On Sunday, while my wife was at work, I took our two sons Christmas shopping for her. It was a dreary, cold, drizzly day, and she had already told us what she wanted. Wasn’t expecting much joy out of the experience. Just go down the list and get the stuff, right?
But then something happened – can I actually call it joy? I think I can.
I once bought a Christmas tree ornament for Linda, a fragile, glass bird with tail feathers made of fine, soft bristles, like that of an artist’s paint brush. She mentioned a few weeks ago that she loved that ornament, and wouldn’t mind having something else like it.
So the boys and I jumped in the car, went to the same store, and started looking for ornaments. And here’s where the joy kicked in.
They kept asking me “What do you think about this one?” and my reply was always the same, “Do you like it? Do you think she would like it?”
Soon they were comparing their choices, and it was a joy to see them racking their brains in an attempt to think about what their mom might really like.
They each picked out two things, and, as it was an oddly quiet moment on an otherwise hectic Christmas shopping day, the woman at the counter had the time to wrap the gifts. She did an exquisite job, with glossy, lidded boxes, hand cut French ribbons and shiny tin leaves woven into the ribbon.
Here a major shout out for “Tail of the Yak” in Berkeley is in order: the store is filled with the most beautiful antique jewelry, odd stationery, surprise balls, and toys and perfumes and baubles and all manner of wonderful and unique thing.
We picked out cards at another store, and then the boys wanted to stop in at Sweet Dreams candy shop across the street – not to plead for candy for themselves – but for nostalgia’s sake. You see, Tail of the Yak is in our old neighborhood, where we lived until the boys were 6 and 2.
At the candy store, the boys shared laughs about the yard long sticks of novelty bubble gum, and risqué flip books showing things like stick figures humping before bursting into flames. And then my older son Rafael ran up to me with a figurine of Leela from Futurama. My wife Linda loves the show, and my son asked if he could get it for her. Of course he could! This – this – was the wonderfully unscripted part of our shopping trip. No wish list from mom to check off here. This was Rafael excited at the prospect of making his mother happy with something she did not expect.
Not a moment later Gabriel approached me with a Pez toy of Santa, but quickly remembered that his mother already had one in her collection. He went back and scoured the Pez rack again, finding a reindeer, which he is certain she does not have. Again, the checklist was put aside.
The boys asked if we could drive by our old house on the way home.
They were happy to see the current owners hadn’t painted it a different color. They wanted to see their old nursery school, which is just around the corner. It’s a funky cottage behind a duplex. For a moment, they argued over which house it was, and I confess, even I wasn’t 100% sure anymore.
But then we found just the right sight line and could see the corner of the cottage in the back. The boys, even my 16 year old, were giddy remembering the little bridge in the back which spanned nothing, and their beloved climbing tree.
And when, on a final request, we drove by the old pocket park where I had spent many hours pushing them on a tire swing – “the tire swing park,” they called it when they were little – Rafael’s first comment was “Ohmigod, it’s so small!”
I smiled. I can remember going back to some of my old childhood haunts as a teen or young adult, and feeling the exact same way. It was wonderful watching this universal human reaction play out in the next generation. Gabriel noted with some sadness that the “beautiful purple bush” he remembered was now gone.
These little detours delayed us, so I told the boys they had to wrap their gifts at breakneck speed to beat mom, who would be getting home from work any minute.
I tossed them scissors and tape and told them to haul ass. And they made it – almost. My wife walked in just as Gabriel was mummifying the Pez dispenser with scotch tape – “it’s a hard shape to wrap, dad!”
I yelled at Linda to close her eyes, and demanded that she eat her lunch in the bedroom.
She didn’t mind.