Here is a recurring question I’ve been hearing every couple days for the past month or so. It began just after Thanksgiving, when we put up the family Christmas tree:
“Can we open up just ONE present today?”
The question comes from our youngest daughter, who just turned 11. She’s half kidding, or maybe 23% kidding, depending on the day and the hour. My stock answer is, No, there will be no opening of presents today. Nor the morrow. Nor any day that does not begin with “Christmas” and end with “Day.”
I can’t fault her for trying. I asked the same question of my parents as a kid. I’m guessing just about every kid in the history of Christmas or any other holiday gifting season has repeated the same question at least once or twice or 43,000 times.
Some probably succeeded. Maybe I did as a kid, though I doubt it. I do know our 11-year-old will not succeed, because part of the joy of the holiday season is hearing the question in the first place, and if I cave, then I won’t hear the question anymore – and it just ain’t Christmas without hearing one of your kids ask if they can open up just ONE present today.
I have built up decades of experience with this kind of thing. My first kid Christmas happened 60-odd years ago, when I had advanced past the diaper stage and began to form an awareness that I was a human-type creature with legs that could walk and a brain that could think.
I remember almost nothing about those years, ages 2 through 4 or 5. Just little patches of this and that, frozen moments, fuzzy scenes, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
But I do remember Christmas. I do remember presents under the tree. I do remember the piney smell, the stockings over the fireplace, the carols and excitement, the wrapping paper scattered all over. I can still picture these sights and sounds and smells from our first house, pre-Beatles, when the hippest thing around was the Twist.
It would be a long, long time before I had a front-row seat to another kid’s Christmas – half a century. I was already past 50 when our oldest daughter grew out of diapers and began to stumble around. That was about a decade ago. She’s 13 now. Her younger sister, as mentioned earlier, is 11.
Our oldest daughter used to stay up all night on Christmas Eve because she could not contain the excitement pistons churning away in her body. I would tell her, Ya better be careful, ya don’t wanna be awake when Santa comes, ya might scare him off, so….SLEEP, MY PRECIOUS CHILD – PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD: SLEEP!
But did she listen? Did she listen?
Nae, listen she did not.
Three years ago, in 2019 – pre-COVID, remember that ancient era? – I don’t think she slept a wink. She came into the bedroom in the middle of the night and roused me awake. I told her she could hang out if she wanted to – as long as she slept. But she could not sleep, so she finally bolted for another part of the house. Around 6 a.m. she and our youngest daughter made a beeline to the Christmas presents and dragged their red-eyed parents along with them.
Well, times have changed.
This Christmas Eve, our oldest daughter will fall asleep at the usual time and have a good night’s rest. She’ll stay in her room until I’ve made my coffee. But our youngest daughter, the 11-year-old? She’ll be up with the roosters, ready to start Christmas before the caffeine kicks in.
Of course, I did the same thing as a kid and, so did you probably, and so do most kids. My siblings and I would give it till 6 a.m. or so, and then declare if OFFICIALLY CHRISTMAS MORNING! We corralled our parents and down to the living room we scrammed, where magical gifts awaited, left by the plus-sized man in the red suit who trespassed down chimneys and ate our cookies.
I only experienced this secondhand in my 20s and 30s, through my eight nieces and nephews, the oldest of whom is now nearly 45 years old (gasp!). I’d show up around lunchtime at family gatherings, with the gifts scattered about, and the parents (my siblings and in-laws) wearing happy/exhausted looks on their faces.
This might be the last Christmas I experience this kind of thing. Our 11-year-old is still a kid, but she ages six months in a week these days. Even though she is full of excitement over the coming Christmas, you get the feeling a year from now she’ll rein it in, just like her older sis did.
Life happens no matter what you want it to do.
I write this blog from the POV of an older Dad. The thing about being an older Dad is that the memories you might otherwise be holding dear right now are happening right in front of your eyes, in real time. I don’t have to conjure up memories of our young daughters because they’re still young.
Many of my friends and siblings have grandkids. They are too young to be old but old enough to have 30-odd years of family memories stacked up, with their nests empty and their kids raising kids of their own.
I don’t know where I’ll be in 30 years. The odds are not exactly great that I’ll even be around at all. I can’t depend on one day experiencing all this again through the eyes of my grown kids and their kids.
So rather than depend on memories further down the road, I simply hoover up the reality right in front of me. I’ll take special care to watch our daughters open their presents on Christmas morning, really focus and concentrate, so I can soak it all in, all of it.
I’ll look at them and think about where they might be in 30 years, and how they might one day look back at these days, the way we all do.
I’m pretty sure they’ll have happy memories. Whether I’m around to share them, we’ll see. But if this is the last Christmas of being asked over and over to open a present early, and of being dragged up earlier than I want to share something I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China, you can be damn sure I’ll make the most of it, folks.
Note: The photo is from the 1984 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story.” This is the shot of the grumpy Santa and his grumpy elf associate, one of the funniest scenes in holiday movie history. Do I have strict legal permission to use it? Hmmmm……Merry Christmas!