If you read this story, you have to promise not to mention it to my children. They still believe in Santa Claus.
It was the night before Christmas, and I was busy rooting for the scissors and tape, obsessively going over details: What time should I stuff the turkey? Did I remember to chill the wine? Did I sew that button on my husband's jacket?
I asked my husband to get the toys from the attic. He was up there for longer than was comfortable. I hollered up at him to hurry up.
"I can't see any bags," he said. I thought he was joking. The bags were large and red.
"Look again," I huffed. "They're there."
A minute went by and he said it again. "I can't see the bags."
"Stop messing with my brain," I said.
He finally appeared with one red plastic bag in his hand, except this one wasn't fat with purchases. It was as flaccid as a deflated balloon. He reached inside and pulled out a lone colouring book.
"OH MY GOOD GOD," I screamed, the blood draining from my face. "I forgot to buy the presents."
In a nauseating flashback, I saw myself, a self-professed bargain shopper extraordinaire, cruising the aisles of a discount warehouse, pre-selecting the toys I'd get for my kids from Santa - a giant Lego set, a miniature indoor bouncy castle, a pink-tasselled scooter, a remote-controlled flying bat, a jingle-jangle tambourine, a carnivorous-plant terrarium. I saw myself inspecting and evaluating them for their fun value and ability to stimulate the imagination.
Those toys, it appears, had stimulated my own imagination to the point that I believed I had actually bought them, and in October no less.
I had said as much to harried colleagues who asked if I had finished my Christmas shopping, meaning that they had not.
"Oh yes," I had gloated. "I never leave things to the last minute."
Now I shouted, "What time is it?"
It was 11:20 p.m. and it was Christmas Eve.
With shaking hands I riffled through the Yellow Pages and grabbed the phone. "Hello, Shoppers Drug Mart? I have an emergency."
"We close at midnight," said the pharmacist.
"Why are you in such a panic?" my husband asked, serenely surveying the little pile of stocking stuffers: chocolate reindeer, neon yo-yos and oversized crayons. "These are enough."
"Enough? Are you crazy?" I shrieked. "Christmas to a child means abundance. I will not have my children feeling Santa didn't come through for them."
Fifteen minutes later I was racing through the drugstore aisles. Too bad my five-year-old daughter was too young for makeup. Or that my eight-year-old son didn't shave.
Past the laxatives and lubricants, the toilet paper and toothpaste, I found my first score: puppy and kitten calendars. I threw a six-pack of chocolate milk and another of strawberry into my cart, a frog-shaped container of green shower gel. The luminescent cartoon-themed bath salts gave me pause. "Probably carcinogenic." I threw them in my cart.
On a shelf of plush toys I found a hideous mutant Rudolph, which screeched when I touched it. It was exactly the kind of toy I would never allow in my home. I threw two on top of my pile and headed for office supplies.
I was reaching for the coloured index cards - good for crafts, I reasoned - when I noticed the other customers. They were all men, doing what men are rumoured to do, buying their Christmas gifts last-minute. In their beefy hands were bottles of J'Adore and Tabu.
They looked at me with bewilderment. I was clearly a mom, but a mom who had left her children's present-buying to the 11th hour? They looked at their feet as they quietly shuffled by, perhaps muttering a silent prayer for my soul.
I invoked the Creator myself when the cashier rang in the total for my on-the-fly, and to me, useless, purchases: $350.
The morning came far too early. My children, who had slept through the midnight drama, were up at dawn, shouting with excitement.
"Look, Mummy! Look!"
I was bleary-eyed, craving coffee. I could see my daughter cradling her freak Rudolph, laughing delightedly as she made him screech over and over.
I don't know how, but I had done it. I had made Christmas happen. For real.