While night-driving past subdivisions full of multi-colored lights and yard decorations, my kids asked me to tell them a Christmas story they’d never heard.

This is the one I chose:

There was a boy and a girl whose father woke them up one Christmas Eve and begged them to put their clothes on in a hurry. They were being bundled up and shipped off to see a family friend. And once they were there, warmed with cocoa and distracted with trinkets, the father disappeared.

Christmas Eve was a dull gray, made brighter with a Christmas tree and constant snacks. The kids made cookies and sang carols and colored with crayons many pictures of snowmen. But the day started to wind down, dinner was served. The father had not returned.

It was late when, scrubbed and slipped into new pajamas and dozing on a duvet, the boy and his sister were scooped up and ushered from a warm living room into a cold car and delivered through the neighborhoods back to their home.

The next morning, the underbelly of the Christmas tree was full with gifts, but no wrapping paper was removed. The father appeared in the doorway and had the children help him transform a garbage bag into their own family version of Santa’s sack. The boxes and bows collided and caught corners on the thick plastic that couldn’t quite contain them. The bag bulged with cartoon charm.

And back in the car they went, through the same neighborhoods, but this time past the town and to a hospital, big and shadowy against December sunlight.

The walk through the long hallways seemed to last forever. They were searching for the right floor, the right hallway, the certain room. They were dragging their trash bag full of undiscovered toys down linoleum with a soft scraping swish.

And finally, they were there. There was sunlight in the room. And their mother.

And a brand-new baby boy.

I still remember the gifts I received that Christmas – a coloring book, some audio tapes and a yo-yo that blinked blues and reds when it dropped down and was swung back up.

But I think mom and dad did a good job of making me realize at the age of five – the same age my son is now – that the gift I’d have the longest, use the most and love more dearly than almost anyone or anything else I’d ever encountered was wrapped up in those blankets.

My brother is bigger than me now – way bigger. He is the better musician and – if you were to judge solely by watching me read the things he texts me – way funnier than I am, too. But he is also the guy who ends up at mom and dad’s house fixing things; who my wife sweet talks into moving furniture all over town; who took my phone call mid-crisis this summer and convinced me in less than ten minutes that everything was going to be just fine.

But every Christmas I am reminded of what it was like at the very beginning, back when there was just excitement and a baby.

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