Caught you being good

My dad called the other day and said he had a fun Christmas surprise for my boys. Knowing my dad this “surprise” could have been anything. This is the man who gave my older son a fake zippo lighter when he was 2 years old. When you popped open the top, it said, “Get ‘er done.”

One time when my sister and I were kids, he brought home a fondue maker from a thrift store. We melted chocolate and cheese for hours. I sat on the kitchen counter while we all enjoyed marshmallows, fruit and bread dripping with gooey flavors.

Last Monday, I was my dad’s date for his work Christmas party. When we got back to our cars after the event, I jumped in mine and cranked the heat. I thought he was going to pass a few small surprises through my window, but instead he opened his trunk, pulled out a huge plastic bin and transferred it to my car.

I cocked my head to the side with curiosity and smiled at him. What in the world did he have up his sleeve?

He told me to tell the boys if they were “caught being good” each day, they could pull a bag out of the bin.

I drove back to Maggie Valley curious about the contents of the bin. The boys were staying with their dad that night, so when I got home I lugged the big bin inside and opened it up.

My dad had created 26 treat bags, one for each boy for every day leading up to Christmas. They were stapled shut so the receiver couldn’t see the contents. If the boys were “caught being good,” they could get a treat bag.

As I stood there and looked down in the bin, I got a little nostalgic. When my sister and I were girls, we hung Advent calendars on our bedroom doorknobs. We moved a tiny stuffed mouse each day of December from pocket-to-pocket. In each pocket, we would find a little folded note. On these notes would be scavenger hunts written by my dad.

Every morning of the month, we went on an adventure around our house. The scripted directions always led to a small gift such as Christmas socks or flavored lip balm. This was one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. As I reminisce, those small daily hunts and treasures were as meaningful, if not more so, than waking up to Santa Claus.

With these thoughts in my mind, it was no shock my dad spent hours making 26 treat bags for my boys. I called him to thank him. He said it was a joy to make them and the experience reminded him of when his girls were little.

I couldn’t wait for the boys to be home, so they could dig into the bags. I called the next morning on their way to school and told them what Papa Bill had been up to and for them to keep the treat bags in mind as they went through their days. If school went well and they got along with one another that afternoon, they would get their first surprise.

My older child prides himself on not getting in trouble at school. He’s just one of those students, but he can sometimes be unintentionally condescending to his little brother. In contrast, my younger son can be too chatty at school, but he loves playing with his big brother. As you see, they both have areas for improvement.

So far, the boys have gotten a treat bag every day. And I would not let them get one if they didn’t deserve it. As all parents know, if you begin rewarding children regardless of their behavior, any type of reward quickly stops working.

All types of things have been in these bags. Money, golden coins, flashlights, arrowheads, carabiners, a used Hello Kitty figurine, a plastic lemon, Matchbox cars, gum, candy, toy army men, stickers, etc. Most days, the boys have made a trade of some sort. Other days, one may get an awesome bag full of money and Matchbox cars while the other one gets a plastic lemon and a piece of gum.

I’m not sure if it was my dad’s intention or not, but I’m watching the boys learn a lot of lessons. These bags have offered more than just daily rewards. My boys are learning negotiating skills, patience, cause and effect and self-control, especially when the other one gets the “good stuff” and refuses to trade.

It seems every year the holidays hold small surprises and moments that tenderly catch my heart off guard. The happy, comforting feeling of the season really is much more than Christmas lights, parties and presents.

I don’t know if my dad plans on doing this every year. I certainly hope so. Like me with my Advent calendar, I would love for the boys to have a daily tradition during the month of December.

And in fact, maybe I need to create a daily tradition for myself because when you think about it, shouldn’t we all be caught being good?

(Susanna Barbee is the digital media specialist for Mountain South Media, a contributing writer for The Smoky Mountain News, and a contributing editor for Smoky Mountain Living. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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