She found coal in her stocking Christmas morning — I must’ve had rocks in my head

“If you’re not good, Santa is going to leave coal in your stocking!”

Sure, we’ve all heard it. Said it. Understand the implications of the threat. But have you ever gotten a firsthand eyeful of what happens when this nightmare becomes reality for a child on Christmas morning?

Sure, it had been a little rougher than usual throughout the latter part of the year.

While her misdeeds wouldn’t have measured a blip on the radar scale in most households, it was enough for her Mother and me to trot that standard threat to dim the child’s holiday season.

The plan was set into motion the day we purchased our Christmas tree. The farm where we made the purchase took payments over a counter and window in the side of a barn. Just within reach was a small bowl heaped with palm-sized chunks of coal, 50 cents each.

I tossed an extra buck on the counter and pocketed two.

Little bit later, I pulled them just far enough out of my pocket to show her Mother, who reflected my mischievous grin.

Fast forward. Christmas morning. We hang our stockings off the top of bookshelves, about 6 feet off the ground. There are smaller stockings for our pets. Hanging to one side is her Mother’s stocking, with a small pile of presents on the shelf above it. On the other side, Dad’s stocking, small stack of gifts.

In between the two, a nearly flat stocking.

It was our first stop on Christmas morning.

Young Daughter was petrified. She slowly reached up for her stocking. Tears began to gather in her eyes. She reached into her otherwise empty stocking.

She looked up, stricken. “Santa left me coal.”

We had wondered if she still believed. This wasn’t how we had planned to find out, but she truly believed — believed that Santa had treated her so cruelly.

Fortunately, there was a method to our madness. Young Daughter loves treasure hunts — tracking them down and setting them up.

Along with the two chunks of coal in her stocking was a clue, typed in a Santa-like font.

It led to two other clues, and the final destination, where Santa had stashed her No. 1 gift — and the contents of what should’ve been in her stocking. Her stocking contents spilled across the bed of a large plastic dump truck, purchased for some early birthday — 1st? 2nd? — and since brought out annually to accommodate stocking goodies.

Lumpy stocking aside, we are truly very, very fortunate parents. We hear it from friends, from people we just crossed paths with, or barely know.

Look no further than the 3-item list she took to Santa this year:

  1. Outdoor, above-ground pool (12-feet-across, 30 inches deep)
  2. Puffy ballet/dance pullover shoes
  3. Box of non-perishable food to drop off at a homeless shelter

We’ve told her that one of her 3 wishes each year has to be something that is not for her, but to provide good for someone or something else. Last year, she adopted a gray wolf. This year, it was the food. We wanted to volunteer at a shelter, but it’s tough to find a place that allows 9-year-olds. We’re still working on that one.

Standing there Christmas morning, seeing her (momentarily) crushed spirit and the tears in her eyes, I wondered if perhaps the coal had ended up in the wrong stocking.








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