As I fidgeted in a church pew that Christmas morning of 1978, squished between siblings, feeling hot and itchy in white tights sticking to my skinny little thighs, I’ll confess, I wasn’t exactly thinking about baby Jesus.
I was thinking about Merlin.
Merlin, “The Electronic Wizard.” Gen-Xers remember?
Merlin was loaded with magical sounds, lighted buttons, and six mind memory games: Tic Tac Toe, Echo, Blackjack 13, Magic Square, Mindbender, and Music Machine.
Boys and girls loved it because it was fun and addicting.
Parents loved it because it enhanced logic and group theory skills without the kids even realizing it. (Those same kids didn’t realize their super moms regularly snuck pureed cauliflower into their mac ‘n’ cheese, either).
That year, there was nothing I wanted more in the whole wide world than my very own Merlin.
My parents did their best to keep all that materialistic hullabaloo on the back burner and the true meaning of Christmas up front.
When it finally came time to gather around the tree, one of us kids would be appointed “Santa’s elf” and pass out all the gifts to help keep chaos to a minimum. Before long, though, with nine kids, it was total mayhem.
While opening my own modest pile, I always tried to save the best for last. Typically the biggest. But that year, it was a package about 8 inches long, 3 inches wide. Just about the size of the box I’d imagine Merlin would come in.
My heart beat wildly as I moved toward the magnificence of the future, pulling back the layers of wrapping paper as though I were opening hand-carved doors to a sparkly, magical land.
And then. There it was . . . a clock radio.
SPLAT! Disappointment landed on my Christmas like a sack of squash.
I really couldn’t complain. It had both AM and FM. A darn good gift that kids all over the world would love to have. And on top of that, I got a turtleneck, a Barbie named Tuesday, and Hungry Hungry Hippo!
But even so, all I could think about was the gift I didn’t get.
I’d like to say that was the last time I dwelled on a gift I didn’t get. Clearly, I’ve received far more in this life than my fair share and what I deserve.
And yet, I’ve dwelled.
I’ve dwelled over not getting curly hair, a husband who cooks, a cabin up North, the knack for small talk, the aptitude for math, the patience for crafts, and most of all, a magic wand to cure Parkinson’s Disease, Rett Syndrome, asthma, cancer, depression, loneliness, unemployment, and everything else that has caused suffering to those I’ve known and loved.
Midlife is a powerful time in anyone’s life. It can either suck you into a pit of didn’t-gets or spring you into a state of gratitude for the did-gets.
It’s all about perspective, really.
A few examples:
♦ Let’s start with the hair. I’ve always wished I had some curl. My hair is flat as Stanley. But who am I to complain? My cousin’s wife, an artist and mother of two undergoing radiation therapy, has none.
♦ Next, the hubby. Great guy. Love him. But at times I’ve wished he were more cultivated in some areas; in the kitchen, for instance. But he commutes an hour to work, comes home and plays basketball with the kids, cleans gutters, and buys me chocolate.
♦ I’ve wished many times, and so have my kids, that I were more domestically inclined like “the other moms.” You know, like the ones that make birthday cakes look like Minions. But, I can fix a dangling modifier, make a mean pot of gumbo if I follow a recipe and stay focused, and whip lots of people’s butts in ping-pong.
♦ I’ve wished for the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anyplace. The gift of gab I call it. I’m not a complete introvert, but I live in my head a lot and have to mentally prepare to put myself out there. But I long for connection like everyone else, and I’ve made some amazing ones along the way.
♦ And finally, sometimes I’ve watched with a little envy those fit and able grandmas at basketball and baseball games standing up and cheering for their grandkids. By the time my firstborn came along, the functionality of my mom’s hands, feet, and vocal chords was already starting to diminish and keep her from being the grandma she longs to be, no thanks to Parkinson’s Disease.
But, I still have my Mom (and my wonderful Dad who’s loved her for 57 years). I still get to kiss her silky cheeks, look into her bountiful eyes, and learn from the gratitude she displays like an angel in the midst of one of her greatest didn’t-gets.
You know what? That clock radio I got instead of Merlin turned out to be just what I needed in the years following. The music by my bedside helped me fall asleep at night during some not-so-great junior high years.
Small electronics are no comparison to real matters of the heart, of course. But what I’m trying to say is maybe our did-gets and didn’t-gets are part of a bigger plan that reveals itself in time.
Regardless, I owe it to myself, those I love, and the Babe in the Manger to move beyond dwelling over gifts I didn’t get and appreciate more the ones I did get.
Still hoping to find a salad spinner and new fuzzy socks under the tree, though. After church, of course:-)
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom to two teens and a tween, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between.
This blog, Carvings on a Desk, is where I reconnect with my own voice swirling around in the middle.
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