carefully places her fleece blanket over her, tucking it in on all sides until she is only a furry tan head disappearing into a pink mass. “Good dog,” he murmurs. “Good boy.” She waits for him to move away, then bites at the blanket with puppy-play growls until she has defeated it.
“Mommy,” Acorn says to me, “my doggie won’t stay in her bed.”
“She doesn’t have to stay in her bed,” I tell him.
“But she’s being wiggly!”
“That’s because she’s a doggie. Doggies are kind of wiggly.”
He looks thoughtful. “Well. Her could stay in her bed if she wanted to,” he concludes.
Time has passed. Bedtime. Acorn gets his doggie to sit on my lap and pats her. “Aw. She needs her Mommy Doggie and Daddy Doggie. But they’re in bed.”
“They’re in bed?” I ask. “Where?”
He glances around, and finally shrugs. “I don’t know. Somewhere else.”
Leaning down, he pats the dog again, and speaks softly, comfortingly, into her ear. “Aw. Poor doggie. You need your Mommy. You miss her. But that’s okay. I will take care of you now.”
At three and a half (that’s forty-two months! Douglas Adams fans should be delighted), you’ve developed quite the sense of humor. True, you’re holding onto habits you developed in your speech-delayed toddlerhood, so your humor more often takes the form of physical jokes than spoken words. For instance, peek-a-boo continues to be a laugh riot; in particular at bedtime, it has evolved into a sort of hybrid with hide-and-seek that usually involves hiding under a blanket or a towel (sometimes while inexplicably also insisting you are a dog) and waiting for someone to wonder aloud where you might have gone. Then you pop out and yell, “Peek-a-boo!” so we can all have a good laugh.
Another, odder, manifestation of this preference for physical humor: occasionally (once every month, perhaps), I’ll remove your diaper in the morning to find a small car. You’ll be sleepily climbing onto the toilet, you’ll clearly have forgotten that you put it there, but when I ask, “What is this car doing here?” your face lights up with such glee at having pulled so delicious a prank on me that I can’t resist playing the straight man, putting up a fuss over the mysterious appearance of a toy car! That you took to bed with you the night before! In your diaper! How utterly silly! And if I can be induced to apply the word “silly,” the humor value of any situation is multiplied by ten, so now the whole morning is cast under a golden haze, and we are forced to go play outside in the crisp autumn air after breakfast.
But before we go outside, we have to get you dressed. So I help you put on your favourite shirt, one with a train on it. Pants are neutral. “Now, let’s put on your dinosaur socks,” I say.
“No, I need my train socks,” you say.
“Your train socks are dirty. They’re in the wash.”
“Oh. Then I need to wear my dinosaur shoes,” you say, pushing away your Thomas the Tank Engine shoes, the only play shoes you own.
“You don’t have any dinosaur shoes, silly.”
“Unh!” you grunt in frustration, but calm quickly, and allow me to help you on with the socks and shoes. Then you hold out your foot, flexing your ankle to show off the dinosaur socks and train shoes. “Doesn’t match,” you say as if to yourself, then catch my eye with a look of such mischief that we both laugh again.
Colors and matching have always been important to you, my odd little boy who first started sorting his toys by color when he was six months old: it was oh-so-important to gnaw on two yellow blocks at a time, not one blue and one green. Now, though, you’re combining that finely honed color sense with the obstinate nature your speech therapists commented on the first time they met you (that’s right, “stubborn as a pig” they called you), and coming up with possibly the oddest phase yet: You’re certain that the colors we all see must bend to your will, if only you insist on them hard enough.
The confusion over your eye colour, I can understand. Not only is blue your favourite colour, your eyes were a sort of blue-green-hazelish color until you were two. They didn’t finish turning from greenish-hazel to brown until earlier this year, no matter how many basic books on biology insist that a human baby’s eyes will settle on their final colour by their first birthday. (Poppycock.) So when you say you have blue eyes, it’s not without reason, though it’s nothing if not amusing when you answer, “Brown!” if asked what colour eyes you see in the mirror and, “Blue!” if asked what colour your eyes are. And then try to claim Mommy’s eyes are blue as well (they’re not), though you’re apparently okay with Gran-Gran’s eyes being brown.
On the other hand, when you insist the pony you rode on at the fair was blue? This is comedy gold. It was brown, of course. And no, its nose wasn’t blue, either. And neither were its feet. And no, the pony your cousin rode wasn’t blue, either; that pony was black. And its spots weren’t blue.
Look, Acorn. Look at the picture in this book. Do you see the train? Yes, there it is. That’s right, there are its tracks. Do you see the hot air balloon? Yes, there it is. No, it’s not red. What color is it? You pause.
“I don’t yike it to have pink and purple stripes. It’s supposed to be wed.” And you refuse to look at the balloon or discuss it further. It is the wrong colour. It is dead to you.
About six weeks ago, I had the privilege of taking you to the state fair. For some reason when I told you what we would see there it was the prospect of chickens that caught your attention, so as soon as we got out of the car you started asking me about the chickens. Fortunately I had parked near the agriculture exhibits, so you got to have your fill of the chickens (with their exotic wattles and their laying of eggs, three of which you ate that night for supper) and the cows. One cow — a dairy cow so heavily pregnant she didn’t seem to care what you did to her as long as you didn’t require her to actually move — allowed you to sit on her and hug her (all with her owner’s permission). You also got to see some big kids, 4H-ers and local ranchers, showing their cows in competition. Fast forward a few weeks, and you had an interesting conversation with your grandmother as you drove past a nearby cow pasture. “Cows eat grass,” you said.
“Yes, they do,” she confirmed.
“We have grass in our yard,” you mused. A pause as you thought, gazing at the large field the cows were in. “Cows need lots of room.”
“Yes, cows do need lots of room,” Gran-Gran confirmed again.
“We don’t have lots of room,” you sighed. “We can’t have a cow.”
Until then, none of us had known you’d been pondering whether we could have a cow come and live with us, perhaps to show at the fair like those big kids, but I’m very glad you puzzled out on your own that it’s not possible. Trying to persuade you we couldn’t have one if you had decided we must, that your life would not be complete without a bovine companion, might have been just as easy as trying to persuade you that your eyes are not, in fact, blue.
One morning not long after that, you were sprawled across my lap, watching your grandmother get ready to rush out the door for an early meeting. You spoke quietly to me:
“Mommy, I don’t like Gran-Gran.”
“You don’t?” I said, surprised. “Why not?”
“I like you, Mommy.”
“Oh. You can like me and Gran-Gran both, you know, Silly.”
He giggled. “Yeah… I like you best, Mommy.”
Aw. I like you best too, my baby boy.
I helped Acorn out of his bath tonight and wrapped him in a fluffy pink towel. Coaxed him into a diaper and his blue cotton dinosaur pajamas. “Now, pick out a book for Gran-Gran to read,” I croaked, “and I’ll tuck you into bed.” Mum and I gave each other a glance and shared a silent giggle when he chose (with a classic toddler’s view of what is seasonally appropriate) The Night Before Christmas.
A scant hour later, he woke crying. Mum reached his room before I did, and asked him what he needed. “Need my Mama.” So I left my spot in the doorway and took a spot by his bed. “Stay with me, Mama.”
I knelt down and leaned my head beside him. He held my hand in one of his, and clung to my hair with his other hand. “Did you have a nightmare?” I whispered after several minutes passed with no signs of him relaxing.
“Yes,” he said.
“What did you dream about?”
“The hook,” he said; or maybe it was, “The truck.” But he couldn’t tell me any more than that.
I stroked his hair with my free hand, and recited in a whisper the entire text of Goodnight Moon, of Where the Wild Things Are, of Dr. Seuss’s The Sleep Book, all I could recall of the first pages of The Hobbit. All the soothing stories that I know by heart, using all the voice I had left. Then, still sitting on the floor, I laid my head again on the bed beside my son, and rested there with him until I felt his body relax and his breathing slow as he passed again into sleep.
Three hours of driving later, I rang the doorbell. “Who’s there?” I could hear my former father-in-law asking, in that tone adults reserve for asking a child questions they know the answers to.
“My Mama!” I heard Acorn respond. He fumbled at the door briefly, then flew into my arms. “Mama! I miss you!”
“I missed you too, sweetheart,” I said.
“Dis my Mama!” he announced to his grandfather. I set him down, and he led me into the house.
“Dis is my Mama!” he told his grandmother. “Daddy! Dis my Mama!”
He did that for the rest of the day, introducing me to store clerks, my brother, random strangers, and eventually my own parents. “Gran-Gran! Dis is my Mama!”
“Got holes. It’s broken.”
“It’s not broken, Acorn. This was your bed when you were little. It used to have a side here, see? But now it’s your big boy bed, so it doesn’t need a side any more.”
“Got a side?”
“Yes. See? That piece over there.”
“Would you like to lie down on your bed and see how it feels?”
“Yes! Want my blue one.”
We fish his blue pacifier — the only one he still takes, and that only at night — out of the crib and he climbs into his new bed and lies on the bare mattress, grinning.
“Do you want to sleep in your bed tonight?”
“All right, I’ll move the sheets to your bed, and then we can brush your teeth.”
We brush his teeth…
“Sing, Mama! Song about teefs.”
…and read a story.
“A shark! Got a hook. Oh! Anudder shark! It got a hook, too. See its hook?”
“I see it, honey. That’s its dorsal fin.”
“Yeah. Got a hook.”
Then it’s bedtime.
“Go to your room, buddy, and I’ll tuck you into your bed.”
“Tuck me in my bed!” he squeals with glee.
I follow him.
“Got empty holes. Piece missing,” he shows me.
“Yes, that’s where the side went when it was your baby bed. Now it’s your big boy bed, because you don’t need a side on your bed any more.”
“Yeah. Tuck me inna my bed, Mama?”
I tuck him in and sing to him, two songs. (“Sing ‘Bus,’ Mama! Sing good-night song!”)
An hour later I slip into his room. My excuse is to see how he’s doing, this first night out of a crib; but really I just want to watch him sleep. He’s gone through his usual contortions: he’s on his back, legs curled around his stuffed dog, one hand tucked between his head and the pillow, and his quilt draped messily around and across his head, leaving his mouth and chin peeking out.
One more milestone passed on the road from babydom to boyhood.
I’m not known for wearing dresses, but a few days ago I found a cute and comfortable skirt at an irresistible price. Today I wore it for the first time.
“Mommy!” Acorn said, trotting up to me. “You got a…” He paused, looking at the skirt, clearly trying to think of what to call this unfamiliar garment.
“Oh, that looks pretty,” my mother said to me.
“You’re pretty!” Acorn said with delight at having found the word he wanted, and threw his arms around me.
My aunt saw Acorn today for the first time since his birthday. “What did you get for your birthday?” she asked.
“A cake!” he said.
She laughed. “What kind of cake?”
“My boo tain cake!”
And while looking through his book stash, he noticed for the first time a coloring my sister had given him for his birthday. (His attention had been entirely consumed by the Dora and Diego playground ball she also gave him.) He brought it to me to read, looking at the cover.
“Read Dora,” he said, and looked over the cover again.
“And Blue! And…”
“…a horsey thing.”