Hardy Plumbing
December 13, 2006

Reporter's Notebook

Santa's Little Secret

Bah humbug. So say swarms of shoppers who crowd stores in a sea of pre-holiday hysteria.

Normally placid parents, frantic for the hottest toy or video game system, morph into predators on the hunt, complete with caveman mentality.

Heaven help the mere mortal who mistakenly cuts the line of an uber-mom on a mission to find this season's must-have gift. They'll find themselves trampled by a purse-wielding wild woman with a smile grimly plastered on her Stepford mom face — a woman with superhero strength who'll think nothing of battling foes to the ground, all in the name of scoring a victory and emerging from the shop with Santa's loot clutched greedily in a loaded shopping bag.

"Merry Christmas!" she'll trill as she digs her stiletto heel deep into your instep and heads for the checkout line.

Overcrowded, overheated stores. Long lines and, ultimately, disappointment, as yet another big box store sells out of this year's "it" gift. Parking lots packed with cars, ripe for fender benders and disaster. Toys with a million tiny pieces that take hours to assemble, usually on Christmas Eve when one too many eggnogs has made the process that much more painstakingly arduous.

It's no wonder the holiday shopping season has lost its luster. But, while some blame the Grinch mindset on rampant commercialism and call for a mass return to the spiritual meaning of the season, I propose that there's another reason why the holidays bring out the worst in parents: They're jealous.

It's the deep, dark secret that no one wants to divulge: Long-suffering moms and dads who spend countless hours sweating it out in search of that hotly-sought-after holiday present are, deep down, feeling resentful and, let's face it, gypped.

When we were little boys and girls ourselves, Christmas meant toys. Lots of toys in big, bright boxes, just waiting to be torn open by our feverish hands. Christmas in my house meant dollhouses and Barbies and Baby Tender Love and my beloved Crissy doll, whose hair grew magically longer with just a push of the button. It was a blowout, a bacchanalia of booty, and as an only child, it was all about me.

For years, I reveled in the wrapping paper, a little girl starring in her very own dream version of "Yes, Lisa, there is a Santa Clause."

And then I woke up.

Once I had a child of my own, I realized the truth: Christmas is all about kids. That's as it should be. Desperate to conjure up some Christmas magic of my own for my son, I called upon Santa and all his reindeer to bring the biggest bag of loot he could carry straight down my chimney.

And I did it willingly. There's nothing more fulfilling than seeing the joy of Christmas morning reflected in your little boy's eyes as he runs down the stairs and shouts, "Mommy, Santa came!"

But still. Somewhere, deep inside, our inner children are shedding a tear or two. "What about me?" yesterday's child whispers. It's a voice we ignore, telling it to be a good girl or boy and grow up, already. Yes, there are presents for adults, too. But it's undeniable that as we get older, the holidays become less about receiving and all about giving.

And, while it may inspire a bout of the grouchies, especially as we're groveling on the floor of a toy store to get to that last action figure — when my son was three, I almost got into it with a perfect stranger as I grabbed the very last white Power Ranger off the shelf — there is no greater gift than giving. It's not a cliché; it's the bottom-line truth. Enlisting Santa's magic to make Christmas memories for my son is what the holiday is all about — passing along that sense of wonder and joy.

But, if there's still a nagging feeling of something missing as you're engaged in the holiday rush, here's a little secret: Buy yourself a toy. Stick a Barbie into that overloaded cart, just for you. Buy a battered "Mystery Date" board game at a yard sale. Splurge on that Lionel train set Santa never left by the tree. Give your inner child a little something this season, and see how quickly that grumpy scowl lifts into a grin.

No one will ever have to know . . . just you and the big guy in the red suit. It'll be Santa's little secret.

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