What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 48
The Year My Brothers and I Turned into the Herdmans 

[p.154]This is a true story about the Christmas my brothers and I turned into the Herdmans. The Herdmans, if you’ll recall, were the obnoxious siblings in The Best Christmas Pageants Ever, by Barbara Robinson. They did stuff like smoke in the bathrooms, blackmail other kids at recess, steal Christmas hams, etc., which naturally made all the neighbors hate them. Well, my brothers and I did not smoke in the bathrooms, blackmail other kids at recess or steal hams, but we still made all the neighbors hate us just the same. Here’s how.

It was a typical Christmas Eve at our house which meant that there were lots of relatives hanging around, inhaling vast quantities of food because my family has always been seriously into eating.

“Do you realize that the only thing your family remembers about trips are the meals you ate?” a sister-in-law once said to me.

I just stared at her blankly because, frankly, I didn’t get her point.

“Speaking of trips, Ann,” my brother, her husband, piped up, “do you remember that breaded shrimp we ate in Winnemucca?”

So, as I was saying, there were plenty of us from the same gene pool sitting around my parents’ living room with the old feedbags strapped firmly in place, watching TV, and generally making merry.

When Bewitched was over—it was that episode where Samantha takes a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore for a quick spin through the North Pole—my dad announced it was time for bed. Of course we (a) wheedled and (b) whined, begging him to let us please please stay up for just a few more minutes, but my father held firm.

“Here you guys,” he said slipping his watch from his wrist as he scooted us off to bed. “Wake your mom and me when it’s 6:00 a.m. and not a minute before. Okay?”

As was our custom, the kids all slept in the same room on Christmas Eve.

Before he crawled into the top bunk, my brother John looped my [p.155]father’s watch over the bedpost so that he could eyeball it at regular intervals throughout the night. As I pulled the covers over me, I knew that each endless moment until 6:00 a.m. would be the purest agony, not unlike natural childbirth.

For a while we chattered like jays until one by one we finally dropped off to sleep so that visions of sugarplums and other foodstuffs such as stolen hams could dance through our heads.

In the morning John awoke us with a bellow and a yelp. “Oh my gosh. It’s ten past six. We slept in!”

Slept in? Slept in? I could hardly believe my ears. There had never been a Christmas we’d slept in. I was beginning to wonder if our parents had spiked our punch with sleeping drugs from the pharmacist down the street who always put his own kids out of commission until noon Christmas Day. We leaped out of our beds, turned on the lights, and raced down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom.

“Six o’clock already?” my father mumbled, his hair sticking out like fins from the side of his head. “Geez, I feel like I just went to bed.”

“Oh well,” yawned my mother, “let’s get up. Christmas comes but once a year.” So my parents shuffled out of bed and wrapped themselves in robes while we raced off to wake up the grandparents and elderly aunts who were also staying with us, and before you knew it there was a fire in the fireplace, a coffee cake on the table, and a little pile of presents at everybody’s feet.

Now here comes the part where we turned into the Herdmans.

As soon as we opened all our presents, my brothers and I started to call our friends who lived up and down the street. We noticed that people were taking an unusually long time to answer the phone, and when they did it was usually the dad who barked THAT EVERYBODY AT THIS HOUSE IS STILL ASLEEP before hanging up on us. Not long after that we heard a commotion on our front lawn, and when we peered out the window, we saw these very same fathers all dressed in robes and carpet slippers, brandishing pitchforks and torches and screaming at us like the villagers in all those old Frankenstein movies.

“Oh my,” said my mother.

As it turned out they were mad at us because I and my brothers—i.e., the Herdmans—had called their houses at 3:30 in the morning. John, who had a hard time with long hands and short hands, had mis-[p.156]read the watch. Ten after six was actually 2:30. My father felt like he’d just gone to bed because in point of fact, he had.

I learned some important lessons from this experience. The first lesson is that you should never take a kid’s word for it when he tells you it’s 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning. The second is that you should never put my brother John in charge of your watch. And the third is that if by chance you’re awakened anyway by a herd of bugeyed kids so excited they can barely breathe, you should try to respond with grace and good humor, just the way my own parents did.

I wish them and everyone else who greets the season with a brave face a truly joyous Christmas.