"Mom, can I play Angry Birds on your phone?"
"No, honey, I don't like you playing on my phone. It's not really for games."
"But Daddy lets me do it..."
Yes. In fact, and this may sound kind of weird, but Noah and his Daddy have formed some sort of giant bond over Angry Birds. I don't pretend to understand it, but I will say that it's pretty adorable to see Noah all cozied up in the crook of Joe's arm, tapping away at the touch-screen game and having them both groan, "Awwww!" when they don't get the score they want. Or the pig. Or really...I just don't know.
I'm pretty sure that I've mothered both of my children in the same ways, fostering the same sort of things, hoping that they grow up to be strong, intelligent contributors to society and to our family. I want them to know I love them, and that they can count on me, but that being a jerk won't get you anywhere. Being nice gets you a lot further.
But it doesn't really matter in the end, because children are not generic beings that we can mold like Play-Doh. They're people, just like you and me, and a lot of times, they're going to do things and be things you aren't ready for and you don't understand.
One thing I don't understand, though I don't mind it really, is that Noah and his dad are kind of a unit. They are drawn together, understand each other, and just, I don't know, gravitate to one another. In much the same ways, Joey and I are a unit. Noah loves me and needs me, and Joey adores his dad, but nevertheless there is this pattern that continues to repeat itself.
Which brings me to yesterday morning, when I was standing in Target while both boys were at school. On the shelf, under a lovely signed marked, "SALE," were not one but TWO Angry Birds games. I called Joe quickly on my cell and asked, "Did you get Noah any of those Angry Birds games?" Joe's voice was excited when he said, "No, but I'd love to. Can you grab it?"
"There's two," I said. "Which one?"
He hesitated. "Can you get both?" he asked, and I had to smile. We're definitely trying to be careful with spending this Christmas, what with it being my second year off from work and all, but I knew this particular thing was tugging at Joe's heart, causing him to be a bigger pushover than usual.
"Sure," I said, grabbing both boxes and tossing them into the cart.
Later, I picked Noah up from preschool. We came home, we ate lunch, and then I offered him a rare opportunity.
"Noah," I said, "would you like to skip your nap today and go shopping with me?"
Noah, who has never been a big fan of the apparently evil nap, responded gleefully, "YESSSSS! What are we shopping for?"
"Well," I said, "I thought you might like to buy Daddy and Joey Christmas gifts. You know, for them just from you. What do you think?"
"I think YESSSS!" he said. And, quite unusual for him, he gobbled up every last bite of his lunch without argument and announced, "Ready!"
We piled ourselves into the car, got buckled, and began our trek to what seemed like the logical starting place: Target. On the way, Noah began listing everything he was quite sure would cost ten dollars. Ten dollars is a big deal to him, because his entire piggy-bank savings totals just that amount.
"Video games, board games, a tie, a new guitar..." he rattled off from the back seat. "All these things cost ten dollars."
"Well..." I said slowly, not really knowing how to break it to him that some of those things, though lovely gift ideas, didn't quite fit his budget.
"No, Mom," he interrupted. "They do. I know it. They cost ten dollars. But you know what I think I should get Daddy and Joey?"
"What?" I said, my heart sinking. It wasn't that I didn't feel willing to spot the kid some money if he needed it, it was more that I feared just how much that could add up to. I meant for this to all be a lesson in the spirit of Christmas, the joy of giving to those we love. But how to explain to a four-year-old that generosity is about thought and heart, not quantity and bells and whistles? I knew the abstract--albeit TRUE--concept of the lame grownup mantra "That's too expensive."
"Video games," he said decidedly. I cringed. So many complications in this choice, I didn't know where to begin. It's not like I could say, "Actually Noah, I know for a FACT that Santa has already lined up a few for you, but I have no idea what they are because they've been hidden in boxes and grocery bags in the basement for a few weeks now..." Not to mention, video games totally bust the aforementioned ten dollar limit.
"You know why, Mom?" he went on, oblivious to my turmoil. "Because Daddy and Joey love playing video games, and they're really nice about letting me play, too. I'm not very good at them, but they both let me have lots of turns and teach me things to help me get better. I think it would be really nice to give them a new video game to play."
Love this kid.
But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) fate was not on Noah's side. As I approached the Target parking lot, I saw that it was filled. Past capacity. A long, unmoving line of cars snaked through the aisles and up along the doors.
"Noah, I don't think Target is going to work," I said. "We don't have enough time to fight these big crowds, because Joey will be home from school in a little while. We'll have to try some other places."
Noah wasn't happy, but I managed to convince him to try some less frequented places to see what they could offer us. We tried three different plazas, none of which had even one thing that Noah thought would work.
"How about buying them ornaments?" I suggested, pulling away from option number three.
"No!" he cried, outraged. "They already HAVE ornaments. That's so lame."
For the purposes of simplified story-telling, let's just pretend I'm wonderful and have infinite patience.
Finally, I could see that time was running out. Joey's bus would be arriving home soon. But when I broke this news to Noah, who knew it meant we'd have to go home empty-handed, he was devastated.
"I have no presents to give my dad or my brother!" he wailed. "We HAVE to try somewhere else, Mom! We HAVE TO!"
As a last resort, I pulled into one last place. It's a department store in a plaza close to home, and I figured, if nothing else, I could convince Noah to just settle for some of the more traditional gift ideas. And perhaps less ostentatious ones than what he had in mind.
The first thing we tried were novelty t-shirts for Joey. "Something Skylanders for Joey would be cool," Noah said. But they didn't have Joey's size. Hurray for holiday shopping.
Next, we tried pajamas. "But pajamas are dumb!" Noah declared. So much for holiday spirit.
Just when I thought we'd have to give up for real, we rounded a corner and discovered a completely random, and somewhat bizarre, collection of toys for sale.
"THIS IS WHERE WE'LL FIND IT!" Noah yelled, letting go of my hand and running forth.
At first it seemed like it was mostly Barbies and make-your-own tornado kits (I told you, very weird). But then, Noah stepped up to a small display of....
Angry Birds games.
In fact, they were the exact same games I had just thrown into my cart that very morning.
"Mom!" he gasped, his hands clasped together in disbelief. "It's the perfect thing! I HAVE to get this for my dad! I have to! He'll LOVE it!"
I began to stammer, to stumble my way through half-hearted, "I don't think sos" and "Let's look over heres," but Noah would have none of my excuses now. He turned to me, eyes huge and tear-filled, and said, "I want to give this to my dad. It would make him so happy."
I appreciate all the people who read my blog faithfully, and all the ones who stumble upon it, or manage to read a complete post here and there. I hope you don't mind how often I am amazed by the hearts of my children, or how much I go on and on about how wonderful they are.
But I am amazed by them, and they are wonderful. And as I try my best to help them understand what Christmas can mean, I also want to remember that it is a time to count your blessings. I don't know what I ever did to deserve all that I have, but I know that, as a way of showing my gratitude, I want to write down and remember all the moments where my heart feels too big for my body. All the moments that I'd never get to have it weren't for Joey and Noah. Swollen heart moments.