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It was that time of year again.   A large conifer had been imported into Neanderdad’s dwelling.  The tree blocked normal travel routes across the living room.  It also to make the house that much more susceptible to fire.  Flimsy lightbulbs on sketchy wiring were strung on the dry, tinder branches of that tree to ensure maximum combustibility.   Similar lights were attached to every eave and gutter of the wooden dwelling and blinked all through the drizzling, short-causing winter night.  Neanderdad, ever one to worry, tried to ignore this menace and focused instead on what went under the tree.  For the little ones, this was the gift season, most of all.

The boy had been obsessed with trucks.  Not just trucks in general, actually, but garbage trucks in particular.  And recycling trucks, specifically.  He watched them intently from his bedroom window every friday morning during pickup.  He called them out from his carseat when he saw them driving on the street.  And he dreamed of owning his very own truck, a side-loading recycling truck with a swing arm, 1:16 scale.

It being the holiday season, the boy had, of course, not just dreamed of his own truck.  He had campaigned.  He had marketed and advertised his deep rooted desire—his desperate need—for the recycling truck.   He had even asked for help to properly document this gift request, post marked to the North Pole.   Finally, he had undertaken to carefully remind his mother and Neanderdad with a one-to-one campaign.

“Dad,” he would say, placing his small hand on Neanderdad’s shoulder for emphasis, “I want Santa to bring me a side-loading recycling truck with a swing arm.”

And with a request like that, how could Neanderdad and his mate refuse?  Neanderdad’s wife had ordered the surprisingly expensive truck and had it delivered to them in a box with a smile imprinted on the side.  And that box had been carefully gift-wrapped in flammable paper and placed under the conifer.

The girl, on the other hand, showed no particular interest in trucks.  But like her brother, she had her own requests for a certain, red-clad, jolly old elf.    Though there was currently underway a large campaign amongst Neanderdad’s people to downplay traditional gender-based stereotypes among playthings for girls, the girl was traditional and counter-conventional.  She asked for clothing and a baby doll to care for.

Whereas her brother’s need was quite direct in his gift request, the girl was more subtle.  During reading periods, she would point out drawings of girl characters in her books and compliment their clothing.

“That dress is very nice.  I’d like a dress like that,” she’d say, with an impish grin.  Or she would say, “If I had a baby doll, I could teach her to brush her teeth,” while being beckoned to her own tooth brushing chores.

And so, after a few of these requests, boxes with smiles on them would also appear at their front doorstep, quickly to be whisked away by Neanderdad’s mate for wrapping.

For his mate, in honor of all of her extraordinary efforts, Neanderdad got the most unlikely of gifts.  Though he would have preferred to acquire some sentimental bauble for her, his mate remained resolutely practical and had asked for a freezer so that she could store larger quantities of food for their ravenous offspring.  Therefore, Neanderdad had acquiesced to her wishes and had installed the freezer behind their dwelling.  She hadn’t even wanted to wait to open it.   The giant cardboard box he had placed in the playroom for the time being, until it could be recycled by a fully-to-scale, side-loading recycling truck with a wing arm.

And then came the Great Morning of Unwrapping.   The children began their pensive inquiries at 4AM.  First, the girl awoke and came into their room to ask if it was morning yet.  Neanderdad’s mate shooed her away to bed.   Then the boy inquired, 30 minutes later.  When he was sent away, he stomped his foot.

“I want my side-loading recycling truck with the swing arm!” he exclaimed.

When it finally did turn 7AM, the two children cheered the news and raced to the tree to claim their loot.  The boy tore open the packaging on the largest gift and was rewarded with the truck he had requested.  The girl more carefully unwrapped a beautiful new dress and a baby doll.  Then they tore open the smaller gifts and emptied their stockings.

There was a strange period after the great unwrapping when the children sat around the flammable conifer playing with their new acquisitions, the dopamine from the achievement of their aspirations slowly working through their systems.   But then, the fever of desire wore off and both children were suddenly listless.  Their interest in their new playthings visibly faded.    Then, they noticed the box.

The beat up freezer box, its flaps torn open, beckoned both children like a siren.  Neanderdad’s two children dropped their new gifts in unison and rushed into the playroom with screams of delight.  And as as the lights shined brightly on the flanks of the brittle, dry Christmas Tree, and the parents began cleaning up mountains of torn wrapping paper, the children played with what was apparently the best gift of all.  A giant cardboard box.