What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 47
A Christmas Wish 

[p.151]My boy Philip used to break his leg when he was in kindergarten. Sometimes he’d even do it twice in one day.

I’d be in the middle of doing something when one of the neighbor kids would race into the house yelling, “Ann! Ann! Philip broke his legs! Both of them! He needs you bad.”

So I’d go outside and find Philip flat on his back, sticking his broken legs straight up in the air so I could check them easier.

“Well,” I’d say after an informal examination, “I think these legs are definitely going to be okay.”

Then I’d give him a hug and—miracle of miracles—those legs got better right away.

One night when I was attempting to fix dinner while soothing a frantic baby at the height of the witching hour (5:00 p.m. to 6:00 pm.), Philip’s friend Charley came tearing into the kitchen.

“Ann! Philip fell off his bike and broke his leg!”

Frankly, I was not in the mood for this kind of news. “Tell him to come home, and I’ll take care of it.”

“But he’s too far away,” said Charley. “He needs you to pick him up.” I held firm and showed Charley our door. Fifteen minutes passed and Philip’s friend Jeff showed up.

“Ann, Philip broke his leg. For reals.”

The telephone rang. The baby wailed. The spaghetti boiled over. “I’ll fix it as soon as he comes home!” I snapped.

Another ten minutes and Michael showed up. “PHILIP’S LEG IS BROKEN! NO LIE!”

Panic pricked my stomach. Maybe his leg really was broken. Maybe he was writhing in pain in the middle of Second Avenue during rush hour, waiting for me while neighbors looked on and said, “We always knew his mother was trash.” I grabbed the baby and raced to the car.

I found Philip lying on the ground by his bike, surrounded by a group of buddies.

[p.152]They were all smiling and laughing and having a swell time because Philip—get this—was telling knock-knock jokes.

“YOUR LEOS ARE NOT BROKEN!” I shouted through my open window. “THEY’RE NOT EVEN SPRAINED!”

Everyone turned around to look at me, and the expression on Philip’s face said he knew his goose was seriously cooked unless he came up with a new wrinkle. Fast.

“I know, I know,” he said quickly. “I was just kidding about that. It’s my feet that are broken. Honest, Mom.” Then he crawled toward the car on his belly just like GI Joe to convince me.

I came completely unstrung at that point. I tossed the bike and Philip into the car and took off doing about 120 mph. When we got home I sent him straight to his room. “And no more faking injuries,” I warned.

“But I really was hurt,” he called as he limped up the stairs. Then he threw me a glance that almost made me stop breathing. He looked exactly like my brother John when he was six years old.

Suddenly I had a memory. It was Christmas Eve, and John and I were out delivering food gifts to the neighbors. The night was cold and white, and our breath hung like clouds in the frosty air.

“Let’s sing,” said John as we stamped up and down frozen streets, so we ran through every Christmas carol we knew at the top of our lungs.

By the time we got home, we were hopelessly wound up. John’s face was red and his eyes glittered. I felt hot and dizzy and a little sick to my stomach. We kept singing inside, singing and laughing and finally chasing each other through the living room where the adults—grandparents, great-aunts, a collection of neighbors—were eating hors d’oeuvres and watching Lawrence Welk.

Mom collared us. “Settle down.” But as soon as she let us go, we were at it again, like toy tops spinning out of control.

This time she removed us bodily into another room. “What is the matter with you two?” She was at her wit’s end.

“I—I’m sick,” I blurted out.

“Well, then maybe you ought to go to bed!” she snapped.

No, no. I’m not really sick. I’m excited. I’m crazy with happiness because I love snow and cold air on my face and the fire in the fireplace. I love the presents in their wrapping paper and the ornaments on the tree and the [p.153]music box that plays Silent Night. I love Christmas, and I especially love you and John, too.

That’s what I wanted to say to her, but I didn’t know how, because I was only eight years old. So I said I was sick instead, and she misunderstood, just like I misunderstood about Philip’s broken bones.

If I could have one wish granted this holiday season, I would like to be eight all over again, waiting with my brother John for Christmas to come. I would like to eat apples and cookies and hear my old aunts talk about Lawrence Welk and just one more time see my brother’s bright believing face. I would like to feel everything I did then in our old living room filled with the smells of fire and pine.

That’s what I want for Christmas this and every year.

But I know it won’t happen, so instead I would like to remember what it’s like to be very young—how easy it is to talk about physical hurts, how hard it is to turn feelings into words.