Somewhere within the gift-giving, carol-singing, ornament-hanging celebration that Christmas has become, a little of that original intrigue remains. No, we're not traveling from one town to another while some guy is trying to kill us. Christmas is a far happier time these days. But surviving the holiday still involves a fair share of strategy, because just as it was 2,000 years ago, there are people trying to find out what we're hiding.
In the Jones household, we happen to be hiding toys, and the people who are trying to find them are more cunning than they look. It doesn't matter that they're 8 and 11 years old, respectively. They've got vast experience in searching for gifts.
Little Solomon told us the other night that he and our daughter, Eve, have spent the last few Decembers combing the basement for their Christmas gifts. I think they've probably searched our closets and under our bed as well.
When he initially told us this, I was just glad I hadn't been hiding anything crazy. Imagine my embarrassment if I'd stashed girlie magazines in a shoebox, or a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Thankfully, I only have one shade. It's black, and I carry it with me everywhere I go. It's kind of difficult to hide.
Be that as it may, I'm beginning to think the boy told us about his search for a reason. He was hoping we might tell him something he could use to find the true location of his toys.
I can't say I blame him. Ransacking the house in search of Christmas gifts is a time-honored tradition in our family.
My brother and I used to search for our Christmas gifts when we were Little Solomon's age. I still remember the only time we found them. It was a year when the stakes were particularly high.
After being thoroughly brainwashed by the commercials on "Speed Racer," my brother and I were convinced we would die if we didn't get Total Control Racing, better known as TCR. It was the hottest racetrack of the year, so we did what we had to do.
For three months, we begged our parents to get it for us. We thought we'd worn them down, but we weren't sure, and our parents prided themselves on keeping our holiday gifts secret.
A few days before Christmas, my father went to the post office to pick up a crate of oranges my grandmother had shipped from Florida. We came along for the ride, and when he opened the trunk of the car to put the oranges inside, there it was: TCR, in all its glory.
Our eyes widened. Our father's did too.
Then he told us that if our mother found out we'd seen that racetrack, he'd take it back. Better act shocked on Christmas morning, he said.
I think we could've won Oscars that Christmas with our fake expressions of surprise, but I still learned a valuable lesson: Never leave the kids' gifts in the trunk. There are too many opportunities for slipups.
My kids know this story, too. That's why, when Christmas gets closer, their spy operation goes into full swing.
My wife, LaVeta, believes they have a well-organized network of little agents who pretend to jump rope and play tag near our home while watching us come and go. They document our every move with sidewalk chalk. They pass coded messages in mud pies. They conduct long-range surveillance with dollar-store binoculars. They file reports in composition books.
We suspect our kids watch their friends' homes the same way.
Through spying, they've determined that we haven't gotten all the toys yet, so they've begun to engage in psychological warfare. Pages from toy catalogs mysteriously appear on the kitchen table. The volume on Little Solomon's radio increases during Toys "R" Us commercials.
Still, we're staying strong.
With just two weeks until the big day, we've still got shopping to do. Though, given that our block's full of spies, we not only need a new place to hide them, we need a way to get them in the house before Christmas.
Come up with an ingenious plan, and I'll feature it in my next column. Start writing now. You've only got one week.
I'll be on "Radio Times" at 10 a.m. Tuesday (WHYY, 91-FM) talking with host Marty Moss-Coane about parenting and schools, and diversity in education.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at solomonjones.com.