Front Range

Naughty List

Getting coal in my stocking was a lesson I didn’t know I needed. 

December 2012

On christmas morning during my sophomore year of high school, I eagerly peeked into my stocking. The oversize sock was heavy and full—a sure sign of abundance. Except, it wasn’t. Onions, lemons, and a lump of coal replaced the customary chocolates, fresh oranges, and beautifully wrapped gifts. I searched my parents for a reaction—surely the swap was in jest—but their eyes lacked any mirthful twinkles. I flushed with shame as images of my recent interactions with them—the stonewalling, the bickering, the stomping—flickered through my head. The message was clear: They weren’t having it, and I had better change my surly attitude in a hurry. 

I was a good kid, generally speaking. I did well enough in school, minded my manners, and didn’t stir up much trouble. That was, until a couple of months before the holidays. My friends and I started doing what I came to understand were stupid, self-indulgent things, like breaking into a friend’s grandmother’s house to empty her liquor cabinet. (I can still taste that god-awful blackberry brandy.) My parents insisted (rightfully so) that I write a letter to the grandmother and apologize in person. I had never been more embarrassed.

There were other instances of poor judgment—disobeying my curfew, sneaking out, lying about it—but the break-in was certainly the most alarming. Despite being grounded, and knowing full well that I had lost my parents’ trust, I made it my mission to be ornery. I spoke only when spoken to, and when I did talk, I did my best to answer in monotone, clipped sentences. I moped about and personified what can only be described as teenage angst. It must have been maddening for my parents. I ignored all of their efforts to communicate, yet they stood firm—which was maddening for me.

Hence the stocking. It was a tactile symbol of what I was abusing (hard-earned trust), what I was railing against (authority), and a reminder that my parents were still in charge. I’m sure a conversation ensued, though I don’t recall a word of it. What I do remember is viscerally understanding that I had bitterly disappointed my mother and father. Was I suddenly a reformed teenager? Yes and no. I was still a moody, independence-seeking kid, but I became more aware of my actions and their impact. I guess you could say I began to grow up.

Today, as a mother of two young girls, I admire my parents’ decision not to sweep aside my reprehensible behavior in the name of maintaining peace during the holidays. Had they showered me with a bountiful stocking, they would have been condoning my wretchedness. It was a lesson in tough love. I hated it, but I learned from it.

I have never heard of another child receiving coal for Christmas. Perhaps other families are able to reach their children in more conventional ways. But consider me proof: The difficult path of discipline is entirely worth the discomfort. I have filed this tactic away to use when, God forbid, my daughters exhibit similar extreme disobedience. It’s simple really, but sometimes action reaps rewards that words cannot.

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ON THE WEB

If your kids made the nice side of the list this year, check 5280.com/stockingstuffers for some gift ideas.