Coal in My Stocking

Christmas doesn’t have to lose its magic. I didn’t want it to. I have tried to hold on to that warm, fluttery feeling for as long as I could. When my mother strung up those long cables of colored lights around the tree, I would lay beneath that tree for hours, lost in those soft colors, transported to a warm safe place where sugar cookies were baked and joy was felt from wrapping gifts (and opening them). Even though I grew up in California where there wasn’t any snow, putting on the Disney Christmas Album on the record player was enough to get me in the mood and imagine that I was spending the holiday in a snowy cabin out in the wilderness. This was a special time for me: a time of innocence, when I believed Santa existed and would make my wildest dreams come true if I were good… this was a time before I was aware of bills and my parents struggling to pay for everything. I was lucky to have it all.

One thing that I should have asked for Santa in my letter was patience, because I lacked plenty of it, much to my parents’ chagrin. One Christmas I really made out like a bandit — I had about 8 gifts under the tree, each wrapped in a different type of paper, which made it look like its own illustrated children’s story. I had 6 days to go until Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t wait. The suspense gnawed at my insides like a dog going to town on a bone. I had to know what was under that wrapping paper. So once when my mother was out of the house, I tiptoed over to the tree (not that it mattered since no one was around anyway), and picked up a present. I turned it over, and using my nail, tore a tiny piece, about the side of a pea, up from the wrapping paper. Somehow, someway, I could see that square centimeter of the box and figure out what it was. My mind was practically an encyclopedia of children’s toys and television commercials, so I knew which was what. Victory! I set the present down and tried the same with the others. Victory! Victory! I carefully rearranged the gifts back in their haphazard manner under the tree and ran off. That year, I was successful. A small victory, but I would eventually end up losing the war.

A few years later, we moved up to Washington state, where there was snow. Beautiful, sugary mounds of snow everywhere! Somehow, I had found out from my father that our presents were in the trunk of his car that year. My father took great pains to always have his keys on him around that time because he knew what I was capable of, but I was relentless. One day, while playing with my toys upstairs, ding! A light bulb went off in my head. Dad keeps a SPARE key in his wallet for emergencies. How on earth did I know that? He must have told me at some point, but why? Did it even matter? So, when the moment was ripe, I snuck into my dad’s wallet, swiped the key, and darted out to the car. I opened the trunk and saw that the Calvin and Hobbes comic books I desperately wanted were in there. YES!!! That was all of the information I needed. I shut the trunk door quietly and slithered back into the house, returned the key to its proper home, and probably ran off to play a computer game. Victory!

Somehow, in that way that parents know everything without batting an eyelash, in that way that when their back is turned you’re making faces at them and they know, my dad knew. I would like to say that this story has a happy Christmas ending with me feigning surprise and joy when I opened my Christmas presents, but I believe I was set up. It was a trap. My father planted obvious hints to see how I would react and lacking willpower and patience at the age of 9 years old, failed. As a reward, my father ended up taking back my Calvin and Hobbes book back to the store. I had lost. And was crushed. Did I learn my lesson? Possibly. Don’t keep a spare key in your wallet.

Happy holidays, everyone.

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