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The Build Up to Christmas

The fun, the anticipation

By Colleen Millsteed Published 7 months ago 4 min read
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Anyone with small children around during the build up to Christmas, knows the pain is real. Knows the challenge is on and we, as parents and caregivers, need to get creative.

What did you do to get around the challenge of a little one’s curious mind and insatiable appetite for getting into mischief?

Well, I had some fun with it all 😂😂😂

I’m a single mother with two gorgeous boys — who are all grown up now — but when it comes to Christmas and the saying boys will be boys, I had to get creative so that their curious minds and penchance for misbehaving, didn’t spoil their Christmas.

Small children remind me of having a pet cat when it comes to a Christmas tree. Both human child and animal are obsessed with the concept of this tree.

Now I’ve heard of many success stories for families when it comes to a pet cat but I had to get creative when it came to my boys and the well decorated, well lit tree.

I had an old fashion wooden playpen. The one that folds away flat or when erected forms a square so in effect the child inside the playpen is looking out on the world through wooden bars — remember those playpens?

I erected this playpen each year on 1 December and placed my much decorated and well lit tree inside. Far enough away from all 4 sides of the playpen so my boys couldn’t reach through and fiddle with either the tree, or the wrapped presents under the tree.

I’d then wrap tinsel and Christmas tree lights covering the top of each side of the playpen and I’d proudly inform my children that they were not to touch the play pen as it was dangerous — I explained they’d get a sharp electronic zap if they did so.

As toddlers this worked for a couple of years, but then they grew older and wiser, so I had to put my thinking cap back on.

I too had to get wiser.

This is when I came up with my master plan………and a genius one that lasted for all the years I needed it to………lasted until my boys were old enough that I didn’t need to save them from themselves. Until they were an age to understand that they could ruin Christmas if they got too curious.

At the end of each school year I used to make a production and small celebration about going through their books and school work for the year and after a trip down memory lane, we’d throw 95% of it all out. The rest would be kept as mementos.

Then after the boys had gone to bed that night, I’d retrieve their school books, pencil cases, calculator etc from the rubbish bin, and I’d spend a few hours wrapping these in christmas paper and placing the numerous ‘presents’ under the Christmas tree.

The boys were then given permission to pick them up, shake them, feel them, inspect them, smell them etc…..and try to figure out what they would be unwrapping on Christmas Day. They’d spend hours doing this over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

They had a ball and each year they were confident they had it all figured out. Confident they knew exactly what they were getting for Christmas.

Confident they were smarter than Mum.

But, on Christmas Eve, after the boys had gone to bed, I would take the presents from under the tree and discard them.

I would then spend a few hours wrapping the ‘real’ presents in the exact same paper the fake presents had been wrapped in, and placed these presents under the tree.

On Christmas morning, the three of us would sit around the tree and I’d pass out the presents to each boy and watch as they unwrapped them.

Their tiny faces full of excitement as they prattled on about how silly mummy was because they’d cleverly guessed all their presents — they were so proud of themselves.


One by one, as they opened each present, their little faces would light up in delight and sheer surprise……..as each time they realised they hadn’t guessed right. They weren’t getting what they thought they were getting for Christmas.

No……..in fact……..

They were delighted to discover they were getting something better. Something they never guessed.

Their little faces lit up in pure delight and it made my heart swell.

All the effort was worth this moment of surprise and delight.

This trick of mine lasted for quite a few years but they did eventually cotton on and when they did, my youngest child laughed and asked, “Mum, when we were born, did you take a course on how to psychologically screw up your child.”

With that question, the three of us cracked up in laughter and further cemented a bond that could never be broken.

Christmas is a time of love and magic.

Rui Alves (Medium Writer) invited me to a Christmas Engage (Medium Publication) Challenge and asked us to do as follows :

Through December, I challenge you to share with us your heartfelt stories from Christmas Past, as you reflect on the role of family and friends in your life.

This instantly reminded me of this memory of Christmas past. I hoped you enjoyed reading it just as much as I enjoyed reliving this memory.

Please click the link below my name to read more of my work. I would also like to thank you for taking the time to read this today and for all your support.

If you enjoy this piece, you may enjoy this one too.

Please visit my website if you'd like more information on my newly published book, Battle Angel : The Ultimate She Warrior.

Originally published on Medium

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About the Creator

Colleen Millsteed

My first love is poetry — it’s like a desperate need to write, to free up space in my mind, to escape the constant noise in my head. Most of the time the poems write themselves — I’m just the conduit holding the metaphorical pen.

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Comments (4)

  • Daphsam7 months ago

    This is so funny, I love the line about Mom. Did you take a course in screwing us up. I believe I’ve heard something like that myself. 

  • Mom rarely outfoxed my brothers. One year they told us that they had set up the big family gift in an empty bedroom upstairs. My younger brother Dan was determined to figure it out. He looked under the locked door by couldn't see anything. He tried looking through the furnace vent in the bedroom opposite but had no more luck there. He climbed up a prickly evergreen outside the window to the room only to discover the curtains were closed. Still, when Christmas Eve came & mom & dad had gone upstairs to complete their final preparations, Dan came around to each of us & asked, "Do you want to know what we're getting? It's a pool table." (No, he didn't care how we answered.) How did he discover it? He slid a mirror halfway under the door & stood back until he found the right angle to see clearly. Mom said that he if could manage that, he could take Debate rather than Speech his freshman year of high school.

  • Babs Iverson7 months ago

    Love your Christmas memories!!! You are one clever mom!!!💕❤️❤️

  • “Mum, when we were born, did you take a course on how to psychologically screw up your child.” Hahahhahahahaha I laughed so much for that! 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 But seriously though, I've read a few pieces that you've wrote about your clever parenting hacks and you're so brilliant!

Colleen Millsteed Written by Colleen Millsteed

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