Chapter 16
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The Gift of the Magis

I wanted a bike — I got a chair

“I know what Daddy’s getting you for Christmas,” my daughter said in early December last year. “It’s kind of something for the whole family.”

The author with her family

I interpreted this statement as a hint that I was getting a bicycle. It made perfect sense. My daughter and husband go for rides together on weekend afternoons while, bikeless, I stay home. The subject of getting a road bike had already come up in conversation, and I knew my husband, the cycling enthusiast, would dig the idea of shopping for a bike almost as much as he’d enjoy the time we spent tooling around together. It all made sense, and I was totally down with the idea of a bike under the tree.

I pictured us on Christmas day: after presents and breakfast, we’d bundle up and head out on a test spin in the chill winter air. I began to imagine my imminent future as Bike Girl: riding to the coffee shop, around my neighborhood, on long weekend excursions with my family.

But when I emerged from our bedroom on Christmas morning, what to my wondering eyes did appear but something decidedly not-a-bike. Something else that rolls.

I knew what it was instantly. Even shrouded beneath a bedsheet, the shape was undisguisable. We’d seen a Magis Spun Chair on a trip to the City Museum in St. Louis over the summer. The first impression of one of these things can’t be anything but wondrous: they are huge spinning tops fashioned of hard plastic. Nestled in one, you can experience the unique thrill that comes with tilting back so far you know you’re going to flip over — but then you don’t. Around and around you go, never spilling. I was smitten — so much so, in fact, that I mused out loud about how fun it would be to have one of these in our house.

Later I looked up the chairs online, gawked at the price tag, and mused again — silently, this time — that such a thing wouldn’t really make sense at home. Very large, ultra-modern, not the best pairing for a small house with a slightly boho style.

And now here it sat. A bright red Magis Spun Chair. About half the size of our Christmas tree. I removed the sheet and sat down in it. I didn’t know what to do with my face.

“Do you like it, Mama?” my daughter said.

“I’m not sure she likes it, Daddy,” she said.

At that moment, not yet fortified by coffee, I was realizing that I would be not be reborn as Bike Girl. It was just a story I’d told myself. Pure fiction.

My daughter tore into her first gift, and I tried to put my attention there. But I also tilted backwards in the chair and felt, again, the delicious thrill of not-tipping, of swirling right back to start. 

We all took our turns on the chair through the day and discussed where it might live. The porch? Outside? In my office? (Not the living room.) It occurred to me that 15 minutes spent swiftly spinning round and round in the Magis could constitute a decent core workout. It occurred to me, too, that gently rolling back and forth in the Magis could be an act of stress relief, of moving meditation.

Maybe I wouldn’t be rolling out on the open road, pedaling away my worries, but a story of life with the chair began to take shape in my mind. What story, I had to wonder, had my husband been telling himself about this chair and our family?

“It’s whimsical! It’s fun!” he said.

He had seized on an idea in a moment of mutual glee and decided to make it a fixture in our lives. For months he had been living nose-to-glass with the memory of the fun we’d had with those chairs at the museum. For him, the chair said something about our family.

The story of a relationship can’t be written by one person — it is a collaborative work, often a messy one. Individual members will always struggle over control of the pen, but the successful ones learn to share. It’s a truth I’m constantly reminding myself of.  

Also true? As stinging as expectations can be when they’re not met, we always have the opportunity to reflect, adjust, and move on. Fact is, my family’s new chair is really a lot of fun.

And my husband’s impulse was pure, heartfelt. I could decide he was being impractical. I could critique his judgment in matters of family finance. Or I could celebrate him for keeping a tiny happy moment alive to experience again and again.

Now that I’ve had some time to sit with it, so to speak, I’m thankful that he brought this chair into our home. And I think — not for the first time — about how his playful sensibility is a necessary counterweight to my own practicality. Together, we keep this family balanced. Maybe we all need our partners to give us a truly weird gift every now and then.

Also, none of this means that Bike Girl can’t exist. She’s just waiting for me to grab the pen and write her into the script, too.

The Gift of the Magis

Copyright (c) 2019 by Susannah Felts. All rights reserved. Susannah Felts is a writer, editor, and educator in Nashville, as well as co-founder of The Porch, a nonprofit literary center. She is the author of the novel This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record and numerous journal and magazine articles.