December 1990, I sat on a burly man’s lap. He had a fake beard, and he wore a red suit. I was led to believe he was Santa. Giver of toys, hero to children everywhere, this was the guy. The whole year had built to this one moment, the moment where I’d tell Santa what I wanted. I knew I’d get it, too, because, you see, I was good, very good.
At that time, Santa was my moral compass. Whether it was deciding whether or not to eat an entire box of chocolate pudding cups, considering the idea of hitting my newborn brother with a golf club, or making the choice to cut off large chunks of my hair, and hide it all around the house, I fought my natural urge for mischief that year. And yes, at some point in my life, I did all three of those things. Santa kept me in line.
I sat on his lap, staring up into the man’s dark eyes.
“What do you want for Christmas?” He asked, his voice somewhat hoarse from hours of taking requests from the children of the mall.
“I want… I just…,” I stammered, trying to overcome my shyness. “I want a Nintendo with Mario Brothers 3.”
I’d done it. I asked the big guy for my gift. Now all I needed to do was sit back and wait for Christmas morning to arrive.
The previous summer, I’d spent a long weekend at my cousins’ house. During the 72 hours I was there, it would be safe to estimate that about 60 of them were spent glued to their television, pounding buttons on their Nintendo Entertainment System. The remainder of my time there was spent eating ice cream for breakfast (my cousins were only 7 — it’s not like they knew I shouldn’t be doing that) and yes, sleeping. I was hooked.
Days had never gone by so slowly. After the longest month of my short life, Christmas had finally arrived. I slid down the stairs that Christmas morning, already thinking about what game I’d play first. I turned the corner into the family room and… nothing.
Yes, there were presents. There were large presents, small presents, wonderful presents. There wasn’t the present, though. My not-quite-five-year-old self was devastated.
I felt as though the world hated me. I felt as though I was being held to an unfair standard of “niceness.” I felt as though I must have done something so terribly wrong that I upset Santa, who, in my mind, was some sort of demigod.
Obviously, those thoughts are over-dramatic and privileged, but hey, I wasn’t even five yet. Give childhood me a break.
As a child who didn’t even know that parents were responsible for the presents under the tree, I didn’t understand the complexities that went through their lives. To me, at that age, I didn’t realize that maybe spending hundreds of dollars on video games wasn’t in the budget of two people who had just purchased a new house and had their second child. I didn’t realize that maybe it wasn’t necessary for a four-year-old kid to spend hours in front of the television on the Nintendo.
Disappointment is a lesson we all need to learn. In my case, I learned this by not getting the present I wanted. In hindsight, this made for the perfect, low-stakes opportunity for me to learn the lessons that come with disappointment. Once you understand disappointment, you can begin developing a healthy sense of needs versus wants, and you can learn that even when you do everything perfectly, sometimes things don’t go your way.
I am extremely thankful that my parents didn’t get me a Nintendo that year. The following year, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Super Nintendo Entertainment System underneath the tree. I’ll always look back at 1990 as the year where I learned one of life’s most important lessons.
Merry Christmas. Even if you don’t get what you want, remember that there’s still a silver lining.