It was such a simple request. A simple gift. It was the gift that saved Christmas….
My son Ryan wanted a hamster. The idea had made me cringe. I imagined the creepy-crawly mice that my childhood cat, Tracy, smuggled into our house when I was young … the captured victims that he would delight in pawing up to the highest point on the slanted dining room table leg and watch slide down. Over and over. Until the body lay limp from fright, exhaustion, or lack of gentle handling.
But Ryan wanted a hamster. And when your sweet 8-year-old gives you that dreamy-blue-eyed and long-lashed-mommy-can-I-please-have-a-hamster look that reminds you of the day he was born, what can you do?
We had tickets to see “The Nutcracker” in Boston on Christmas Eve. Ryan, Ben, Emma and I picked up Grampy. My husband was away and would be home late Christmas Day. Creating the magic of Christmas for our children was mine alone.
Anticipation was also weighted with exhaustion. This particular Christmas I had knitted an it-took-me-a-year-but-I-did-it-XL Irish-knit cardigan for my father, a green-and-white-reindeer sweater for my niece Sarah, my husband, Jim’s Norwegian sweater and wrapped the various gifts for my extended family.
Prior to meeting my sister and her family at the theatre, I called my neighbors. Ever the c’mon-over-for-dinner-kind of neighbors, Raymond said, “Of course I’ll pick up Ryan’s hamster!”
As I drove back to the suburbs from Boston, the chills began. I fought the body aches while putting Ryan, 6-year-old Ben, and 4-year-old Emma to bed after reading one of their favorites, “The Texas Night Before Christmas”. Then I collapsed on the couch downstairs in the living room and thought about the presents hidden in the basement. Many still unwrapped. Separated by child into sacks. I couldn’t imagine how I would find the strength to go down to the basement and retrieve the gifts. And wrap them, too. Maybe a bow would suffice for Emma’s used skis we had gotten at Sportsworks..
I heard a quiet knock. Dragging myself to the kitchen door, I opened it to find Raymond toting Ryan’s caged snowball-white hamster looking questioningly with pink beady eyes. I remember mumbling my sincere appreciation and something about feeling feverish, with presents yet to wrap. Thoughts ran through my mind…who do you call on Christmas Eve…everyone I knew including my sisters were busy with their own families….
I must have looked especially pallid and pasty-white because not long after that, I awoke to see Lisa standing in front of me with her mother. “You need to go to bed”, Lisa had said so kindly. ‘Go upstairs and take a warm bath. We will take care of everything.’
Tears began to stream down my expressionless face, and still do even now as I recall the Christmas I realized there is a Santa and the spirit of Christmas is real. I stared in disbelief. ‘There really is a Santa,’ was all I remember saying to Lisa and her mother before I climbed the stairs.
The next morning, I shared in my children’s experience of Christmas magic and ‘Santa’s visit’, silently nodding next door with so much love and thanks in my heart.
Which didn’t end there. Still unwell, at lunchtime, dinner arrived.
Two weeks later, my sweet Ryan turned nine. He said, ‘Mommy, for my birthday will you hold Snowball?’ What could I say? From that night on, I never went to bed before cradling sweet-Christmas-saving Snowball in my cupped hands and whispering good night.