I’m not sure how long I’ll be derided by a 4 year old, but this can’t continue on. Now she’s trying to shake down grandma.

“Can I call Nani on your phone?” she asked me, with her little doe eyes. But I knew what she was up to. She wasn’t checking in, she was cashing in.

Poppy was begging anyone who would listen, as if she’s prayed the most desperate prayer and no one– not Santa, not God, not her parents and not even her Nani were listening to her cries!

I thought I’d nailed Christmas. I asked Lucy and Poppy what they wanted and it seemed clear: new baby dolls.

After their request, they spent the entire week carrying around a couple raggedy babies. One of them had the whites of its eyes colored in green with a non-washable marker and frankly, it was terrifying. I don’t even know where they come from—maybe someone gave it to the girls as a gift when they were born? Who knows. But they went everywhere the girls went and I just knew that getting two new beautiful baby dolls (oh hell, I’ll get the doll’s strollers too, it’s Christmas!) would make it a Christmas to remember.

In her defense, it’s not like she didn’t warn me, but denial is a helluva drug. The first clue was our visit to see Santa. We go every year to the very best Santa I’ve ever seen. He’s pure magic. He has a real beard, the most charming Santa face, cherry cheeks and the sweetest disposition. And he’s so in demand, you either had to strategize your arrival or wait in a line that drags around the entire metro area.

Because of Covid restrictions, this year was different. You had to make a special appointment and it was awkward. Zero magic. And what’s worse, that day it was an imposter Santa. They even offered to reschedule or refund me, knowing the stand-in Santa was garbage. But we were already all dressed and ready to go. I called my mom asking her what I should do. “Are you serious? Who cares! Get the picture done and get out of there.” Okay fine, but I was still devastated.

The replacement Santa sat behind plexiglass and maybe I’m projecting, but I felt like his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t feel authentic, like at the last minute he ordered his entire outfit off Prime. His beard was definitely dollar store quality and I think I saw a string loop behind his ear! I was all up in my feels about it, but kept reminding myself to stop caring about stupid things.

From behind the plexiglass, Santa asked the girls what they wanted. Lucy said, dutifully, “a new baby doll.” Pleased, I looked down, nodding at Poppy, encouraging her to say the same, but Poppy decided to have her own thoughts and ideas. She blurted, “A squishy unicorn!” then ran to take her seat.

This gave me pause. But at the same time, she’s just a baby who’ll say anything. Surely she still wanted a baby! Right? She better, because it had already been shipped.

Once home, Lucy continued to play and care for her old baby toy, while Poppy’s was head down in a laundry basket and stayed there for days. This worried me a little, but she had the one with the green evil eyes, so maybe she was just terrified of it like I was. Denial is apparently the fuel I use to get through my days. As I was kneading bread dough in the kitchen, I could hear Poppy talking to her sister. “Oh I can’t wait for Santa to give me my squishy unicorn,” she shouted joyfully. Then she went on, honing in her potty humor, chattering away about toots and poopy butts.

I felt dread trying to enter, but I held back the door. “Poppy?” I called out to her. “Come to Mommy and explain to me what you mean by squishy unicorn.” Poppy appeared in the kitchen, quite pleased I was lending an ear to her deepest desire. But everything she said was nonsense. Something about a unicorn, covered in glitter, with a baby in its belly. It was also see through, but pink. And not see through, but you can see inside. And there were 10 babies. Etc. etc.

“Is this something you guys have seen on YouTube?” I asked Lucy. But she had no idea what Poppy was talking about. I pulled up my phone and Googled, Squishy See through Unicorn with Babies in its Belly

Google tried, but the results weren’t great. I showed them to Poppy and none of them were the one.

I had a life to live, however, so I chose to move on. Just in case, I got her a stuffed, squishy enough unicorn and put it in her stocking. Bases covered.

On Christmas Day, it went as expected. I was fueled by my second cinnamon roll and the girls were fueled by adrenaline. It was all shrieks and laughs and giddiness – and they appeared to love their new baby dolls. They played beautifully throughout the day and I felt a sense of peace that I had crushed Christmas.

Living in a fool’s paradise.

Later that night, Poppy crawled into my lap and ever so pitifully said, “How come Santa didn’t give me the unicorn I asked for?”

After giving her an Oprah-esque spiel on gratitude I said, “Besides, Santa knew I was giving you a Unicorn, so he got you a baby like you asked for earlier.”

“But it’s not the unicorn I wanted,” she said somber, betrayed.

A part of me understood she was still very young trying to navigate complex feelings and circumstances, but another part of me was getting annoyed. She’s lucky she didn’t get a new pair of socks and a book! Next!

As time went on, so did Poppy’s feelings. She seemed to accept her fate. Everyone in her life had let her down, and the squishy unicorn wasn’t meant to be.

Until, just this week, it was my parent’s anniversary. I had the girls make them a Happy Anniversary card while my sister and I put together a gift basket. Lucy’s card was delightful and what you’d expect from a 6 year old.

Poppy’s was … off topic. A bit self-centered. And had nothing to do with wishing anyone a Happy Anniversary.

“Okay, Pop,” I said. “Let’s fold a piece of …”

“I want this paper here.”

“Okay … that’s a little small to make into a card.”

“It’s okay, I want this.”

“Okay. What do you want to say? How about, Happy Anniversary Nani and Boppi …”

“No.”

“Okay, so what do you want it to say?”

“Please give me …”

“Wait, baby. We’re wishing them a Happy Anniversary. We’re not asking them for anything.”

“I want to say what I want to say,” she said kindly but determined.

“Okay, go ahead …”

“Please give me a squishy uni …”

“Poppy, Nani’s not Santa. We aren’t giving her a card asking for things.”

Her lip quivered as she tried to hold back tears. My sister, overhearing everything while fluffing cellophane around a basket said,  “Just write what she wants, it’s funny!” I sighed. Feeling the time crunch, I caved and hurried it along.

“Okay, tell me what you want on your card. I’ll write it down,” I told her.

Through hopeful eyes and a lip still quivering, she said, “Please give me a squishy unicorn. Love, Poppy.”

I jotted it down quickly, then had her write her own name. Then my sister, the bad influence encouraging the behavior, helped draw a unicorn on the “card,” which really wasn’t a card at all, but had more of a ransom note vibe.

My parent’s loved their gifts, even Poppy’s ransom note. But Poppy didn’t get her squishy unicorn, so it might have been the worst anniversary of Poppy’s life.

I hope there’s some kind of lesson to be learned here. There probably isn’t.