For the past three years, my daughters have found their Christmas presents before December 25th. No matter how hard I try to keep their gifts out of sight, I always get busted. Last year, I had to weave a fascinating story about Santa’s special layaway plan. But this year, I decided that if one single present was uncovered, I was going to drop the elf bomb.
“Mama, is Santa real or is he…?”
Ava froze. Her blue eyes met mine, their color changing from pastel to navy.
“I don’t believe you.”
She doesn’t believe me? She just found every toy on her list, and she doesn’t believe me? American Girl model number G-1948? Preschool Teacher Barbie and her favorite student, Kelly? Enough composition notebooks and pens to put Mead and Bic back in business?
She found all of this, and she still doesn’t believe me?
Before I learned that I had to be smarter than the average bear, I hid toys in the trunk of my car and in our dreary basement. I even delivered a few things to a friend’s house for safe-keeping, but then her son found the Target bag of unwrapped items. He burst into tears thinking he had gotten a Rapunzel wig for Christmas.
I avoid storing anything in the attic, because I have visions of Clark Griswold getting hit in the face with a pull-down ladder; his feet exploding through the ceiling of the bedroom below. These types of things happen to me, in addition to coming face-to-face with wildlife that secure seasonal housing in the dark corners of my roof.
But it’s becoming harder to hide boxes that are deeper than most closets, and it’s becoming more challenging to keep the spirit alive for our younger daughter who’s only five. While I’m giving up all hope for my eight-year-old who’s destined to become an investigative reporter one day, my energy moves to our little one, who deserves a few more years of holiday magic.
I have this year’s loot stashed in the closet of our guest room, but I stacked towers of Rubbermaid containers in front of their most desired stuff. I then draped sheets over those bins, causing the double-doors to bulge off their rolling tracks. I guarded the entry door with a Shark Steam Vac and a Hoover Wind Tunnel, a folding chair and a basket full of summer clothes that will be outgrown before they’ll be laundered. Satisfied with my sophisticated trap, I went about my day feeling excited about Christmas morning…their little faces sparkling with unparalleled joy.
But that night, I found Maryn in the sacred bedroom — the baracade broken down, blocking the hallway so I couldn’t pass. WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?!?
“You locked up Bailey!” she yelled. “He was meowing and I had to let him out!”
I needn’t explain to you what twelve hours in a maximum-security guest bedroom can do to a cat with a sensitive digestive system. I’ll be adding “new area rug” to my own list this year.
Maryn assured me that she didn’t see anything, but I won’t be too certain until Christmas morning when I can measure her level of excitement. Ava, on the other hand, beat me at my own cyber game by hacking into the Notes section of my iPad — the place were my shopping list is stored. Gifts ideas are typed in according to the prospective recipient; the websites indentified for future ordering. Already purchased gifts received a strike-through; gifts to be bought are highlighted in yellow. At the end of my file, I noticed something that I didn’t remember keying in:
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Discovering that I had been out-smarted for the fourth year in a row, I elected to use one of my mother’s old tricks. I foolishly left an opened diary on my bed before going to school one morning, which she picked up — and read — and then added a comment of her own:
A highly-effective tactic that promises a surge of fear to light up one’s body like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, I recycled her version of the naughty list:
The Elf on the Shelf is watching you.
I haven’t said anything to Ava directly, but I can tell by her behavior that she found my note. One, she hasn’t touched my iPad in days, and two, she won’t go near the Elf on the Shelf display at Books-a-Million. In fact, she walks on the other side of the aisle to get to the children’s section.
We have less than a month until Mike sits at the top of the stairs making sure the girls don’t slip out of bed to catch me arranging their gifts under the tree. Once the stage has been set, Mr. and Mrs. Claus plan to sit in front of the twinkling lights and drink an extra special cup of Christmas cheer.
And then to all a good night.