I was six or seven years old, I think, that year. I know I still believed in Santa Claus. The funny thing is that I remember almost none of the presents I got under the tree or for Christmas when I was a kid, but I can remember this like it was yesterday – the week after Christmas, it must have been, and all the candy canes were stale and the presents were put away, sorted out back into every day life. And then there is my father walking into the living room and messing around behind the television, and then an exclamation “Hey, you guys! I think Santa Claus hid an extra present!”
Santa Claus had left us two pairs of roller skates. Just the right sizes for me and my brother, hidden right there. That moment was one of the great moments of my childhood, the day we found the roller skates behind the television, and all of a sudden, on a day when Christmas was just long enough over that you knew you’d never have anything fun to look forward to ever again and life had returned to gray and ordinary, there they were! Roller skates!
(It took me a long long time, until waaaaaaaay after I no longer believed in Santa, to arrive at the realization that Santa himself had not, in fact, hidden two pairs of roller skates behind our television.)
They were red leather, with double yellow stripes down the back, and they had silver metal wheels, and my brother and I spent the good part of several summers hurling down the sidewalks of our neighborhood in those roller skates. The wheels were dinged and chipped, towards the end, and eventually I’d have to cram my feet in and my toes would get sore because they really too small, but you could get going at a lightning fast clip, especially downhill, and I can still hear the noise they made as I flew over bumps in the sidewalk. Ker chunk, ker chunk, ker chunk, and then back up the other way again.
It is always so tempting to see Christmas the way the world tells us that we should. I mourn the loss of myself because I am now someone who gives a three year old a stack of toys rather than someone who picks out diamonds in the mall for my husband to surprise me with. I complain about all the pieces and the legoes and the storage and I am crabby because there are things we need and things we don’t need and sometimes it’s hard to find grace while faced with a stack of things we don’t need when the stack of things we do need is large.
But the roller skates behind the television remind me that this is someone I have always been, and it’s been handed down to me as surely as if someone had wrapped it and left it for me in a box – I simply love to give people presents. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and it always will be, and my father loved it and my grandmother loved it and perhaps this is why I can’t remember ever watching either one of my parents open gifts under the tree, and why it wasn’t a good Christmas at our house unless the stacks of presents set before the children leaned and tipped under their own weight and why one year when my aunt and uncle celebrated with us and gifted each other with jewelry, we eyed them suspiciously as though they had brought strange and unusual customs from a foreign land.
It is important to me that I do not substitute gifts for affection. I never want to be one of those moms who doesn’t say I Love You. I will always kiss back when sticky three year old lips are pursed in my direction, even when I have to wipe off the extra love. But I think it’s time I stop feeling like I have done something wrong because I am quick to add just one more thing to the cart, one more thing I know Eli will love or that Katherine will look adorable in. I am , simply put, a gift giver through and through, and I come from a long line of gift givers, people who loved giving gifts to kids at Christmas time so much that they couldn’t stop, even after Christmas was over, and because I am this person, there’s going to be a big tall stack of gifts in front of my kids this year and then, a week or so after everything’s been opened and put away and life has returned to normal, to gray and ordinary, I do believe Pants might find one last gift, bright red, hidden right there behind the television.
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