Stoop Down: A Christmas Story

There’s an apple orchard in our small town that, every Christmas season, is transformed into a stroll-through Christmas light “show.” 

I’m not going to say much about how I felt about paying $40 for my family to walk through a field for 15 minutes before already arriving back at the car, and I’m not going to say much about it because I like to support local businesses and it’s Christmas. I’m also not going to say much about it because hey, it’s something to do and I’m never going to balk at someone adding attractions—no matter how overpriced and unimpressive—to our little town.

What I will say is that as soon as we got back into the car, I took a deep breath and cleared my throat.  “Um…I would like to apologize to everyone,” was all I had a chance to utter before my entire family burst into fits of giggles and the jokes began.

“We should’ve just taken a dump on $40 and then flushed it down the toilet!” my husband exclaimed. (A few days have passed in which I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on this statement, and I have questions.  Like, for example, what is the point of the dump-taking?  Wouldn’t flushing the $40 directly down the toilet sans the crapping have rendered the same result?  Anyway.)

“We could’ve saved 15 minutes by grabbing two twenties out of your wallet and lighting them on fire!” my older son chimed in hysterically.

Through gasps of laughter—and probably a few tears—my younger son said, “Mom!  You NEVER let me buy Xbox games for $40, but you’ll pay $40 to force me to tromp through a barren field?  I could’ve done that at home!”

It only took a few moments for us all to agree that, actually, the $40 was worth it for the shared misery.  Misery loves company, you see, and that night, my little family was up to our eyeballs in it.  It brought us closer together.  We laughed about the paltry light display that’d cost us an arm and a leg all the way to dinner, where we realized after about a half an hour and several unanswered texts and phone calls that we’d been stood up by close family friends.

Then we laughed even more about how we don’t have any reliable, loyal friends and how the only people we’ll ever be able to count on in this cold, hard world are ourselves.

It was great.

I apologized to my family in the car after the light debacle because I was the one who’d made us go.  It wasn’t like everyone was clamoring for a better spot on the included hayride.  No, it wasn’t like that at all.  Nobody wanted to go except for me, so if we were starring in our own version of a holiday Hallmark movie, the opening scene would’ve been of me yanking my boys by their hoodies up the slight hill of the entrance to the orchard, fairy lights twinkling in the distance as we began our 15-minute trudge through the field amid their bitter complaints and bickering.

“You WILL stop fighting,” would be my opening dialogue, “and you WILL smile for a picture or I WILL take both of your phones away for the ENTIRE WEEKEND!  You can either endure ONE HOUR of misery at this wretched Christmas light field, or you can have SEVENTY-TWO HOURS of misery without your phones.  AM I MAKING MYSELF CLEAR????”

It was a Friday evening, and obviously a normal weekend off of school isn’t even close to 72 hours of freedom, so I was being a bit hyperbolic. But I think they knew better than to correct my math in that moment.  And besides, we were barely there for even a quarter of an hour, as a full hour spent in the small field would’ve resulted in our walking in circles around the place repetitively.

But I’d like to backtrack a bit here.  When we arrived at the entrance of the field, there was a guy in a festively painted little booth taking money. A sign attached to the outside of the booth indicated that the cost was $10 for each adult and that kids 2 and under were free.

“Hello!” he said cheerily, the pompon on his stocking cap bouncing merrily. “How many tonight?”

“Two adults and two 2-year-olds,” I replied with a semi-straight face as my husband and two boys, aged 15 and 12, strolled up behind me.

The guy in the booth looked over my shoulder and started laughing.  “Cute,” he said, before turning all business and looking me straight in the eye.  I swear even the pompon stilled.  “That’ll be $40.”

In cases like this, my husband and I love to tell stories about my dad, who made his five kids pretend to be whatever age you had to be in order to get a free gift or to get in somewhere for free or cheaper. We did this until we aged out of his household and he couldn’t make us anymore. 

But when we were growing up, if kids 5 and under got a free plastic cup with any large pizza order, then by god you’d better make yourself 5 or face a whooping when you got home.

And we didn’t even think about telling our real age at a buffet.  I still have to stop myself from walking up to the cashier at the Golden Corral, face flushed and shaking with nerves as I announce that I’m “a little tall for eight years old, I sure am, but that’s my age!  Yep, I’m eight!”  I swear I would stress during the entire drive to the restaurant as an early teenager, asking my older sister to remind me what grade 8 year olds are in and what they usually study in school that year in case the cashier decided to quiz me before allowing me through the turnstile.

One of our favorite stories to tell happened to my younger brother, DJ.  I actually think he had aged out of Dad’s household at this point—he was probably like 20 years old—but out of a sense of loyalty or a heathy fear of Pops that all kids seem to have no matter how old they get, DJ played along.

Or was forced to play along.  Semantics.

They were at a baseball game where free bobbleheads were being handed out to kids 12 and under.  DJ, being a full-grown adult, assumed (quite logically, I think) that Dad was joking when he told him to pretend to be 12 when they got inside the gates.

“Oh, that’s funny, Dad,” DJ chuckled as they made their way closer to the stadium’s entrance.  “I remember when you used to make us do stuff like that all the time to save a buck or two.”

My dad has this certain walk that we all make fun of because he’s at least 2 feet shorter than the rest of us but he can haul a-word. His arms kind of swing like a gorilla with his hands facing out backwards which I guess sort of propels him.  All I know is that when you see him taking that stance, you’d better be prepared to sprint if you want to keep up. I fancy myself a runner, and I’m in pretty good shape. But when my dad gets those stumpy legs going, all bets are off. 

Dad didn’t slow down to reply to DJ.  He was on a mission because they were only handing out 2,000 bobbleheads that day and he didn’t want to miss his.  “What are you talking about, Deej?” he asked my brother.  “I’m being serious.  Act like you’re 12.  I want that bobblehead.”

“Act like I’m 12?!” my brother protested, skipping to keep in step with my dad.  “Dad, I’m 20 years old!”

“I’m not stupid; I know how old you are. I’ve been celebrating your birthdays since you came out of the womb.  But today you’re 12.”

DJ was speechless.  Surely Dad couldn’t be serious?  And for a bobblehead?

Oh, but Dad was, in fact, serious.  Quite. 

When they got to the gate, my dad did one of those shout-whispers out of the corner of his mouth without looking at my brother.  “STOOP DOWN!” he said.

My brother’s jaw dropped, and at first he didn’t move. But then my dad said it again, and it was in that scary dad-voice and this time came with a rough nudge.  “STOOP DOWN!”

What could my brother do?  He had no choice.

He stooped.

He stooped, and Dad got his bobblehead, and the way my brother tells it, you haven’t seen joy on a father’s face like that since the leg lamp scene in A Christmas Story.

One time my husband and I took our kids to a huge waterpark.  We stepped up to the desk to pay, and I did what every responsible mother does: I lied. 

It was hard.  I’ve never seen the point in lying, and besides, I suck at it.  I have this really open, honest horseface (I’ve been called “disarming” on a few separate occasions, and I consider that one of the greatest compliments ever), and I usually just kind of say what I think needs to be said. This has caused my older son to chastise me for “having absolutely no filter” and my dad to once say, when he thought I had blown a job interview because I told them one of the questions was ridiculous, “You don’t have to tell everyone everything, Wheatzie.”  (Side note:  They loved me and I got the job.)

But that day at the water park, I mustered up the strength to lie in order to save my family a few dollars.  “Two adults and two kids under 10,” I said, handing over my cash.

The woman started counting my change back to me, and that’s when my younger son piped up.  “But Mom!  I’m not 10…I’m ELEVEN!”

I shot my eyes toward him, fixing him with a steely glare. I saw my older son roll his eyes at me in solidarity; at least he knew what was up.

The woman at the desk gave me a quick, understanding nod and continued counting my change back to me as if she hadn’t heard a thing.  She must’ve been a mother herself.

As we walked into the water park, my husband and I started laughing and once again told our boys the “Stoop Down” story. 

My younger son is too much like me. Too honest.

But it’s okay. He only has to play along for about 6 more years, when he ages out of my household and I can’t make him do it anymore.

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