We dance around in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
-- Robert Frost
I read Robert Frost compulsively, obsessively in the winter; I discovered him on a cold Christmas night when I was a very unhappy girl. That day I'd gotten Frost's Complete works as a gift from my grandmother (who had left us a month earlier to spend winter with other relatives.) Later, my future brother-in-law, a cop who liked his beer, got angry at me during the big dinner. Without warning he reached over and slapped my face, hard enough to leave a handprint and almost knock me off my chair.
I remember being stunned that a strange man could hit on me (only Moms, Dads, and the occasional nun or teacher gave you the back of their hand in those days.) He outweighed me by about 150 lbs., and he was armed, so there was no hitting back. Besides, I was twelve. Like I had a shot.
No one said anything for ten seconds. No one defended me. No one told the cop to get out. Everyone stared in horror at me for my criminal act of provoking future-bro into losing his temper, then rushed to chatter as if nothing had happened. After dinner, Mom demanded in whispers to know what I'd done to make him angry, and when I wouldn't tell her, scolded me for ruining Christmas dinner.
You know why I got slapped? Because he was fairly drunk, and tried to joke with me, and I didn't laugh or say anything. Because I was a nervous and horribly self-conscious kid. In other words, I got slapped for being shy.
But I had Robert Frost, and my flashlight, and all night to read under the bed covers once everyone had gone to sleep. By that age I had started writing my own poetry, too, so there was plenty of fuel for the next several hundred verses. That made up in part for that awful Christmas, and what at the time seemed a terrible embarrassment. I forgot about the drunk cop and lost myself in the snowy woods and the birches and friends stopping by stonewalls to talk.
Moral of the story? None. Just a thought: if you have to give a kid something at Christmas, make it poetry, not a slap.