Christmas mischief

One day, right after Thanksgiving, I caught my husband smiling a Grinchy smile.

‘Why are you smiling like that?’

He said he had an idea. A wonderful idea. Just like the Grinch, he had “a wonderful, awful idea”. He told me his plan and I gave him a hearty clap on his back for being so deliciously evil. He came up with the plan and I executed it flawlessly. It was a perfect team work.

I bought gifts early this year, right after Thanksgiving because what else am I going to do during a pandemic? As the gifts started arriving to my doorstep, I scooped them up, wrapped them right away, and wrote Sean’s name on each one of them. That was the plan. Sean thought of the idea of addressing each gift in his name so the kids would wonder when their gifts were coming. As the pile of gifts under our Christmas tree grew, Ryan and Sahana grew increasingly perplexed. Why was not a single gift for them?

They did not say anything for a while hoping their gifts will arrive eventually. To make it believable I wrote Ryan’s name in one big package and couple had Sahana’s name on them. They gave each other gifts so Ryan’s gift totaled to 3 and Sahana’s 4. Sean’s name was on 17 gifts. A week before Christmas Ryan started mumbling, questioning if more gifts were coming still. I said I was done.

“What?? NO! Are you kidding me? You can not be done. Sahana and I hardly got any presents. Its all for dad!”

“Yes, I see that! You know, I bought impulsively this year. I did not keep count on how many I was buying for who and I got carried away with Dad’s presents.” I replied with an embarrassed smile. That threw him off guard – for the moment.

Sahana was confused like her brother but she is older now and did not verbalize her thoughts but silently supported her brother’s tirades.

Over the course of the week, discussions during dinner were dominated by different thoughts on the inequality of the number of gifts, questioning my love for certain family members, quantifying Sean’s good deeds to have deserved so many gifts. Sean simply smiled while I said things like, “my love for you is not measured by materialistic gifts, my darling.” I do not believe that placated my son. To be fair to Sahana, she smiled and laughed mostly and said, yeah, yeah’ as Ryan carried on about how few gifts the ‘children’ got. I continued to look shame faced.

“Sorry guys! It does seem a little unfair. I guess I just got carried away!” That continued to be my refrain.

On the night before Christmas eve, when all hope of arrival of more gifts were extinguished, Ryan forlornly looked at his 3 gifts and said,

“I guess I am considered the scum of the family. Only 3 gifts while dad has 18. Even Sahana has 4 and mom has 7! What kind of family is this where parents get more gifts than kids?”

I said his gift was expensive and he will be happy. He was quick to show his gratitude.

“Mom, I thank you for that. But why did dad get so many gifts? How good was he this year?”

Sean and I laughed till we had tears in our eyes in the privacy of our bedroom. Ryan is absolutely hilarious without even trying. And his laments about lack of gifts were in good humor. I laughed helplessly at his funny quips and he laughed loudly too with his broken, teenage voice. It was truly entertaining last 10 days or so before Christmas. Laments and funny quips got more desperate and hence funnier as the big day approached.

Christmas morning dawned. We decided to take photos with our gifts in front of us. Here are the initial photos as I handed out the gifts.

Sahana looks happy with her meager gifts.

Right before we were about to open the presents, I pretended to look at the number disparity and shook my head.

“I went a little crazy with dad’s gifts and it looks bad for the photos. Here, why don’t we reallocate them and you two help him open presents.”

“No, no! Let all your friends know what you did this Christmas. Make sure you post them on Facebook. Why will we open dad’s gifts? Let him open his. We will wait. I have only 3 anyway.” Ryan said in his fog horn voice.

“Nah! Let’s redo this.” Amid protests from both brother and sister, I redistributed the packages. And then accompanied by unadulterated laughter, we told them about our naughtiness.

I had written Sean’s name in all caps for Ryan’s gifts. Printed his name for those meant for Sahana and wrote Sean’s name in cursive for the ones that were actually his. After reallocating the packages, the story changed, Ryan’s smile returned, Sahana’s weak smile brightened, Sean and I laughed till we cried!

Since he had no idea we had played a trick on them, Ryan wrapped an empty box for Sean with this note in it:

He looked peevish when Sean opened the package with this note, “Jeez, I feel kinda mean now!”

At the end, it was indeed a holly, jolly Christmas. There was laughter, there were exclamations, there were squeals of joy and thank you’s. There was acknowledgement that ‘we got them’. They never guessed what we were up to and ultimately it ended up being a fun prank. What we got out of it? Days of endless mirth at their bafflement, the fact that our son is very materialistic, our daughter has matured enough to not harangue us with questions about her gifts.

It was, after all, a joyful Christmas. And if you charge us with bad parenting, we plead guilty. But the laughter and evil planning behind their backs were oh so worth it. 😀

Gift of my Magi

I don’t often think of teleportation (word press is giving me red squiggly line underneath it. Is teleportation not a real word?) till I board a 13 hour flight to go to India or get in the car to go on an 8 hour trip up north to visit family during holiday times. I love to go places yet I dislike the modes of transportation. What is the point of having such smart people in the world if they can not figure out a way to get to places in the blink of an eye, I ask? Come on MIT, Harvard, Yale and other esteemed colleges, discover it already!!

Anyway, I got in the car like a grumpy cat, settled my ooh- so- comfortable blanket on my lap, buckled my seat belt and grunted at my chirpy husband “Let’s go.” We were going up to Boston to visit family for Christmas. Sean and the children were annoyingly chirpy and I looked out of the window to keep my annoyance at their chirpiness at bay. It almost did not work.

As we passed New York after 4 hours of driving, Sean pointed out:

“Look at the city. How lit up it is!!”

I have already mentioned I was grumpy at the beginning of the journey. I decided to turn it up a notch, I turned downright whiny (good thing my children take mostly after their dad)!

“I have lived in this country for over 10 years and I have never seen New York lights during holiday times. I have never seen the tree at the Rockefeller Center! Hmmmmph!”

“Alright, let’s do it. Let us drive into the city!” Sean enthusiastically exclaimed.

“No000, let’s just go up to Boston and be done with this ride!” I answered.

Then everything was quiet for a while except Veggie Tales singing about God being greater than the boogeyman in the car music system. I may have dozed off for a while when I fully woke up to honking. I looked out of the car window to find that we are entering the congested New York City!!

“You are going in the city???? We are going to arrive in Boston so late! Why did you not just drive on!!!!!!!!!!” I said, exasperated.

My husband’s spirit was indomitable.

“Oh, let us just see the lights!” He grinned.

After battling with traffic and being rejected by two garages in the city (they were full), we finally found parking in one garage. My dissatisfaction and grumpiness were giving away to mouth opening awe and excitement at the lights and spirit of the big apple as I tried to take in the crowd, style and of course, the honking and aggressive driving. After Sean parked, he gave a curt command:

“Take your bags out!”

“WHAT??? Why???” Sahana and I, both whipped our heads around. Ryan was oblivious of everything, as usual.

“Hurry up, get your bags out!” The man repeated. And started pulling our bags out himself.

Still stunned and unaware about what exactly was happening, we did as we were asked to do.

We rolled our bags, following Sean who entered a hotel about half a block away. Sahana and I looked at each other as he opened the door for us. Ryan finally asked, “Where are we going? Why aren’t we going to Boston?” I must mention at this point that we discovered as we unloaded our bags and wore our coats that Ryan had forgotten to bring his heavy winter coat on this trip. He had a sweat shirt on and was freezing at this point. Sean had his ratty, old winter coat in addition to his ‘nicer’ newer winter coat, which saved Ryan eventually. Also Boston turned out to be extremely mild this year.

“Reservation for two nights under …..”, he told the staff at front desk.

Sahana looked at me and mouthed, “Did he just say 2 nights???????”

Sean got the key to our room and looked at us triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear like a little boy. His Christmas gift to us. He planned a two night stay in NYC, couple of blocks away from Broadway, a block and a half away from Lincoln Center, en route to Boston. He planned this for a while and I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE.

And then? Then it was magic. Then it was a dream come true. Then it was the best surprise I have ever had in my life.

After cleaning up at the hotel, we went to have dinner at this busy pizza place not too far from Times Square. I had no idea, of course, that we were going to stop at New York. Hence I had no stylish apparel or shoes. I toured NYC in my stylish pink sneakers, ratty jeans and dirty coat. Oh well, little things! 🙂

After a typical NYC pizza and cheese cake dinner, we braved the cold to walk to Times Square and witness the night turned to day. Every one who has been to Times Square will perhaps agree with me when I say it is a sensory overload. It was Ryan’s first time. He had to go in and gawk at the Hershey store, the Toys r US, the M & M store. He had to gawk at the bill boards and the street performers. His mother and sister were not far behind in being mesmerized by all of it. Even Sahana, who reprimands us constantly when we go places as “acting like tourists” forgot to scold us as I clicked pictures.

Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.
Typical NYC quick pizza and cheese cake dinner.

Times Square
Times Square

The following day, we stood in line to get discounted tickets for a Broadway show and ended up with tickets of Mamma Mia. Sean froze in line at the ticket counter while Sahana, Ryan and I stood in line inside a Starbucks to get him (and us) hot chocolate. Then all four of us froze waiting in line for the ticket counter to open. But there was a certain camaraderie with the other excited tourists waiting with us in the serpentine line. We exchanged jokes, we learned how far people have come from, we stated the obvious about how cold it was and once the ticket counters opened the line moved quickly. We did not have much time before the show and we (me) absolutely had to see the New York Public library before the show started. But we also had to have lunch. Due to popular demand (read children’s) we had to find lunch first. After lunch we barely had time to run back to the theater. The library, I consoled myself, will have to wait till the next visit. The show was amazing. We came out singing, “Dancing queen” and “Don’t go wasting your emotion” along with the other theater goers. After meandering around a bit more, the children declared they were tired and can we please go back to the hotel.

Wait, what? Tired? In New York? But…we don’t have much time to take it all in!!! I was shouting in my head as I headed back glumly towards the hotel with the rest of the crew. As we entered our room, Sean whispered to me:

“What do you think of ditching the kids and going for a spin in the city? Just you and I? Are you up for it?”

Am I up for it???Baby, do you even know me? This is New York!! I am in New York. I leave tomorrow morning. I do not want to waste any time sitting in a hotel room watching tv! I want to make every moment count, I want to take it all back in my heart!

So we got McDonald meal for the children who were happy as a clam slurping on shakes and watching Christmas shows on television while their parents waved sayonara and hit the streets.

We walked among the cute shops in Central park, my arm in the crook of Sean’s elbow. We peeked in the luxurious windows of apartments along the park, richly decorated with Christmas extravaganza, we bought warm, roasted chestnuts and walked the crowded streets of the Fifth street, we walked all the way to the New York Public library (which was closed) and got to see the regal lions guarding the gorgeous building. We laughed and pointed at the elegantly decorated windows of the designer stores on Fifth avenue, we saw brilliantly lit tree in the Rockefeller center and happy people skating underneath it, we felt one with the crowd and I reminisced about the Durga Puja in Kolkata, we felt the heady sensation of being in New York during the holidays where everything glittered and everything looked happy. We held hands and I told Sean that this is the best Christmas gift he gave me. He smiled.

Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue

New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.
New York Public Library. I have to go in next time.

I read an article that most Americans, as the recession hit the country, are focusing on collecting experiences over material objects. Experiences do not need maintenance. I have always been that kind of person who preferred experiences over material gifts. While it was wonderful to open gifts of scarves and gloves and other things the family bought for me, the experience of laughing together in New York is something I will often turn to when I need some cheer. The memories of the joy at being together in a city that excites me, the thought of Sean planning the whole thing to surprise us, the touch of his hand as he peeled a chest nut for me, the expression of bewilderment in Ryan’s face as he looked up at the huge bill boards all around Times Square, the excited face of Sahana as we entered the theater to watch Mamma Mia will stay in a special treasure chest in my heart. In difficult times, they keep me sane, they keep me positive and they remind me the truth:

This too shall pass, we are here to see you through.