Well, we have been staying home now since the beginning of March because of the very scary COVID virus. Today I decided to celebrate being home by thinking about some memories of a very special Christmas. I don’t know if I would say it was the best Christmas ever, but it was the very first Christmas when my children saw Christmas in a whole new way.
I saw hints of it for weeks ahead of time and just shook my head in surprise. Whispering and secrets between two children who usually existed on different planets! The kids were five years apart, and that was more than enough for disdainful distance (from the older one) and frustrated adoration (from the younger one). But something was definitely in the air, and I had no idea what had changed.
Had I been paying closer attention, I might have noticed the day when brother and sister became co-conspirators, but it seemed like an ordinary, pre-Christmas day to me. Pick the kids up at school, drive to the mall, stop for cookies, and cave in to their latest demand¾this time it was a visit to the “Secret Shop” their friends had talked about. I had heard of it, of course. A curtained off section of a major department store. I knew that the store allowed only children inside, but that it was quite safe, security was tight, and employees were on hand to help the children with their “shopping.”
I gave each child $5, the maximum allowed for Secret Shopping, then found a chair and waited for what seemed like an eternity.
When they finally came out, I looked at my watch, thinking about dinner, homework, and the evening routine. I quickly hustled them to the car without paying much attention to the whispering and giggling in the back seat. “Guess you had fun,” I said, glancing in the rear view mirror at their faces. They definitely looked like they were up to something, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.
From that day on, I started noticing that the improvement in their relationship didn’t disappear but seemed to grow stronger. Instead of bickering, there was more whispering and the occasional giggle. But it wasn’t until Christmas morning that I understood at last what had changed.
They came downstairs that Christmas with so much excitement in their eyes. I assumed they were thinking about gifts, surprises, the beautiful tree, their well-stuffed stockings. But they weren’t looking at the tree or the presents or even the stockings. They moved with a new pride, carrying gaily decorated bags that said, “Secret Shop.”
I smiled when I saw the bags, remembering the day when I took them “shopping.” When I first read about the Secret Shop, it sounded delightful. I liked the idea that kids could shop for “treasures” with very little money and plenty of safe adult supervision. What I didn’t understand until Christmas morning was that going shopping on their own, choosing gifts that they thought would give pleasure to mom and dad and grandparents was¾well¾it was like being a grownup. And they could hardly wait to give presents, perfectly happy to wait for presents of their own.
And they gave us their presents with such dignity and pride. The mom in me wanted to cry, I was so proud of them. They told us all about the Secret Shop¾how the “Elves” in the Shop helped them choose presents, wrapped their gifts, and placed them in the Secret Shop bags. They told us that the treasures in the Shop were amazing. A ring for Pop Pop with a huge red stone! How did they know how much he would love it? A tie for dad with laughing reindeer¾what could be better! AND money left over.
To this day I can picture my son and daughter coming down the stairs that Christmas, carrying their Secret Shop bags. They had an adult dignity I’d never seen in them before, and I will always be thankful that they had that experience. They saw Christmas in a new way that day, and it changed their worlds forever.