“Rocking around the Christmas tree,
Have a happy holiday
Everyone dancing merrily
In the new old-fashioned way…”
—John D. Marks, American songwriter
Kidpower workshop, child relations were strained and still flammable. The opportunity to let the girls pick out one Christmas gift for each other separately just wasn't realistic based on our schedules, so I thought I'd take them to the toy store together, since we had all morning and early afternoon. The rain came down cold and steady outside, and I didn't have another plan at that point as to how I'd pull it off, but was confident we could brave the excursion. I'd frame it with a softer diplomacy than the sometimes hard line of Daddy Goat Gruff.
"Girls, how about we go to the toy store and we pick out Mommy's gift from the both of you. We know she wants a game, something we can all play together," I said.
"Yes!" they answered.
"Can we get something too?" Bryce asked.
Of course I knew this was coming, and right as I responded I noticed the purple canvas bag laying on the sofa table near the front door. "You can pick something out for each other, yes. Within reason. So while we are there, you each keep an eye out for one gift for each other. When you think you know, I'll put it in a bag so the other won't see it. Sound good?"
"Okay," they answered. I knew they didn't really get it.
"Why don't we bring this?" I said, holding up the toy store catalog that they'd already been through a dozen times, with 95 percent of the toys on every page circled over and over again with different colored pens.
I knew they'd really get that.
We got ready and headed out into the rainy day. After we parked and entered the toy store, we passed a Toys for Tots donation booth. A nice woman working the booth handed me a small flyer and asked for any toy donations before we left the store.
"Girls, we're going to get an extra gift or two today for other children who may not get any gifts this Christmas season, okay?"
Maybe they got that, and/or they were thinking of only themselves, but I had them covered either way.
Once inside, the girls began their joyful journey. Bryce, the fearless exploder, began bouncing from one toy to the next, pointing and exclaiming how cool everything was. Beatrice, the reserved imploder, proceeded with gleeful caution, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all, like she was a toy in Al's Toy Barn from Toy Story 2.
"Now girls," I said, smiling big. "Take as much time as you need. I know daddy usually tries to hurry through the shopping experience, but this time take your time. Please."
"Okay, Daddy," Bryce said, not really listening.
Beatrice just smiled.
Aisle after aisle we trekked and talked and touched. Look at this! And look at that! Wow! Cool! At one point I got them to help me pick out their gift for the Mama, and then we continued on the glorious toy campaign.
Without one single tantraumatic meltdown the whole time. Yes, I just made that up.
After some gift options were identified by each girl for the other, I'd quickly misdirect and keep them huddled on one aisle oo-ing and ah-ing over various over-priced toys, while I scurried clandestine to one of the gifts they had picked out (with the $15-$20 cap, of course) and tucked it into my purple canvas bag next to the Mama's gift. After the second gift was tucked away, we roamed for another 10 minutes until I noticed a confused and pained look at Beatrice's face.
"You all done now? Ready to go?"
"Yeah, let's go home. I miss Mommy."
Yeah, I miss her too, Sweetie. Knowing we wouldn't see the Mama for another few hours, I misdirected again to the "Buy One Christmas Book Get One More Half Off" stand near the cash registers.
"Girls, each of you pick out one book for our Toys for Tots donation," I said, and then added, "Oh, and pick out one of those candy Troll toy things that you like."
Because I'm just a sucker dressed in Daddy Goat Gruff clothing.
As we checked out at one of the registers I told the toy store employee that I needed to keep the gifts in the bag so the girls wouldn't see what they had gotten each other. She smiled and told me no problem. It didn't seem to phase her and she rang everything up as if she dealt with this request all the time.
I had the girls give the books to the Toys for Tots volunteers when we left. They thanked us and I thanked them. As we drove home, I was happy that this little trip went as well as it did. I thought about running a few more errands on the way home, and realized that could've caused a global nuclear escalation, so decided against it. Amen for that.
We listened to Christmas music all the way home. I sang most of the lyrics and the girls bopped their heads along, chiming in when they knew the words. The girls were fascinated that I knew so many Christmas songs. Then one of the many iterations of "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" came on the radio.
"Daddy, I like this song," said Beatrice.
"Yes, me too!" said Bryce.
"Yes, so do I, girls. Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday, everyone dancing merrily..."
It was a lovely time. Really. We rock-a-billied and sang and laughed all the way home. Fond memories of singing with my mother and family and friends during the holidays, decade after thankful decade going back to my childhood, wrapped themselves around my wary heart of late. I'd been so somber and insular, thinking only of myself and keeping my family safe and sound from what may or may not ever happen in the world around us. I hadn't been open to fully celebrating the joy of the holiday season, the joy and love of family and friends, a hopeful peace that's always meant so much to me not only at Christmastime, but each and every day -- everyone dancing merrily in the new old-fashioned way.