Santa had decided who got which cat, but Santa was long gone. No one else had awakened yet. I was the only one who knew he’d given Debra the beautiful white cat I now wanted. I was the only one who knew. Well, and Santa, of course.
If I switched the cats no one would know. Santa wasn’t exactly around to snitch on me to my parents. I could have the white kitty cat. She could be mine. Debra wouldn’t even care.
It would be so easy to do, and then I would have what I wanted more than anything else for Christmas.
Heart pounding in my throat, I did it. I made the switch. I put the orange kitty with Debra’s Christmas presents and the white one with mine. I turned off the Christmas tree lights, slipped out of the living room and fled back to bed before the curtain monsters could attack.
Then I tried to sleep.
But I couldn’t sleep.
I lay there, huddled under the blankets, trying not to think about curtain monsters but mostly feeling the lump in my stomach grow and grow.
Maybe Santa wouldn’t snitch on me to my parents, but I knew what I’d done was wrong. I’d forgotten about that when I’d been plotting to keep the white kitty cat. He wouldn’t snitch on me to my parents, either, but he was letting me know, right there while I was under the blankets, that he knew. And he was disappointed.
Now I battled a different dilemma: face the dreaded darkness again and return the kitty cats to their rightful places or hide under the bedcovers and ignore the curtain monsters and the awful feeling in my stomach.
Deep down, I knew what I had to do.
Taking another deep breath, I tossed the blankets off for the second time that night and dashed down the hall to the living room. It only took a moment to make the switch. I gave a last, longing look at the white kitty cat. I also made a last-ditch attempt at figuring out an honest way to end up with the white kitty. Maybe I could talk Debra into trading with me...
With that small fragment of hope, I left. Instead of returning to my own bed, I ran to my parents’ bedroom and snuggled in next to Momma. In a hushed whisper, I told her all about Santa bringing the kitty cats and the switch I’d made and how bad I’d felt and switching them back. I told her how much better I felt inside because I’d decided to do the right thing.
“That’s nice, dear,” she mumbled and then rolled over. I’m not sure she was even awake when I told her. But it didn’t matter. I felt such a rush of relief and peace that I instantly fell asleep myself.
I’d like to say that everything turned out rosy after that, but it didn’t. Debra didn’t care that she’d gotten the most beautiful kitty cat in the whole wide world, but she also didn’t want to trade it for the dumb orange one. Occasionally, she’d let me hold her cat while she counted to 100 — or 20 if I pestered her too much. She always counted way too fast, and we always ended up arguing about it.
Mostly, the white cat sat on top of her chest of drawers, just out of reach of my fingertips. In the end, I played with the orange kitty cat until its fur was missing in places and its sewn-on tail that I liked to wiggle back and forth burst its stitching and fell off. Momma sewed it back on once before the kitty ultimately went the way of all old toys.
But I have never forgotten, though many years have come and gone, how I felt making the wrong choice and then feeling the sweet peace of making it right.
I also understand that the real gift a little 6-year-old girl received that Christmas had nothing to do with Santa Claus or kitty cats. The real gift I’d been given was an exquisite and lifelong lesson about choosing the right.
Here are more Christmas experiences from Mormon authors:
Karen Tuft is the author of "Reality Check" and is also a wife, mother, pianist, composer and arranger.
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