To save money, I had decided near the 2008 winter break to make homemade Monopoly sets for each of my co-workers. The idea was genius — dedicate each property name to the numerous departments and make them one-of-a-kind collector items. Louis Leung would be the office’s most popular employee and maybe even that cute Korean girl from human resources might notice (she didn’t, oh well).

At just over two dollars budget per set, it doubled as the most affordable and greatest work-related Christmas present I could conjure. Labor consisted of three long weeks of sweat and insomnia, but came the moment of the final product, I had made 53 professional-looking customized Monopoly sets that looked exactly like the real thing.

Parker Brothers would’ve been proud.

Of course, in my long journey of Scrooging up the ultimate cheap-yet-awesome office Christmas present, it took its completion to make me realize I had forgotten two essential ingredients of a legitimate Monopoly set: Playing Pieces and Homes/Hotels.

The first issue was resolved fairly quick — I spent $25 worth of tokens at the local Dave and Busters and played skee ball. (Thanks to frequent childhood visitations to Chucky Cheese, I was very good at skee ball.) 100 point hole after 100 point hole I nailed until the machine feceated a giant pile of tickets — all of which I happily exchanged at the toy counter for a bag filled with various plastic figurines. Sure they weren’t the shoe, iron, top hat and the other familiar Monopoly pieces, but who cares? I made a set where Boardwalk was named after my boss and Park Place was named after Cute Korean Co-Worker (Her last name was Park, get it? Ah…)

The issue with the homes and hotel pieces, however, proved to be a daunting task.

Everyone knows what they looked like and any substitution would either look weird or cheap (example: Lego bricks). Thus, after a long night of soul searching, I had finally relented on a solution that was based entirely on pragmatism and none on morality: I was going to visit several toy stores and buy real Monopoly sets — 53 of them — then surgically remove their home/ hotel pieces before refunding them back to the toy stores. As a grown man, I didn’t feel proud of stealing toys, but, hey, I didn’t mind playing the Grinch.

Or so I thought.

After the first visit to Toys R Us, I had purchased just three sets before giving myself a long hard look in the mirror while the sets laid in my living room. The winter break was coming and the following Wednesday was the last opportunity to give my coworkers the greatest cheapass present of all time. This needs to be finished, I tried to convince myself, it was the wrong time to feel morally bankrupt.

My own guilt trip won, though. I ended up deciding I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t steal from Toys R Us and I’d have to call the presents off. It wasn’t too late to start baking cookies and giving people candy canes; everyone else did that. It was the explanation I gave my mom that night when she came to visit me for dinner. She shared my opinion that it was truly a waste of the hard work, but what else could I do, I shrugged, nothing could substitute the homes and hotel pieces. She sighed and offered to take the three boards back to Toys R Us for the refund; something I agreed with in my depressed state.

Saturday and Sunday passed without fanfare, but on Monday, an unexpected knock came on my door.

I opened it late enough to see the distant traces of my mother’s Toyota driving away. However, right in front of me was a cardboard box, closed only with the edges folded upon one another. No tape. A tingling sensation came down my spine though, I immediately knew what my mother had done, I took the box to my living room to confirm anyway. Sure enough, inside the box were sealed bag after sealed bag of Monopoly homes and hotels.

53 of them, to be exact.

My mother had went to every Toys R Us and stolen Monopoly pieces but they weren’t red and green. She made the mistake of stealing the wrong Monopoly sets. I sat in my living room looking at random specialty piece after random specialty piece — Simpsons Monopoly, Barbie Monopoly, Bug-opoly, Volkswagon Monopoly, etc. Most of the houses were blue.

I sighed and called my mother. She initially lied and claimed she found them in a garage sale, but like me, she’s an untalented liar. Why did you steal the pieces? I asked. She said she didn’t know. She just wanted me to be happy.

There should never be a Mother’s Day, but there is.

In my often misguided pursuit of one-sided romantic interests, chased career aspirations and materialistic hobby collecting, I forget the time and energy spent may have been better appropriated to the one person in this world who proves that unconditional love exists. This holiday reminds me that I have a mother; without it, I would have taken her for granted 365 days of the year instead of 364.

Thank you mom, for giving me life on this Earth and blue Monopoly house pieces.