It wasn’t even on her list to begin with. Having a Dec. 21 birthday, Ruby knows the drill: one big birthday present and one big Christmas present, along with smaller items for both occasions — clothes, socks, earrings, books — and she’s had her list made up since Halloween. 

The big birthday present was a real working microscope, complete with slides and stains and a couple of lenses. We researched it together for weeks; I ordered the one we settled on in early December; and when it came, I wrapped it in birthday paper (not Christmas paper; that’s one of the big rules of Christmastime birthdays) even though she knew what it was.

The big Christmas present was the American Girl Doll of the Year, which she accepted would not be available in time for Christmas, but which I will order and have shipped as soon as it’s released.

Then, somewhere in those four days between her birthday and Christmas, she started obsessing over the Our Generation Sweet Stop Truck. 

“Hannah has it, and it’s so cool,” she told me. “It’s $109.99 at Target. I really want it. Like a lot.”

“More than you want the Doll of the Year?” I asked. “I can get it for you instead of that, but at $110, it would have to cancel out one of your big presents, and you already opened the microscope.”

“Nah,” she said. “But maybe if I get enough money for my birthday and Christmas combined and add it to what I already have, maybe I can buy it for myself.”

“Maybe,” I said — and forgot about it.

But then, after her grandparents, my mom, several great-aunts and -uncles, and my dad all hooked her up with cold hard cash on Christmas Day, she made her case again. 

“Can we go to Target tomorrow?” she asked. “Please please please?”

Sure,” I said casually. (My casual tone should be noted as foreshadowing because it’s the last time in this story that anyone was casual.)

But Target on Vets was out of stock. Target in Kenner was out of stock. Target in Harvey was out of stock. Amazon had it — for $280. eBay had it for less, but at $189 plus $30 shipping, it was still out of Ruby’s price range.

Then I had a stroke of inspiration. I searched for the truck in St. Louis, where Ruby would be spending New Year’s, and found it at a Target in Town & Country, Mo. 

A quick call to her St. Louis grandparents confirmed that they’d be happy to pick it up, so I took Ruby’s money, put it in my wallet, charged the Sweet Stop truck on my debit card, and sent the pickup information on to St. Louis.

Boom. Done. Ruby twined herself around me, cooing that I was the best mom ever, the best mom in the whole wide world. 

“Ah, it was nothin’, kid,” I said — or something like that.

For the next few days, Ruby excitedly planned what she’d do with her new ice cream truck. When a belated birthday card from her godfather arrived with $25, she immediately spent it on accessories for the ice cream truck. She made flyers for ice cream-related promotions and brainstormed ice cream flavors. 

And then her grandparents called. They’d gone to get the truck only to find that they hadn’t picked it up in time, and it had been restocked and sold. They had a niece who was working at Target, and she started searching various local stores for the truck, coming up empty. There were no Sweet Stop trucks, she bleakly reported several hours later, available in the entire state of Missouri at all.

So then I searched, again, for anything within 100 miles of me (Covington , maybe, or Slidell?), and found one 80 miles away in D’Iberville, Miss. “Only one left in stock,” the website told me urgently, and feeling both stupid and desperate, I typed in my address and credit card information and hit “submit.” 

They can’t be shipped, obviously, because that would be too easy, which is how Thursday found me — the former haughty teen who scoffed at the Tickle-Me-Elmo insanity, the mom who buys everything on Amazon because shopping at a real store is too inconvenient, the sensible planner who researched a microscope for weeks before buying it — hopping in my minivan on a whim and driving 160 miles round-trip to get what seems like the last Sweet Stop ice cream truck in the Lower 48. 

I know there are plenty of parents who wouldn’t have done it; I know there are plenty of parents who are judging me right now for doing it. 

“How,” I can hear them asking in my head, “will she be able to manage the disappointment of not getting into her first-choice college or not getting her dream job or any number of real-life scenarios she’ll encounter in the future if you’re willing to go to such literal lengths to not disappoint her now?”

All I can say to that is that I feel certain she’ll manage those things the way she’s managed so many things so far, both big and little — her dad and my divorce, not getting invited to parties, losing basketball games, having friends move away, changing schools, not having her drawing picked for the school T-shirt contest, having her dad move out of state, having her dog die.

I know it’s part of life, that I shouldn’t try to protect her from most of those things even if I could. My job is not to save her from life, just help her navigate. And so I haven’t stepped in when she was fighting with her friends or when she tanked her AR average by taking tests on books she hadn’t read. I let her work those things out for herself, suffer the natural consequences, learn the hard lessons. I hated watching it, and it hurt me just as much as it hurt her (possibly more), but I know she’s a better person for it.

There is so much in the world that I can’t fix, can’t control. But this. This was a pain in the ass, but it was ultimately pretty easy for me to do. It was a problem that I could solve with just a tank of gas and a few hours.

And so I did it. And it felt pretty great.