This week, I’m thinking about the parents and guardians who are charged with the immense responsibility of caring for the children of the incarcerated. These individuals are often left to manage and maintain this situation with no assistance and no societal compassion to lean on. My mother did this work, as did my grandmother, and every other adult who showed up to fill the supportive role my father could not perform due to his own actions, and the compounding obstacles of incarceration. The people who take on this work are magic-makers for the ones who have given up on magic too early. I wanted to share this story with you about one of the ways my mother made magic for her children. I’m still so damn grateful. Talk soon!
When I was a small child, my brother and I made Christmas lists, and drew stars next to the presents we wanted most. My mother would collect our lists at some point in the month or so before the gift-giving season commenced, and remind us that just because we wanted something didn’t mean we were going to get it. Then she would go about her usual pre-holiday routine of working overtime at the county jail for weeks. My brother, baby sister, and I would spend a lot of that time in my grandmother’s apartment, just up the road.
We would almost forget about our lists until the holiday was nearer, plus we knew that asking about them directly was not allowed. We teach kids to believe in magic, but some kids learn earlier than others that Mama is all the magic you have. We could want from her, but we couldn’t push. We taught ourselves to forget the lists for as long as we could. And sometimes, if we were really quiet about it, we got to open one present early on Christmas Eve.
I remember one of those magical Christmas Eve’s, a perfect one. I was about six years old, which would have made my brother five, and my sister closing in on her first year. We were watching A Christmas Story, and just as we were introduced to the familiar ache of childhood want and the gleaming allure of a Red Ryder BB gun, there was a knock at the door. My mother stood to answer it, and we all followed behind her like little ducks.
When she opened the door, two police officers stood in the frame. It had already begun to snow, and as they greeted my mother with familiar smiles-friends from her job, I assumed-I watched the snowflakes fall onto the shoulders of their uniforms, and stick to the heavy, navy fabric. They each held a gift in their hands. The taller one told us these gifts were sent to us by our dad, who we both knew was in prison, but had no idea he was able to send us presents! They said our dad wanted to get us special things, that he loved and missed us. We opened the gifts, right there in the doorway, with our mother’s permission, her smile beaming down on us the whole time.
My gift was a Power Rangers fanny pack. It was the thing I’d wanted most of all, and I’d drawn a big star next to it in the same color as my favorite ranger. Yellow. I turned it over in my hands, zipping and unzipping it’s singular pocket, thinking of what I would keep inside, and how excited I would be to show it off to my friends in school. My dad sent this to me? How did he know? I wondered, but only for a moment. I was six, and so excited that some kind of magic had finally shown up for my little family that I left my curiosity alone and returned to the moment.
After we said goodbye to my mother’s officer friends, I asked if I could call my grandmother and tell her what my daddy sent me. I couldn’t wait. My mother said I could, and I ran upstairs to use the corded phone in her bedroom. My grandmother asked me to slow down several times while I explained to her what had just happened, but she understood me in the end, and told me to remember to thank God for my blessing. I came back downstairs, my mother was helping my brother assemble his gift from our father-another starred present. I stood there watching them, feeling happy, but like something was happening I couldn’t fully grasp. The truth tugged at me, and I felt myself being pulled toward understanding. Then, my mother looked up at me and smiled. She was radiant. She asked if I wanted to keep watching the movie. I told her I did. “Good!” She said, “We were waiting for you.”