The Most Expensive Christmas Present
We spent our first Christmas in New York. I bought a Snoopy Christmas tree two blocks from our apartment and decorated it before Jack came home from work. It was the cutest little thing. It was only about four feet tall, which was perfect, because I put it on top of a table, so Gavin couldn’t reach it.
“Honey, what’s this?” Jack asked when he walked in the door.
“What does it look like?” I responded annoyed. I wonder if Jack would ever just walk in the door and be excited, especially since I worked so hard.
Jack looked at me and said, “It looks nice, really nice.”
It came out too sweetlybut when he walked over and gave me a hug, I said, “Hey. Where’s the kiss?” Jack brushed my cheek with his hand and gave me a kiss. “I bought it in front of the grocery store and then carried it home, while pushing Gavin in the stroller.”
“Oh. Was it expensive?” Really, that is what Jack wanted to know. What happened to being impressed that I carried a tree with one hand, while pushing a stroller with the other. I didn’t even mention that I had grocery bags swinging back and forth from the hook on the stroller. Admittedly, though, this was something that women regularly did in New York City.
“Yes, Jack, our Snoopy tree cost $50. Plus, I had to buy the dinky tree stand, so that was another $10 and let’s not forget about the ornaments,” I said harshly.
“Wait a minute, I was just asking. Why are you so snippy?”
“I just wanted you to be impressed and not ask me twenty questions about the darn tree,” I said.
“I love the tree. I’m sorry. Didn’t I say that?” Jack rushed out.
“No, you never said you like the tree. Sorry, I’m just tired and the tree was a pain to set up,” I said.
We hugged and then resumed our typical nighttime ritual. Gavin was fed before Jack got home. Jack was good about changing Gavin and putting him to bed. Sometimes the two of them would take baths together. It was the most endearing thing. I could hear Jack singing to Gavin and Gavin would coo right back. It was these simple things that made my heart grow bigger with love…for the both of them.
It was silly of me to put the tree on the table, because Gavin was only three months old and he wasn’t moving much at all. However, all the parenting magazines and websites I read terrified me that somehow he was going to crawl over to the tree, knock it over and then get strangled by a cord of lights. Gavin was an amazing baby, but he did not possess any magical baby abilities.
We downloaded music from iTunes. Jack and I sat around Christmas morning and sang Gavin old-time Christmas standards. “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh...” Jack and I sang in the most horrendous melody ever heard. However, Gavin was sweet; he smiled at the sounds of our voices. Neither Jack nor I had voices that were worthy of our little boy, but we sang all the time anyway.
I bought Christmas stockings with our names embroidered on them and a few presents for each of us. I hung the stockings from the dresser that our TV was on and put the presents underneath. It wasn’t the Christmas that I imagined having when I was a child, but it really couldn’t have been any better, unless my parents were there. They were at my sister’s house in Massachusetts.
We put Gavin down for his morning nap and waited for Jack’s buddies to show up. Surprisingly, two of them decided to stay in the city rather than go to their parents’ house in the suburbs.
“Merry Christmas,” Jack sang as he opened the door to his buddies. They started to sing ‘Silent Night,’ but quickly turned bright red and stopped.
“We brought you a present,” they said. I should have known. It was a twelve pack of Stella and a bottle of Kahlua. “We trust you have some milk,” they said to Jack and handed him the Kahlua
With a sigh, I thought to myself, there goes the afternoon. I didn’t really mind, but then again I really did. Our apartment was small and there was nowhere to escape to, except the bedroom where Gavin was sleeping.
I ended up taking a long nap and then I woke up with a start. “Jack, I’m going to the drug store,” I said as I walked into our living room.
“Ok, Sweetie. How was your nap?” Jack asked.
“I didn’t realize that I was so tired. I hope your friends didn’t think I was rude,” I said with a smirk, knowing that his friends didn’t really like me and were probably happy that I slept through their visit.
“No, they understand that we just had a baby,” he said as I put on my Jacket.
“I’ll be quick. You might need to give Gavin another bottle, if he wakes up. I should only take five minutes though.”
I was quick. I grabbed what I needed at Duane Reade and went straight back to the apartment. When I got home, Jack was lovingly staring into Gavin’s eyes, while giving him a bottle.
“Oh, he’s up? I didn’t think he’d wake up. That was quick,” I said.
“Um, well, I might have woken him up,” Jack admitted. “I missed him today when my friends were over.”
“Jack, you can’t keep waking up Gavin whenever you want to. Haven’t you heard that you aren’t supposed to wake a sleeping baby?” I asked.
“Gavin doesn’t mind. He goes right back to sleep. Besides, he told me that he misses me too,” Jack smiled.
We played with Gavin for a bit after he had his bottle. Well, Gavin was still young so there wasn’t a lot you could do with him. We mainly played music, sang and danced around. Gavin loved dancing.
After putting Gavin to bed, I went into the bathroom, put my pajamas on and cleaned up. I came out of the bathroom and stood in front of Jack, “I have one more present for you,” I said.
“Really? I didn’t get you anything else,” he confessed.
“It’s the most expensive thing I could think of,” I said standing with my hands behind my back.
“Is it a watch?” he asked.
“No,” and I handed him the pregnancy test, which read ‘pregnant’ in the window.
“Oh my goodness,” he screamed. “Not another tampon,” and we both lost ourselves in hysterics.
“Shhh…Gavin’s sleeping.” I put my finger over my mouth for emphasis and couldn’t contain myself and started laughing again.
“That’s fantastic,” he said, as he swooped me onto his lap and into a loving embrace. “I’m so happy,” he gushed.
“I was nervous you were going to think we got pregnant too soon,” I whispered in his ear.
“No, I’m truly happy. I love you,” he softly sang.
“I love love you too,” I said right back and kissed him.
We went to my parents’ house the following day to celebrate Christmas. Jack had already agreed to let me tell my parents about the pregnancy. I took my positive pregnancy test and put it into my mom’s stocking. “Hey Mom, I think Santa put something in your stocking,” I said.
“We don’t do stockings. They’re for the kids,” she said. I got my mom’s stocking down from the mantle and handed it to her, “Mom, you might miss out on a nice present, if you don’t even look.” My mother begrudgingly took the stocking from my hand and reached into it.
“What’s this?” my mom said, as she pulled the stick out.
“What does it say?” I asked my mom.
She flipped it around and around, “Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed. “You’re pregnant again.”
“I can’t touch your daughter without getting her pregnant,” Jack boasted and we all chuckled. I think we were all relieved that Jack and I were going to be able to have the family that his doctor doubted we would ever be able to have.
January 21st was the day I had to go back to work, according to the letter I received from human resources. I knew that I was lucky to have a four-month maternity leave. I read on a mommy message board that some women didn’t have any maternity leave. I dreaded going back to work. I couldn’t imagine working thirteen to fifteen hour days and having any meaningful role in Gavin’s life. However, I did want to work, so as soon as I could zip up the skirt on my interviewing suit (I didn’t care about the muffin top, because the suit Jacket covered it), I had been interviewing with hedge funds.
“We heard through the grapevine,” the human resource woman at Bull Stein said on the phone, “that you might not want to return to work.”
It was January 15th and I was prepared to return to work. I lined up the nanny, who for a small fortune, was willing to clean our apartment and run errands. She babysat for us a handful of times and I knew that I would come to love her. I think Gavin already did. “Excuse me?”
“We still have your job. You are expected back at work on the 21st.”
“Yes, I’m planning to come back to work next Monday.” …only because I didn’t find another job. I cannot stand working at Bull Stein, BS. Funny, how we people say ‘BS’ instead of bullshit.
“Ok, however, we do have a nice severance package that we could offer you, if you’re interested.”
Oh, I’m interested. If I never step inside the glass lobby that rattled whenever a MetroNorth train rolled into Grand Central Station, I’d be a very happy person. “Why don’t you put it in the mail and I’ll review it.”
“Will you be home today, because I can messenger it over?”
“Gavin naps from 11:30 to 2:30, so I’ll definitely be home then.” This could be good. I could spend a few more months with Gavin and then go back to work. Although then I’d be showing with this baby and probably would have a difficult time getting a job. Hmm…a lot to think about.
The messenger arrived before I even had a chance to shower. I knew that BS was having a hard time. The mortgage crisis started to unfold in August and it was only getting worse. BS must be looking for ways to reduce expenses. I tore open the envelope giving myself a paper cut in the process and skimmed the letter. Right in the middle was a little table. My severance payment would be twice my salary and my bonus would be paid in full. I would receive both payments on January 31st.
I immediately called Jack and told him that I was not going back to work.
With another baby on the way, Jack and I finally accepted that we needed to move. In mid January, I went house hunting in Summit, NJ, the town where I grew up. Jack opted not to go, because it was early in our search and we were unsure as to whether we really wanted to move out of the city. Beth Colsby was the realtor who showed my mother and me various houses.
Beth, I believe, was a Summit icon. She was the best realtor in the area, but, more importantly, she was the best person. I met her when I was twenty and went to visit a good friend’s mother who was dying of cancer. Beth and my friend’s mother were best friends. The two women, who were in their early 40s, at the time, invited me to join them for lunch and treated me as an equal. Not a little child that a lot of adults sometimes treat college kids. We talked about my forthcoming trip to Australia. However, we spent most of the time talking about the adventures and life experiences my friend’s mother hoped her daughters would have. She feared that they might stop living life to its fullest. It was a poignant lunch, clearly, since twenty years later, I still remember sitting at the sunny kitchen table, sharing lunch with two best friends.
Beth lost her best friend before I returned from my semester abroad in Australia, but that wasn’t the worst of the tragedies that Beth had to survive. Ten years later her little girl, who was as beautiful as her mother, was living out her dreams of working and living in New York City. One night while she was reading by candlelight, she fell asleep. A fire started and Beth’s beautiful, little girl didn’t survive. It breaks my heart just thinking about it. It was worse than that, though. The week prior to her daughter’s death, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. I knew that Beth would be as devastated as any mother would be at losing her daughter and having to manage her husband’s cancer. To me, the remarkable thing is that Beth didn’t let these tragedies destroy her. I see her occasionally and she still sparkles and glows with happiness and kindness.
I had Gavin with me, who was four months old, so we took my car as we drove around Summit. I knew a lot about the different neighborhoods and schools, but I knew I’d be happy living anywhere in Summit. First, we looked at a nice, white colonial. It was a classic four bedroom with two and a half baths. It was built in the 1940s and had beautiful, hardwood floors throughout. The master bedroom seemed huge compared to our apartment’s bedroom, but it wasn’t that big for the house and the master bathroom, although fully modernized, was tiny. Jack and I were masters at managing a small bathroom. However, there was no way I was going to leave my beloved city and still have a closet for a bathroom. The house also had pretty small backyard, which would mean little upkeep, but also meant that there wouldn’t be a lot of room for Gavin and our second to run around.
We entered the second house and the hardwood floors in the entry foyer glistened. The eat-in kitchen was spacious with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, although the appliances were not nearly the quality that we bought for our apartment. There were three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor, including the master suite. The master bath had counter-height vanities, heated floors and all-glass shower doors, not to mention other amenities (oh, I couldn’t wait to use the steam shower). In fact, it also had two bedrooms on the third floor, including a suite that would be perfect for a live-in nanny. We would need a nanny when I returned to work.
I was looking at the bedroom suite on the third floor when my stomach started cramping. I doubled over in pain and went to the bathroom. I felt a gush of blood leave me and quickly realized that I was having a miscarriage. My eyes welled up with tears and somehow I calmly asked for my mother. I wasn’t prepared to handle this, not emotionally, nor with any sanitary supplies. I told my mom what was happening. While I was still sitting on the toilet, she leaned down and hugged me. I sobbed, a gut wrenching sob, and felt like I never wanted to get off the toilet. I just wanted to stay there and cry.
Then I felt guilty. How dare I cry over a blob that didn’t even have arms and legs, when Beth was in the other room with holes in her heart, deep painful holes? I thought. I started beating myself up over my insensitivity. I didn’t mind if Beth knew I suffered a miscarriage. It was going to be pretty obvious that something happened. However, I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I lost a dream, a dream of a little girl, a dream of a sister for Gavin, a granddaughter for my mother, another cousin for my nieces and nephews. It was a dream I only had for a few shorts weeks. However, I still felt the painful ache of loss in my heart.
Beth’s losses were real. She had lost her confidant, her best friend, the sharer of her secrets. Then she lost her daughter, her first born, a young woman who carried 50% of Beth everywhere she went. Her first loss was heart breaking. Beth’s second lost was soul shattering.
I knew this as I sat on the toilet, so I pulled myself together and left the safety of the bathroom. We left the second house, the beautiful, red brick house that we were no longer in a rush to buy. We stopped at the drug store downtown and made our way to see another house and another house. I wanted to say that we no longer needed a new house, but that would have only made my loss more real.
I felt like I was living in slow motion. I had a difficult time holding it together. It took all my energy to concentrate on what Beth was saying. I didn’t want to be rude or draw attention to the fact that my heart was breaking. I thought that if my body kept moving forward then my heart would too, otherwise it would crumble in a million pieces.
Gavin and I stayed the night at my parents’ house. It was a very lonely night. It was the first time that I was bummed that Gavin started sleeping twelve hours through the night at eight weeks. I wished that he would stay awake with me. I needed someone to hug me, cuddle with me, let me cry. I needed Jack.
“Jack, did I wake you up?” I asked when I called at 11pm. I pretty much knew that Jack would be awake, but you never know for sure.
“Sweetie, are you ok?” he compassionately asked.
“No, I’m miserable. We were going to have a girl,” I said.
“I thought it was too early to know the sex,” Jack said, trying to appease me.
“I went to a bunch of the Chinese gender prediction websites and they all said it was a girl. I lost my little girl,” I said crying.
“Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry. I know that she will never be replaced, but we can try again. We’ll have a girl.”
“But what about this little girl?” I said, knowing that I was starting to sound pathetic, but not being able to help myself.
“I’m sad too,” he said, “I lost my little girl too. I’m sorry. I wish we could get her back, but we can’t. The best I can offer you is to try again.”
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that Jack would be sad too. I guess since I was the one going through all the physical issues related to pregnancy and miscarriage, I thought the loss would mean more to me than it did to Jack.
I pretty much had stopped listening to whatever else Jack said. He wasn’t saying what I needed to hear. I wanted him to say that maybe I wasn’t miscarrying. I needed to hear that I was still pregnant, that I didn’t lose my little girl. I lost my little girl, I thought and started sobbing.
I pictured my little girl’s nursery in the brick house in Summit. The floors were a beautiful mahogany, so I thought I’d put a feminine, pink, oval rug in front of her crib. I decided that my little girl deserved a new crib, so I got her a white, rod-iron one that had nice detailing on the rails and sold Gavin’s Pottery Barn espresso-finished crib on Craig’s List. I wallpapered her walls with white wallpaper that had soft, pink bows on it. My favorite detail was the white rocker with pink piping. I pictured myself rocking my little girl as I sobbed my self to sleep.
My little girl is gone, was the last thought I had until Gavin woke me up in the morning. I walked over to his crib and he smiled at me when I went to pick him up. I felt like he knew why I was so sad. I felt guilty for being so sad. I had a beautiful, baby boy right here. He needed me as much as I needed him.
“I love you Gavin,” I said and he cooed back to me.
With pain in my heart, I softly sang our morning song,
“Good morning, good morning.
It’s time to say good morning.
Hello, I love you.
It’s time to start the day.”
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