It’s December, and as I write this it’s ten days until Christmas. I’ve always thought of December as “my” month, because it’s the month I was born — two days after Christmas, to be exact. (And no, I’m not going to tell you how old I am. Everyone’s got to have some secrets, after all.)
I know a lot of December babies say they hate it because they don’t get as many presents as someone who was born in, say, June. But I loved my December birthday as a kid. Because my birthday falls in late December, between Christmas and the New Year, when I was growing up I never had to go to school on the actual day. So, that whole week just kind of felt like a special present from the universe, to me.
There were a few disadvantages to a December birthday. For example, the above-mentioned tendency by people to give you one present and tell you they spent twice as much and it’s for your Christmas and your birthday. (Pro tip: Don’t believe it. They did not spend twice as much. They spent like $5 more and then did a little private fist-bump that they got out of buying you two presents.) Another sort of sucky thing, if you lived in the Midwest like I did, was that certain presents weren’t exactly winter-friendly presents. Like the year I got my first bike, and there was so much snow on the ground that my dad couldn’t even take me out to teach me how to ride it. I spent the day of my birthday sitting on the bike in my parents’ living room, propped up on the kickstand next to the Christmas tree. I didn’t even get to ride the damn thing for the first time until February.
Yeah, I’m still bitter about that.
But… you may have noticed the title of this blog is about my favorite Christmas gift ever. And you may have also noticed that I’m 4 paragraphs into this blog post without even mentioning it. Sorry, it’s Friday and I’m feeling a little wordy today. Anyway. My favorite Christmas gift ever was another one of those gifts that was not winter-friendly. I got it the year after I got my first bike, when I was seven.
A pogo stick.
Have you ever ridden a pogo stick? I find it’s actually not something a lot of people have done, at least not successfully. Learning how to pogo takes time and effort and patience. These are things that the average seven year-old does not possess in abundance.
As it turns out, learning to ride a pogo stick takes something else that I did not have in great supply as a gangly seven year-old.
I was so excited to get this pogo stick. I couldn’t wait to get outside and try it out. Of course, my mother put her foot down and absolutely forbade me to do it in the house. Unfortunately, it was one of those years when snow had packed on the driveways and sidewalks and streets, so doing it outside wasn’t really feasible either. In the end, I grabbed the stick, put on my coat, and excitedly went out into our unheated garage to try the sucker out.
I put my foot on one of the pedals, did a little hop and got my other foot up there.
And managed to move the spring about an eighth of an inch before I lost my balance and fell off.
I tried again. Same result. It was only barely different from jumping up and down on the floor and expecting it to move.
In the days that followed, I went out to the garage again a few times, dejectedly trying to ride my prize present, but no dice. It just wasn’t happening. Eventually, my mom got sick of it cluttering up her pristine garage (my mom was a serious neat freak, y’all) and hung it up on the wall with a nail. Where it stayed.
Wow, some present, huh? You sure know how to tell a story, Daphne.
But after all, I never said that the pogo stick was my favorite present that year.
So. It’s years later. We’ve moved to a different town, in a different state. I am now eleven years old. Still gangly. I’ve grown into a relatively unathletic, bookworm type. The type that would eventually grow up and begin a career as a romance author. I’m an only child, which means I spend a fair amount of time with my nose in a book, or wandering around looking for things to do because I don’t have any siblings to fight or play with.
It’s summer. I’m in the garage. Looking for something to occupy my afternoon. My eyes happen to fall on the pogo stick. The same pogo stick that I got when I was seven. Hanging there, in a different garage, by a different nail. I remember I suck at pogo sticking. But for some reason, I decide to give it a shot.
I put my foot on the peg. I hop on.
The spring compresses. I bounce. Once, twice.
I fall off.
I try it again. I bounce once, twice, three times.
I fall off.
I get back on.
You see where I’m going with this.
I spent the entire afternoon on that thing. And the next day, I did the same thing. I became freaking obsessed with counting how many times I could bounce, and then beating my previous record. Pretty soon, I reached three-hundred bounces. Then I beat that record. Eventually, it got to the point where I could pretty much bounce indefinitely without falling. I even briefly contemplated going for a world record — except this was in the days before the internet, and I had no idea what the record was.
I started pogo’ing one-handed. Then I started doing it while drinking a can of Coke.
Years later, even now, if I had to, I bet I could beat practically anyone in a pogo sticking contest. I am freaking good at pogo sticking, people.
So, why is the pogo stick my favorite Christmas gift ever?
Because it was the first object in my life that ever taught me the lesson of progress, and readiness, and growth — both physically, but also mentally. I was physically unready and incapable of using the pogo stick when I got it. Years later, when I was ready, I was able to appreciate it fully — much more fully than I would have if I’d just been able to hop on and play with it for a while that first year. Who knows? If I had been able to do that at seven, I might have just played with it for a couple of afternoons, and then forgotten about it. Instead, I became a full-fledged pogo sticking ninja.
The lesson of the pogo stick taught me that there would probably be other things in my life that I would not be ready for, but would eventually grow into. The lesson, frankly, was kind of mind-boggling for a kid that age. And I doubt it was a lesson that any person could have taught me so well just by telling it to me. It was something I had to learn, and understand for myself. And learning it in such a physical way… well, it stuck with me, because it was a lesson I could actually feel as well as understand.
So, that’s the story of my favorite Christmas gift ever. And a postscript: while I was looking for a funny image to put at the end of this blog post, I learned that pogo sticking is actually an excellent form of exercise for the back, core, legs and butt. And that pogo’ing has had a little resurgence with adults because of those “recess” – type fitness classes.
Huh. Maybe it’s time to ask Santa for a pogo stick this year…