the salad days


hat do you get the child that doesn’t know quite what he wants?

Thanksgiving felt pleasantly early this year. I’m not in a panic over Christmas plans and presents yet. But over the last few weeks, as I’ve begun to contemplate the requirements of the holiday from the somewhat-comfortable distance that November affords, I have devoted some thought to The Three and what might best suit each of them—while still fitting into a box under the tree.

Even dismissing Peaches’ perennial request for a kitten out of hand (“Mommy, I wouldn’t even want to have people over for my birthday if I could have a kitten”), there are clearly defined areas of interest that lend themselves to a targeted shopping expedition. Marcel actually reads that awful Sports Illustrated subscription that Scott got for him and he started golfing a little, as well, so there are some fresh fields for the Mother-as-consumer to consider.

With the perspective on past events that is only provided with time, I know that this has emerged as a bona fide pattern in our Christmas gift-giving to our children: Roy, not entirely sure what he wants, often repeats what other people in the house have said that they want.

There were LEGO sets for both boys last Christmas. The gifts generated no end of ill will between the brothers, though, because Marcel wanted permission to complete Roy’s once his own had been assembled. And what it turned out that Roy wanted more than anything was not to put his together but to refuse Marcel permission to do so.

Maybe because he is in the middle, maybe because of his expansive appetite for life in nearly every way he encounters it, Roy hasn’t settled into any one obsessive groove that would make my life easier when it comes to Christmas shopping. This reflects more on my laziness, however, than on Roy’s rapacious interest in human interaction and storytelling, things that cannot be ordered online for delivery by December 24.

My son says he wants ‘a lot of Packers gear’ for Christmas and to this I have two questions: ‘Is he serious?’ and, frankly, ‘Does it matter?’ If this is what he thinks he wants, who am I to second guess him? In giving him even one thing in the vein of a specific request he’s made, I think it shows him that, at the very least, we’re listening to him. And so there’s an official cheesehead hiding in our laundry room.

But I find myself embarrassingly nostalgic for the year just before Marcel turned four and Roy turned two, a few months before Peaches arrived, when Christmas morning brought both boys a red, ride-on plastic Jeep. They fit snugly inside together, those brothers, riding fast circles around the yard. I remember those little boys and I think very clearly that things are already not that simple, anymore, that few things will be red-Jeep simple again.