JOPLIN, Mo. —
With only a few days left until Christmas, our house has become something like a storage building for hidden presents.
The obvious hiding places are occupied. Our high closet shelves, dusty undercarriages of beds and forgotten garage corners have been filled using my best Tetris skills.
All of these presents should be wrapped by now, but I have a 14-month-old boy on the prowl for anything to dismember or dump; I’m a little bit terrified of what he’ll do to a pile of gift-wrapped boxes under the tree. So the gifts languish.
I do my best to ignore them, but there are two little girls who cannot, no matter how hard they try, un-see the shipping boxes that have been delivered or the shopping bags that have been brought home. They cannot stop imagining what might be inside. They cannot fathom any good reason why Christmas must take so very long to arrive.
One day after a particularly large delivery, our 4-year-old danced closely beside the half-opened box, trying to look inside without actually touching the package. For a few seconds, I was worried we’d have a sneak on our hands.
We don’t have too much to worry about yet; the girls are young enough that they’re too small to reach any tall shelves, and mostly too oblivious to realize that some visible packages are worthy of inspection. But seeing my littlest girl inching closer and closer to peeking left me with few doubts that our day will soon come.
Someday, our kids will wise up to the hiding places. They’ll be overcome by curiosity, and the excitement of a gift within reach will be too much to ignore. I imagine them timing their excursions just right, planning a moment when parents and siblings are busy or away. I see them hesitating for just a second before plunging in and tearing through shopping bags or bubble wrap to see the object of their affections.
I see it all so clearly because I did it, too.
There was a silent foray into my parents’ closet, behind a stack of winter sweaters. There was a lunch box — a beautiful lunch box! — emblazoned with Barbie and her perfect pink smile. There was a gasp, a timid touch, a replaced bag, a tip-toed retreat. There were satisfied smiles as I waited for Christmas morning.
And there was much confusion when the lunch box didn’t appear.
I honestly have no idea what happened to the gift; I never mentioned my snooping, and my parents never offered an explanation. It could simply have been a gift for some other little girl.
It’s more likely, though, that my mom knew I’d been sneaking around and switched the gift in order to protect the sweetness of a Christmas morning surprise.
The whole thing strikes me as universal. We are not born with self-control; we are born with nosiness. We will guess and shake and poke at our curiosities until we either learn patience or satisfy our urges.
As I watched my daughter struggling against her need to open that box, I took a deep breath and tamped down my almost-harsh response. There are worse things than this. If she sees a gift beforehand, she’ll learn about giving up a Christmas morning surprise. If she can’t stop searching for gifts, we’ll learn to find better hiding places.
And if I can embrace the magic of the season, I’ll learn to smile at children’s curiosity and ingenuity and wait for the days of reasonable self-control to take precedence.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot.com.