On Christmas Eve in the Nations’ house, all four boys (before we adopted Abigail) would sleep in the same room as we collectively dreamt of the awesome new toys coming our way with the midnight arrival of Santa Claus and his reindeer friends. In the morning, we would call our parents on the landline (#ThrowbackThursday) and beg to go see what the Big Man had left in the living room for us.
When Dad threw out the all-clear, festive chaos ensued. A blizzard of wrapping paper and scotch tape whirled across the room. No gift was safe.
But the biggest presents, those from Kris Kringle himself, weren’t ever wrapped. No, those gifts gloriously posed under the tree unscathed, the first thing we saw upon entering the room.
And he always knew how to pick the best gifts.
Once it was a sweet robot that shot nerf darts out of his chest. Another time it was a 4 foot tall Tonka crane. My junior year of high school it was a deep fryer and tuxedo t-shirt, the only gifts on my Christmas list.
In 2000, however, we were apparently feeling especially crafty and impatient. Somebody (I can’t remember who but they deserve a medal) devised the perfect plan to get a sneak peek at the spoils our friend Saint Nick had left.
The four of us woke up at some ungodly hour of the morning, far before Mom and Dad would be awake. Aaron, who was almost 2 years old at the time, snuck out of the room as if he was 007 himself. The mission was simple: gather intel on what Santa had delivered during his visit and hurry back to share the report with the group.
If he got caught, surely Mom couldn’t be upset at the innocent toddler crawling towards a mountain of toys. The rest of us assumed no responsibility for the act if he got caught and planned on “sleeping” as if nothing was happening in the event of mission failure.
It was fool-proof.
Upon his return, Aaron blurted out one miraculous word.
“Bicycle!” He shouted.
It was the best moment of my young life. We hooted and hollered with joy in our best hushed voices. High fives flew as we celebrated a successful mission and dreamt of rolling through the neighborhood on a pack on new Schwinn’s. The exhilaration kept us over until it was time to call Dad.
But as he led us towards the living room, there was a problem.
A big problem.
There, underneath the tree, sat a single toddler-sized tricycle.
Disappointment wafted through the air as we attempted to understand how such a perfect plan could have failed so miserably. Trying to mask our disappointment, we continued with the unwrapping formalities, probably watering the tree with our tears.
It was the pitts. We were somewhat inconsolable.
In fact, if Santa had installed a roller coaster in the back yard I don’t think it would have made a difference.
And sometimes that’s how it goes.
There are probably more than a handful of thoughts to salvage from our failed operation, but I think there’s a lot to be said about how powerful anticipation can be and how much disappointment can suck.
Sometimes I work something up in my head, say a new project or relationship, to an excruciatingly high level. I dream about how great it will be or how exactly I want it to go and when things don’t end up as I expected them to, there’s a fog of disappointment that sucks any joy and satisfaction from the new (possibly better) ending.
Dreaming big and being optimistic are spectacular, but there’s a line when anticipation becomes controlling. When I decide things in my life can only turn out one way, my way, it’s time to hit the brakes.
Instead, I want to be someone who dreams big and celebrates bigger, regardless of how closely the future matches up to my expectations.
I can’t remember a single gift that was sitting under the tree back in 2000, which is a shame because I’ve never known Santa to give many bad gifts. But I’ll always remember what wasn’t there, and that makes a world of difference.