“You see this piece of paper?” Cole asked, as he climbed in the backseat. “Do you see what it says?”
The paper read: Do not read.
“You know what that means?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I began, “that means whoever sees that will definitely want to read it.”
“No!” he exclaimed. “It means do not read it. It’s private.”
Then you should have wrote “please read me” on it, I thought.
“You aren’t gonna read it, are you?” he inquired, a seriousness in his voice.
“No, Cole, I respect your privacy. Just know if Nennie saw that, she would immediately tear that sucker open though.”
I didn’t mention the mysterious paper again. Cole did.
“Mama, you remember that paper?” he asked.
“You mean the one you showed me and told me to not read?”
He nodded. “Do you want to know what was in it?”
“No; you said you wanted it to be private. I respect that and don’t have to know.”
He frowned. There was a conflict going on – he wanted to tell me something but wanted to keep it secret at the same time.
“But, it’s important,” he said.
“I didn’t bother it,” I reassured him. “I don’t and won’t do that, I promise.”
He sighed, not sure how to proceed. “Mama, what do you want for Christmas?”
I wasn’t expecting that question.
“Baby, I don’t really want anything.”
I don’t. The things I want, I would never ask for. The things I need, no one would get me as a gift.
“But what if I was getting you a gift, what would you want?”
“I would want whatever you made me,” I answered honestly. I would take one of his paintings over a Monet any day.
He shook his head. “No, not made. If I bought you something.”
“I don’t want you spending your money,” I told him.
“I want to.” he said emphatically. “There’s a Christmas shop at school, I went in there and saw all this stuff I wanted to get you and Daddy. But the trouble is, I don’t know what to get you and the stuff I wrote down on my paper, that I wanted to get you, was $77. Daddy’s was about as much. I kept looking and looking. That’s way more than what I have,” he said.
“Oh Cole,” I began, hugging him tight. “I don’t want anything. So don’t worry.”
“But you and Daddy never open anything on Christmas morning, y’all just sit there, drinking coffee and watching me opening presents. It’s not fair.”
“Well, Cole, we don’t do gifts most of the time,” I said.
We didn’t. Come to think of it, we never had. I probably had been shorted about a dozen gifts or so over the years.
“But you should. Everyone should have something to open on Christmas. It’s not fair if they don’t.”
How did I tell my child – who is still young enough to believe that life is fair – that sometimes, fairness has nothing to do with it?
The following day, a friend and I were talking about what our children wanted for Christmas. Our conversation merged into how we normally didn’t do grown-up gifts.
“I am just thankful my kids are healthy, me and my husband are healthy, we have jobs. For me, those are the ‘gifts’ I want around my tree,” my friend said.