It was 1 a.m., the children were asleep, and all of John and Patty's Christmas Eve guests had gone home. Suddenly, John was startled, not by the sound of jingle bells on the roof of their Anaheim home but by the realization that he had forgotten something very important--something that just couldn't wait until morning.
"Our older son was getting a bicycle for Christmas, and it was too big to hide at home, so we left it at a friend's house," John said. "I had no choice at that point but to make a mad dash over there to fetch it. I got them out of bed; I felt terrible."
The story had a happy ending: The bicycle was a big hit, and the friends are still friends. John recalled, however, that he was a bit bleary-eyed that Christmas morning.
At least he remembered in time, which is more than some of us can say.
"Hey, Mom, where did these come from?" my own 10-year-old daughter asked me one day in September. In her hand was a dusty package of candy canes she'd just pulled out of the closet.
THERE they were! I'd spent close to an hour searching for them last Christmas Eve before I finally gave up, hoping the little chocolate Santas would suffice.
"Oh, well, I, uh--want one?" Soon we both had peppermint on our breath.
Family Life is having an after-Christmas special on gift-stashing hints. Now that all of this year's secrets are out of the bags and boxes, it's time to remember our past foibles and make some notes for next year. The trick is to put the notes where we can find them.
The trunk of the car was our readers' favorite hiding place. For Lynda, who lives in Placentia, it was particularly handy because "we always put the tree up in the room right next to the garage, so we could just slip them in."
Her daughter, Carrie, is 17 and driving now, so the trunk isn't as safe as it once was. Now the family takes the straightforward approach, wrapping the gifts well and piling them under the tree in advance.
Under the tree can be an especially good spot if you're willing to be creative with the labeling. If the kids are convinced that the big package with the red bow is for Grandma, not them, they may be less likely to shake it apart with their curiosity.
Here again, the important thing is to make a list of what the real labels should say. One mother didn't, only to spend Christmas morning grabbing gifts out of the hands of the people who opened them and passing them to their rightful owners.
John and Patty tried using the car trunk too, but the children--the oldest of the four is 7--"learned how to open it. We tried the rafters in the garage, but now they've figured that out too," John said.
The only option was to go outside the house, but this year John was careful not to repeat his mistake. "We put the stuff in my office. I have my own business not far from home, so we just stored stuff around the shop and made sure Patty didn't bring the kids to see me at work for a few weeks."
Five-year-old Sean and 7-year-old Ryan of Irvine were "increasingly more curious about the location of their gifts" this year, said their mother, Cathy. Their presents from Santa, they knew, were at the North Pole. But what about gifts from Mom and Dad?
"They searched everywhere," Cathy said. "We were desperate to find the perfect hiding place. Then my husband hit upon the idea of putting them inside our luggage stored in the garage."
It worked. The boys, she said, were "absolutely stumped."
A couple of Yorba Linda women, Lynn and Marie, had an ambitious plan last year. Both wives were planning to give their artist husbands drawing tables for Christmas, not the easiest thing to pile into a sleigh or slip into a closet. So they decided to go ahead and buy the tables, put one in each garage and tell each husband it was a gift for his friend, to be picked up on Christmas Eve.
They shopped around and found a package deal on two tables through a friend who worked at an art supply store. But on the day they had planned to make the purchase, Marie's husband came home with a surprise: a drawing table he'd bought for himself at a garage sale for $25.
Over pizza a few days later, the wives confessed the whole plan. "I'm glad it didn't work," said Lynn's husband. "I hate those things."
You're the real authorities on what family life in Orange County is like. You're the ones who are dealing with the issues every day, coming up with your own solutions to real-life dilemmas. Give us your opinion or share your experiences on these or other topics:
Daddy, Can You
Spare a Dime?
Divorced fathers who pay their child support regularly are outnumbered nationally by those who don't. If you're a single-again parent, tell us your situation. Is child support a weapon in your family? Do you pay? Why or why not? Or are you and your children on the other side, dependent on the check that never comes?
What does it pay to be a kid in the county? Tell us how your family handles the issue of allowances. How much money do your children get each week, and what--if anything--do they have to do to earn it? And kids: Is it enough? What do you do with the money? And what's the best way to get a raise?
Send your comments to Family Life, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626. Please include a phone number so that a reporter may call you. To protect your privacy, Family Life does not publish correspondents' last names.