When my husband and I became parents 19 years ago, we decided that when it came to Christmas gifts, we would follow the three gift rule.
As our family grew with two more kids, this tradition has continued to work for us. I can narrow my search down to a few, special gifts. There’s the occasional emphatic refusal. (No dear, you can’t get a pony.) But whenever possible, we fulfill a request.
Two years ago I was in a panic because the ONLY thing my 10-year-old wanted was a Hess truck. For as long as he had been alive, he has gotten one, and he really enjoys them.
As soon as I saw the new truck online, I mentioned it to my husband, and we agreed to order it. I even made sure to let my mom know because she loves to get them for my sister’s two boys. Before she went online, she checked with me to make sure I ordered it because she could easily have bought a third. I reassured her we had it covered.
Unfortunately, we did not. Joe thought I had bought it, and I thought he did. Well OK, no problem. It was only December 9, I would just go online and get it.
Not so fast. My heart dropped when I went on the Hess truck website and saw in large white letters that they were sold out. A host of four-letter words came to mind, and a few came out.
Don’t panic. Surely where there is a will there is a way. I found out that a few malls were carrying them. Easy peasy. Joe loves to drive, and we will just find a mall that has one.
Strike two. It looked like all the malls in New York are out.
I went to Amazon. Surely they wouldn’t fail me. My heart leaped when I saw that they had a brand new, 2015 truck in stock. Score. I went to buy it and noticed that it was $144. Keep in mind the list price is about $30. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I did contemplate splurging. After all it was the only thing the kid wants. How could I disappoint him? He was only 10. Does he need to learn now that life isn’t always fair?
It dawned on me that if I shield him from life’s little disappointments now, how will he ever learn to handle the bigger ones that ultimately come his way? As much as I want to protect my kids, they are going to get hurt. People they love will sometimes let them down and make mistakes. Sometimes the miscues will be minor, like not ordering a truck on time. Sometimes the mistakes will be much worse.
I decided to come clean and let Peter know what was going on. The fact that this was the first Christmas where he knew the truth about Santa made it a tad easier because I didn’t have to fake a story as to why the big man himself couldn’t deliver.
I felt horrible when his sweet face crinkled up, and he started to cry. But I continued on. I held him. I said I was really sorry and that we made a mistake. I explained that a lot of kids wanted the truck this year, and that the company just didn’t make enough for everyone to have one
After a long hug and few tears, he calmed down. He said that I shouldn’t make that mistake again, and I agreed. We then got on the internet and started looking at other types of fire engines. We spoke about how lucky he was to get presents, while some children were not as fortunate. I was also able to talk a bit about how Christmas was so much more than what was under a tree.
As a mother, I want to shield my kids from the world’s messiness. I want them to feel safe and loved. I would like to keep up the illusion that life is fair and everything will always work out. Of course I can’t. I was grateful that the biggest disappointment my kid was going to face was not getting the toy he wanted.
But the story didn’t end there.
When Peter went to school the next day, his teacher gave an assignment to write about the one thing they wanted for the holidays. He wrote that his mom made a mistake and that he wouldn’t be getting the Hess truck even though it was the only thing he wanted. But he added that it was OK because mom told him that sometimes we just don’t get what we want.
Oh yes, I felt like the best parent in the whole entire world. Me and the Grinch ruining Christmas for everyone.
A few days later I got an email from Peter’s teacher telling me that the assistant teacher would like to give him the truck. As luck would have it, she always ordered a few each Christmas, even though her kids were now in their twenties. She would be thrilled to make his wish come true.
I started to cry. I offered to run up to the school with the money, but the kind woman said, no, she really wanted to do this. She added that we didn’t have to tell Peter that it was her. She thought it would be nice to let him think we did it.
And that’s where I said no. I wanted Peter to know the truth. Sometimes parents make mistakes. Other times we get very lucky and meet people who embody the Christmas spirit and show us the holiday’s true meaning.
I will always be grateful for the sweet teacher who made Christmas extra special for Peter and gave me a clear example of the Christmas spirit.
This is an updated version of a piece that ran on the Dishwasher, 12/13/15 under the title, When Santa Makes a Mistake
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