“If happiness came in a box”

by singlemomseeking on December 24, 2008

This is a guest post from my single mom friend Annie Kassof, an amazing writer, illustrator, and mom.

These holidays, I’m sending so much love to her family, all of whom I adore. All comments welcome.


A few years ago I drove to OSH so my kids, at their request, could get me my Christmas present. I remember this as an especially poignant moment—sitting in my car watching the two of them walk through the crowded parking lot. I was already pretty sure what they were getting me. I’m not materialistic, but as on other holidays I’d cobbled together a list anyhow.

Though far from glamorous, first on the list was a new toilet seat; something we could use at the time.

I watched them, my 16-year-old son and my 9-year-old daughter, as they headed toward the hardware store’s glass doors. On that chilly December afternoon as I waited I suddenly, though not for the first time, saw them through Everybody Else’s eyes: a lean teenager talking, then playfully nudging the bright-eyed young girl next to him, her skin much darker than his, her braids shiny in the winter sun. She barely reached his shoulder, and the two of them appeared easy and comfortable with each other. She looked up at him with a smile that could melt an iceberg. He grinned back, said something, and she gave him a push back with her arm. I remember this.

Do people assume they’re brother and sister, one adopted?

They are so different from each other; in appearance, in temperament. But it’s my son and my daughter’s expressions and gestures that day that will stay with me.

Sometimes I want to tell people—and I do—that my son was an ardent advocate for my daughter’s adoption back in 1999, when I myself, a single mom who knew next to nothing about transracial adoption, was on the fence about adopting my first foster child.

Thankfully I did adopt her, a year and a half after she’d arrived as a 2-year-old. The familial bond that began to grow the first day she came has grown ever stronger, and on that cold winter day when I was feeling poor and somewhat depressed it was heartwarming to see the radiance that still shines around my kids.

On Christmas morning a few days later I sat on the couch drinking coffee and watching my kids’ faces light up as they opened packages containing electronic games and clothes and books; I feigned surprise when I unwrapped the clunky package that held the blue toilet seat. Of course they’d remembered blue is my favorite color.

We’ve been through hell and back since then.

My son’s depression-related diagnosis the following year, 2006, isn’t as important to relate as are the small moments that helped hold my little family together then, like the day my daughter went into the hospital gift shop before we took the elevator upstairs and bought her brother a small, clear stone with the word “Hope” engraved on it.

Or the way the next December, still recovering and regaining his spark, wit, and confidence, he used a big chunk of his own savings to buy his sister an X-Box for Christmas. The way recently when my daughter got dropped off after a visit to a friend’s house she swept right past me with barely a “Hi,” to wrap her arms around her brother’s shoulders as he worked on his computer in his room.

“I love you,” they call to each other spontaneously and often, their voices filtering through the small house. But often my son’s eyes still look sad—as I’ve been told mine do.

This year, my happy, resilient, now-twelve year old daughter just e-mailed us her Christmas list—complete with brand-names, colors, sizes, etc. Topping it is an expensive new cell phone, and then continues in order of priority including gift cards for clothes stores, a sewing machine, games. She’s clear about she wants.

And knowing my son, he might just spring for the cell phone. But when I ask him what he wants, he says he doesn’t know.

However, you can bet that if happiness came in a box my daughter would give it to him. I would, too.

Illustration by Annie Kassof

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Singleworkingmama December 27, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Oh, I love this. Annie, you must tell your kids you love them often… Those three little words aren’t said enough these days, and though my kids are much younger than yours (6 and 4)they already say it to each other (and me!) randomly, and with no ulterior motives. I can’t wait to see their bond grow tighter in years to come! Thanks for this post.

Singleworkingmama´s last blog post…Santa Brought More to Dad’s House


Kelly December 26, 2008 at 9:49 am

Thanks for this very sweet post. Makes me a little sad that mine is an only child! Merry Christmas!

Kelly´s last blog post…Happiness Meme Continued


laurakim December 26, 2008 at 5:13 am

What a lovely post!!!! I live for moments like this between my two – its a beautiful thing to witness!

laurakim´s last blog post…What does Christmas mean to you?


Lance December 25, 2008 at 7:19 am

Thanks Annie and Rachel, happy holidays to both of you!

Lance´s last blog post…Merry Christmas from Honey and Lance


Julie December 25, 2008 at 7:08 am

Merry Christmas!!!

Julie´s last blog post…Merry Christmas, my friends.


The Girl You Don't Bring Home to Momma December 25, 2008 at 6:14 am

Merry Christmas ! I hope your day is wonderful and full of magic

The Girl You Don’t Bring Home to Momma´s last blog post…Santa Was Here !!! Merry Christmas !


T December 24, 2008 at 10:22 pm

What a sweet story. I love the touching moments between siblings. Always makes me weepy to see it with my own kids…

Great post!

T´s last blog post…Music to make you Christmas-ey


Legal Editor Mom December 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

What a nice story. So many thoughts came to mind, including how others see our children, how we see them and how much we’d do for them…I’m sitting here after having played Santa as a single parent again this year; after my daughter is finally asleep, I have to sneak downstairs and put out the presents that are supposed to be from Santa AND make it appear as if he’s consumed the milk and cookies she left him. I am exhausted! (Mainly because she wanted only one gift from him; a “Princess Kitchen,” but it weighs a ton!)

I haven’t experienced taking her shopping to buy me a present yet. She’s only 4 so my mom helps her with gifts for me…she’s an only child so it will be interesting to see how our holidays evolve as she gets older. But thanks for sharing this!


won December 24, 2008 at 7:48 pm

What we wouldn’t give for our children…

I get it.

I am particularly missing my own daughter tonight.

won´s last blog post…RIP…not a Merry Christmas Moment


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