Monday, November 29, 2010

the christmas fiasco of '87

i was thinking about writing a christmas story to help out tracy at "it's an average life" while she takes some time off from writing, but doesn't want her blog to go silent. i was digging through my brain bank of christmases past & there's one that stands out from my typical childhood holidays.

all through our growing up years, my brother & i almost always knew where our parents stashed our christmas presents. they'd told us the real deal on santa when we were only 3 and 4, so it only went to reason that if there was no santa, then the gifts must be stashed somewhere nearby. it wasn't long before our parents wised up to our snooping & put a padlock on the basement cupboard where the goodies were being stored. that shut us down for a few years... until we moved into a new house that didn't come equipped with such a conveniently lockable storage space.

it didn't take us long to start up our snooping ways afresh when we moved & realized that the hiding options were limited. we figured that the most secure location in the house was probably our parents' bedroom, so we took a divide & conquer approach & it wasn't long before we hit pay dirt. we found stuff in the dresser drawers & a bonus batch of loot in the bottom of their closet.

we kept up the digging & sneaking each time my parents were expected to be out of the house for at least half an hour. it seemed like that left us enough of a buffer to check for any newly acquired goodies & still get out without being caught. we'd keep each other informed if we found things for each other so that there would be no surprises come christmas morning. if we only had limited time, we'd hit the closet first because that's where mom kept the good stuff. the dresser was mostly the piddly stocking stuff like gum, cheapie toys and maybe some bags of rubber bands (we loved to shoot each other with them).

by this time we were probably 10 and 11 & we did the naughty spying for at least 2 years, undiscovered. our parents had laid down the law at some point & made it perfectly clear that if they ever found out we'd been peeking at our presents, those very presents would be returned to the store & we would not get them.

we thought we were master spies. we thought we'd never get caught. we thought wrong.

i clearly remember being deep into the pile on mom's side of the closet, admiring the cute new clothes i'd be getting in just a few days. chris was digging through his own future belongings...when we heard a noise. we both froze for a moment before starting to frantically stuff things back into the spaces where we'd found them. we usually tried to be precise about putting them away, but this time it was more about speed so we wouldn't get caught with our heads tangled in mom's dresses & our fingers in the cookie jar.

we weren't fast enough. in less time than we'd have dreamed possible, mom had made it up the stairs & into her bedroom & caught us in the act of spying. there was no way to deny it. the evidence was plain as day for all of us to see. and i've got to give my mom credit for thinking on her feet because she separated us right away & gave us paper & pens & told us to write down everything we'd found. since we'd made sure to keep each other informed about every scrap we came across, we couldn't plead ignorance about anything even if we hadn't laid eyes on it ourselves. and since we were separated & didn't know what the other would write, we had to put it all down there, on paper, to damn ourselves or risk even further punishment for trying to lie by omission. HO-LY CRAP!

she compared our lists & consulted with dad; all the while we tried to hide away where we wouldn't be seen & might possibly be forgotten about altogether rather than face the consequences that we knew were coming our way. i don't remember any yelling, just that eery silence that should never exist in a happy home with 4 lively kids. silence...

it seemed like it would never end. we whispered together about whether or not they'd actually go through with their threats. they were usually pretty solid about sticking to what they'd said, but in this case, surely they wouldn't take away our whole christmas! surely they loved us enough to have pity on our souls. if there was any love in the world, they would have to change their minds & let us have all those beautiful presents in their stash.

a couple days later, it was christmas eve. it was a saturday. dad didn't have to go to work that day, so it was decided that it was time for the presents to all be returned. my dad & brother drove around town & took back all the gifts that we'd thought we would be getting. i stayed home & helped mom cook & bake the festive food. i wasn't mad at my parents because in my heart, i knew that i'd broken the rules. i knew that i wasn't exempt from the rules & that there were repercussions for my actions. i was sad, but i'd learned a valuable lesson that i knew would stick with me for my whole life. if mom & dad said it, i could be darn sure they meant it. they meant business even in the things that hurt them too.

the next day, the space under the tree was pretty sparse. mostly just gifts for my little sisters & the ones that chris & i were giving to the family. we didn't wake up at 3am ready to pounce on our stockings. we actually got some sleep for a change and we woke up calm rather than hyper. we actually remembered the true meaning of christmas for once because we weren't distracted by all the presents we hoped for or got.

as it turned out, we got a few little stocking things each. they must have been hidden somewhere else where we hadn't discovered them. i got the fake nails that i'd been dreaming of. i'd always had crappy nails & wanted to have long, luxurious nails to tap constantly on any hard surface, but my parents had never thought i was old enough for them. this was my lucky fingernail year. and i also got the jean jacket from the gap that i'd been coveting for so many months. it was one of the things that i'd been so excited to find in the closet & was heart sick knowing it was going back to the gap to be owned by some other girl who'd be cooler than me.

i was shocked & amazed to find this most precious item wrapped up under the tree because i was sure it went back to the mall with everything else. my brother also got his most desired item. my parents told us that even though we'd broken the rules & we didn't deserve to receive these gifts, they were having mercy on us. like Jesus had mercy on the world by dying on the cross for all of us who didn't deserve his love & forgiveness.

that's a lesson that i'll never forget.


  1. Very interesting to hear that story told through the memory of the child, now grown up with a child of her own. One other detail I remember is that when your Dad and I finally sat you & Chris down to have the requisite heart to heart, the main lesson we wanted to convey was the value and fragility of trust. I remember taking a favorite ornament off the Christmas tree, laying it on the table, and smashing it with one quick blow by a heavy object, while you watched and gasped. The fragile ornament symbolized trust, which is very easy to break and extremely difficult to put back together. Mercy. Trust. Good lessons for a kid to learn at such a young age. Thanks for telling that story. I love you.

  2. What an awesome story. That takes a lot for a parent to follow through on something like that!

  3. Thanks for sharing this story! You have wise parents who really love you ;)

  4. why don't i remember the ornament smashing?!

  5. My Mom did her best shopping on Christmas Eve since we were all little sneaks. She alternated with keeping it all locked in the trunk of her car and tied a bell on her key chain.

  6. Wow. That is actually an amazing story . You have wonderful parents. I'm so glad that you still received a few gifts. It made them all the more special. So did you guys finish your snooping days?

    (My parents hid ours in the luggage under the bed one year. *Hangs head in shame.)

  7. Wonderful Story. I admire how this played out. And even more beautiful is to see the two sides of it ... with a comment of your Mom this makes for a perfect little situation somehow. Thanks for sharing with us!

  8. I never really went snooping for my gifts. Even when I eventually found out, I knew how my mom and dad did expensive shopping: Layaway and grandma's house. Never had the temptation around Sitsgal, it was either at the store or stored away until the night before. Then there was no way to get to it within that time. Hope you had a nice Christmas this year.

  9. Amazing story. I wonder what our world would be like if more parents thought through their threats and rules and actually followed through? What lessons would their children learn? It definitely shows me the importance of a consistent message.

    (And I love reading the comment from your mom!)

  10. Visiting from SITS! Love this post. I just wrote my own holiday post and created a linky so I could find several holiday posts to read about all in one place. I love reading holiday stories. I was so excited to see that everyone had put their links up on the SITS site! Happy New Year!

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