HOLIDAY MAGAZINE: THE GIFT THAT NEVER CAME

As a kid, most of our Christmases in the Rickert household were pretty epic. In last year’s Holiday Guide, I wrote about the year my sister and I got not one, but TWO Razor scooters (one, of course, was from Santa, a classic parent-to-immortal-figure miscommunication). Then there was the year I literally didn’t sleep a single minute on Christmas Eve, furiously shutting my eyes and playing a Good Charlotte CD on my Sony Discman in the hopes of nodding off and waking up to a PlayStation 2.

And although we had some fantastic big-ticket gifts, one item in particular evaded me for my entire childhood. At the top of most of my elementary school wish lists – usually with multiple pencil-scratched stars next to it, otherwise how would Santa know how important it is? – was a Power Wheels car, known to us at the time as a “push-the-pedal Jeep.”

Inspired by a local park near our house in Phoenix, Arizona that had a miniature train and Power Wheels track, I was obsessed with the idea of sweet, sweet push-button vehicular freedom that would take me across the 150 feet of our cul-de-sac.

Strangely enough, the reasons the electric car made the list of banned toys in the Rickert household have never been disclosed to me, even in the extensive archives of our family group chat. Our mother was the kind who’d feel more comfortable if we brushed our teeth wearing a helmet, so I suspect that had something to do with it, but the world may never know.

Now, growing up, my sister and I had what I’ll call the classical interpretation of Santa. If you were a “good” kid, you got cool presents. If you were “bad,” it was the lump of coal for you. And although we weren’t specifically told this, the implication was that the “better” you were, the bigger the boxes would be on Christmas Day.

On Christmas morning in 1999, my sister and I had just finished a pretty incredible session of wrapping paper mayhem. Though there was no push-the-pedal Jeep waiting in the family room for us, we’d had an awesome day – at least, until we looked out our bedroom window a couple minutes later.

Driving across the cul-de-sac and doing triumphant slow-motion donuts with rock-hard plastic tires in their brand spanking new push-the-pedal Jeep were our new neighbors two houses down. And upon seeing this, with my mother standing in the doorway and my sister MacKenzie looking out the window side-by-side with me, I uttered the quote that shattered my mom’s heart.

“Look, Kenz. Santa brought them a push-the-pedal Jeep…

“They must have been better kids than us.”

Thus began the greatest run of stellar behavior the world has ever seen.* Although we never did manage a push-the-pedal Jeep, a few years later we did bring a manual pedal-driven race car home from a yard sale, which we were never allowed to drive without a helmet.** After all, if we were gonna hit things with miniature cars, we might as well burn some calories in the process. Ironically, an inflatable boat given to me by my parents (not a Zodiac – the pool float kind) for my 13th birthday started me down a far more expensive path of obsession with motorized water toys – a decision they probably regret far more than their call on the push-the-pedal Jeep.

To this day, my family will take every opportunity to send me photos of Power Wheels from yard sales, Craigslist posts and more, asking if my 31-year-old self wants them to pick it up on their way home. And to this day, I push down my dramatically exaggerated childhood pain. 

In a real way, it’s a good reminder to me that maybe it’s better to have “Santa” be responsible for smaller gifts on Christmas, not a big-ticket item – those can come from mom and dad. After all, as I now know, a shiny expensive toy doesn’t mean someone was a “better” kid.

But the other thing I know is this: One day down the line, when my kid wakes up on Christmas morning, whether he asked for it or not – he’s getting a push-the-pedal Jeep.

*This is a lie.

**This is also a lie.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.