I was listening to the radio this morning as strangers shared extraordinary efforts they had gone to in order to procure a special gift at Christmas. As I listened, my mind drifted to recent attempts at meeting my children’s wild requests, but I soon found myself wistfully recalling a Christmas of my own, when I was ten years old and living in the remote town of Awassa, Ethiopia.
The town, in this time, had no stores that I can remember. We bought all our fresh food from the outdoor market, dry goods including powdered milk and coveted cheese and chocolate had to be picked up in Addis Ababa, the capital and a four hour drive away. Our clothing, books, personal items, games etc. had all been shipped from Canada. So you can imagine what Christmas gifts were to look like that year; my mom and I were sewing small gifts, stringing beads, and baking. My brother helped decorate paper for wrapping, crafted ornaments for our house plants, and we all looked desperately forward to seeing the Canadian nurses who worked in the hospital near our town.
As an adult, I now cringe when I think about what I did to my parents that year.
You see, it was 1985 and I wanted a Care Bear. I desperately, passionately, needed a Care Bear. I couldn’t imagine life without the loveable toy that all my friends had, and I did not. Don’t get me wrong; I was a grateful and happy child. I knew full well the barriers to buying things at that time in our lives. To this day, I have twisted big toes from wearing too-small shoes for too long. I didn’t complain. I loved my days filled with sun, dust, dogs and chickens. I finished my grade 5 correspondence courses in four months and spent the rest of my days helping in the garden, climbing trees and washing puppies in the bidet.
But I needed that Care Bear.
I don’t know a lot of details about how it happened, only that it involved a Korean paper catalogue that needed translating and a lot of shipping fees. What I do remember is the palatable excitement in my thumping body when I was presented with the Care Bear-sized box, the anticipation on my parents’ faces, the smirk from my too-cool brother watching from the sidelines and the foreign writing on the side of the beat up cardboard box. I could hardly wait to squeeze the love out of that soft magical bear, come to fill my days with friendship and wonder.
When I finally got into the box, through the tightly packaged cardboard and copious bubble wrap, my heart sunk.
It was a lamp.
It was a baby blue lamp with Sleepy Care Bear sitting on a cloud.
I feigned excitement, assured my happiness to the darting eyes that saw tragedy on the horizon, and dutifully plugged it in beside my bed, where it sat until returning to Canada. If I’m not mistaken, it stills sits wrapped in my mother’s attic, awaiting the day of rediscovery.
A couple of years later back in Canada I discovered that what I really had needed was a Cabbage Patch doll, but by that time I had learned that there were far more important needs to be met, and shrugged a disinterested response when queried by friends about my lack thereof. But what stays with me now, as a parent of a ten year old, is that incredible desire to please a child, guilty of spoiling or not. That desire to see the smile, the satisfaction of success, even for a moment, outweighs all efforts made.
Thanks Mom and Dad. It might have taken me a *few years to realize it, but I love that Care Bear lamp, and all it meant.