Mom's List

christmas memories

My mother loves Christmas. Every year it takes about four hours to open all of the gifts. Not because of the amount of presents, but rather because each and every one must be opened separately, and everyone has to admire the gift before moving onto the next one. Breaks have to be taken for coffee and tea, phone calls, restarting the Christmas CD.

One year my mother had it all worked out to where she decided what gift was opened when according to a small number that she had written on the tag of each gift. She held the master list that said what each number corresponded to. So as not to confuse which #7 was mine and which #7 was my sister’s, she had each present with its own unique number.

We couldn’t look at the list because it had all of the gifts written on it.

The problem surfaced when Mom realized that she had made this list late at night, and after the gifts had been wrapped. Thus when she thought #16 was a sweater, it turned out it was batteries for a gift that hadn’t been opened yet. I remember my mother curled around the list on the couch, trying to both decipher her numbers and sheild us from peeking. We would just sit there looking at her and then she’d declare, “Try number eleven.”

Then we’d search around the tree for number eleven. Generally it would have been hidden underneath number twenty-six and number four.

You see, we didn’t open the gifts according to number. Mom would just have us open in the order that she wanted, and she had to figure out what should be next, and which number that was, and then where that gift would be under the tree.

She was like the Puppet Master.

I think that particular Christmas took about six hours to finish. When it was all over Mom was looking around the tree.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked.

“There’s one missing,” Mom said.

“Oooh,” my little brain went, “She means the big present is coming.”

I sat patiently while Mom looked around the tree for number nine. I figured I’d let them have their “I can’t believe we lost the big present” fun and then I’d reap the huge rewards.

But the game went on too long. Mom was looking in stockings, in her bedroom closet, under the couch. Whatever it was that was missing was way too small to be the big present, and normally she would have just started crying and shown me into the “big present” room so that I could jump up and down and thank them for getting me whatever it was I had my heart set on that year.

I knew a computer couldn’t fit under the couch.

It was then that I realized what my mother was looking for. During a particularly hectic moment when my sister was having to try on a new coat I pulled a present for me out from under the tree. I don’t remember the number. I guess it was nine. All I know is that I thought it would be underwear, so I just opened it.

It was a training bra.

My first bra.

Now, I had talked with my mother before about how I thought I was ready to get a training bra. I remember going into her bedroom while she got ready for work and broke it to her that I was starting to become a woman and all of the other girls at my school wore those cool tan bras and I wanted one too. I thought I was being mature, and I figured we’d have a little mother-daughter time where we went to the store and bought my first womanly purchase.

I didn’t think I’d have to open it in front of my dad.

I hid the bra under my other gifts and looked up at my mother. She was looking at me and smiling, so I figured that she saw me open it. I whispered a “Thank you.” I guess she was just smiling about the joy of Christmas and the fact that my sister’s coat fit.

I had to fess up.

“Mom, was number nine… a box about this big?”

“Yes. Yes it was.”

“I already opened it.”

“Are you sure? What was it?”

“Mom, you know.”

“What was it?”

“A bra, Mom.”

I think this is where my little sister started giggling.

“Oh, I missed you opening it. I wanted to get a picture.”

I’m sure my eyes were really rolling at this point, and I pulled the box out and said, “No, it’s right here. Thanks.”

“You gonna try it on?”


“Oh, I’m just kidding. Have some Christmas spirit.”

Mom never tried the number system again. Now she keeps her eyes on the tree like a hawk, so no one can open a gift without her looking. One of us hands a gift to someone else one at a time, and if Mom thinks it’s all going too fast, then she makes us take a break.

It’s a full morning of my family together, sleepy and happy, and the phone doesn’t ring and the television is off, and we talk and laugh and thank each other for getting us things we didn’t know the other person knew we wanted. And for a few hours once a year nothing else matters. We are together and we are giving each other tokens of our love.

I can see why it’s my mom’s favorite holiday. She has everyone around her, even the dog, and we aren’t arguing, or leaving, or packing, or cleaning, or eating, or on the phone. We are focused on each other, and for that morning we are the only people on the earth.

So I don’t mind when my mom makes it stretch. I mean, maybe I’ll grumble a little, but it’s all in the spirit. It’s worth it to see her so happy. It’s the best Christmas gift we could give her.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Thanks to Lisa, and whoever sent the unwrapped gift. I just shoved it under the tree, so I haven’t seen who sent it yet. The Christmas cards have filled our tree. Your generosity has been overwhelming.

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