This is the time of year when even ordinarily guileless children become fiendishly clever—and cleverly fiendish—about hunting for hidden packages whose contents they’d love to ascertain.

         Yes, I’m talking about The Great Hidden Christmas Present Hunt, an annual ritual in all homes where the kids know they’ll get presents from you, rather than—or in addition to—presents from Santa.

         What have you bought them? And where have you hidden it? They have ways to find out, ways even the Soviet interrogators of old never thought of.

         The Helpful Child: Just mention casually that you can’t find your keys, that you’re looking for that long-sleeved blue shirt, or that the dog has run off with your flip-flops again, and this child—who normally won’t stir from his videogame to help you till your voice reaches 1000 decibels and conveys threats of mayhem—is johnny-on-the-spot to offer help: “Want me to look, Mom?”

         If you accept his offer, you’ll find him searching the farthest reaches of the under-sink cabinet for your misplaced keys or climbing to investigate high shelves of the linen closet in search of the flip-flops your Yorkie carried off. “Now, how do you think they might have gotten there?” you ask in puzzlement.

         Foolish question! It isn’t really the keys/shirt/slippers he’s hunting for; he’s just legitimized another foray in the never-ending Great Hidden Christmas Present Hunt.

         The Playful Child: This one plays Hide ’n’ Seek. Literally. When you catch him burrowing under the sweaters in the back of your dresser drawer and ask him what he thinks he’s doing, he says, “We’re playing Hide ’n’ Seek. I was looking for someplace to hide.”

         Express disbelief all you want, but he won’t stay around for the lecture: “I’ve gotta hide. Quick! Eric must be almost up to 100 by now!”

         The Artful Child: “I’m playing detective, mom. You pretend this package is stolen goods and hide it somewhere. I’ll try to find where you hid it.” This kid is looking for a license to snoop.

         The Brazen Child: This one makes no pretense of doing anything but hunting down hidden presents. He simply tries to do it unobserved. Leave whatever room you’re in for just a minute, and he’ll quickly investigate every possible hiding place, including under the bathroom sink where the water is dripping. Return suddenly, and you may catch him rooting in the back reaches of the freezer or under the bag in the kitchen garbage pail.

         The Junior Achiever: This one is so relentless in her snooping (and so successful in divining the contents of boxes she locates) that you’re forced to enlist the help of a childless neighbor with storage space who can hold your packages till Christmas.

         Now…how do the kids determine what’s in a package once they’ve found it?

         Shake, Rattle, and Roll: The time-honored way of guessing what’s in a box by the sounds it makes when you shake it.

         Super Snooper: Subscribers to this method try to remove the wrapping to examine the box’s contents, then re-wrap the package, all unnoticed. Especially popular in homes that favor using Scotch Removable Tape, though some imprudent practitioners may attempt the maneuver with regular tape…to their chagrin.

         X-Ray Machine: The child holds a flashlight at an angle against the wrapping paper, trying to read the writing on the box underneath.

         Rightful Entitlement: This child has an unshakable belief that, having found the box, she is now entitled to know what’s in it…and she’ll make every effort to persuade you accordingly.

         Chinese Water Torture: The child who practices this method will ask you what’s in the pink box she found under your bed, or alternatively, whether you bought her those ballet slippers. And then she’ll ask you again. And again and again and again. She’ll pound you and hound you, hoping you’ll finally answer. And if you get sick enough of the endless interrogation, she may get her way.

         My own present-hiding days are long gone. But I remember the days when I had to outwit my daughter, as did my friends with kids. Some of them, devilish parents with fiendish dispositions, would pack a bell in a box with a sweater or a marble in a box with a book, just to confound their package-rattling offspring.

           I have to confess there’s a  part of me that misses the old days. They put me in a position that appealed to a certain instinct in me residual from my own childhood. You know it too. It’s the one that gives you pleasure when you can crow (or even just think), “I know something you don’t know!”