A Christmas Story I’ve told before
Long long long ago
Maggie will sometimes complain about how old she is.
She hasn’t yet figured out that this annoys those of us who are more than twice her age who can’t get up from a chair or bend over without making loud noises.
When she was little we connected to the internet, what there was of the internet, using a telephone modem.
The connection was slow enough that if you had a really large file to transmit across the country it was often quicker to save the file to a zip disk and mail it.
There was no GPS - at least not for ordinary people.
We asked people for directions and navigated using landmarks we knew.
Someone might say, “you know where the bagel place used to be? Take a left at that corner and it’s a half a block up on your right.”
Where the bagel place used to be.
We also used maps. Either maps we bought, maps we picked up at AAA, or maps we printed out from the internet.
There were no iPhones. There was no wifi or cell service. Our cars didn’t have maps built into them. We needed physical maps.
The new house
Around Thanksgiving when Maggie was four we bought a new house in Shaker Heights so that the girls could go to the Shaker schools.
We wouldn’t move in until well after the current school year was done. We had a lot of fixing up to do first.
We took the girls over to the new house so they could see where they would be living.
They were excited.
Kim let Maggie choose which bedroom she wanted and let each girl decide what color their walls would be.
A couple of days before Christmas, Maggie came into my office looking concerned. She wanted to know how Santa would figure out where she’d moved to.
She knew it wouldn’t be a problem this year - we’d still be in our house on 128th Street - but next year, how will Santa know?
We connected to the internet and went to the MapQuest site. We entered our current address and our new address and MapQuest gave us a map with a purple line from our current house to our new house along with careful directions.
I printed a note on the map to Santa explaining that we’d be moving to this new house soon and wanted him to know.
We left the note on the mantle between the girls’ stockings.
Maggie was satisfied.
The girls would have their own rooms in the new house but for now they shared a room.
I’m not sure when Elena learned her new trick but she wasn’t very old when she learned she could climb out of her crib and swing her legs over the top and let herself down onto Maggie’s bed.
Maggie was a sound sleeper and wouldn’t wake up as Elena crawled over Maggie and eased herself down the side of the bed and then waddled into Kim and my bedroom.
The first time it happened it scared the hell out of us. We’d left the kids tucked into their beds and sometime overnight Elena had decided to visit us.
I carried her back to her crib and set her back down.
Kim and I then stood quietly outside their half-closed door and watched as Elena performed her trick again.
We decided to leave the side of her crib on Maggie’s side down enough that she could easily step over. We weren’t going to be able to keep her in so we might as well make it less dangerous for her to escape.
Anyway, Christmas was no different.
Elena came to visit us excited that today was Christmas. Maggie slept.
Kim’s rule was that we couldn’t go downstairs until both kids were awake. The magic to Christmas is that the kids would come down in the morning and the downstairs has been transformed after a visit from Santa. There’s no magic if your parents are sitting downstairs drinking coffee and talking.
So for years we all stayed upstairs until Maggie woke up. When Elena was alive she’d wake Maggie up and we’d all head downstairs together.
Santa for the win
Kim got the stockings down for each of the girls.
Maggie glanced at the mantle where the note had been. It was gone.
They opened the gifts in their stockings and then those under the tree.
We cleaned up, had breakfast, and played with some of the toys.
Just after noon we all got dressed to go over to Kim’s parents for Christmas dinner and more presents.
I warmed up the car and brushed the freshly fallen snow off the windshield and hood and went back to help Kim get the the girls and presents for her family into the car.
The girls were buckled into their car seats and weren’t yet fighting when I took a right turn where I should have taken a left.
Maggie called out, “Dad, this isn’t the right way.”
“We’re going to make a quick stop first,” I told her.
A minute later we pulled into the driveway of our new house.
“Can I come too?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
I opened the car door for Maggie and closed it behind her. We walked across the snow on the front lawn and up the front steps.
Ours were the only footsteps. No one had been there ahead of us.
I unlocked the front door and let Maggie go in ahead of me.
“Look,” she said and pointed.
There in the living room in front of the fireplace was a gift for each of the girls.
On top of them was the note we’d left for Santa on the map and directions.
Our new house was circled and there was a simple message back from Santa.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 143. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe