There are a few Christmas morning memories and cherished Christmas presents that come to my mind every year at Christmas time. Some of them I sit with for a while, thinking about every detail and remembering every moment. Some of them I pass by quickly, not sure why I remembered them at all.
This year I was talking with a friend about our plans to reinforce the idea of giving to our children. As I was talking, a familiar memory of a toy from my distant past floated to the front of my mind. I say familiar because this toy has come to my mind every year of my adult life. Each year as I remember it, I briefly think about the circumstances around it, but never give it much more than a few seconds of thought. This year I told my friend the story of this toy and realized this toy is an important toy in my past and I should be thankful to remember it each year.
When I first saw this toy, it was a few weeks before Christmas. It sat as one of a few wrapped presents under our Christmas tree with my name on the tag. I’d shaken them all and turned them top over bottom trying to figure them out. I still had no clue what was under the wrapping.
My sister and I were military brats, our Mom had enlisted in the Air Force a few years earlier and we were on our second year in Louisiana. This was the year I learned that a Brownie wasn’t always made out of chocolate – it might just have red hair and brown eyes (thank you, Dana), if your nose is dripping and you keep wiping it with your hand you may be sent home from school (thank you, Mrs. Beaver), and Second graders get to have a Christmas party at school (thank you, Santa!). That last one got a big “Woohoo”! Having raised my own children, I’m sure we also had one in the first grade, however it must not have been very memorable because it’s almost as if Christmas did not exist at school before the mention of this party. The week leading up the party was very exciting. We were going to have cookies and punch, play games, sing songs – and MOST IMPORTANTLY – exchange gifts.
I’m not sure why, but on the night before that special day at school, I did not have a gift to take to the party. If you didn’t give a gift, you could not receive a gift. Our teacher had been very clear on this point. The gift was the biggest, best part of this day. I was going to get a Christmas present at school – IF and only IF I had one to give. I probably cried and carried on and begged and pleaded and screamed and yelled, but my Mom was not going to take me to buy a gift for this exchange. What she would do – she would let me choose one of my own wrapped presents under the tree to take to the party, to give to another child.
No hints were provided about the presents I had to choose from, no guarantees were made that I would get an equally great gift from one of my classmates. I was scared. I inspected every present as carefully as I could. I annoyed my mother tremendously (sorry, Mom!). I chose a gift and she wouldn’t even let me unwrap it to be certain it was the right one to give. I’m certain I second-guessed myself all night. I really wanted a present from school – but what was I giving up to get it?
At the school party I dutifully turned in my present, my ticket to the exchange, and then I never let it out of my sight. I followed it around as best I could all day until the time to open the presents finally came. A boy got it. I was even more nervous – what if it was a girl toy? A really great girl toy? He opened it. He smiled. The toy was a Tupperware Pop A lot Ball Popper. My Mom was the Tupperware queen and I had been a little nervous she’d extend this into Christmas somehow. This was a toy that looked like fun, I would have been happy to see it Christmas morning. But, It actually felt super terrific fun to give this toy to this little boy – I’m not sure I even would have minded if it had been the doll that I REALLY wanted (although he might not have been as happy).
Every year I remember this toy. In the past I’ve only given it a few seconds of consideration; Just enough time to acknowledge that it was obviously very meaningful for me to give something of my own, something that held some importance to me.
I never thought about it long enough to realize – I have no idea what toy I received in this gift exchange. What I did receive is an annual reminder that giving is far more fun and memorable than receiving is.