I was about 5 when Christmas was ruined.
My older brother found the stash of Christmas presents. He showed my older sister and myself. I don’t specifically remember looking through the presents, what I remember is the sense of wonder when he opened the closet door and dragged the box out.
Nothing was a surprise that Christmas. Again, I was young enough I don’t remember the specific emotion of disappointment. What I do remember is my mother’s future rule about presents.
She labeled the box(es) (some years we each had a box) in her bedroom. They weren’t even in the closet.
I never looked again.
This experience changed Christmas presents for my family. Not just because my mother – instead of feeling somehow “at fault” for making it “too easy” to “discover” our presents – was smart. She made sure we understood the consequence of our actions. If we didn’t care about the surprise as we unwrap gifts, we could go look any time.
It also meant if there was something I wanted to know was going to be under the tree, the door was open for me to ask. For me to confirm that special present would be there. To go and pick out the jacket/quilt/toy/whatever that I ever so desperately wanted.
I was listening the radio (like real radio) yesterday and usually as soon as the talky-heads start talking I switch. But in this segment the female DJ/talky-head started with something like “Presents!” Turns out her 5-year old “threatened” to go look at all the presents in the closet and DJ-Mom is now freaking out about a need to find “better” hiding places.
My mother handled it better.
If instead of freezing and taking on that burden of being responsible for being better at hiding than her kid, she had shrugged and said, “If you don’t want any surprises at Christmas, go right ahead.” Let her spoil her own Christmas. Let her feel the loss of the excitement and wonder. After Christmas ask her if the momentary “triumph” of “beating” Mommy was worth it.
She might not care about surprises. In which case, hey! Guess what Mom, you don’t have to hide presents! She might also learn a very valuable lesson about trust. She might learn the very valuable lesson about consequences. AND – again, Mom isn’t taking on a stupid burden which is a waste of time and energy anyway. Mom isn’t making it a game; a competition; a “winner” and a “loser” year-after-year. Yes, daughter will “lose” the wonder and surprise one Christmas. I feel pretty confident in saying it will be a one-time loss and life-time gain for them both.
Thank you Mom for teaching ME to be accountable instead of trying to take that on yourself. I get to help BUILD the joy of Christmas as much as I choose to. And it’s richer for getting to share.