I was sitting at work today pounding away on my keyboard composing an email when I was haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past. This visitation happens at least once a year around this week.
Twenty Years Ago (give or take a couple years...)
I am the oldest of the family, and I have two younger siblings: Jeff is about two years younger than I and Amy a little more than two years younger than Jeff. I imagine that we were pretty much like every other set of siblings--harmoniously enjoying each others' company one minute and the next we could be at each others' throats.
Every year, the elementary school we attended would have a Craft Fair/Christmas Market before the Holidays. We would save our allowance for what seemed like an eternity so that we could go to the market and buy our Christmas presents for our family. Back then, we were literally spending 100% of our savings on presents for everyone else, and that always felt good.
My favorite category of childhood memories are the memories that came from our spontaneous creation of new games. We constantly invented games that we'd never played before. Most times we never played them again but rare games we played over and over. My memory is fuzzy of exactly when, but I'm guessing I was around 6 or 8 when we invented a really cute and sweet game.
It was Christmas time, probably right around school's winter break, and we were psyched for Christmas to come. In order to get an early Christmas fix we had invented a new game. Each of us had little plastic bins, which normally held arts and crafts stuff. We each emptied those bins and then left them outside of our rooms. Then we each would find and locate something in our rooms, sneak out to the hallway and leave it in one of our siblings' bins, knock on the door and run back to our room. After each round of this gifting, we'd meet back up in my room, thank each other and play with our "new" gifts. I don't remember the gifts exchanged, but I do remember that we all wound up gifting some of our favorite toys that we knew our siblings had been envious of.
During one round of play, we huddled back up and began talking about Christmas to come. Mostly, I imagine talking about the different presents we wanted. In our huddle, I sarcastically told my sister "If you show me what you bought me for Christmas, I will show you what I got you." Being only six or seven, I had not yet quite mastered delivering sarcastic messages effectively. Amy gave no immediate reaction and I had felt that she understood that I was not being serious.
We all left the room to prepare for our next round of gifting, but this time instead of waiting in her room, Amy rushed back out immediately. In her hands, she held an eraser shaped like an elephant and a matching pad of paper. That year, her gift for me sunk my heart. Unfortunately, this was probably the first of many times that Amy would learn that oldest brother is a joker and was prone to say things without thinking them through.
I did my very best to explain to Amy that I was kidding, but by then the damage was done. Amy started to cry, and despite what many of you think about your big brothers, we don't actually like to see that. Amy was distraught and upset now "that the surprise was ruined." This was terribly distressing, I told Amy how much I liked the present and how I was looking forward to unwrapping it on Christmas day again. I promised that I'd be tremendously surprised and nobody would know. This seemed to soothe Amy but I had the impression it wasn't going to be enough.
The Moral of the Story
There are many lessons to be learned here. Primarily as an older sibling you have an innate power over your younger siblings that you never realize that you have, and secondarily just because your meaning is perfectly clear to yourself doesn't necessarily mean it is to someone else. Mostly I wish that 6-or-7- year-old Brian would've learned and applied those lessons in prior to that night. Then he wouldn't have to periodically get the nagging feeling that he ruined Christmas. When I get the chance I'd be happy to try teach this lesson. It's the least a good Uncle can do.
I didn't mean for this to sound so morose when it was actually bittersweet. The game and the spirit was pretty sweet, especially for the three of us. And, there was a bit of sad sweetness in how much it was apparent that Amy at that age was looking forward to the giving of gifts as much as she was at the receiving of gifts. There's a significant part of that night that I regret, but a good chunk of the memory is a sizable portion of warm-n-fuzzy.