Tess's Christmas Wish Comes True

One of the things that’s hardest about living with Tess is the time when we aren’t sure what she knows. Does she realize it’s the holiday season? Sure, she’s not in school for a couple weeks, and that’s kind of irritating for her. On Christmas Day we wrestle her into a pair of tights and a dress, and she essentially gives us the finger but also kind of tolerates it. We believe she knows it’s to accomplish maximum cuteness. And we see a lot of family over those two weeks, but does she have an inkling about why?

The standard 6-year-old’s mania about presents and the tree and waiting? Wishlists and letters to Santa? Watching for the elf? We get none of that from her.

She’s nonverbal and only knows a few signs, so mostly she can’t tell us what she knows or what she’s thinking about, beyond her standard daily routines of eating and sleeping and heading to the loo. But one thing’s for sure. In the past week, our girl showed us definitively that she can feel and express gratitude. Just like anybody else does.

It’s a pretty highfalutin' concept, if you think about it. Being grateful requires you to see how things are, assess the situation and compare it to either a situation that previously existed, or one that could have existed but doesn’t. In other words, you have to see that things could have otherwise comparatively sucked, and instead are awesome.

So let me tell you how it all went down. This past December, Maine was downright bizarre, weather-wise. Not that I’m complaining even a little bit. Each day it was usually in the 50s, without even a hint of snow until after Christmas. Which makes my life, um, about a thousand times easier. No snow pants, no gloves or hat, no boots for Tess. Just a light jacket and a pair of regular shoes. So much better. She loves the cold but resents the confinement, the straps and velcros, the coverings of those anti-snow measures. She uses teeth to pull them off, removing them within seconds while in her carseat. Did I miss fishing for her drooly mittens in the recesses of the car and fighting to put them back on her? Heck, no.

But it was strange not to have a white Christmas. Or even a single flake until about December 28 or so. And that’s why when it finally did snow, a nice little 6-inch covering in the night, we didn’t hesitate. We all donned our gear after breakfast and headed outside. It was sunny but still snowing a bit. It was still early, so the plow guy hadn’t made it to our house yet. The sunlight made the snow sparkle. This was the first year Tess could walk on her own, so I held her hand and we made our way into the driveway.

And in her face, there was an instant change. All her irritation of the previous week or so of being kept out of school and having her routine disrupted, that all fell away. Sometimes you can’t really catch her eye, or if you do, you can’t tell what she’s seeing or if she’s seeing. But this was the opposite of that. She saw the snow. She could discern that outside was different now. Gone were the brownish grass and sad, leafless trees. Everything was transformed. And most importantly, it was cold.

If you’ve followed my stories about Tess, you’ll remember a recent one about taking her in a pool, just a month or two ago, when something came over her while she was floating in the water. This was sort of like that. And even further back than her dip in the pool, you might recall how she behaved when we came back from a February trip to Puerto Rico, back to the single-degree temperatures and harsh winds of Maine. Our girl was delighted when that happened. She’s a cold-weather gal, no question.

How can I describe it? Well, she made eye contact. And kept it. She’d lock on to you, as if sending a message through the intensity of her gaze. She was saying: “This. This this this. Let’s keep walking in the snow. Let’s stay out here all day. Let’s never go inside.” She was saying, “Where has this excellent white stuff been these past weeks?”

More than anything, Tess was intensely happy. She wanted to taste the snow, so I kept picking up tiny handfuls and letting her eat it. She loved how it felt, how quickly it melted, how it was cold-cold-cold and then gone.

There’s plenty of stuff that makes Tess happy. And luckily, we know many things that do make her happy. Swimming. Horseback riding. The swing at school. Geez, tons of stuff at school. But I think sometimes as the parents of a kid like Tess, we can end up not seeing enough of that. Sometimes instead we end up just hearing about it, and for a few days in a row we wind up seeing her not-so-happy: frustrated because she needed to pee and she didn’t need to go when we brought her to the potty 10 minutes earlier, mad because lunch is over, sad because she’s overtired and has reflux and can’t seem to get to sleep.

But here was T, right in front of us, in her pink parka and pink snow pants, waddling around our driveway on her own, checking everything out. Pretty much beside herself with joy.

We had family in town, a bunch of cousins, who got cold and tired and headed inside after a bit. T wore a hat, mittens and the kind of snow pants that are good at keeping snow out of your boots, but her face was getting a little cold. I’d whip off my gloves from time to time and feel her cheeks. Nevertheless, we stayed. Just when it seemed like we should call it a day, I fought that feeling and we stayed. And kept staying out there. I don’t know how long it was. There were little Tess footprints all through our driveway. She stayed on her feet most of the time, occasionally dropping to the ground (but I think it was actually on purpose, so she could eat more snow).

Here was another cool thing--I kept trying to give her some room, to let her walk around on her own, but before long she made it clear: She wanted me to stay close, to keep holding her hand and exploring with her. She was saying, “Come on, Dad, play with me.” She had a ball. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier or more grateful.

Merry Christmas, T-Bird. Glad we could get you the snow and icy cold you had on your Christmas list, even if it wound up getting here a few days late.