I can remember clearly a time when my life was consumed with acertain mission. Like most kids my age, much of the calendar yearwas filled with the anticipation and excitement leading up to acertain holiday.

By early December, my every move was closely calculated for one endresult, the arrival of a certain plump figure, to bring presentsand imbibe in the best cookies and milk I could find.

After crafting and redrafting a very refined list of items, I’dride over the Verrazano, dressed in my finest holiday swag. Mymission: to take a meeting with the mysterious plump figure, anddiscuss an exchange of goods and services.

He’d wonder aloud if I had been bad or good, while I’d nervouslybroach the subject at hand, a new Walkman or perhaps a shiny Barbieto add to my growing collection. Clutching my handwritten notes, mymind would go blank, as my star-struck younger self would try toremember the speech I had rehearsed on the way there.

In the background, the sound of impatient children mingled withsqueaks from the toy Santa’s helpers always squeezed to get me tosmile. The meeting would take mere seconds, as a candid photoincluding an almost always crying baby sis would be snapped and,like little Ralphie’s meeting in The Christmas Story, it’d beover before it began.

Trudging behind Mom and Dad through the shopping center, I’d rerunthe tete a tete in my head, scolding myself for not asking morequestions, for not putting my best foot forward with the childhoodidol.

Why didn’t I compliment his beard? I’d ruminate. I should haveasked how he gets into my house without a chimney, or whether heprefers chocolate or regular milk. The regrets would be endless.Eventually, assuaged by my parent’s soothing, I would release mycares and drown my sorrows in too many candy canes, a necessarysurvival strategy for underage holiday shoppers. While Mom skippedfrom store to store with the precision of a Special Ops officer,Dad would spoil us in the food court, until our bellies werefilled.

By Christmas Eve, the nervous pit in my stomach would be like anulcer, making me unable to think about anything else. Would this bethe year I ended up on the naughty list? Or that Santa flew over myhouse? Would my cookies be left untasted or would the big man comethrough for me, in spite of a poor performance at ourfaceoff?

Willing myself to sleep way earlier than I could on any othernight, I’d pull my covers up to my chin, like those darling littlebabes dreaming of sugarplums. Praying he would knock over the treeso I could awaken in time to spot him, I’d sleep with one earopen.

By morning, baby Sis and I would open our eyes as if from a fairytale-esque sleep. Throwing off the covers and rushing to ourparents’ room, we’d casually ask if 5 a.m. was time enough to wait.I’d wonder where all the energy from Mom’s shopping missions hadgone, as she donned her bathrobe at a snail’s pace and got thecamera ready.

By the time we reached the stairs, I’d mentally prepare myself forthe worst, some coal or a stocking full of socks. Of course, when Irushed down the stairs to the tree, my cares would be tossed theway of the carefully-crafted wrapping paper. All the worrying andplanning, plotting and dreaming had lead up to this moment of purejoy. Victory was mine and it tasted as sweet as I hoped itwould.

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