The Grinch that Stole Chanukah … and Gave it Back

How my niece grew my heart three sizes this winter break

The Grinch that Stole Chanukah photo
Caley’s pillow with an ‘80s Barbie

If you have kids or nieces/nephews, you've heard of Hatchimals. Children all around the country asked their mall Santas to pretty please place one of these $200 mechanical egg-cracking dragons below their tinseled trees this year. For that cash, kids could buy four ostrich eggs and have money left over to go out to the movies.

But kids don't think like that. My six-year-old nephew picked a $10 Nordstrom gift card from a Chanukah game and insisted my dad trade with him for three Pokémon cards.

Caley, my perceptive niece, was lured in by the Hatchimal gimmick and begged my sister for one this Chanukah. Despite that maternal pang to provide, my sister and I have this competing complex of being both incredibly charitable and you'd-have-to-rip-this-dollar-from-my-stone-cold-corpse personalities. Caley did not get a Hatchimal. She got a miniature sewing machine, a dainty replica of her mother's clunky model

Wondering whether she liked it? I'll let you be the judge.


I pull up in front of my sister's house thinking this, this right here, is the best part of coming home. For some people, offering to babysit is a compulsory gesture, a gesture they hope their siblings will acknowledge then forget like a skirt in the back of a closet.

I love babysitting. The chance to be silly in freeze dance, the baby with clothes abandoned, romping in nothing but a diaper. The chance to be creative, frying something in a skillet or in the kitchen sculpting with shaving cream; the chance for storytelling and quiet contemplation before lights out. It's a time you reference later over FaceTime states away.

I knock once and the door opens immediately. My sister and brother-in-law are waiting to go out to dinner with friends. Caley doesn't notice I've entered until I hover over her shoulder, watching the sewing needle pierce a thread through a red felt shirt she's making for her doll. She stops to give me a hug and jumps off her chair. She runs out of the office and returns with a plump misshapen pillow. I stare at its lines and then up at Caley.

"I made it for you," she says. "Do you like it?"

I do, but I get the feeling she wants to keep it. Like when you walk up to a child while she's drawing and she triumphantly holds up the picture and says, "it's for you," even though she had no way of guessing you would walk through the door and happen upon her coloring. I want her to keep it.

"It's great," I say, "but this would be a great pillow for one of your dolls, right?"

She shrugs, looks sideways. I say "come." We freeze dance, she does the splits. We skillet fry, she adds the spices. We read Curious George, she lets her brothers into her bed even though her door says "no boys allowed." She dreams.

About an hour later, my sister returns.

"So, what'd you think of Caley's gift?"

I don't understand.

"It's the very first thing she's ever sewn and she said she was making it for you," my sister says. "She's been walking around the house all day asking if I think Eliana's going to like it."

My ribcage sinks, I can hear branches knocking against each other. I am in disbelief.

I leave the pillow, hoping she can give it to me again and somehow that new memory can cloak the old one like a coat of paint. I call her in the morning, and tell her how much I love the pillow. Kids are benevolent forgivers.

Caley's present got me thinking of the story behind Chanukah, how the comically puny Maccabees clashed armor with the formidable Greek militia. I thought about how the Jews could only find a mini jug of oil, which should have lasted 24 hours, but miraculously sustained the menorah for seven more days.

A friend recently told me that every time I blog from home my posts sound angry. To be honest most of them are anger-filled, because it's contentious transitioning from a space of freedom to a place of rules and expectations. Especially this break, when I've sent out 34 job applications to companies that don't necessarily even afford you a rejection letter and you find yourself under-skilled and overwhelmed. It gets moody.

But Caley's Chanukah pillow helped fend off bad feelings that day and every day that I've used it. It makes me, the small puny army-of-one-entry-level-reporter feel like I can conquer the slump. It sustains me when I'm applying to jobs or moping around the house feeling bored and uninteresting. It makes me feel like I'm not common and dispensable.

Simply, her small gift lit up the holiday.

Eliana Block photo 375
Two truths and a lie: Eliana Block is a Zionist. She learned sex-ed really for the first time in college. She aspires to write her first novel while skateboarding around the world and sampling different peanut butter recipes. Lie: roller-blading*... Read More

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