I never wanted to grow up. Unfortunately, I remember the exact moment when I did.
It was the ’80s, and I was a young kid living in Framingham, Massachusetts. My parents had a nice place with a detached garage that was on a golf course, and I loved exploring the nearby woods. It had pretty much everything a kid under 10 would want, and that place still holds a lot of fond memories.
My parents always get ready for Christmas fairly early, and one year I was determined to hunt down and find those presents so I could see what I’d get. I searched in the basement, the hidden wall panel in the living room, even in my parent’s closet — no luck. So with the reckless abandon of someone who doesn’t know what they’re in for, I headed towards my father’s home office, located in the back of the detached garage.
I opened the door and swung it inwards and that’s when I saw them. Toys. Lots and lots of toys, just piled up in a corner of the room. There they were — everything I wanted! There’s that G.I.*Joe toy I was looking for, and the Transformers, GoBots, M.A.S.K. — it was a dream. I just wanted to open them all up and play right there in the middle of my father’s office. But I couldn’t. And that was when I realized what I had done.
Everyone always talks about finding their toys when they’re a kid, but when it actually happens, there are really only three options. Either you can open them up, play with them and get in trouble; pretend you never found them and hide the secret from your parents; or tell them the truth. I opted for the second one, and it was a bad call.
Guilt will eat you alive, particularly when you’re under 10 and you want nothing more than to play with your presents. Patience comes with time, and it wasn’t there at that moment. Here I was, trying to hide the biggest secret in my life, and I just couldn’t. I’m not sure how my folks found out, but they did, and that’s when I was punished. “These toys are going all back to the store! That’s it!”
But they didn’t. A month or so later they were all under the tree, some of them labelled “From Santa.” And I suppose that’s when it really hit me, but I just didn’t want to admit it.
When I was growing up, I often was told by friends, nurses and relatives to “never grow up.” Geoffrey from Toys R Us had the same slogan. Even though all my friends talked about what they wanted to be when they got older, it just wasn’t that attractive of an idea. Sure, I could be a lawyer or artist or whatever, but why not just be a kid forever? Who wants to pay bills and do all that boring stuff that parents do? I never wanted to lose that fun feeling that I had every day, and the freedom to play and do whatever I wanted.
But that Christmas, I knew it was starting to come crumbling down. And eventually, a few years later (and older than I’d like to admit), I had to ask my mother if Santa Claus was real. And of course, she told me the truth.
I cried. A lot.
And then I said, “Is there no Easter Bunny either?”
It wasn’t the existence of a mythical bunny rabbit and a chubby guy from the North Pole that made me sad. It was that this was one of the last vestiges of my youth. None of my friends even played with their G.I.*Joe toys anymore, they were all into music and sports. I had to move on and put all of those childish things aside. I had to become an adult.
Now, as a parent, I look at KJ and I see him with that same sense of wonder that I had when I was young. I’ll watch him sitting on the floor, making little “vroom, vroom” sounds as he pushes his toy cars across the tile, and I think about how badly I want to do the same thing. How I just want to be 8 years old again, before I ever opened up that door to my father’s office, and I just wish I could stop myself from making the discovery. It’s this feeling of wonder that KJ still has and I never want him to lose.
Someday, he will. KJ will grow up, have a family and all the good things that come with it. But right now, I’m just happy to share those moments with him, playing cars on the floor with reckless abandon and knowing — knowing — that Santa Claus is real.
These days won’t last forever. But while I still have a chance, I want to be a kid again.
Just for just a few more minutes.