A Christmas Story About Batteries

December 24, 2007 at 3:55 am 4 comments

This Christmas I want to share a story with you that I absolutely love.  It’s from a book entitled Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck.  Her son, Adam, has Down syndrome.  The story is long, and it took me a while to type.  But if you get through it, it is so worth it.  


“Every December my friend Annette, who in other respects is a very nice person, spends an inordinate amount of time and money obtaining the most obnoxious toy guy on the market for Adam’s Christmas present.  I don’t give my children guns as toys, but as Adam’s honorary auntie, Annette feels that it is her right and responsibility to indulge the kid’s most violent, macho, antisocial tendencies.

Adam loves her very much.

Annette’s first criterion, when purchasing the Christmas gun, is wattage.  She looks for a product that makes enough noise to disrupt the breeding process for every bird within a mile radius of our house.  Flashing lights rank a close second.  Annette prefers guns that flash several colors, all bright enough to stun the average person’s retina, so that for a couple of minutes after Adam fires the gun at you, you walk blindly into walls and pillars and closed glass doors.  It is also very important to have an innovative design, with various exotic flanges meant to suggest deadliness of interplanetary proportions.

It goes without saying that guns of this magnitude require dozens of large batteries.  Annette never forgets this; she always buys an ample supply of them, wrapping them in a separate package, which she tapes to the actual gun.  I’m telling you, the woman has absolutely no mercy.

The first Christmas after Annette and I got to know each other, my children arose at a predictably ungodly hour and descended on their gifts like locusts on an alfalfa field.  Along with most other American parents, John and I had spent a good part of the previous month tracking down the items our children had requested in their letters to Santa.  Katie had asked for a set of birdcalls she’d seen in an FAO Schwarz catalog.  Five-year-old Lizzie wanted one of those dolls they advertise on Saturday morning cartoons, the ones that have repulsively cute names and have been engineered to mimic the least pleasant behaviors of real human babies.  I think that year Lizzie’s doll had an anxiety-related bed-wetting disorder or something.  Adam wanted a whole brigade of toys with names like Cretin Slime Monsters.

In the proud tradition of delayed gratification John inherited from a long line of Becks, the children opened their presents one by one.  Katie went first.  The FAO Schwarz birdcall set had turned out to cost several hundred dollars, so John and I had purchased what we thought was a reasonable facsimile.  It didn’t cover quite as broad an ornithological spectrum as the pricier set, but it could produce a great duck sound, a good owl, and several very convincing songbirds.  When she saw it, Katie’s face fell.  It is an awful thing to see your kid’s face fall on Christmas morning.

“Don’t you like it?” I asked anxiously.

“No, no it’s okay.  I like it.”  Katie smiled a stalwart smile, but her lover lip trembled ever so slightly.  I began to feel that perhaps we should have taken out a second mortgage to pay for the FAO Schwarz birdcall set.

Lizzie went next.  She tore the gift wrapping off her bed-wetting doll, and then she, too, developed that troubled look around the eyes.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Well”, said Lizzie, with her high voice and precocious vocabulary, “it’s not exactly what I asked for.”

John, who had fought his way through about seventeen toy stores looking for that particular doll, burst out, “I thought you wanted a Tiny Whiny Princess Wee-Wee!”

“I did,” said Lizzie, “but I wanted the one with the pink jewels, and this one only has the purple jewels.”

Within minutes, both the girls had reconciled themselves to their gifts.  Like their pioneer ancestors, many of whom had died crossing the Great Plains on foot in the dead of winter, dragging their possessions behind them in handcarts, my daughters were able to steel themselves to the brutal realities of an imperfect world.  This was good, because I had been on the verge of sending them both to military school.

Now it was Adam’s turn.  He fished around under the Christmas tree until he found a package with his name on it.  It was from Annette.  He tore the paper off, holding his breath, and found – batteries.  And eight-pack of double D’s, still encased in plastic.

“Oh, honey,” I said, “that’s not the real present.  The real present is–“

But Adam didn’t hear me.  He was staring at those batteries as if they were so magnificent he couldn’t quite take them in.  His mouth fell open in astonished ecstasy as he held the batteries up to the light.

“Oh, wow!” he said.  “Oh, wow!  Mom, look!  Batteries!”  (It actually sounded more like “mom, ook?  Aggabies” but the message was clear.)

Before we could divert his attention to any other gift, Adam leapt to his feet and began running around the house, locating every appliance, tool, and toy that ran on batteries.  The whole time, he babbled excitedly about all the things he could do with this fabulous, fabulous gift.  As we watched, it began to occur to all of us “normal” people in the family that batteries really were a pretty darn good Christmas present.  They didn’t look like much, on the face of it, but think what they could do!  Put them in place, and inanimate objects suddenly came to life, moving, talking, singing, lighting up the room.  Something about Adam always manages to see straight past the outward ordinariness of a thing to any magic it may hold inside.  We wouldn’t even have bothered to let him open the gun, except that we were afraid Annette would buy him a neutron bomb for his birthday if we didn’t.”


Have a Magical, Merry Christmas!!! 


Entry filed under: Books and Writing, Down syndrome, Family.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mmichele  |  December 24, 2007 at 5:06 am

    that is one of my favourite books of all time!

  • 2. Julie  |  December 24, 2007 at 7:15 am

    Great story. Thanks for taking the time to re-type it for us!

  • 3. theramblinghousewife  |  December 27, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    Love this story! 🙂

  • 4. carlye  |  October 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    what page is this on?


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