I don't mean this in a despondent way -- what I don't mean is that life has stood still, or that we haven't picked up the pieces and moved forward, at least a little. But what's been bugging me since last Christmas is that I know Kate will never get another gift from Nana, and that Daniel will never get one at all.
That's heartbreaking enough -- I can only imagine what my Mom was planning for Kate's Sweet Sixteen -- but I realized this weekend as we celebrated Kate's birthday that it goes one step further: All the gifts Kate has from my Mom are frozen at two years old, and the association Kate makes between those things and her Nana is tenuous at best. That's what I couldn't quite fully grasp, and what led to some tears on Sunday evening.
This isn't materialistic in any way. Though the gift matters, what's more important is the experience that we have with the gifts, and the understanding of who gave them to us and what it means to the giver. This has always been kind of a big deal in my family -- gift-opening occasions were scripted; every box and envelope had a story to go with it. Heck, some years we even had a certain order we needed to follow! This went for very lean years, when just a handful of gifts were given at a birthday or appeared under the tree at Christmas; and also for better years, when my Mom sometimes single-handedly accounted for the profit margin of Amazon.com. Every gift had a story.
It was bittersweet to celebrate Kate's birthday this weekend. The photo above sort of captures it best: A very close family friend gave this rolly bag to Kate. She's always wanted one of her own, and our friend's daughter has a similar one; Kate fell in love instantly, and immediately set about to fill every single pocket with books and small items that mean something special to her. If you look closely, in the left outer pocket is a small sock monkey keychain; in one unforgettable moment, she looked at the pocket on the opposite side and muttered "hmm ... just. a. second" before disappearing in her room and coming back with a Princess magic wand that she used to fill the last available spot. "There," she said, in the perfect innocent joy that only a three-year-old can feel.
We are grateful to our friend for this gift that means so much to Kate -- she even insisted on bringing it to the Holiday Parade the next day. But I also have to admit, it breaks my heart into a thousand pieces: I had always assumed that my Mom would give Kate her first rolly bag. I don't know that it was ever a conscious thought, but that's just the way my Mom was -- she would find fun toys and knick-knacky things that might not last a season, but then she always managed to find that One Thing -- or sometimes two or three One Things -- that inspired. She'd always call us: "Well, I found this Thing. I'm not sure she'll like it, and it might be too old for her; what do you think?" Honestly, it didn't matter if we agreed or not -- Mom already ordered it, probably had it in hand, and was going to give it to Kate, no matter what. And it was always a hit.
We don't get to do that any longer. And over the next few years, the special gifts from Mom that mean so much right now will begin to fade into the background. The silly little farmhouse that makes noise when you push a ball through -- Kim and I were sure it would be a flop at Kate's first birthday; instead, here it is two years later, still getting almost daily use. The Fisher Price animal toysets. The Little People car garage. Daniel will inherit some of these -- if Kate lets him -- but in six or seven years, they'll have both outgrown most of them, and our fifth- and second-graders will have moved on.
For sure, there are a couple of things that Kate will have forever. The quilts my Mom made -- one for Kate, one for her dolls. (That, in a moment that overwhelmed me, she shared with her brother when he was first born.) The art easel that was probably a bit of a stretch last Christmas for a two-year-old, but that she has grown into and is a fixture in our front room. And the copy of Winken, Blinken and Nod that Mom gave to Kate, with a note in the front, after her heart was broken when we moved to North Carolina.
Kate is currently fascinated with how she got things. "Who gave me this present?" she asks with everything. "Where did this come from?" she says. And we're happy to share with her the love of her Grandma and Grandpa, her Grandpa, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, our friends. And especially her Nana, whom we talk about regularly, reminding her how much Nana loved her. But, sadly, it's also become noticeable that the memories have faded -- she likes the idea of Christmas, but her memory only extends as far back as last Easter. She doesn't really remember her birthday party last Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve with my family, the last times she shared with her Nana. I try hard not to project my sadness on her when she asks about the easel -- she does not weep for that which she does not know, or understand -- but it's tough to talk to her without crying for what might have been. What should have been.
Our little girl is growing up, becoming a little lady. Over time, gifts will track the years, and special presents from her Grandparents, and our families, and our friends will hold their own meaning for her. But today, right now, I can only imagine what my Mom would have said when we sent her the photo of Kate, in her party dress, with her new rolly bag. "Oh, Miss Kate!" she'd say. "You are getting to be such a Big Girl!"