Light Sabers and Tears in Aisle 8

Light Sabers and Tears in Aisle 8

By Allison Slater Tate


I am missing the little boys who believed in reindeer food on the front lawn.


I cried in the Star Wars aisle of Toys ‘R’ Us at 10 a.m. this morning.

In a rare show of industry, I was trying to knock out the majority of my Christmas shopping in just one (painfully expensive) trip. With my four children all safely ensconced at their respective schools from middle down to preschool, I took my sweet time pushing my cart through the giant toy mecca, pausing at each aisle, carefully picking out candy canes and wands for stockings.

It felt indulgent and strange to actually give myself the permission to shop leisurely instead of bum-rushing my way through an online order—or, more likely, five online orders. I enjoyed picking up the toys and reading the boxes the way I obsessively did when I was a child; though I find the whole “unboxing” phenomenon on YouTube a little jarring, I understand why my 3-year-old daughter enjoys watching others open and play with toys so much, since it reminds me of how I was riveted to the Saturday morning commercials at her age.

I had made it through most of the store, and my cart was piled high with things for my youngest, who is my only girl—Calico Critters and Beanie Boos, Breyer horses and Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Paw Patrol figures and a Play-Doh kitchen I know she will squeal over—when I found myself in the Star Wars aisle. I was suddenly staring at a pile of lightsabers, red and green and blue.

Like a blurry video in fast forward, years flashed through my mind: all the other Decembers when I had walked through these same aisles, picking up Little People farms and Hexbugs, Hot Wheels tracks and Razor scooters. I remembered running my hands over heavy plastic playhouses, debating between massive Lego sets, searching for Thomas trains we didn’t yet own. I thought about 12 years of Christmas mornings, oranges in stockings, tiny, sticky candy cane fingers, nights of driving around neighborhoods with the radio station set to the Christmas music channel, the kids in their pajamas staring out the windows and admiring our neighbors’ handiwork. They were always ready to go home before I was.

And that’s when, for a few minutes, I just leaned against my shopping cart and let myself cry, right in the middle of Toys ‘R’ Us, amidst the Yodas and the Ewok dolls—not an ugly cry, not heaving sobs, but just a few tears—as I realized that those days, when I had little people constantly underfoot and Santa was definitely real in my house, are over. My oldest boys have grown out of toy stores altogether now. They’re not even that interested in the video games sold there; they now look to download more sophisticated computer games straight from the source. My 8-year-old, whether because of his personality, because he is a third boy and jaded by the knowledge he’s acquired through his brothers, or because 8-year-old boys are now somewhat more savvy and less into toys than they were in generations past, barely plays with traditional toys at all. And after a recent brutal grilling by the third grader, I am pretty sure the 3-year-old is the only one left who truly believes in Santa Claus.

So I cried, because I miss those little boys who so carefully placed the plate of cookies and glass of milk by our fireplace chimney and brought home sacks of be-glittered handprint ornaments from preschool and kindergarten. But in truth, I cried more because I miss those days that I used to just survive, and then only barely. I miss when my days were just chaotic blurs, ping-ponging through naps and playgroup meet-ups and hurtling toward bedtime every night. I miss them because now, through the magnifying glass of hindsight and the rose-colored lens of nostalgia, they seem so much simpler, even in their tedium.

My days have a different timbre now. No one wears diapers, no one drinks from sippy cups with a bazillion parts to clean. There are no naptimes to work around. Instead, there is homework and practices and school. My little girl still keeps me with one foot partly in the world of the toddler; she is my excuse for knowing what’s popular on Disney Junior, my reason for collecting picture books and acorns from the yard. But things have changed.

I am mourning the Christmas tasks I had just a few years ago. I am missing the little boys who believed in reindeer food on the front lawn. But even more, I mourn their mother—the younger version of me, who was able to immerse myself in the physical labor and emotional chaos of young motherhood, whose parents were still strong and hearty and not yet concerned with the trickiness of retirement and aging, who didn’t worry about puberty and high school transcripts. I miss the version of me who could spend naptimes baking dozens of Christmas cookies and whose biggest worry was making it to the preschool Christmas concert on time.

One of my friends often quotes George Bernard Shaw: “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” As my children grow up and out of the routines and rites of childhood, I learn with them. I learn what each new stage means for them and for me as a parent, what the view from here now looks like and feels like. Yes, at first, it feels like I have lost something. I miss something. I mourn something. But even as I wipe a few tears off my cheeks, I know that this Christmas, when we are all piled around the tree again in our pajamas and bare feet—the bigger kids with smaller, fewer, and yet more expensive packages, the youngest with a plethora of tiny treasures to delight a preschooler’s big eyes—I won’t miss anything. Everything will be there, in new shapes and sizes: all the pieces of my heart.

Allison Slater Tate is a freelance writer and editor and a mother of four children ages 13 to 3. In addition to Brain, Child, her work can be found at her eponymous websiteToday Parents, Scary Mommy, the Washington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and the Huffington Post, among others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

We chose ten gift picks for the season — please note none of these items are sponsored in any way,  just a true list of what we’d love to receive. Enjoy.  –Marcelle & Randi

Feel free to print and pass on…


il_570xN.697450065_4xv6Paper Portraits

This is number one on my list, pricey for sure, but what a prized possession this paper portrait of my brood would be.




291665_561_42Sassy Shoes

Last winter, I watched with envy as my next door neighbor snowshoed around her yard after each dump of Northeast snowfall while my running shoes sat, untouched, in the hall closet. Ever since, I’ve been pining for a pair:




CarrotsMore Veggies Please?

Bok choi, red leaf lettuce, sugar snap peas. This 24-week program (June through November) would mean a weekly share of fresh certified organic vegetables, grown at a local farm. All of the colors and flavors of spring, summer and fall. Sign me up!




beautyberry-blanket-600-2-181x214Ready, Set, Knit

I fancy myself a knitter, though I can’t make a stitch, maybe it is time to learn with one of my kids. The intructions, the yarn – ready, set, knit.





photos-negatives-slides-organized-archives.jpg-nggid0230-ngg0dyn-170x120x100-00f0w010c011r110f110r010t010I Dream of Jeannie

Pictures of my kids and their childhoods sit in photo boxes stored in a basement cabinet and on my phone and laptop. I am hopeful the creative and organizational talents of Jeanie Engelbach aka Photojeanie will streamline our family photos and archive the last eighteen years of family memories:




I wish I had made one of these tee shirt blankets for my daughter when she left for college this fall, but I didn’t. At least I have 3 years until my son leaves the nest, plenty of time to collect his outgrown tee shirts instead of putting them into the give-away pile:




912TP6CvRgL._SL1500_Because Comfort Matters

Whether it’s due to age, or mothering two teens these past few years, I’ve been pining for one of these neck support pillows for travel. This holiday, we will be traveling on an airplane; I’m hoping I will be adding one of these to my carry-on bag.



il_170x135.676346141_letwQuartro Formagi?

Grab a gallon of pasteurized milk and these DIY cheese kits include the rest of the supplies needed such as cheesecloth, a dairy thermometer, citric acid, and cheese salt. Oh, the flavors: Fresh mozzarella, ricotta, queso blanco, paneer, or goat cheese.



PC183831-150x150The New Book Bag

Carry Jane Eyre with you at all times? I love these shoulder purses (also available as clutches), made from preserved vintage books. Choose from your favorite author, book or illustrated cover.




il_170x135.876357316_65dcCircle Scarves

OK, I was limited to two literary picks – here’s my second–literary infinity scarves. \ Each one is silkscreened by hand with passages from some of the world’s great books — It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife…