The boy is standing halfway up my front hall stairs. He is a little boy and his speech is still imperfect. The “s’s” at the beginning of his words come out sounding like “t’s” but I can understand him – most of the time. Right now he has paused on the way up my hall stairs to ask me something.
“What are you going to get me for Christmas, TT?” (He calls me TT.)
“Oh! Well I’ve already gotten it!”
“What is it?’ he asks, twisting his hands together in front of him.
“Ah now I can’t tell you that, can I?”
“You CAN tell me!” he cries with a sudden anguish. “TT, you can!”
Stalling for time, I then do what grownups so often do: I fib.
“Um, let’s see if I can remember. Oh I know! I got you every single thing on Santa’s sleigh!”
“No, you didn’t!” he nearly sobs, even as I am asking myself what on earth I think I’m doing, teasing a four-year-old.
“I’m only fooling,” I quickly say. “What kind of thing would THAT be, putting Santa out of a job?”
“So, what DID you get me?”
“A jar of pickles.” (Gad, I’ve done it again!)
“Not really!” he cries, his expression turning desperate.
“No, not really. I’m sorry honey. Do you really want to know what I got you?”
He sits down on the fourth step like a man exhausted by life.
“Shall I tell you in your ear so it’s a secret?”
“It’s a bank that counts your money as you put it in,” I whisper.
At this he turns from me, closes his eyes and leans his little forehead against the wall, a bit of body language that comes through loud and clear.
“You don’t want a bank that counts your money as you put it in?”
He shakes his head no as the tears begin to brim.
“Then I’ll give it to your brother, why don’t I? He loves banks, come to think of it! And you love stuffed animals, isn’t that right? Should I be thinking about a stuffed animal for you?”
He nods his head. Of course! How many times have I seen him arranging the occupants of that toy doll carriage!
“And what would be the best stuffed animal, do you think?”
He tries for a brave smile but he can’t seem to speak.
“Do you have a favorite animal?”
“What kind then?”
“A raccoon,” he says in a very small voice.
“A raccoon is it?” I repeat after him.
“Yes!” he now full-out sobs.
He falls into my outstretched arms and there we stand, two people balancing on sharp point between laughter and tears, two people caught on that sharp point (a) because these long weeks of ad-fed hankering stand in opposition to every stated spiritual impulse of the season, and (b) because, thank God, they are