My Christmas morning started at 3am when I went to bed and woke up at the same time.

To say I didn’t have any expectations this year, whether intentional or subconscious, I’d be lying. It’s just what I do. I build images in my head. Last year for Christmas, Ellie was sick. And in addition to being sick, she was barely a year old and didn’t quite get the whole Christmas thing at all. But this year, she knew(okay, I trained her to know) what a snowman was, could point Santa out on the Christmas tree, and she was excited at the site of seeing wrapped presents. So even though I knew she wouldn’t be tearing down the stairs in the morning with super excitement quite yet, I still had a certain image in mind of what this Christmas would be like. But just as life with a toddler is, not many things go as expected.

Every year, Aya and I do all of our wrapping on Christmas Eve after our family gathering at my grandma’s house (Some years I’ve end up doing all the wrapping by myself because someone, not naming names, falls asleep.) Yes, it’s very last minute, but it’s kind of become our tradition now. It wouldn’t feel like “us” if we were prepared in advance. Or be on time. But that’s another story. We usually turn the Christmas tunes on and make a night of it. And everything was going smoothly until just as we were “wrapping” up (I mean finishing) at 3am, Ellie woke up crying. 3am!? Really? She hadn’t fallen asleep until 11pm either.

Luckily, she fell back asleep fairly quickly and I did not need to sleep on her floor. However, she woke up again crying at 7am. Ugh. This is not how I pictured Christmas morning to be. It’s not so much that she was awake, it’s that she was crying and cranky. I didn’t want my kid crying on Christmas morning. It just didn’t seem right. It’s just like crying at Disneyland. No one should cry on Christmas morning! But when we finally made our way downstairs, she did squeal with excitement when she saw the tree with presents.  This is looking hopeful, I thought.

We didn’t want to bombard her with presents, especially with her birthday next month, so she only had two packages for her under the tree. One from us, and one from Santa. We got her a few books, and Santa got her a small Thomas the Train set. I know you’re probably thinking, books? Really, that’s it? Yes, really it is, but her birthday present is off the hook! I assure you.

I was so excited for her to open Santa’s gift because ever since Japan, she loves trains. Anytime there is a slight whistle sound or a bell, she points up and says, “choo choo!” My parents put my brother’s old Lionel train under their tree this year and Ellie loves to sit and watch it go around. “Choo choo!” Ellie has also played with the Thomas the Train set before at the Henry Ford museum, so I knew Santa picked a winner. But when Ellie opened the package and disappointingly said, “choo choo” my heart sunk a bit. And after I quickly assembled the track with the two train cars she pointed at it and said, “choo choo go?” Like, “Why won’t this thing move? Grandma and Gramp’s train moves.” Then she ran to play with her bongo playing Rock star Elmo doll she got the night before. Or as she calls him, “Emeno!”

And just like that, the “moment” was over. This is not what I expected?

We made it a point to not buy her battery-required toys that lit up, blinked, made noises, or moved. We are not against those toys, we just knew my folks were getting her some and we didn’t want the house to sound like Chuck E. Cheese’s Playland Adventure Center 24/7 after Christmas. Plus, some of her favorite “toys” have been boring things like poker chips and drink coasters. If she’s satisfied with those, why not put off the noise makers off for a little while? We also figured that pretty soon she’ll be old enough to be asking for specific toys, and our time to really influence what she plays with was limited.

So yes, I wasn’t expecting her to glance over the train and head straight for the bongo-me-Elmo. And to be honest, it really did bum me out. And it bothered me that it bothered me, because I know it’s not about me. I just wanted her to experience the same excitement that I remember feeling as a kid at Christmas. Yet, as I watched her play with Elmo and stare at him like he was the coolest thing ever, I realized that she was excited. It really was incredible to see that look on her face all lit up realizing that “Ememo” was a magical creature sent specifically to entertain and be her friend.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if it was the train, the book, the Elmo, or a reindeer hat my dad got her that she liked best. She had fun just the same.

And although things didn’t go as I was expecting them to, they ended up going better than I could have imagined.


  1. Love it! I didn’t know what to expect with our son being 19 months, but he received a Mickey’s Clubhouse book with sound effects and we could have been done then and there!

    1. Elmo is her new favorite! So much so she hasn’t requested Yo Gabba Gabba nearly as much as she did before. That’s a big deal!

  2. Matt…I laughed as I read this because EVERY YEAR I build up Christmas in my mind as well. EVERY YEAR I end up crying my eyes out because things don’t go as planned. Apparently this crying of mine has become our family Christmas tradition. My husband laughs about it every year and tells me to stop hyping it up, but I can’t even help myself. I’ll have you know that this year was the first year of no crying! (My kids are now 5 and 3!) So, don’t stop hyping it up….at some point it becomes what you want it to be. It may just take a another couple of years! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your beautiful family. Keep up the great work. I really enjoy reading your articles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *