Sunday, December 11, 2011

the fiasco of '87

i posted this right after thanksgiving last year, but i think i had all of 30 followers then, so i thought i'd repost since it's the story of my most memorable childhood christmas.

all through our growing up years, my brother and i almost always knew where our parents stashed our christmas presents. they'd told us the real deal on santa when we were only 4 and 5, 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 and 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 and 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 and conquer approach and it wasn't long before we hit pay dirt. we found stuff in the dresser drawers and a bonus batch of loot in the bottom of their closet.

we kept up the digging and 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 and still get out without being caught. we'd keep each other informed if we found gifts clearly intended for the 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 11 and 12 and we'd done the sneaky spying for at least 2 years, undiscovered. our parents had laid down the law at some point and 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 and 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 and our fingers in the proverbial cookie jar.

we weren't fast enough. in less time than we'd have dreamed possible, mom had made it up the stairs and into her bedroom and 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 and gave us paper and pens and 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 and 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 and consulted with dad; all the while we tried to hide away where we wouldn't be seen and might possibly be forgotten about altogether rather than face the dire 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 and let us have all those beautiful presents in their sullied 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 and brother drove around town and took back all the gifts that we'd thought we would be getting. i stayed home and helped mom cook and 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 and 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 and dad said it, i could be darn sure 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 and the ones that chris and i were giving to the family. we didn't wake up at 3am ready to pounce on our stockings. we 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 yet. i got the fake nails that i'd been dreaming of. i'd always had crappy nails and 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 and 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 and 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 and 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 and forgiveness.

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


  1. And that's a Christmas you'll never forget! Kudos to the parents for sticking to it. I don't know if I could have done it or not!

  2. Awwwww....I don't remember this story, and I have read your blog from the get go. Your mom is pretty genius for coming up with the idea to separate you guys!

  3. My oldest son has usually found some of his gifts each year even though I try to keep them hidden and us a locked door. I have returned his gifts also, but he still looks. This year he even got one of the gifts out of the bag and opened it. He knows he will not get the gifts back yet he still does it. Last year he talked the other kids into it and they sat there as I pulled out bags of gifts to return for each of them. At least the other kids learned not to do that again, my daughter was the most affected. I remember looking with my brother, I wanted to know, but not really, he would go so far as to unwrap and then wrap up again.

  4. This takes me back!

    We also searched high and low for our presents ... only we did it twenty years earlier.

    One Christmas, after we'd been discovered pulling our prezzies out of a cupboard to check 'em out, there was NOTHING under our tree on Christmas day.

    However, on Boxing day, everything was back under the tree!

    The BIG day came a day late for us, but it did come.

  5. I wasn't following at the time so I'm pretty pleased you re-posted this for the benefit of people like myself. Excellent post, it definitely does sound like quite the interesting Christmas at the very least, I mean you still remember it clearly!

  6. Your parents were awesome parents!

  7. Your parents sounded amazing. No backsliding on their parts.
    As our children have gotten older, we don't take near the same pains to hide things from them anymore. Open bags in her closet, a brand new set of luggage under a blanket in mine. My wife figures, if they want to ruin their surprise, it's on them. As for me, I don't ever want to know, so I don't go searching.

  8. I have to say I never ever ever ever snooped for any of my presents. If I even accidentally stumbled across a corner of a box, I was OUTTA THERE!

  9. My parents had the same snooping rule; however, my brother and I luckily never got caught! We have the same rule in our house with our kids and I just hope I am as strong as your parents and would actually follow thru!

  10. I was scared that you were going to find something else in that closet...

  11. Good parenting (though its a little sad to read...). My mom's solution was to wrap everything immediately, so even if we found a wrapped present, we wouldn't know what it was. Easy. I didn't really care about snooping too much, though, because I liked the surprise

  12. Wow, your parents rock!! Good for them - it must have been a hard day in parenting.

    I was never tempted to look for my presents. I really looked forward to the surprise.

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