The mom looked out the living room window into the backyard where the unfinished playhouse was and saw her two boys sitting on the base. They had that look she had seen many times before when they were plotting something.
The family had lived in this house for three years and the playhouse had been started their first summer there. The stack of wood to finish it lay beside it, weathered and warped. Starting it was a wonderful time, lots of dinner chats about designs, secret rooms, ladders and escape hatches, her husband as excited as the boys about the potential for this great play space. And then he died, and suddenly their life was so different, with many things unfinished.
The sad looking playhouse was a sore spot for the boys. Dad’s friends had said they would finish it and so did Mom’s brother, but they didn’t as they got busy with their own lives. So many were helping in other ways that finishing a playhouse seemed too much to ask. Each spring she budgeted to hire someone to finish it, and had even applied for it to be a volunteer carpentry project for apprentices but didn’t make the cut. Other expenses always took priority: washer and dryer; repairs to the car; new roof.
This year it was both sons’ Christmas wish. They had written to Santa several times in fact to make certain he got the message. Each letter providing more information as to the design, including drawings.
So far in their young lives Santa had always been able to provide the special gift they had asked for: the nine-foot cloth snake; the large soccer net for the back yard made out of PVC pipe and fishing net.
She figured with materials and labour she was looking at about $1,500. That’s hoping the old lumber could be used. This had been a tough year money-wise and she was working less to spend more time with the boys. Her credit card already carried a healthy balance but somehow she was determined to make it happen.
She had attempted to do some building herself, but she made it worse.
So far she had no luck with finding anyone to finish the playhouse — offers for March, June or laughter is what she received. She even tried playing the widow card and two sad boys, but no luck.
So she did the next best thing and got a tool kit with its own screw drivers, hammers and saw. She put a note inside promising to have the house finished by the start of summer with their help, with love from Santa. She would put it under the tree before they woke up on Christmas morning.
Christmas Eve saw the boys in their new Christmas pajamas, pleased with a gift they opened, as they snuggled into their beds to hear her read ‘Twas the night before Christmas. “Do you think Santa and his elves will finish the playhouse?” “Of course he will,” said Jack, “he always brings our wishes because we believe in Santa. Santa only comes to homes where children believe — right, Mommy?” “That’s right, honey.”
In the morning she woke up early with a sense of dread. She was sad and lonely and feeling sorry for herself. The boys were still sleeping and she took the time to make her coffee and plan her conversation about the playhouse.
At the front door was a card. She opened it. “Merry Christmas, sweethearts — sorry it took so long!! Love you.”
Sorry it took so long, what? She looked out the living room window and there was a beautiful playhouse, complete with shiny red roof, rope ladders, roof hatch and, she was certain, a secret compartment. She ran and woke up the boys. Their enthusiasm and happiness was literally through the hatch in the roof! And there was a secret room as well: everything they planned with their dad three years before.
“Santa did it, I knew he would,” said the boys. “Santa is magic!”
Well somebody’s magic, she thought. On the wall were the original plans drawn by her husband three years before and there tucked against a wall was his favourite hammer. The boys saw it and said so sweetly, “Dad must have come down from heaven and helped Santa!”
“How was it built,” she asked the neighbours’ carpenters, friends, and no one knew.
Magic, because they believed.
Michele Blais has worked with children and families in the North Okanagan for the past 30 years. She is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star, appearing every other Sunday.