My wrapping privileges may be revoked in 2014, by Shane Borrowman

December 19, 2013

Posted By: Shaunescy

Christmas brings out the sadist in me.  It’s a flaw I’ve always been aware of but have always managed to hold in check.  I don’t think my family knows.  They will.

This year my wife left me in charge of wrapping all of the packages that aren’t for me.  Normally this doesn’t happen, most likely because I wrap things really, really badly.  I go through rolls of paper.  Rolls.  Everything gets too many layers, too much tape. My package corners tend not to be well creased. By the time I’m done, every gift usually looks like some sort of freakish but well-intentioned Improvised Christmas Device.

It isn’t pretty.

But that’s not sadism. Here’s the sadism:  I use boxes for almost everything.  Even things that already come in boxes.  I put boxes in bigger boxes and wrap both of them, one inside the other. I don’t do this because unwrapping presents is fun, but because it is slow.  Maddeningly slow.  A child’s equivalent of long security lines at the airport.

Merry Christmas morning to my eight-year-old twins.  Expect delays. That should not make me smile.  It does.  I accept this.

So that’s a little sadistic, but I get worse: I put a handful of gravel in the box, producing a very satisfying sound of broken glass (and probably a little anxiety) when shaking is done.  Or I toss a few pens and pencils in, plus a few seashells.  The sound that box makes when shaken is just, well, odd.  It certainly doesn’t sound like an XboxOne game, to me or to anyone.  Another package gets The Silent Treatment, where I use a large, weighty quilt and pillow not only to make the box freakishly heavy for its size but also to keep the actual gift from making a sound.  It’s a big, heavy box of mystery.

All of this may mean that my wrapping privileges are revoked in 2014.  I won’t argue if that happens.  The punishment would be fitting. Christmas wrapping-related sadism aside, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good guy, a pretty good parent who cares about kids—mine and those around me.

It hurts me desperately, then, when I’m suddenly confronted by one of those moments when I realize that not only is a child’s life harder than I ever dreamed, but there’s nothing I can do about it unless things actually get worse.  And even then there’s not much to do to help.

This sort of helpless revelation happened recently when a friend came over to play with my twins, something he’s done—coming over to the house and staying anywhere from one to four hours—for years.  His mother dropped him off, which was slightly unusual (since normally he just rides his bike), and all of them began to play Uno.  I couldn’t see the game from my chair in the living room, but I could chart its progress by the sounds.  There’s a special scream of delighted frustration that’s unique to someone who has just been dealt a Draw Four by a friend.

After only a short time, though, maybe as little as thirty minutes, our visitor’s father came to the door.  He wasn’t there to get his son, though.  He stood in my doorway, even though I invited him in, and called his boy outside.  They spoke at length, although I don’t know what was said. I learned early on never to read over someone’s shoulder and never to eavesdrop.  I won’t do either.

When my kids’ friend came back in to rejoin the Uno game, the boy’s father called to me.  “His mother and I had a fight,” he opened—already telling me more about his/their life than I wanted to know, I guess.  “She left for Bozeman and dropped him off here.  If she comes to get him, don’t let her take him.  Call me.”

My immediate response was probably to blink and look stupid.

“Well,” I said to this father worried about his upset wife taking physical custody of their son, “my wife’s running some errands soon, and she was planning on dropping him off at your place on the way.”  That was actually true, which is the only reason I had anything to say at all.  Otherwise, I’m sure I would have just nodded pointlessly.

“Perfect,” he told me.  “That’ll work just perfect.”

He left, and I went back to my chair.  Within the hour, my wife dropped the boy off at home, after making sure he had our phone number and knew that he could call if he ever, ever needed us—or he could just come by.

But the odd hypocrisy wasn’t lost on me:  “Here’s my number, kiddo.  Call me if you need me, and let’s just ignore the fact that I think you probably need me right now. Don’t forget your hat.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, haven’t been able to stop mulling over the “What can I do?” and “What should I have done?”

The second one is easy—if ugly—to answer.  I did exactly what I had to do.  Legally, there’s no way I could tell the mother, “No, you aren’t taking your son home.  Just wait outside while I call his father, your husband.”

This event happened on my 43rd birthday.  If I’d had that conversation with the mother, I would have spent the night of my birthday in jail for kidnapping.

And I wouldn’t have had a defense to make, which brings me to the “What can I do?” in my thinking.  To my knowledge, the boy isn’t being abused in any way.  Not at all.  There’s never been a mark on him, and I’ve never heard him say anything that suggests there’s just a mark I’m not seeing.  I’ve never even heard one of his parents raise a voice in anger to him.

Parental arguing is not abusing this kid in a way that calls for my involvement.  For any involvement, as far as I can tell.

In my careful, analytical, educated opinion, that sucks.  But it doesn’t suck in a way that screams “This is abuse!”  The kid’s parents just don’t get along, apparently, and he’s stuck in the middle.  That’s a sad story that’s common.

But I can’t stop thinking about it.

I can’t stop thinking about him.

And it makes me sad.

It’s December, and I’ve been sadistic in my present wrapping practices.  I’ve been busy helping my son build a Secret Santa present for someone in his Scout troop.  I’ve been figuring out how to contribute to KIND, a charitable organization that provides desks to schools in Africa.

Charity begins at home, the cliché says, and that’s true.  I can’t do anything to help a boy, apparently, who is in a situation that’s hard but not criminal.  All I seem able to do is to support him, talk to him, encourage his continuing friendship with my twins.

It doesn’t feel like much, not at any time of the year.


With Love, Dad

Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western.  He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films.  He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship.

note: This picture is originally from a commercial site:


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