34: Turnabout Is Fair Play

34: Turnabout Is Fair Play

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Adulthood is when the ghosts of childhood appear.

~Terri Guillemets

When my daughter Jennie was old enough to know that Christmas morning meant colorfully wrapped surprises, she began creeping down the stairs at about 3:00 a.m. Because I’m a mother (or maybe just because we lived in a creaking, ancient farmhouse), I’d hear her footsteps no matter how quietly she descended.

“Go back to bed,” I’d whisper from our bedroom door at the foot of the steps. “It’s too early to get up.” Eventually we made it a rule that she could not leave her room until 5:00 a.m.

Just before five, I’d hear her cross the hall to her older brother’s room. “Chris, it’s almost time.” And as the clock struck the hour, her insistent “Chris, we can go down now, wake up!”

When he was young, Chris would leap up at her call, as eager as she was to open gifts. When he became older, he reluctantly obeyed. As an adolescent, he ignored her badgering as long as possible. He eventually relented — Jennie was difficult to ignore. Her wakeful vigil didn’t wane until she reached her teens.

As annoying as those pre-dawn dramas were, when they ceased, I missed them. The delight of Christmas morning was diminished when there were no stage whispers or urgency to open gifts. With the onset of the teen years, the children stayed up watching movies at night, so Christmas morning arrived later and later.

Eventually, I became the one to yell up the stairway. “It’s nine. Let’s open presents!” They’d come downstairs in robes and slippers, rubbing their eyes. Christmas became a subdued event. No squeals of delight, just a simple thank you and “I think I’ll go back to bed for a while.”

One Christmas Eve I had not yet wrapped any of the presents piled in my closet. When the kids had finished watching their movie, my husband Jim and I commandeered the television. (This was in the day when households had only one set.) It was after one by the time Chris and Jennie were asleep. Although exhausted, I still had a job to do.

I pulled out the presents I had squirreled away, along with paper, tape, scissors, and a bed sheet to cover everything if a child came downstairs before I was finished. I wrapped gifts until three while Jim watched and we reminisced about other Christmases. We laughed as we recalled Jennie’s impatience for Christmas to arrive and the many times we had sent her back to bed.

Jim said, “I’m tired. I plan on sleeping until noon.”

“We can’t sleep in. We need to get up at a decent hour to open presents. Then go to my folks for dinner.”

“Let’s wake the kids and open presents right now,” he suggested. “They’ve awakened us enough in their lifetimes. It’s our turn.”

I laughed at the idea, but when Jim persisted, I finally agreed that it was “poetic justice.” We went to the bottom of the stairway and between bursts of laughter, called to them, “Wake up, it’s time to open presents.” When there was no response, we yelled louder. Jim thumped on the walls until two sleepy faces appeared from opposite doorways.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s time to open presents!”

“What time is it anyway?”

“Present opening time. The same time you used to wake us up.”

They shuffled down the stairs in their pajamas and bare feet, shaking their heads at our antics. “I can’t believe you woke us up this early,” Chris groused, then chuckled. Jennie seconded the complaint with, “This is stupid,” but giggled.

We took turns tearing open our presents, then drank cups of hot chocolate. When we were ready to call it a night (or a morning,) one of the children said, “Let’s not make a habit of this.” The other repeated with a shake of the head, “I can’t believe this. Don’t you know kids need their sleep?” I wondered if the next day would bring further recriminations.

The next afternoon, however, when we gathered with extended family, Jennie and Chris boasted to their cousins, “You won’t believe what our parents did. They got us up in the middle of the night to open presents!”

Years later, when the gifts were long forgotten, the memory of this early awakening lived on. In the re-telling of the tale it became even funnier and now it’s our favorite family Christmas story.

~Diana L. Walters

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