Olivia is sitting on the sofa, helping me take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. When she calls out an animal, that’s my cue to find the ornament and pack it away for another year. Even when the girls were toddlers, I somehow managed to enjoy my fancy Christmas tree. I love sparkle and I love the holidays, and I looove my delicate glass ornaments in the likeness of animals. I have no fewer than six penguins (various gifts over the years), plenty of cats and dogs and fish, plus a royal-blue hippo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one black-glitter mountain gorilla gifted to me by my sister, Sara.
In a house where nothing breakable is ever within reach, our annual Christmas tree with Mommy’s fragile sparkling animals has managed to command a kind of respect that even the dog miraculously obeys. Everyone lets me have this One Special Thing, and it’s quite a treat for Olivia to be in charge of putting the ornaments to bed for the year.
“Find the zebra, Mommy! The bat is next! Okay, the jellyfish, then the giraffe!”
We’re about halfway done last January when the Bad Thing happens: I lose my hold on the narwhal. You know a narwhal—an arctic whale with a huge horn that looks like a drill bit on its head? Well, mine is now in sparkly pieces on the floor.
Involuntarily, I shriek. Olivia’s eyes freeze wide.
“Accidents happen!” I say out of instinct, because my dad always yelled at me whenever I spilled my milk or broke a lamp and I’ve vowed to be different from him in this one way. “And, well, okay, this is, well, this is just going to be part of the narwhal’s story!!! Yeah, that’s it! We’ll superglue his nose back on and now he’ll be a narwhal with a nose job!”
Olivia laughs, and we both relax.
“Mommy, how did you not freak out?”
Then I say this wise thing, but for the life of me I don’t know how it came to me. I say: “Most of the time, when things happen, you can make them bad things or good things just by how you think about them in your mind.”
Like Christmas trees in family homes all around the world, mine twinkles with the starts of stories—ornaments that mean something special because of who gave them to us, who made them, or what they symbolize.
Olivia and I now have a place in our hearts for The Narwhal.