A month before my thirteenth birthday, I discovered that Scotch tape is removable. While she was at work, I crept into my mother’s room. I’d seen her carry in shopping bags the prior evening. She handed me a box of party invitations to fill out and rushed upstairs with the bags.
Curious George fan that I was, the next day, I investigated. I kneeled beside her bed and lifted the comforter, nothing. I opened her closet and stood on my tippy toes searching behind her shoe boxes. Nothing. I reached between her dresses and felt behind her shoe rack. Nothing. I sat, defeated, head cradled in my hands. Then I spotted it. On the far right, below my father’s trousers. A large white bag with strip of orange ribbon hanging from the top. I crawled to the bag and hoisted it over my father’s collection of cowboy boots.
I grasped the box with both hands and shook away the bag. There on the yellow gift tag: Happy Birthday Pam!
I shook. It was heavy and rattled.
Scissors! No, mom would surely see that.
I turned the box on its side and slid my finger under the folded wrapping paper, but it started to tear. I had to know. I noticed a corner of the tape wasn’t pressed down. I pinched the edges with my fingernails, and carefully peel it back. It came right off. I opened the paper revealing the contents of the box.
There, pictured on the box were the most beautiful snazzy, blue, suede roller skates with bright yellow wheels. This was decades before Heelys, and no other kid in my neighborhood had sneaker skates.
From that day forward, when mom set my presents before me, I knew what to expect. But I couldn’t let on. So, I kept my secret. When mom placed the wrapped box on the table in front of me, I tore off the bow and paper, tossing them on the floor. I took a deep breath, looked down and cheered.
I jumped up and gave my mother a big hug. Even when I didn’t get the thing I hoped for, my mom, nor my friends, knew. I prepared myself for what was coming, so they didn’t see my disappointment.
I wonder why my actual birthday reveals were never anti-climactic. Perhaps my knowing about the gift is one thing, but the anticipation of one day actually using the item kept me excited and able to plaster on a giddy expression as I ripped away the paper.
It would be nice if life was like that. Always knowing what to expect. No matter who’s watching, I’d be prepared for whatever comes my way; brace myself for the bad and anticipate the terrific. But it doesn’t work that way.
I love birthdays, and I love life’s excitements and joys. There’s so much wonder and beauty out there; experiences to be had. But, reaching for the box when I don’t know what to expect is often terrifying.
If I move to a rural town, will I be lonely?
If I stand in the middle of a stage and sing a song I wrote, will people think I’m crazy?
Can I really write a book?
The last ten years have been full of big-paper-rips. Some of the beautiful boxes turned out to be full of useless, eco-unfriendly foam padding. Some contained damaged items. Returned. But most of them were overflowing with glorious items pulled from my bucket list of magical life goals.
I’m not thirteen anymore, and I can’t sneak into my mother’s closet to examine my presents. I have to wait until opportunities come, or create them, and then be willing to rip. These days, I never have to pretend I’m excited. Sometimes I am so disappointed I weep, and it is worth every tear. I know that there are a million more boxes out there. So, I’ll take my gifts as they come and rip away.