And To All A Good Night

The night before Christmas (I 'twy to refrain from 'twriting the word "'twas") has a slightly different connotation for me now that my children are teenagers; instead of "Let's Open at Least One Present!" it's become "Let's Violate Curfew!" But I remember how it was when I had three children under the age of ten.

There's always considerable argument over what the words "family tradition" mean on Christmas Eve. In my opinion, the "family tradition" is defined as "What Dad Remembers." I remember baking cookies for Santa, listening to Christmas music, and tucking the children into bed before eight o'clock. Their mother remembers that they haven't gone to sleep that early since they stopped nursing. My children remember that Dad is always tying ropes to the tree, which despite my efforts adopts a "Leaning Tower of Christmas" look by about three in the afternoon. They remember that they want to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" but that I make them watch "the Godfather" (which happened only once, I don't know why they bring that up every year).

We can't even agree on what we have for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, though after serving burritos one time, the children remember it is not a good idea for father to eat refried beans the night before we sit for several hours together in the living room.

At eight o'clock, mindful of the fact that Santa has put an unassembled "Barbie Dream House" in my garage, I start hinting to the children that they should think about going to bed. At this point, they are jumping on the sofas like caffeinated monkeys, as sleepy as electricity. I wonder why Santa didn't have the foresight to bring me a tranquilizer gun.

Using standard professional wrestling moves, my wife and I manage to get them into their pajamas, which is a bit like trying to stuff sausage casings with living animals. I remind them that Santa could still decide to Not Bring Any Presents at All If You Darn Kids Don't Go to Bed, earning a sharp look from their mother. (My children insist that "Dad Gets in a Really Bad Mood" is another family tradition.)

Then it's eleven o'clock. The children are finally prone, vibrating under their covers. "Why don't I just get up early and put the thing together then?" I suggest to my wife, who rejects this even though I don't remember electing her to be project manager.

"They'll fall asleep soon," she lies.

The kids want water, so we take them water. They need to use the bathroom. They think they hear reindeer on the roof. (Nine times.) They want to know whether Santa will bring a Barbie Dream House this year. ("Assembled or disassembled?" I ask, earning me another sharp look. Seems like my wife is having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit.) They want me to name Santa's reindeer, then hoot derisively when I insist one of them is "Sneezy." They need to use the bathroom again so they can make room for more water. "No more kidney bathing!" I finally declare.

Midnight. I wrestle the Barbie Dream House out of its box and stare in horror at what must be more than a million pieces of plastic. "The Russians built their entire space program out of fewer parts than these!" I hiss at my wife. "Barbie lives better than we do!"

One o'clock: My oldest wanders out, rubbing her eyes and claiming that she heard Santa Claus swearing. I put her back to bed, explaining that Santa was probably just building toys and had discovered he was out of beer.

Four o'clock: After constructing something that doesn't at all resemble the picture on the box, I swallow my pride and actually read the directions, learning that what I'd assumed was a piece of roof is actually the driveway. This explains a lot.

Five-thirty: Though my wife seems unhappy there are so many pieces of plastic left over, I'm done. I fall into bed and drop instantly to sleep, not moving until my children wake up fifteen minutes later. "Santa brought us a Barbie Dream House with an outdoor kitchen!" they shriek happily.

Merry Christmas.

[ by W. Bruce Cameron Copyright © 2002 -- { used with permission } ]


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