Christmas list of Tommy son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

Tommy’s Christmas List

Tommy has the most insane Christmas list this year.

He’s been working on it for over a month, and there are dozens of things across the two pages. He can’t spell anything, so he’s constantly asking me to help him spell things like, “Freddy Krueger claws.”

That’s just the beginning. Also included are the following: a drone, a virtual reality bodysuit, a Jason mask, treasure, a phone, a motorcycle, a real elf, and $10,000.

Austin keeps trying to tell him that he won’t get any of this stuff on his list, but Tommy believes in Santa. And not just any Santa. He believes in the one who does magical things. I mean, if an elf that looks like a stuffed animal can come to life, fly to the north pole and then fly back to our house every single night, well then, why wouldn’t other amazing stuff happen?

Being five is kind of awesome.

But it’s also confusing. The other day, my dad was getting ready to go to Tommy’s “holiday share” at school. We were supposed to bring in a tradition that showcased what our family does at the holidays. Since we basically have limped through the last few holiday seasons, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but my dad always makes great cookies so I decided Tommy would just bring in “Grandpa Tom’s cookies.”

“So let me get this straight,” my dad said, “I have to go into the classroom and tell all the kids that we eat cookies at Christmas and then give them all cookies at 9 am. What is the purpose of this?”

I laughed. “It’s for people to share about their families,” I said. “Just go in there and act excited, Dad!”

“Dad?” Tommy asked. He stepped closer to me. “Is our Dad coming to my family share day?” He looked at me with big eyes.

“No, baby,” I said. “Daddy died. He can’t come back. I said ‘Dad” because Grandpa Tom is my dad.”

“So…..” Tommy said, slowly figuring everything out, “Grandpa Tom will come to school with me.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s right. But your dad is up in heaven and he loves you.”

“Okay,” he said and ran off and played with his basketball. He was not sad or confused, now that he knew what would happen.

But I was. Maybe it’s because every day this month has reminded me of December 2017, when I pleaded with God and the universe to let Shawn live. “I know the prognosis,” I told my dad one night on the phone from the hospital, just before Shawn’s surgery. “I know he might die. But if he can get treatment and it can prolong his life for even three or four years, then Tommy will be old enough to remember him.”

I held on to that idea for weeks and weeks, even when I knew Shawn might not have a full recovery, and even when I saw him get worse every single day. “I just need a few more years,” I would plead every night in December as I stood alone in my shower, the hot water running down my back and my head leaning against the wall. “Please let my baby know his father.”

Of course, I wanted all three of my kids to have more time with their dad, and I wanted more time with him too. But I felt, somehow, that it was the most vital for Tommy, maybe because he was the baby. Or maybe because he was my baby.

Tommy hasn’t totally forgotten all the memories he has with his dad, but much of what he “knows” is what his siblings and I tell him. He knows his dad loved going to the toy store and wrestling with him on the big bed. He knows his dad was strong and could carry him on his shoulders. He knows his dad liked to jump in the leaves with him and always let him sit in his lap at restaurants. But he doesn’t remember these things very easily, and I know he’s likely to forget more and more about his dad every year.

When I looked over his Christmas list yesterday, I thought about how hilarious Shawn would find it. I thought about how he definitely would have tried to buy some of the more ridiculous items, just to see Tommy’s face on Christmas morning. I thought about how it might have felt to watch Shawn teach Tommy how to spell all of the letters of “Nintendo Switch,” and what it would be like to laugh on the couch after the kids went to bed and we marveled at the magic that our 5-year-old believes in.

I thought about what might have been, but never will be.

Because, sweet Tommy, you won’t get everything you want this year. You won’t get an X-box and you won’t get a computer and you won’t get your dad at your holiday share in your kindergarten class. I wish there was real magic that brought back people from the dead and delivered tens of thousands of dollars into our stockings. But there isn’t. There’s just me this year, looking at your funny Christmas list.

Of course, I won’t say this to him. Still, as I looked at his list I couldn’t help thinking, “Mama might not get you that virtual reality bodysuit. But Daddy would.”


  • Melissa

    I love Tommy’s list. So imaginative! When I was about his age (or maybe a little older) I begged for a pony for Christmas. It didn’t matter to me that we lived in a suburban neighborhood. We could keep it in the backyard, right? Of course, my parents had many valid reasons why this was not feasible. So you can imagine my reaction when, at Christmas dinner, my dad’s stepmother said to him “Well, Jack, YOU had a pony.” There were a lot of quick disclaimers from him about how things were different then; it really didn’t belong to him; they lived in a rural area, etc., etc. But the shock remained. So it made me smile that Shawn would have gotten Tommy the virtual reality bodysuit anyway. 🙂

  • greg grinager

    I hope you have a safe place to keep that list!
    When we moved from our shady, sleepy, lovely corner of South Minneapolis, my late wife absolutely loved the opportunity to garden that our new home afforded her.
    I made it my goal-and by extension our goal-to make a sort of memorial out of that garden. We’d perpetuate it, add to it, keep bees in it, and ferment the honey they produced so that years later, on special days, we could pour out some mead infused with ‘essence of mom,’ (which, now that I see it on a page, might be a bit ghoulish, but clear thinking wasn’t the order of those days.) Well-intentioned neighbors with lawnmowers, and city ordinances on beekeeping eventually ruined those plans, but we kept it going for two summers, during which time my youngest took dozens of photos of her mother’s flowering plants. She arranged them into month-by-month collages, each written in that charming little person’s calligraphy, “this is your garden mom.” At the end of both summers she instructed me to bring these precious documents to “the church guy,” because he knew more than I did about getting documents to people in heaven. She’s almost thirty now, and I still have those collages. I suppose I’ll have to let her have them back again someday, but not yet.