Every year on Christmas, growing up, we would get the Toys R ‘Us catalogue. I would circle all the things I wanted. My parents would promptly go out and try and get as much of it as they could find and afford then hide it in a garbage bag in the closet, then place them under the tree. On Christmas day my dad would wake us up at 5:30am as he was going to work. He would watch us open our presents and then go off to his job as a security guard at Lincoln Center. My dad is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, he never learned to read or write above an elementary level but he raised me and my big brother to be successful and relatively decent, smart people.
My parents, like many or most immigrant parents were the kind to put their kids futures in front of their immediate happiness or desires. But I didn’t really know that when I was 9 years old. It’s a hard thing to know or understand. So weeks before Christmas, my mother and father sat me down and explained, “The man your father borrows money from every year to get your Christmas presents is out of town until next year. So we won’t be celebrating until January.”
I said, OK then went right back to circling the electronic password journal, Barbie Shop With Me Cash Register, a deluxe toy kitchen and plenty more in the Toys R ‘Us catalogue. On Christmas day I was disappointed to see nothing – absolutely nothing - under the Christmas tree.
“Where are my presents!” I demanded. Then my parents explained to me again that my dad borrowed money every year (hundreds of dollars) so that even though we were poor we could have the kind of Christmas that everyone else had and we would still have that kind of Christmas only in January. “But I want presents now!” I demanded, again.
After work, even though it was freezing cold, even though it was snowing, my father trudged out to one of those knick-knack stores and called from a cellphone to tell me what they had, “A baby doll, a stuffed animal, do you want any of that?” I said, “NO! I want a Barbie Shop With Me Cash Register!” Then and I’ll always, always remember how miserable, how sad, how tired, how disappointed my dad sounded. “Well . . . that’s all they have . . . ”
I could hear how terrible he felt and my heart sank and even today it sinks in remembering how much of a brat I was being without even thinking for a second of how it must feel to be a parent and not be able to provide for your kids on Christmas. I said, “OK . . ” I was ten years old. I didn’t know how to say sorry. I didn’t know how to say that I finally understood but I felt terrible.
A couple of weeks later, my parents took me and my brother on a Toys R Us shopping spree where we got everything we wanted. I know this is a more personal flashback but I hope that when your natural bratty inclinations start to bubble up to the surface because you didn’t get exactly what you want just think about how awful your parents must feel. It’s really not a big deal. It’s really all just stuff - objects you’ll forget about, material possessions with a novelty that will wear off in a few days. Everything you have someone has a whole lot less. So this Christmas, instead of Santa, thank whoever has your back.