John-Andrew O'Rourke Director // Writer

Deformed Gifts

My fondest Christmas memory is not of something I got as a kid. It’s not a song, a scent, or a snowfall, not a tree, lights, or a star. It’s not even of something that I gave.

No, my fondest Christmas memory is of a Play-Doh cup.

Allow me to explain.

December 1999. Saturday morning. My mom had just gone shopping for some last-minute Christmas goodies, and she left my dad in charge of the four of us. But instead of forcing us to do chores or plopping us in front of the TV, Dad gathered everyone in the kitchen. There, in the middle of the table, sat a pile of gifts he had bought for mom, and he wanted our help wrapping them. I was entrusted with a CD of the Prince of Egypt soundtrack.

But there was a catch.

“Your mom is really smart, so we need to make sure that we disguise the gifts so that she doesn’t know what they are.”

How do you disguise a CD? Well apparently you sandwich it in between two 1×1 pieces of cardboard, and then you place a small Play-Doh cup on top of that. Once wrapped, it looks like…well, not a CD, that’s for sure.

I don’t remember the other gifts which my siblings got to wrap, but when we were done, Dad made us clean up all the supplies and put everything away EXACTLY where it had been.

“Your mom is really good at noticing even the tiniest details, so you need to make sure that everything is put away.”

Lest you think that was just something a dad said to get his kids to clean up, when my mom got home, she walked directly into the kitchen, looked at the table, and asked, “what happened here?”

I asked her what she meant, probably not doing nearly as good of a job of playing dumb as I thought. She brushed it off and moved on, but I never forgot that moment. My mom was really good at noticing details. It’s like her superpower.

I have no recollection of what I got that Christmas, but I do remember my excitement as I handed mom her gift and watched her puzzled face as she analyzed the wrapping.

“What on earth is this?” she asked, and I’m pretty sure she was just as confused as she looked. It felt like a victory, and I was happy.


Years later, I was dating this girl, and all leading up to Christmas I would tell her how I was going to get her the latest CD from my favorite artist so that she could enjoy the music as much as I did. Christmas morning rolled around, and in front of her was the gift from me: a perfectly-wrapped CD case. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure that she rolled her eyes as she opened it…only to find that it was completely empty.

On the transparent case I had placed an orange stickie note:

Lame, lame, lame, lame!

A CD? Do you really think I’m that lame?

Your brother has your actual gift. 🙂

Yes, that is an Incredibles reference. And sure enough, her brother was ready with a gift I had carefully picked out specifically for her.

I share this story not to toot my own horn (though I will admit, it is one of my prouder moments), but for the simple reason that I didn’t come up with that idea on my own. The idea originated with my dad on that Saturday in December of 1999.

That Christmas, Dad set an example of how I should show someone who matters to me that I care. By teaching me how to delight my mother, he taught me that to love someone is to put in the extra effort to delight them. The thing is, if he had just said it, I would have nodded and moved on. But that’s not what he did. He showed me and involved me in the process. It’s one lesson I’ll never forget.

About the author

John-Andrew O'Rourke

Aspiring director and screenwriter. All the lonely Starbucks lovers will tell you I'm insane.

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John-Andrew O'Rourke Director // Writer

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John-Andrew O'Rourke