Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Koala

Me--in 1976 (or '77)

There's nothing quite like shopping during the season.  I love the hustle and bustle of all the people trying to find that perfect gift for those they love.  I love the Christmas music blaring through my car stereo--although my kids get sick of 101.1  (they start Christmas music 24 hours a day the day after Thanksgiving--and it gets played until January 1st).  I love the crisp, cold December air and the wispy, white smoke made by that cold air.  There's something comforting about sitting in my family room, lit by the white lights on the Christmas tree and a fire in the fireplace, which is adorned with a stocking for each member of our family.  I could snuggle under a blankie and bask in this glow all day.  I love it.

Today, as my husband and I were doing some last minute shopping, I was reminded of a time when Christmas was about anything BUT the presents.  When I was growing up, there was not a tree every year--and the few times there were, I don't remember any ornaments.  There were no traditions of shopping until dropping or putting out cookies for Santa.  I wasn't ever allowed to believe--perhaps that's why having my children believe was so important to me.

I recall a time, when I was about 9 years old, being in Milwaukee's Grand Avenue Mall.  It was quite the spectacle--complete with an ice skating rink in the middle of the mall.  I was mesmerized, excited by all the lights, the people, the happiness in the air.  And that's when I saw it--in the middle of the mall on a huge display of potbelly bears was a koala potbelly bear.  My eyes lit up and I asked my mom if I could pick it up.  She gave me the nod of assent and I immediately wrapped the koala bear in my arms.  We (my brother, sisters and I) didn't ask for presents.  But this time I couldn't refrain.  This bear was the only thing I wanted in the entire world.

With sadness in my heart, my mom took the bear out of my arms and placed it back on the display.  I remember looking back at the koala, with tears in my eyes, and I dragged myself away from the bears.  I tried to forget about that bear, but she already had found a place in my heart.  Each night when I went to bed, I prayed that the koala would find its way back to me.

On Christmas morning, after going to church, my parents gathered us around to give us our gift.  We each received one gift--so different from the piles that sit beautifully wrapped under my tree today.  There was no tearing of paper--we savored unwrapping our one present and this time was no exception.  I was nervous, knowing that there was no way I was getting that koala.  It was an $8.00 bear--way too expensive of a gift for just one person.  But there was still a small part of me that hoped it'd be there.

When the paper finally came off of my gift, tears began to pour from my eyes.  Never in my life had I been so grateful.  Inside the box was my potbelly koala bear--who would become my Henry's best friend and my 2nd life-long confidante.

33 years later, I still have that potbelly koala bear.  She serves as a reminder of unselfishness.  She takes me back to the days when life was simple.  And while I wasn't allowed to believe in Santa during Christmas, I was allowed to believe in dreams, in hope, in wishing--and my little koala was proof that dreams do come true.

Every year when I go a little nuts over the holidays, I know it's because I want those around me to feel the way I did as a little 9-year-old kid.  That magic that filled my heart, thanks to my parents and that little koala bear.

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