Secrets Of Christmas
My eight-year old son Derek and I were chatting a few days ago. I was fishing to figure out how far back he could remember.
“Do you remember our house in Seattle?”
“Not much. I remember the stairs and how they split to the left and right halfway up,” Derek nodded.
“Do you remember SEA/TAC airport and how it had a train?” I asked.
“Kind of,” he thought.
“Do you remember Teacher Maura, the preschool teacher?”
“No,” he shook his head.
“Do you remember the Christmas when I trusted you with all the secrets?”
Five years ago we spent our Christmas holidays in Colorado with my husband’s family. Family and food, snow and celebration — this is what filled our agenda for the week ahead. Unfortunately, an additional traveler came to spend our vacation with us — a pest probably named Influenza A or possibly his friend Influenza B. Either way it hit my little guy, Derek, pretty hard. He was three years old that Christmas.
With his temperature hovering between 103 and 105, Derek was sleepy and uncomfortable. We watched him closely as he rested fitfully for a couple of days. Holiday festivities were happening without Derek as he was too sick to join. Two days before Christmas I woke up feeling heavy-hearted; my baby boy was going to miss out again. It had snowed the night before and today was the day everyone would go sledding, but Derek was still too sick. What were we going to do? We had already watched movies and sat on the couch for the last few days. I had to think of something that would brighten his day.
During morning snuggles I broke the news that his older sister, Aubrey, and his cousins were going to go sledding but he was too sick to go. He knew it. He didn’t feel up to going anyway.
Then I told him, “But I have a secret. We are going to do something while everyone is gone. Just you and me.”
“What?” he asked with his eyes big, round and full of curiosity.
“We are going to wrap all the Christmas gifts. And you are going to know what everyone is getting…you are going to know all about Aubrey’s gifts. And your cousins’ gifts. You are going to know all the surprises because I trust you. You are special because most three year-olds would not be able to keep these secrets. But I know you can do it. You won’t tell them, right?” I asked with a smile.
His eyes wide with wonder, he assured me, “No mama. I won’t tell them. I will keep it a surprise.” I grinned and hugged him tight and told him were going to have fun and not to tell the other kids our secret plan.
Later that morning Derek and I watched as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Daddy and big sister bustled around getting bundled into their snow gear. I kept gauging his expression looking for disappointment that might flicker on his little face. It didn’t. He had a patient smile and a twinkle in his eye. Someone turned to Derek and said they wished he could join them. Derek assured them that it was okay. Mommy and Derek had a plan.
Everyone left and we headed to the basement to wrap the gifts. Derek mostly offered me his finger and pieces of tape as I wrapped several packages. With the last bow tied and final gift tagged I asked one more time.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you? Don’t even mention the word ‘gifts’ or it will make it harder for you not to tell them. They will ask you questions and try and get clues from you.”
“I won’t tell them, Mama. Not even that I know.” We smiled conspiratorially and I kissed his warm head.
Two days later as his sister and cousins opened their gifts Derek watched closely to see their surprised reactions. He hadn’t spilled the beans. He’d kept the secrets. After the final gift was opened he proudly announced to his sister and cousins that he had known all along what gifts they had received.
Still to this day Derek retains a bit of that Christmas memory. In his mind he can still glimpse the green and red striped wrapping paper and the cubbies where we hid the gifts. But mostly he remembers feeling excited for his family to open their gifts and proud that he didn’t spoil the surprises. And I remember that sometimes our favorite holiday memories have little to do with hustling or bustling, or spending or shopping. Sometimes they unfold organically, between a mother and her sick little son, sharing the secrets of Christmas in a basement full of wrapping paper and bows.
Sarah Carter has been attending Grace Chapel since 2013, serving on the prayer team and Women’s Community leadership team. Besides homeschooling and working very part-time as a dental hygienist, Sarah might be found reading a book or drinking an almond-milk mocha. She plays a mean game of Pictionary and hopes to get her fill of tamales this Christmas season.