The Maccabees didn’t stand a chance against the catalogs that began to appear in in mid-November. Our children, Jonah and Maia, began to look through them as a hobby. They each settled on one expensive present that would link their longing with that of a gazillion other children, Jewish and Christian, a terrifying and determined mob, plotting their conquests around the globe. We dreaded the arrival of the catalogs each afternoon. The children could spot them sticking out of our mailbox like eagles spotting a mouse from a great height. They were their Torahs, their holy books.
“I get to see it first!” Jonah, who was six, screamed.
“No, me!” Maia, who was two, shrieked.
Jonah could read his electronics catalog by himself, and did so with a strange sort of tenderness, as if learning for the first time of the world’s bounty. “Good news, Dad,” he said, when we went to tuck him in for the night. “Nintendo DS comes with a game bundle, and it’s only a hundred and forty-nine dollars!” He seemed genuinely glad—not for himself only but for us, that this miracle was possible.
Maia still needed a little help, however. She would sit cross-legged on the floor with her American Girl catalog on her lap and say, “Read!” with that threatening look on her face that presaged an explosion. We would spend what seemed to be interminable, eerie hours reading aloud the text accompanying pictures of scarily vapid, saccharine dolls in period costumes, until we could simply recite the words by heart. Maia would caress the pictures as we spoke, staring with longing as if recalling a long-lost love. Over time, we noticed that there was one picture in particular to which she kept returning: Marisol, a girl in a purple tutu. “Is Marisol the one you want?” we asked.
Maia nodded shyly.
“Then you will get Marisol.”
Maia jumped up and began doing a genuine dance of joy, waving her hands over her head and swaying, her delicate face radiant with pleasure. The price tag: only $87 with a jazzy girl outfit; $26 more for the tutu.
This wasn’t exactly what we had intended. When we’d had our children, we’d wanted to improve upon our own experience, to give them the holiday experience that we now wished we had had. While we had, as a young married couple, celebrated Hanukkah carelessly, whenever we saw fit, we now wanted to know exactly when Hanukkah fell; we wanted to know what the letters on the dreidel meant. Suddenly, as parents, we were the ones who could construct the world that would help our children create their own memories.