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Kirby: In the middle of the damn night

By Robert Kirby

Tribune columnist

First Published Dec 22 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 23 2013 08:20 am

My mobile phone will start vibrating at 4 a.m. Christmas morning. Six of my nine grandchildren have the ability to send texts. They also live within 30 seconds of my front door.

The rule established by their exhausted parents is that Christmas doesn’t officially start until Grammy and Papa show up to watch them open presents. I tell them that morning means morning, as in the sky is starting to get light.

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It wasn’t so bad before they learned how to use the phone. After that one or several of them would sneak down to a phone and call us at 2:30 a.m.

THEM: "We can see light in the sky."

ME: "Those are stars. Go back to bed."

Two minutes later, the phone would ring again. "We think one of them is the sun."

I’d be angry except that I know what they’re going through. The last time I slept past 6 a.m. Christmas morning was 55 years ago. Since then I’ve been a kid, had kids or been owned by grandkids.

When I was a kid, I’d wake up a few minutes after midnight on Christmas Day and know that Santa had been in our house. I knew because I would be levitating above my bed and I had a heartbeat rivaling that of a hummingbird.

It was tough enough getting to sleep three hours ago. Going back to sleep now was impossible. There were presents downstairs. I could smell the ink on the wrapping paper.

The trick was waking up the old man in such a subtle manner that he wouldn’t immediately recognize it as an attempt to start Christmas early, otherwise known as "in the middle of the damn night."


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From experience, I knew there were two things that would bring my father instantly out of a sound sleep: someone clomping around on the roof, and the sound of our car starting in the driveway. Unfortunately, both of those prompted him to run outside with a gun.

There was no getting my younger siblings or the dog to go downstairs and wake up my parents. None of them had the courage to risk the wrath of the anti-Santa.

Eventually, I would concoct a scheme that involved something like coughing nonstop for however long it took to wake up Mom, usually about a minute. Or I would punch one of my siblings until they cried.

If Mom woke up first, the old man couldn’t very well fly into a rage at her for being a good mother. She would get out of bed, check on us, see that we were nearly dead from anxiety and then go get him out of bed.

Anyway, I understand what’s going on in young minds when they call or text and wake me up.

THEM: "The hand of the clock is on four."

ME: "The big hand or the little hand?"

When I’ve had enough, I’ll pick up the phone and key in a number. The voice on the other end will be groggy and hung over.

SONNY: "#@!$%. What?"

ME: "It’s Christmas. If I can’t sleep, neither can you."

My wife and I will get out of bed, throw on our robes and trudge across the street to watch small pirates loot a casino.

We only stay for a few minutes because just around the corner there’s another set of semi-hysterical grandkids shooting electricity out of their bottoms.

It isn’t all watching. The grandkids give us presents, too. Last year, I scored a watercolor of a pig, a pair of mittens, a two-liter bottle of ginger ale, a plastic reindeer that poops jelly beans, and a bird-watching book.

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