Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year goes, a stuffed animal is always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.
My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat
them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had
his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the
kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six
weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do
the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the
After that when we said there was no money, they understood that
reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular
Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had
been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit
more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.
Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty
tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late
Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble
three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money
that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go
Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with
his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still
dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.
“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them
together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike
tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”
His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than
we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled
and parked by the tree.
My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it
was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some
As I recall, that was the sum
total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite…
new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke. Every Christmas the
kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.