As we approach Christmas, I would like to send a heartfelt wish of good luck to all of you parents out there with young children. You’ll need it. If this is your first time to have Christmas when Santa Claus magically delivers all of the gifts to your house, I am going to give you three words that will strike fear into your heart, three words that I think the Grinch himself personally came up with: some assembly required. Believe me, in a couple of years these will become the most hated words in your holiday vocabulary – right up there with fruitcake. I know, I’ve lived it. And I’m not the first. It’s a ritual that has been repeated for generations.
This is the way Christmas Eve will go down: you’ll finally get your children to bed, and it will be late because they’re so excited. You have to wait until they’re sound asleep, which adds at least another hour – then the work begins. There will be all kind of toys: a bicycle, a Big Wheel, a Barbie Dream House, a trampoline, and Lord knows what else. They have to be put together because Santa would never, ever just drop off an unassembled toy. Of course not. Everything had to be fully assembled and I was the assembler.
It would help if the instructions were clear, direct, and easy to read – but nooo. It seems like every set of directions is written in a font so small that it would take a pair of jeweler’s glasses to easily read them. If they’re even in English. Honestly, I’ve seen some of them written in Chinese. And the illustrations generally look like they were drawn by 105-year-old man with arthritis. How can I determine where Bolt A goes if the drawing makes it look like Bolt D? Looking back, I would’ve paid an elf a thousand dollars on the side to put this stuff together.
I don’t see how my father survived the Christmas Eve ordeal. He had no mechanical aptitude, the patience of a New York cab driver, and a short temper. One specific Christmas Eve when I was about six years old, I was awakened by a loud commotion in the living room. There was swearing and the sound of a screwdriver hitting a wall. Dad was obviously trying to put together my bicycle and it wasn’t going very well. To be honest, it scared me. I cried out for my mother (who was guarding the living room door), saying, Mom, what’s happening in there? Is everything ok?”
With no hesitation, she replied, “Don’t worry honey. It’s Santa. He’s just having a little problem with his Turret’s Syndrome.”
We shouldn’t have put out milk and cookies. We should’ve put out bourbon and Coke. Or maybe just bourbon.
This year, many of you will learn there’s nothing worse than working fervently from midnight to 4:30 AM on Christmas Eve. Eventually you get everything put together – kind of. I always seemed to have a handful of nuts and bolts left over when I finished putting a bicycle together. Some of them looked kinda important, too. So I made extra sure the kids wore their bike helmet on that first ride.
At long last your head meets the pillow at about 4:45, and you immediately fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion. Then at precisely 5:00 AM, you are jolted awake by a knock on your door and a tiny voice from the other side that says, “Mom? Dad? Can we get up now? I think Santa came.” Go put on a pot of coffee my friend, it’s gonna be a long day. After my first year of this experience, I understood why my dad was a grump on Christmas Day. It wasn’t that he hated Christmas – he was suffering from sleep deprivation.
If you’re very lucky, by about 7:00 AM you can leave the kids to play with their toys while you steal a short nap. But it has to be quick, because the relatives will start arriving around mid-morning and the cooking should be well underway by then.
A word to the wise from an old sage – this holiday season if a store offers to assemble a toy for an extra fee, pay it! Pay it! It’s probably cheaper than a bottle of bourbon and a session with a marriage counselor.