My daughter decided on the perfect Christmas present about a month and a half ago.
The only problem is her idea about the perfect Christmas gift -- a Nintendo DS -- wasn't in our plans or budget this year.
Back in October, we had opted for a larger family gift with few individual gifts for Christmas. The "we" who made this decision was Andy and me. Ashley, not being part of that decision -- and not really understanding quite what it meant, even when she was informed about it -- remained focused on a DS.
The first time she asked, I told her that I didn't think she would be getting a DS for Christmas. She just looked at me -- quite smuggly -- and said, "That's okay. I'll ask Santa. He'll bring one."
Each time the subject of a DS came up, I tried to prepare her for the reality that she would not be getting a DS for Christmas. And, each time, she remained confident that because she'd asked Santa, she would find a DS under the tree.
One of Ashley's greatest strengths is her boundless enthusiasm. And that has typically made her extremely easy to buy gifts for because she's always excited by whatever she receives.
But this was the first time she had ever staked her hopes so completely on a single wish. So I thought that this year would severely test her ability to be happy with whatever she has.
And, on top of her singular focus on a DS, Ashley has recently added a new act to her drama queen repertoire -- whenever she is in trouble or when things don't go quite the way she planned, she becomes teary and exclaims (multiple times) that "nobody in the family cares about me."
And so, I went to bed on Christmas Eve envisioning all sorts of meltdowns -- because there was no DS, because there weren't enough presents, because she hadn't been consulted on the family gift.
Christmas morning arrived. We opened gifts. And, Ashley was once again excited about each present she opened. After opening gifts, she moved into the kitchen to play with art supplies she had gotten.
And then she said quietly to me, "I didn't get a DS."
Oh, no. Here it comes, I thought. "No, you didn't," I replied.
"But I asked Santa for one." It was a simple statement, no whining, no attitude.
"I know, but you don't always get everything you ask for." I hoped my matter-of-fact tone would lessen the coming explosion.
But, to my surprise, she simply went back to her drawing. And the conversation was over.
Later, she showed me a thank you note she had written: Thank you for a very good Christmas. From Ashley. To Family.
"You had a fun Christmas?" I asked.
"I'm glad," I responded. "What was your favorite part?"
"All of it." Then she paused a minute and added, "But mostly the family time."
"Yeah, I like it when we get to have family time."
Me, too, kiddo, I thought. And shame on me for doubting her.
And she adds to it almost daily. (After all, there are so many things she has to have -- even though it took us well over an hour to clean her room this afternoon.)
But yesterday, she wasn't thinking about what she wanted for Christmas.
As we were getting ready to head out for some final Christmas shopping, she came to me with a very serious look: "Do you think I could buy presents for my birth family?"
When I asked what she had in mind, she said, "Well I don't really know what they'd like, but I want to get them something for Christmas."
I assured her that we'd find something suitable and asked who she'd like to buy gifts for. She named her birth mom, her birth sister and her birth grandmother.
At the store, she quickly settled on candles for her birth mom and a locket for her birth grandmother ("so she can always have my picture").
Her birth sister was a bit harder. She picked up a toy that she would like and asked if I thought her birth sister would like that.
She was a bit sad when I replied, "Well, she's 10, Ash. I'm not sure she still plays with that stuff."
"But then I don't really know what she wants Mom. How do I know what she'd like?" (This is the same child who picks out her brother's gifts based on what she'd really like to play with -- who knew that she really listened all the times I patiently -- or not so patiently -- explained that you buy people what they want, not what you what you want.)
In the end, we settled on a necklace for her sister, and Ashley happily told me, "She'll love this."
We wrapped them tonight. Ashley drew pictures and made a card. And we packaged them up to mail tomorrow.
At bedtime, when I asked "What are you thankful for?", Ashley replied, "All the presents for my birth family. I'm happy because they'll like them."
Next weekend, her focus may only be on what she got for Christmas -- but this weekend at least, she was focused on the giving part of the season.