I have barely put my car in park when I hear Zoe's ardent plea from the backseat. " Mom, can I walk at this store?" It is our last stop and I try to recall how shaky Zoe's legs were when I last helped her back into the car. A quick glance at her face and what I see reassures me. Her eyes are bright, her face slightly flushed, but she is smiling too. All signs that she isn't too tired yet. At this store, we are just picking up something right inside the door, so it is easy to just say yes.
As I help Zoe out of the car, she looks up to me and grinning asks, "Mom, you know what would be the best gift ever?" This is a game we have been playing lately, the girls and I naming both real and imagined items as a best.gift.ever. "What?" I ask pausing, as I picture Zoe's painstakingly prepared Santa list sprinkled with favorites like Barbies and nerf guns.
"Not needing my wheelchair," Zoe replies. "That would be the best gift ever." She is smiling still, this happy kid of mine and in this moment I can't tell if she is content with the understanding that this is a dream gift, as unattainable as the hoverboard she imagined placing at the base of her power chair, or if she is hopeful and excited, believing that maybe one day this gift could be real.
Zoe has always been my Christmas kid. In our home, we celebrate with simple holiday traditions during a season that seems to bring sickness too. We embrace the Christmas jammies, collect seasonal blankets, and stuffed animals and have amassed an impressive collection of holiday DVDs. The season starts with the arrival of our Frasier Fir Christmas tree fresh cut from North Carolina, and we bake sugar cookies through December as the excitement builds for Santa's visit to our home on Christmas Eve.
And then last year Zoe started middle school, and because my kid is so social, I told my husband it was time, we had to have the talk. We whispered and worried, my husband and I, unsure how Zoe would take the news that Santa isn't real. That all of these traditions she loves are based on this one untruth. I couldn't risk the fact that Zoe might be outed and laughed at if we didn't tell her. And so we sat down to talk and Zoe, and in the end, her face full of emotion Zoe looked to her father and I, stunning us by asking, "You did all of this for me?"
Through the years, Zoe continues to teach me to count our blessings with each new item she adds to her Christmas list. A Fisher Price basketball hoop. She has grown stronger and can balance with her walker. A Barbie dream house. Her mind is now full with imaginative skills and she loves pretend play. A deluxe collection of Sharpie pens. The strokes of her pen are steadier now and her grasp stronger, she is delighted with drawing. The pink Rebel Nerf gun. She fills the satchel on the back of her walker with nerf bullets and moves through the house with ease on sneak attacks. The Lego Friends Beach house. With her brain and her hands are in sync, a flashlight to assist her affected vision and a lego base to stabilize her projects, she is able to spend hours building. My blessings grow with each new Christmas list.
I hold out my hand to Zoe and help her step out of the car. Still smiling, she is waiting for my response. Her eyes meet mine and I can't quite tell if it is hope or mischief I see. Still, I guide her forward, adapting my own strong stride to match her smaller, slower steps. I consider the miracles this season brings and I realize that maybe I do believe. Maybe it is hope, maybe it is Zoe's joy, but for now, we can both believe that it can be real. With Zoe's hand tightly held in mine, I sigh. " Yes, Zoe," I say, "that would be the best gift ever."