Life changes when you become a parent—that’s probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever written. That fact is something that most human beings can’t fathom until they experience the change in real time. As a young boy, I had it pretty darn good; parents that cared about my brothers and me, cared about each other, too. I took this for granted. Every Christmas, in spite of any financial burdens, my parents would find a way to make the magic happen. My mom was (and still is) obsessive about making sure they spent about the same amount of money on each of us—she even tried to make sure our piles of presents were the same size! Like she thought we were keeping track!
Even after I moved out they kept this tradition going. The first Christmas after I left home I had a long list of needed items, tools, a toolbox, winter boots, some new clothes… it’s hard to make ends meet when you’ve never had to do it before and when you’re slinging gallons of paint five days a week, the money doesn’t exactly pile up. At the bottom of my list was a new fishing reel, A Shimano Stradic 6000—I had spent my inaugural season living near the ocean fishing with some… economically priced rigs, and they couldn’t keep up with my appetite for surfcasting. By November one of them was junk and the other sounded like a 1979 Datsun with warped rotors and a bent drive shaft.
Christmas morning came and I was back in my own bed, I woke up and got my brothers out of bed, just as I had for nearly two decades of holiday festivities. My parents did the right thing and filled my needs—tools and a toolbox, a screw gun, new boots, new jeans and a nice collared shirt. I was happy with the haul, but there was a whisper from my inner indignant child that was disappointed about the reel—to me it was every bit as important as the other stuff, but I kept a stiff upper lip and gathered my things.
Then my mom handed me one more present. I knew the size of the box was right and I could see the sparkle in her eye, she was excited. My dad chimed in, “Open it!” I paused, maybe it was something else that came in a reel-sized box. For the first time in my life, I looked around and added up a rough tally of what they had spent. That’s when I knew there was no way it was going to be the reel.
I looked at my mom and said, “This better not be what I think it is!” I didn’t mean a single word of that sentence. I opened the package slowly, I knew exactly what the damned box looked like, I’d seen it on the shelves of every tackle shop I’d been in since I knew I wanted it. I was ecstatic inside, but also feeling a little guilty. I knew my parents didn’t have piles of extra money floating around. For a minute I acted a little angry, “You guys! You shouldn’t have spent all this extra money, you already gave me what I needed!”
“You will never understand the love you have for your children until you have one of your own,” my dad quipped with a wide smile. I gave in to the moment, I could not have asked for a better Christmas. It was a time when I was just finding my footing in the world; I wouldn’t have been able to buy that reel before spring. My mom and dad made that happen because they wanted to keep that Christmas magic alive, my happiness and surprise is what the extra money bought for them.
And I get it now. With a 7-year-old daughter at home Christmas is magic again, I’m seeing it through fresh eyes every year. Christmas lights and advent calendars and the wonder that is the ‘Christmas section’ at Target… this is what the holidays are all about. And, just like my parents, no matter where our finances stand, we spend way too much on our little lady every year. The magic of the holidays doesn’t last a lifetime, but it can if you make someone else’s magic your top priority.