The Christmas my sister asked for a stereo with a turntable, my parents realized disappointment lingered under the tree since they could only afford that one gift for her. At the grand age of ten, I’d asked for a multitude of toys—all small items easily within my parents’ tight holiday budget. My brother, only five, found joy in individually wrapped Hot Wheels and packs of Wrigley’s Double Mint gum.
Our Christmas mornings began early. My parents never restricted us to waiting until a “decent” hour when it came to opening gifts. I suspect they felt as much excitement as us kids. A shouted, “Santa’s come!” would rouse the entire household. Somehow, a pot of coffee already brewed on the stove, and my folks would sip from their mugs and listen to our exclamations of surprise as we sorted and opened our gifts.
Of course, on that Christmas, my sister opened her stereo. Dad proudly showed her all of the features—AM and FM stereo and a turntable. They had also purchased a couple of 45s and an album for her. I recall her face as she rubbed her hands over the box, turned the album in her hands to read the back cover, and then watched as my brother tore into another package. I’d whittled my pile down by then, but a few gifts still encircled me on the floor.
My brother and I opened a couple of boxes each while my sister sat with her records in her lap and her stereo, enclosed in cardboard, by her side. Tears welled in her eyes, and she mumbled something. And as any fifteen-year-old girl would do, she scurried down the hallway into the haven of her room. My mother ducked into her own bedroom, then entered my sister’s room. After a few minutes, they both rejoined us. My sister’s tears dried, her mood lifted again as she and my father decided to set up her stereo in her room.
In later years, I learned that my parents had anticipated my sister’s letdown in receiving one main gift. Wisely, they’d set up three envelopes, one for each of us children. Inside, they’d placed the receipts for the gifts they’d nestled under the tree. When my sister left the room in silent tears, Mom showed her the envelopes and explained that they’d spent the same amount on each of us.
I’ve come to appreciate the foresight my parents showed on that long ago Christmas. The five years that stretched between my sister and I, and again between my brother and I, meant we often fell out of sync in our wants and needs. By staying on a prescribed budget and spending the same on each of us, they gave us more than simple presents. They showed us that they’d try to treat us equally, and yet as very separate individuals. That’s a tremendously important lesson for parents to teach—a wonderful life lesson to give.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman