Saturday, December 18, 2010

Present Previews

Before Wednesday's late-night wanderings through the aisles of Target, I had managed to do very little shopping for gifts, particularly for the girls. I had, however, found some handmade dolls' clothes at a craft fair a few weeks ago, thinking Santa might want to dress their American Girls in new duds for Christmas morning.

I was excited about those outfits, cute and unique. And I was proud that I had the beginnings of a plan for December 25.

Imagine my dismay when I walked through the front door after work on Monday evening and found the little garments on the dining room table. Husband looked at me sheepishly. Daughters gathered around me, hopefully.

"Hey, Mom! Are those for us???"

"AAAAAAHUUUUAURGGGH!" I clenched my fists and headed to the kitchen to express myself briefly and in less appropriate terms.

"I was afraid of that," Husband mumbled regretfully.

I could only be irritated with myself, as I had haphazardly stored the bag containing the presents on the floor beside our bed.  Not exactly hidden.  In their defense, the girls are a little young yet to be serious snoopers.

I was reminded, though, of the year my brother and I were caught trying to peek at Santa's stash in the wee hours of Christmas morning.

I must have been in fourth grade; it was the year I asked for a ten-speed. We lived in a tract home with a loft on the second floor overlooking the entryway and living room. Our bedrooms opened onto the loft. My brother and I, even when we had our own rooms, traditionally slept together on Christmas Eve. That night we hid flashlights in his bed so we could spy on the haul below from the loft above at the opportune time.

We waited and waited until our parents went to bed after Christmas preparations, till they securely shut their bedroom door to the left of the loft.

We made our move shortly thereafter. Flashlights pointed and hissing excited directives and warnings to each other, we crept out of my brother's bedroom and out onto the loft to peer over the edge and onto the bounty below.


Santa's minions had tucked the goods safely out of view in the dining room underneath the loft. We let out a collective sigh of disappointment and attempted one more neck-craning survey of the scene. Just as I was exclaiming to my little brother that I could swear my flashlight caught the glint of what could only be spokes of a ten-speed bicycle, my parents' door flew open and we were chased off to bed. Our flashlight beams, my parents claimed, swept the crack under their bedroom door and they thought we were robbers, stealing the presents.

Our disappointment was that we were not only sloppy "thieves," but thieves with no proper glimpse of what there was to steal, all hopes for wishes come true notwithstanding.

Suffice it to say, the ten-speed was a valid surprise the next morning.

I also recall the season years later when I deliberately peeked at my presents squirreled away in my parents' room.  The revelation was how I imagine the high of a powerful drug feels: the thrill of discovery and nervousness accompanying it was intense but short lived. My guilt and dismay at ruining my opportunity for genuine gratitude sustained itself past Christmas. That Christmas morning I kept hoping for something unexpected and was duly disappointed; there was no joy in knowing what I was getting before I actually got it.

But at some point in my life the excitement of anticipation switched from surrounding those gifts I might get to those I was giving.

Each year, there is a gift that absolutely hits the mark:  the one not asked for but which reveals the giver "gets" its recipient.  The one he doesn't know he wants, the one she thought didn't exist.  The one worked on, made, or found.  That kind of giving and getting is the Real Santa of Christmas. 

And those gifts are the secrets not to spoil and the "reveals" to protect.  My little girls' discovery on Monday reminds me to get my game on, to preserve the magic and excitement and wonder with a little more determination.

So, in that spirit:  Stay out of the trunk of my car, people!

1 comment:

Heather PC said...

One late December when I was about nine years old, my brother and I played hide-and-seek. I chose to hide in my mom's closet, having to push through and step over many bags in the process. What is a nine-year-old to do when stuck in a closet with a bunch of bags other than to peer inside each one? I knew after the first bag or two what these represented, but I was too horror-struck and fascinated to stop. Like with you, the guilt and dismay lasted longer than the week to Christmas, and Christmas morning was the biggest disappointment. I knew not only what I was given--and had to force widened eyes, a smile, and an occasional "oh!" as I opened each gift--but also what everyone else was getting. To this day, I hate ruined surprises.