02
Jan
12

The 12 Ways of Christmas: the shopping

[part 5]

Christmas shopping with my parents was a game of self-deception the whole family could play. Mom and dad got to spend more money than they had any business pretending they had access to. And our end of the bargain, us kids, was simply to not stumble upon or identify any of the gifts our parents bought right in front of us and made no special effort to hide from us.

Rather than getting a babysitter, they would take me and my younger siblings to Toys R Us and dispatch me to drag them to the other end of the store to distract them (and me, too, really) with … I don’t know … things I knew they would not be buying for us. Which basically limited our environs to baby toys and board games.

The unspoken threat: If you see it, you won’t find it under the tree. And if one of us should happen to see something, we knew better than to say something. We just contented ourselves knowing that, out of the entire, mind-bending inventory of the store, what ended up under the tree could still be anything. Almost.

I was old enough to not want to spoil the surprise, so I played along, but I was young enough to still be very interested in what they were getting. After mom and dad had safely cleared the cash registers, I could lead the kids out to the van and pack everyone into their seats while mom and dad loaded up the cargo and covered everything with a blanket.

Finding a hidden gift on accident was the worst—though, in my defense, Mom and Dad were not exactly CIA-level secret keepers. I once caught a glimpse of something I assumed was for me (it was something I had asked for) under my parents’ bed, and I cursed myself for being so careless. I made it a point thereafter to avoid their bedroom altogether between November and January.

Eventually there were too many things to hide under the bed or stash away in a closet, so our parents put a big refrigerator box in their bedroom, stretched an afghan across the top, and filled it with everything they bought. It was a slight step up from piling them in the back of the van and covering them with a blanket, but it didn’t do much to instill a sense of mystery about Santa Claus.

I think at one point my parents rehearsed with me some explanation, just in case a little one should ask, that Santa had to store some stuff at our house because his workshop was getting too full. It was an awfully big world to make deliveries to. There was some logic, I suppose, to having satellite storage facilities.

Could also be that, by hiding them in plain sight, Mom and Dad were counting on some sense of shame to keep us awayᾹa sentiment that was shattered the year we found my brother sitting in the box, swimming in a flood of toys, struggling to open some of the more complicated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle packaging.

The intense pride and joy that showed on his face is still unforgettable. It was like he’d struck gold, and in a sense, I guess he had.

And what’s the correct response? Do you yell at him because he’s ruining the surprise? Do you deny that they’re for him? It was a little harder to get my brother to swallow the idea of Santa Claus after that year.

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