Some Secrets are Best Kept

An accidental discovery teaches an important life lesson, that knowing too much can spoil all the fun.

November 27, 2023 | | Headwaters Nest

I have a confession to make. In 1984, I knew my brother and I were getting an Atari 2600 for Christmas. I didn’t go looking for it; I found out by accident.

I had been pestering my mom about borrowing a sweater over and over while she was in the shower. Finally she called out, “Sure, go ahead. Go into my closet and grab it!” And that’s when I saw it. A big, rectangular, dark-coloured box. It was barely visible in the dark, but there was no mistaking the distinctive white logo peeking out below several folded blankets. My eyes opened wide, taking in what seemed impossible. Then my stomach dropped, and I held back tears. I instinctively pulled the blankets further over the edge of the box to hide what was beneath.

An accidental discovery almost ruins Christmas morning and teaches an important life lesson to writer Bethany Lee. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

I now knew about the Atari and couldn’t un-know. I didn’t want to know, though. I tried to convince myself I had dreamed it, conjured it, but my sensible brain confirmed what I had seen.

Why did I feel like crying? Shouldn’t I have been happy about the world’s most coveted ’80s toy just feet away, waiting to be plugged in a few weeks later on Christmas morning? All our lives growing up, my brother and I had compiled our wish lists, poring over the Sears catalogue and Simpsons flyers, circling little numbers and sizes – hint, hint! – quietly yearning for a toy or book, or something trendy to wear, and hoping, hoping, these nice things would appear under the tree. Or, being even more organized and practical like my brother, politely listing our wishes by priority and category, carefully printed on a sheet of paper. The Atari was on nearly every child’s wish list that year, including ours.

I didn’t know it, but I had grown up in that instant. It was confirmation that things were not always as they seem, and that holding secrets from those who are close to you is a part of life. I knew I had to keep that secret. I had spontaneously covered the box to save my mom and dad’s feelings. My mom always wanted to surprise us, and this gift was a major one. I also knew that economically it didn’t make sense, because we often didn’t have enough milk and cereal to make it to the next payday. This big Atari box was special, and I didn’t want to ruin the moment for my parents. Or my brother. As much as we fought and fussed, I knew in that split second that I needed to protect him as well.

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  • Christmas morning was a blur. I remember smiling a lot, and then off we went to play the games that came with the Atari, and to fight over the joystick and whose turn it was. The complicated layers of excitement, betrayal and protection have faded away, but to this day, I’m surprised by how often the memory surfaces for me.

    It was when I first learned there are many moments of knowing and not being able to un-know. Now in his late teens, my son, Adrian, must have had these moments too, perhaps for many years. I don’t know what he held onto that I thought he would be better for not knowing. In turn, he’s probably protected me.

    Perhaps there was a moment when he, too, was searching for something else when he saw something meant as a later surprise. Many years I’d shop across the border and the red-and-white Target bags tied up in my closet were easy enough to discern as the stash of goodies for his stocking or under the tree.

    Or maybe he knows where I put presents bought in advance but hidden away, never to be found again – and he’s still wondering why they didn’t appear! But beyond simple pleasures such as presents or other sweet secrets, maybe he’s also seen private documents or overheard angry conversations he shouldn’t have – not wanting to know, but not being able to un-know.

    Some families share everything with their kids. To me, this sets a tricky precedent that parents must remain open books – and there are some truths which can be too much information for a young person to digest. But sharing info and then stopping can also feel like a betrayal of sorts. Secrets, once revealed, can’t be rolled back.

    Still, sometimes we have the opposite problem. As the fire in the woodstove warms our house here in Mono, I am going through the mental list of where I’ve squirrelled away the Christmas treats. Maybe I’ll have to drum up some curiosity in someone who would like to rustle through the closets to help me remember where I stashed this year’s secrets.


    It’s “Snow much fun!”

    Slide over to the Museum of Dufferin for kids’ workshops while you shop at the annual Holiday Treasures Arts & Crafts Sale. Kids age 7 to 12 will make their own snow globes and participate in snow-themed indoor games and activities. Two dates to choose from: December 2 or 9, both from 11 a.m. to noon. $15; register online at

    Paw-ty ideas for your next birthday

    Coming up short on ideas for your child’s next birthday? Why not throw a “Paw-ty” to support animals in need through the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). The mandate of the OSPCA is to provide comfort and compassion to animals in need, ensure proper care for animals in transition, and help them find new homes. When you choose the OSPCA as the charity to support for your Paw-ty, they receive half the funds raised, and half goes to the child host. Themed invites and ideas galore on

    On the right Track

    Track3 turned 50 last year! Have you heard of this program? From a humble beginning that saw skiers with physical disabilities learn how to schuss down the slopes, Track3 now supports a wide spectrum of neurotypical, neurodiverse and physically atypical snowboarders, alpine and Nordic skiers in 14 adaptive winter sports programs at nine host hill locations, including Caledon, Mono and Hockley. This allows these kiddos to discover their own remarkable abilities through the freedom of snow sports.

    P.S. Help make snow fun for a Track3 kid. While most programs for children with disabilities rely on private cost coverage, Track3 is different – it’s not-for-profit and runs on donations. Visit their page to find out how to contribute!

    Light me up

    The work of the Optimists and many community sponsors brings us Christmas in the Park again this year. Starting December 1, take the kids and wander and wonder under the twinkly lights, visit gingerbread scenes and maybe even Santa’s workshop! Kay Cee Gardens, off Bythia Street in Orangeville.

    The kids are alright

    Orangeville youth interested in making a difference to the community can get involved in the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. The MYAC gives advice and keeps town council informed of what’s important to local youth. The committee comprises up to six residents up to the age of 20, plus a member of council. These youth council members can advocate for issues of importance to their peers, help with events, seek community input and learn leadership skills.

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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