Don’t you just love it when you find the perfect Christmas gift for someone? Once the gift is wrapped and under the tree, you can’t wait for it to be unwrapped again so you can watch the face of the recipient and see just how incredibly thrilled he or she is.
I found one such gift not too many Christmases ago, and it was all I could do not to give away the surprise or just have my son open the thing early so I could enjoy his reaction.
Ever since my quadruplets were born, we’ve been on a tight budget. A really tight budget. So many of our Christmas gifts have been hand made or hand-me-downs, and we’ve tried to emphasize things other than material possessions. We draw names among the six of us and try to keep things low key. But this particular year, I decided to join in with the rest of America and buy something like everyone else does, because this was just going to be so cool, such an incredible surprise, I knew my son would explode with excitement to have a “normal” gift like all his friends at school.
He is really, I mean REALLY, into football, and he knows like EVERY single player who ever breathed and their stats and records and hat sizes and favorite ice cream flavors. Well, he had this most-favorite-of-all-time player whose jersey he just really really really wanted more than anything in his life. I thought, wouldn’t it be the greatest thing if, when he opens his gift on Christmas morning and he figures it’s just another knitted scarf or a recycled tin filled with homemade cookies or a thingamajig for his who-knows-what, he instead finds the jersey of his most beloved player? Of course, yes, absolutely, that’d be mind blowing. It’d be the ultimate, Unforgettable Christmas gift!
So I start saving money and hunting for the thing. Turns out, this football player is a whole lot of other people’s most-favorite-of-all-time player, too. And every store on the planet is sold out of his jersey. But no way am I going to let this deter me from this ever-so-perfect gift idea. I’m going to change his life with this thing. I have to have one! So I Google it some more, and even go past the first page on Google, and I search links on the twentieth, fiftieth page, and I search and search, until I actually FIND one on a department store online store. (Someone must have JUST returned it and it was restocked the very second I loaded the page!) And it is a Medium, just like I need! Serendipitous! Unbelievable! I click it into my cart faster than you can say DON’T-TOUCH-MY-SHIRT-IT’S-MINE! and I check out. Within hours, the shipment is on the way to my house and all I have to do now is hold on, wait, and not let the smile that I can’t keep off my face give away my incredible surprise.
When the package comes, I smuggle it into the house successfully and no one knows. I sneak it to my room, where I keep the wrapping paper, ribbons, tape, and scissors. I take it out of the plastic bag it shipped in, but I leave it in the clear plastic bag sealed around it. It is folded so nicely, with the famous number on the chest blazing through the plastic. I know he’s going to totally flip out when he sees it!
Christmas morning arrives, and I’ve barely contained my excitement. Finally, the moment comes and my son is unwrapping the gift. The paper tears off, and there it is, in his hands, the most beloved jersey of all time. He can’t even believe it is true! It isn’t any home-sewn, felt cut-out kinda-looks-like-the-real-thing ersatz make-do thanks-mom facsimile, but a real life, sweat-house assembled, rubber-iron-on-smelling beautiful store-bought jersey. He carefully slices open the top edge of the clear plastic bag with scissors and slips his fingers inside to feel the slippery polyester fabric with little holes in it, just like the pros wear. His grin is nearly breaking his face. He keeps asking, “Really? Really?” like he just can’t believe this jersey is IN HIS HANDS for HIM TO HAVE as his very, very own.
The big moment comes, and while he is nearly crying with gratitude toward me, he pulls the jersey from the bag by the shoulders to display for the entire family his prized gift, the gift of a lifetime, the very thing all the previous years of thrift have been priming him for. He holds it up, and it begins to unfold, unfurl before him, for all of us to gasp about and admire.
And we do gasp. I grab the armrests of my chair to steady myself. It only unfurls once. And it stops. It’s like ten inches long. The whole thing is tiny. I mean tiny like it might fit someone’s poodle. That little kind of poodle.
His face falters, then goes into complete confusion. A joke? A hoax? He doesn’t even have a poodle. He looks to me for answers. His face says, “How Mom? How could you tease me like this? What’s going on?”
I jump up and race over to him. I search the shirt, looking for the rest of it. Maybe it’s folded in on itself. Maybe it’s one of those tiny sponge things you soak in water and it springs to full size. “That’s not what I ordered,” I declare, hoping that somehow would comfort my son who probably now thinks I’m the meanest parent ever, to dare to tease an offspring about something so sacred.
I find the tag. It does say Medium. But Men’s Medium never looked so tiny. I look closer. It isn’t Men’s. It isn’t even Youth. It might as well be Poodle, because it is Child, which really is almost Infant.
“Heh. Ha ha,” I try. “It’s the wrong size. It’s not supposed to be a baby’s shirt. Really. They didn’t say that on the website.”
No matter what they said on the website, it isn’t going to make the shirt any bigger. My son tries to laugh, too. He’s being a good sport. When my husband points our camera at him, he holds up the mini-shirt and smiles for a picture. A kind of snarky smile, but at least it is a smile of sorts.
The next day, though I know it’s going to be hopeless, we go to a string of sports and department stores to show my good faith by seeing if somehow, maybe, there is a proper-sized jersey for the most-favorite-of-all-time player, but of course, I know they were sold out months ago. Then somehow, hidden on a rack among a bunch of misfit unwanted jerseys that never found their way beneath a Christmas tree, we find the One and it is actually nearly a German Shepherd-sized shirt, the size we want! We grab it and race to the register, certain any second it will vanish into vapor, because it is too good to be true. We even get a discount on it, probably for the post-Christmas clearance, but I don’t care. I’m not going to ask. By now, I’d probably pay all the money I’ve saved the last decade crocheting thingamajigs to remedy my mistake.
Swinging the bag, exiting through the automatic doors of the sports store, my son smiles again, thanking me endlessly. Not so much for what now is in the bag clutched in his hand, but that I love him so much I would do whatever I could to replace the mini-shirt with a real one he doesn’t have to put on the poodle he doesn’t even have and can actually wear himself. And he adds: "And you have to admit, that was pretty funny when I pulled it out and that’s all there was."
It was indeed mind blowing. The Unforgettable Christmas Gift.
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