I’ve seen plenty of kids have meltdowns in the toy store.
Whether they’re just having a bad day, they’re tired, or they’re having a moment of wanting all the toys, it happens and moms who aren’t newbies any more don’t even bat an eye at the sight.
But what if it were the mom who was crying, no child to be found?
I’d driven an hour to get to the not-a-chain toy store with the shelves stocked with unique toys and staffed by employees who offer helpful suggestions.
I’d been there several times before, my three boys in tow. And I remembered how they’d exclaimed over unique finds, adding countless items to their toys-I-want-someday list.
So I figured I could head there and get almost all their Santa gifts in one quick visit.
But I’d remembered that last trip a little wrong.
I quickly found a ton for my oldest, who has loved STEM based toys since way before that was even a buzz word we tossed around. My budget stopped me from telling the helpful employees to simply wrap up all the items in aisles 2 and 3, along with about half the games in the front corner.
For my youngest, I added outdoor toys and sports equipment I hadn’t seen anywhere else, knowing how much fun he’d have playing with it. Toss in a few games and a joke book and he was all set.
My pile of toys behind the counter was growing but nothing had jumped out at me as something my middle son would love.
And I really thought about our last trip there, on our way home from a karate tournament. And I realized that though he’d liked looking around, he hadn’t specifically shown an interest in anything in particular. It hadn’t registered at the time because we had just been browsing, the only buying we did that day being milkshakes from a shop a few doors down to celebrate their tournament wins.
I went up and down each aisle, slowly. Sometimes pausing and looking at something, but more often than not realizing without looking any closer that the toy in question wouldn’t be a fit.
It’s not that he’s a picky child or ungrateful. I could have chosen anything and given it to him and he’d respond with a “wow!” and a “thank you!”
But nothing was really something he’d truly love. No perfect gift for him while there were literally stacks of perfect gifts for his brothers.
Gifts that show I know them, that I get them, that I thought about it and found that fit.
There wasn’t anything like that for my middle son. I’d known he would be the hardest to shop for but I’d hoped inspiration would strike.
Yet it didn’t.
My sweet boy. He has the best heart. Pleased by the simplest kind gesture.
He’s not as easily defined as his brothers are.
So says the alphabet soup of labels you’ll find in his doctor and school files, though even if you didn’t know specifically what to say those labels were, you’d spend time with him and get that vague undercurrent of otherness. Not a bad otherness(not unless different scares you) but different nonetheless.
There’s no easy gift to buy for that.
And so my eyes started to water. Because shouldn’t this be simple? It’s just buying Santa toys, damnit.
He should have that same moment of joy his brothers would get on Christmas morning.
I’m his mom. His favorite person in this world(dad knows this truth). If I can’t find something for him, I’m a failure.
It’s a hell of special needs parenting: those little moments that are easy with our other kids and so hard with another.
I berated myself. Not even silently because I’d hit that point of muttering aloud to myself.
This wasn’t a big deal. My kids were all getting a good Christmas this year. Not a no-budget buy-the-whole-store type of Christmas, but we’d saved enough to make it a good one. I didn’t have to worry about if they’d have any presents under the tree. We’d had that experience years before and other years where only a few gifts could be under the tree. I know that feeling. That’s one to shed a few tears over. Not standing in the middle of a fun toy store with a reasonably budgeted Christmas toy allowance in purse. Cry me a river, right?
And I wasn’t trying to create a perfect Christmas memory because it was going to be a child’s or a parent’s last. Nothing dramatic or heartbreaking going on. Really, I needed to wipe away the tears and realize this wasn’t a big deal.
So, I bought what I had put aside for my other boys, and left the store. It’s not like you try to reason with the toddler having a meltdown in the toy store, you just get the hell out of there. And that’s what I needed to do, too.
Right now is where I should tell you that inspiration struck as soon as I was out on the sidewalk, in the fresh air. That I immediately felt better or some such tie-it-up-with-a-pretty-bow ending to this story.
But sometimes, the story doesn’t really have an easy conclusion, because it’s not really about the ending, but admitting that some feelings simply are what they are and some moments are just hard.