Once upon a time we adopted three orphaned children.
That is the opening sentence of a great many of my stories.
Anyway, back to this particular story…
These three children, age 10 (girl), age 8 (boy) and age 6 (girl) were very, um, territorial about their food and their possessions. They’d had to be, having been in the state foster care system for most of their lives.
The girls were also a bit paranoid when it came to gifts, school clothes, etc. They were always making sure that their older sister (age 11, a cheerful and kind child who was thrilled with having younger sisters at last) and older brothers (age 14 and 19, very laid back guys) were not getting more “stuff” than they were.
Christmas tended to be stressful for them. To keep them from self-combusting from worry, I pretended to keep track of every cent spent on each of the six kids. This was easy for everyone in the family to believe, because I am the kind of organized person who makes lists, especially at Christmastime. On Christmas morning I handed them envelopes with seventy-six cents or two dollars and twenty cents or some amount like that inside and told them it was to make it come out even.
Of course I made up the numbers. Of course they believed me and were happy. But… they still counted the presents–so not only did the amount spent have to be equal, but they expected the number of presents to be the same.
I’m telling you all of this so you can understand the magnitude of the Christmas Morning The Tags Died.
One Christmas–about four years after the adoption—I had a roll of address labels that didn’t fit my new printer. Of course I couldn’t throw them out, so I used them for Christmas tags. I bought everything early–way early—back then, wrapped clothes, t-shirts, socks, underwear, cosmetics, you-name-it in red and green tissue paper and stuck my white labels on them. Those are what came from “Santa”.
I’m still not sure what happened between the time Banjo Man and I put the tissue-wrapped packages under the tree on Christmas Eve to Christmas morning, but the labels with the kids’ names on them curled up and fell off, leaving a pile of anonymous presents under and around the tree.
Now, some of us thought this was pretty darn funny. Others didn’t, not at first. The kids took turns opening the mystery gifts, then I would tell them who it was for. It dissolved into lots of guessing and laughter and silliness.
There were a few things I couldn’t remember for whom I bought them, so the kids would try on sweatshirts or thermal Henleys and decide who wanted which color or which fit the best.
It dissolved into chaos in a very good way. In the years that followed, someone would always tease me about my cheap gift tags and ask if I bought new ones.
Christmas morning was much more relaxed after that year.
I wrapped presents today. There are very few compared to twenty years ago, but I used pretty tags with strings instead of printer address labels, though I still have some in the desk drawer, just in case I need a laugh.