When my children were growing up, Thanksgiving morning signified the beginning of the BIG CHRISTMAS PUSH.
Well, because it was Thanksgiving morning that our local newspaper would arrive wrapped heavy with all of the holiday catalogs and weighing more than our Thanksgiving turkey.
My daughter, Lexi Lou and my son, Dylan James would run for the ads, wooly zip-up footed pajamas on, Crayola markers in hand, fighting over particular pages as they rushed forward to lay on the living room floor and circle their holiday fantasy toys to their hearts’ content.
I didn’t think much about it—seemed normal to me.
I can’t tell you how many times I ran the SEARS catalog ragged marking page-after-page of needed Barbie doll swag and G.I. Joe’s before strategically placing it on top of my parent’s reading pile by the upstairs’ toilet ensuring that it would be considered often and seriously.
But the year the movie SPICE WORLD came out, something happened that changed this mundane yearly routine into a homophobic episode for my then husband, Joe.
Dylan, who was in 2nd grade at the time, had grown-up with a houseful of women.
We loved to put him in dresses, paint his toe nails red, tie bows in his hair and by the time he was seven, Lexi Lou and I were pretty proud of the solid little metro-sexual that we’d created.
Joe had tolerated these acts over the years, and though he had never exhibited homophobic tendencies, when out with our numerous LGBT friends, something seemed to snap when it came to his own son.
“You better not make him gay,” he said to me on several occasions.
“I can’t make him gay, Joe,” I said annoyed that my supposedly cool and liberal husband sounded so much like some poor man’s version of Rush Limbaugh.
“What’s the matter with you?” I snapped. “You’ve always supported LGBT rights! Have you lost your mind?”
He inhaled a long drag off his smoke and blew it in my face. “I support the rights of everyone to be gay except my son,” and then he walked away to go throw some of that machismo shit around the garage.
I knew, deep down, that if Dylan were gay, Joe would accept it. I could see through his straight-edged bullshit all the way to his fear—the man who had struggled growing up with a father who had given him shit about his long hair, tight leather pants, and dreams of being a rock star—and I knew that there was a whole other meta-story going on in this continuous conversation.
And so the sins of the father are repeated on the son, I thought to myself, before I went to find Dylan to see if he might let me paint his toe nails for awhile.
It wasn’t more than five minutes later that Joe came to find me.
He grabbed my arm and roughly dragged me down the hallway.
“What now?” I asked.
“Did you see this,” he said. “Did you see what Dylan circled in the Christmas catalog?”
I had seen a lot of the circles actually. I mean the kids had a good hundred or so toys in their Must Have for Christmas rotation.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Joe.”
He held up his fist to reveal a mostly crumpled Christmas ad with one large circle on it.
“Look!” he said as he slapped it down on the hall table. “Look at what your son circled.”
Oh Jesus, I thought, he said “your” son.
I walked into the bedroom, over to the bed, and pressed the crumpled page gently against the spread and flattened it once again and there, in all its glory was a large picture of a POSH SPICE doll circled for all the world to see.
I looked back at Joe, completely clueless.
“So?” I said.
“You did it,” Joe said. “My son’s gay. My son is totally gay. I hope you’re fucking happy.”
He grabbed the catalog page off the bed, crumpled it into a ball, threw it to the floor and walked out of the room.
He was halfway down the hall before he shouted, “And if you buy him that fucking doll, I’m not gonna be here on Christmas morning!”
My calm exterior did not betray the intense fire that had just been ignited.
Tell me I can’t buy my son a fucking doll, you homophobic bastard. I’ll buy him a Goddamn rainbow shirt that says, EXTREMELY QUEER and a pair of ass-less chaps, fucker!
I wanted to scream after Joe, but instead, I kicked the bedroom door shut behind him and readied myself to go brave the crowds the next morning, buy Dylan his POSH SPICE doll, wrap it and place it under the tree on Christmas day, as a gift from Santa who, I wanted to bring to Joe’s attention, looked pretty damn gay in his leather boots, red fur suit, and his beautiful, bearded “bear” appearance.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Joe assumed, due to my uncommon silence, that he had won the battle, and I was pleased that he had underestimated my vengeance for once. It made it all the easier to gloat Christmas morning, as I sat watching him smugly enjoy Dylan open his “gender specific” Legos and G.I. Joe’s and Lexi open her “gender specific” Barbies and My Little Ponies.
I couldn’t wait to rock his “gender specific” world.
We were down to the last two presents.
I handed Lexi her box and Dylan his.
Lexi unwrapped her’s first: it was a new water polo ball, which she immediately tossed up in the air with delight.
Joe loved that Lexi was athletic so, he didn’t think anything about it until he looked towards the box in Dylan’s hand and something in his eye twitched.
I smiled a cruel smile as my son ripped open his gift and squealed with girlish delight at his new prized possession: a POSH SPICE DOLL.
I actually watched the manhood melt away from his big furry frame.
He tried to smile as Lexi ran out to throw her ball in the pool and Dylan ran to his room to play with his doll.
“Don’t you ever tell me I can’t buy my son a doll again,” I said with steely determination.
Joe eyeballed me but didn’t speak.
He got up quietly from the chair and went out into the backyard to smoke.
About thirty minutes later, as I was cooking breakfast, I realized Dylan was still in his room. I leaned back from cooking our scrambled eggs and craned my neck to get a better look.
Bedroom door still closed.
“Joe!” I shouted from the kitchen.
Joe walked in from the back and grabbed a piece of bacon. He stared at me as he ate it, almost as if he was trying to figure out how exactly he could make me go away so he could enjoy a conservative Christmas day in peace, listening to Bing Crosby and reading Hugh Hefner’s 1953, seven-step guide on How to Get the Ladies.
“Could you go check on Dylan?” I asked. “He’s been in his room now this entire time.”
Joe looked concerned, worried that his son wasn’t enjoying his Christmas.
“I’m sorry about the gay thing,” Joe said.
I turned to look at him, “Which part?”
“My part,” he said.
I tipped my head towards him, waited as he landed a kiss on my forehead and then watched as he padded off down the hall to quietly check on Dylan.
I went back to the eggs when I was startled by the loudest cry of joy I had ever heard on a Christmas morning.
However, it was not from a child.
It came from my husband.
I stared down the hallway at Joe, watching him do some weird little dance as Dylan slammed his bedroom door in his father’s face shouting, “Go away, Dad! GO AWAY!”
Joe rushed towards me, his face inches from mine, his Marlboro laden breath hot on my face as he whispered, “I win. Do you hear me? I win.” Before grabbing a biscuit and dancing off into the living room.
I turned the heat down on the stove and walked quietly to Dylan’s room to see what the hell Joe was so happy about.
I opened the door, with barely a sound, and there found my son enjoying his POSH SPICE doll—her white undies down around her ankles, her high heels strewn across the rug, her black skin-tight dress being pulled from her almost naked body.
Yes. He stripped her bare right there in front of me then propped her up on his lap as he pressed play and they watched SPICE WORLD the movie together.
God damn it, I thought, the little bastard’s straight.
I closed the door and walked back to the kitchen.
I could see Joe in the living room, playing his guitar, shit-eating grin on his face, smug as can be, singing a stupid little song and laughing at me every few moments.
He couldn’t have been more proud of Dylan if he had graduated “high honors” from M.I.T. or had won a Grammy for Artist-of-the-Year.
I stewed in the moment, hating that I had to concede defeat, when suddenly I felt a small arm wrap around my waist.
“I love my doll, Mom,” Dylan said with a big hug. “I love her so much. Thank you for telling Santa to get her for me.”
I reached down; my anger melted by the gentleness of my little man, as I hugged him hard and kissed the top of his head. “I love you,” I whispered noting his camouflage jammies and his red painted toenails. “Very much.”
Dylan smiled, as he ran over to love on his dad.
Joe put down his guitar and said, “I love you, Dylan.” before noticing his little painted toes.
He looked at me, paused, looked at Dylan and said, “That red is really pretty. I used to like to wear black.”
I smiled—a true Christmas smile—and watched as my two furry “bears” played with Dylan’s new Posh Spice doll and bonded over their mutual attraction to her hotness.