Operation Ho Ho Ho

When my parents don’t visit for Christmas, they send a box for the kids. There are a few thing tucked in there for Esther and me, but they the boxes are really for the kids, filled with Christmas cheer. My mom starts calling in late October, checking the kids sizes, ensuring that the things she is thinking about buying are okay or will be something the kids will be interested in. The calls are usually quick, a minute or less, and come in an odd staccato with several calls in a day and then nothing for a few.

“What size are Hazel’s shoes?”

“What do you think about [ fill in toy idea ]?”

“Is John still playing with [ toy from last year ]? Do you think if we got him something just like that he would play with it?”

The boxes are carefully crafted, a combination of well thought out gifts for the holiday and what could only be described as stocking stuffers. When the box arrives we have to hustle it into the right hiding place.

This year would be no different.

“You should be getting two boxes.” Was this year’s warning, so when we received only one, we waited, sure that it would show up in a few days.

As we are getting close to Christmas, the fact that the box had not arrived was becoming a worry to my mom. Daily phone calls received, checking to see if the box had been delivered, waiting for the postal carrier knowing that today was the day it would arrive. Today, the 22nd, without package in hand, my mom is worried. She clearly began to go back though her paperwork to see if she can find a tracking number. She calls me.

“You won’t believe what happened,” she starts.

She had transposed the first two digits of the zip code, 32 instead of 23. The box was somewhere in Florida. My mom, a former government contractor, began telling me something about Monday being a federal holiday, so there is no way the box will make it from Anywhere, FL to our house by Christmas. I can tell she is worried. Worried that somehow the box not being here on the 25th will ruin Christmas. She tells me that she will call me later after she checks on somethings.

She calls me back about an hour later, confirming that she did accidentally send a box laden with Christmas joy to Florida and that there is little chance that it would make it to our house in time. She started to run though what she could remember the contents of the box were, but the only thing that came to mind was her large gift for Hazel.

“Can you go get something for her? I don’t want her to miss out on her big present.”

“Sure!” I say. But as I think about what I just offered to do, I wasn’t happy. I just offered to go out to the busiest local shopping area three days before Christmas, to Toys R Us none the less. I quietly and covertly tell Esther the situation and grab my jacket and prepare to head out, telling the kids that I had to go help a friend. The kids were curious about where I was going, what I was going to do, but keeping things simple, I ducked out and drove over to epicenter of Christmas commerce, with a disturbing number of stores open twenty-four hours a day.

I haven’t been a member of those who are shopping so close to Christmas in a long time. All of my shopping was done weeks before and I had specifically avoided going near any shopping areas due to a slight dislike of fighting for parking spaces, crowded stores, monotonous lines, and the fantastic attitude that some shoppers display under the stress of getting the right holiday gift so close to the event. When I finally get a parking space, I put my headphones in, fire up my podcasts and head into the throng.

I find a Playmobil that closely matches what my mom had described and send her a picture. She and I had been texting back and forth about the whole affair so I snapped a picture and sent it to her, hoping for a quick response. The lines weren’t getting any shorter. She didn’t have her phone, so after waiting for about 15 minutes, I called, she confirmed and I grabbed the last remaining set I had spied and made my way to the front of the store.

To say I made it out alive, is an overstatement, but it did feel like an amazingly successful surgical strike through hostile territory. There were two items of note that were humorous about the whole ordeal, the first being that Hazel had such a great Christmas that if a package had been missing from her grandmother, she would have hardly noticed, the second being that the box was delivered the day after, the correct zip code hand written on a label, someone caring enough to not want the package returned to my mom to then have her send it on.

Bonus note: When the Hazel unwrapped the big gift from her grandmother and realized it was the same as the one that I had gotten her, she immediately had a plan, she could give the set to her brother. When we explained that he would probably get to play with the set that she already had, she then suggested that we donate it. She said yes, but had a thinking look on her face. She mulled it over and she said “I don’t want any one to have to pay cents for it.” She and her mom often go and browse Goodwill and on a rare occasion pick up a toy, but Hazel didn’t want another family to have to pay for the toy, so we told her that we would save it until Christmas time next year and we would give it to Toys for Tots. I was never so proud.