“Choose one,” I hear myself say. I suck in my breath because I hadn’t known I was going to say it until after I did
I’m in Dollarama picking up some party stuff.
and 11-year-old Simchi is trudging along. Until the toys aisle. He disappears up ahead while I ponder prizes, considering which ones would make a smashing hide-and-seek game for the grandkids. When I meet up with Simchi, he’s fingering die-cast cars.
“Can we buy these?” Simchi asks.
These aren’t mere matchbox cars. They’re as big as half a doughnut, shining, replicated beauties of the ones whizzing by on the street. Metal doors that open. Wheels that roll when pulled back. And five dollars a piece. Plus tax.
I have 70-something dollars in my wallet. I could get the whole lot, all 14 different makes and models. Simchi looks on with hungry eyes.
I see my child self in the toy store, needing all those Hello Kitty things, the one with the red bow and the one with the pink one, cutie bunnies, pink balloons and violet ones, and that coin purse that clicks when snapped shut. “Choose one,” my father says.
Recently, I mentioned to my father, only half in jest, that he never got me a real Cabbage Patch doll just like my best friend, Chavi. He’d had the money, so why hadn’t he?
For my father it was the principle of the thing, the way he lives with less. I don’t quite see life that way. I want more.
Do I get Simchi one car or 14? Maybe ten or five? The uncertainty must have registered on my face, because Simchi starts dumping cars into the shopping cart.
“Choose one,” I hear myself say. I suck in my breath because I hadn’t known I was going to say it until after I did. And now that I said it, I can’t take it back.
Simchi’s mouth droops. “But Mommy,” he says, “they’re all so nice, I can’t only pick one.”
“It’s hard to choose, right?” I empathize. I relate to his feelings, tapping into my child self doting on the Hello Kitties I left on the shelf.
As Simchi inspects cars, gently placing this one here and that one there, I wonder why I don’t just get them all. What’s going to happen if I do?
Something keeps me back though. Maybe it’s the fervor on Simchi’s face as he gently places one red vehicle into the cart. “I like that one,” I say, echoing my father’s voice from so long ago.
I push the cart forward. Simchi stops me, runs back. “I want the green one, too,” he says. He holds both of them up like glistening eternity bands. “See how good they look together?”
“Yes, you’d love to have both,” I say. I’d love for him to have them all. Would have loved to have all the Hello Kitties as a child.
Why can’t Simchi have two cars?
I nod briskly before my mouth defies me, and Simchi places the green car next to the red one in motherly fashion. I scurry to the cash register before Simchi insists he needs the blue car, too, or the black or the gray. And to be super honest, I want to avoid a mind change for myself, too. Because a part of me still wishes for that real Cabbage Patch doll, with its own birth certificate and everything an aspiring mommy needs to giggle with friends. And I’m still not sure why I shouldn’t have excited my son with all those die-cast cars. Why I shouldn’t compensate for all the things my father didn’t buy, so at least my son could have them.
We arrive home laden with packages, and Simchi floats to his room, emerging only to call me. Urgently.
On his closet shelf, emptied from pajamas, a red car and a green one are parked, strategically positioned to face each other. “Look how I set them up,” he says. I look and listen. To his face. His voice. Full of something I’ve rarely seen or heard before. A certain tender excitement I can’t touch.
“They are beautiful,” I say. My voice catches.
That Shabbos, my girls come over with their little ones. Simchi shows his nieces and nephews his beauties, how to pull the cars back so they roll on their own. Before he gives each kid a turn, he checks their hands for any residual stickiness. And when he’s done being a good uncle, he replaces the cars on the shelf and locks his bedroom door.
“Since when is Simchi so careful with his stuff?” my daughter asks.
Since he stretched his heart to choose the best from a lot of 14. Since he only has two of them. Since he knows the meaning of precious.
And so do I.
I cherished that imitation Cabbage Patch doll my father bought me.
Thank you, Tatty.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 829)
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