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A Christmas Horse

When I was a little girl, every year I asked Santa for a horse. Every year I believed wholeheartedly that he would bring me one. I knew, from the age of 4--thanks to 5 older brothers--that our parents, not Santa, brought gifts. Still, part of me believed there was a Santa, and he would bring me a horse. That part of me still exists, except now it believes when I buy a lottery ticket, I am going to win.

Each Christmas, though I was happy with my toys and clothes, I harbored a secret heartbreak that Santa didn't bring my horse. One year my dad must have glimpsed my disappointment and asked me why I wasn't happy. I told him that I must not have been good because Santa didn't bring my horse. My dad, who could be a scary and intimidating person a lot of the time, pulled me up into his lap and said that Santa couldn't bring me a horse because we lived in the city, and it was illegal to have a horse in the city. I understood then and was no longer disappointed. In fact, I never asked for a horse again. I didn't want to break the law.

This was the same dad, who once walked in from work, found my brother's gym bag lying near the back door, and threw it across the kitchen knocking a boiling pot of chili all over the kitchen floor. Lazy nincompoops just drop their shit wherever they feel like. The dad, who after I had burned my feet on the still-burning-hot charcoal he'd dumped into the driveway, beat me soundly for walking outside without shoes. What kind of idiot goes outside without shoes? A four-year-old. My dad, who beat each of my brothers so consistently and so severely over the years that on many occasions they plotted his death.

That same guy told me Santa couldn't bring me a horse because we lived in the city. He also went on a mad bee-killing spree, determined to drive bees into extinction, because one stung my brother. And once, when I had a high fever and was hallucinating that there were tigers attacking me, he went to war armed with a pillow and a handkerchief to slay the tigers only I could see. My mom held me and told me the tigers weren't there, while my dad leaped and swung at them, telling my mom, "You can't tell her they aren't there. She SEES them!!"

Over the years I found it difficult to reconcile the two different people my dad was. I spent a lot of years being angry with him. But now, I understand him better because I see in myself the same two people. I love my children so much I would slay imaginary tigers, lie awake worrying about their broken hearts or broken arms, sleep next to them when they're sick, spend every dollar I make to give them everything they need and want. Yet, last week, after witnessing her boyfriend's family in a fight, Chloe laughed and said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure my mom would put all of them to shame." That's my claim to fame: My mom's crazier than yours. And she's right. On any given day, despite my overwhelming love for them, I am fully capable of throwing a gym bag across the kitchen and knocking the chili off the stove.

I wonder if someday my kids will try to reconcile the crazy mom with the mom who loved and comforted them. I hope they remember the times that I held them and cheered for them and encouraged their dreams more than times I yelled and screamed. I hope they remember the fun we had decorating the cookies more than my cursing and throwing the imperfect ones. I hope that they know that despite my shortcomings I tried not to be good, but to be the best mother. And mostly, I hope that living with and loving a flawed mom helps them to look at people with kindness and empathy. Because I think that everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have. I'm grateful for my flawed dad. Knowing and loving him help me to look at others--and even on rare occasions myself--with compassion.


  1. Love this essay. Shou ld be required for all parents. We are an amalgam of our genetics and developmental experiences but are blessed with the ability to learn and employ free will...

    1. Thank you, Irving. You're right: We can learn and change and always do better.


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