This is a love story. It is a love story that will soon be reenacted under thousands of Christmas trees. I was lucky enough, however, to have the chance to watch love happen a little early this year.
You see, my granddaughter, Miss Adorable, has a mid-December birthday, so she is one of those who will forever get pre-Christmas birthday gifts as a warm-up to the really Big Day. She is only two; a “big girl,” as she says, but still not all that clear about birthday parties or Santa Claus. And so her mommy arranged a small party, just for family, with a homemade Elmo cake and, of course, a table covered with gifts.
I had decided that clothes for her birthday and toys for Christmas was the right order of gift giving. But at the last minute I wrapped an Ariel doll that I had intended to save for December 25.
Now, my daughter-in-law is sort of strict — no TV, no videos, just lots of books — and yet, as if by osmosis, Catherine is able to identify Elmo, Dora the Explorer, and Ariel, the Little Mermaid. Dora is on her sneakers, Elmo is on her diapers, and Ariel is on a t-shirt of hers along with Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle, the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast. She also spied Ariel on a poster that, for some reason, was up for a while on Second Avenue, and on another that she passed on her way to story time at the library.
Ariel was her favorite, I think, because she recognized they shared a very important characteristic: They both have bright red hair. And, yes, like Yeat’s Anne Gregory, who was loved not for herself alone but for her yellow hair, practically everyone who stops and coos over Catherine is cooing over that amazing copper hair.
At the party we sang “Happy Birthday,” and we opened the gifts: a Christmas sweater from her Aunt, a couple of outfits from me, the different toys from Mommy and Daddy, and it was fine. But then Ariel was unwrapped and everything changed. The sweaters were nice and the toys were fine, but when she saw Ariel, well, it was love at first sight.
She looked at the doll and laughed, that laugh of pure joy that only babies and toddlers can laugh. She held her hands out and crooned the name, “Ar-i-el, Ar-i-el.” She examined her closely, the flaming hair, the green satin dress. She cradled her in her arms. And, finally, simply overcome, she kissed her. “Ar-i-el, Ar-i-el.”
Her former favorite, a Cabbage Patch doll, was thenceforth ignored, left in the corner for the rest of the party, while Ariel was held, cuddled, and taken for a ride on her new tyke bike. When Mommy took Ariel away for a moment so that Catherine could taste her birthday cake, Catherine decided she didn’t want any birthday cake. Love can stop a girl from eating, even when she’s two.
Ariel was carried around the rest of the evening. Ariel was picked up again first thing the next morning. (Her dad told me how the Cabbage Patch doll, who used to be woken up promptly at eight, was now allowed to sleep in until ten.) Ariel went for a taxi ride, went to the playground, and went to visit a friend. Catherine is a sheep, really a lamb, in the Christmas pageant at her church. I wonder whether, in this pageant, a Little Mermaid will be accompanying the shepherds in the field.
Christmas, we complain, has become so materialistic, far too much about giving and getting. And that may be true; but what can be more reaffirming of the spirit of a season that is supposed to be full of hope and love than to give a gift to a child that can make her — and you — completely happy? — Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.