At some point, every parent realizes that a baby’s arrival is going to change how you live. Change it drastically. Somehow I was able to resist this epiphany until shortly after my son Myron’s first birthday. The epiphany happened at Christmas.
A procrastinator at the best of times, I knew I had to do my shopping. I mean, I grasped that notion. But my then-wife had gone back to school in September, just as Myron turned one, and her program turned out to be all encompassing. We had a part-time nanny, and then the rest of the time I had to do something I had, until then, shirked: I had to actually care for the baby.
Which, I rapidly realized, was way more than a full-time job. Plus I was trying to keep up with my work as a writer. Plus Christmas shopping? I couldn’t even think about Christmas. Until December made it into the 20s—the 21st, the 22nd, the 23rd…Then, Christmas was all I could think about. So I hatched a plan: The morning of December 24, I was going to do it all. Buy a present for every person I needed to surprise. And I was going to do it with Myron, and his stroller.
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I plotted the most efficient route in the shower the morning of December 24. A half-hour later I pushed the stroller through a thin layer of slush to the streetcar. My first destination was Toronto’s Eaton Centre, which doesn’t have nearly enough elevators, making it difficult to navigate for anyone with a stroller even if the mall wasn’t packed shoulder to shoulder. But I’d prepared for that: I arrived first thing, and sprinted through the momentarily clear aisles in a desperate bid to get as much done as I could as early as possible.
Six hours later we headed toward the subway and I was feeling pretty good. It had been painful, thanks to the crowds and this tantrum Myron threw when I wouldn’t stop at the jet fountain in the middle of the mall. But by mid-afternoon the end was in sight. I only had one more gift to buy: a martini shaker for my sister in another part of town. It wasn’t until I left the subway that I realized it had snowed. Now the slush was ankle deep. But that wasn’t going to stop me. The stroller ploughed the several blocks to the store where I found the requested martini shaker. And I was done, in every sense of the word.
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But not quite. I still had to get home. A cab felt too expensive after the hurt I’d just put on my credit card (and besides, it’s not like I had a car seat with me). The subway? The closest one with an elevator was several blocks away. The most efficient route involved walking the kilometre south to the streetcar stop.
So we started walking, a dozen shopping bags bristling from the stroller’s every available hook-like implement. As the slush accumulated ahead of the stroller wheels, my breath grew short. Halfway there, I stood up and rested for a minute. Myron was crying now, probably because he was cold. Speeding cars and trucks motored through the slush and drenched us with spray. I turned the stroller around to pull it, and the streetcar appeared in the fog just as I arrived at the stop.
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It was packed. Of course it was packed. But wait—a kind soul, in the spirit of Christmas, grasped the stroller’s front wheels. We were going to make it onto the streetcar! We were steps away from the end of this ordeal I’d created. And at that very moment, the sodden paper beneath several shopping bags gave way.
Retrieving the contents of the bags would have required leaving Myron alone on the streetcar (which was about to leave), the gifts were soaked, and I didn’t have the energy to collect them anyway. From my perch alongside the stroller, I looked through the fogged window at the gifts scattered in the slushy road below, and realized I would need to make some major changes in my life if I was going to survive this fatherhood thing.
A version of this article appeared in our December 2014 article with the headline “Home for the holidays,” p. 78-86.