I’m not saying that the all the best things in life can be bought, I’m just saying that if it doesn’t require adult assembly or 4 D batteries, my kids probably don’t want to see it under the Christmas tree.
Now lest you judge, I have tried to instill what I can into my children to make them good, productive citizens.
For example, I am the Queen of Nonsensical Adages. Pretty is as pretty does, Annabella (what the fuck does that even MEAN?). Never look a gift horse in the mouth. (Did you know that this is actually a reference to giving AN ACTUAL HORSE AS A PRESENT? Apparently if you were given the horse and looked at it’s teeth, you would be checking for it’s age because horse’s gums receded as they mature. Thank me later when you throw that little tidbit out at Christmas dinner.)
I have all sort of other sayings I’ve tricked the kids into believing someone really wise said, but that I actually made up while driving to the grocery store in my mini-van. If you walked into my family room and shouted “What’s the most important thing in life Gabriel?” like a drill seargent might, Gabe would look up from his deck of second hand Pokemon cards and answer, unblinkingly “Wahhhking hard.”
Which I would immediately translate for you into “Working hard” (because the boy has a speech impediment that make him sound like a 6 year old Mark Wahlberg impersonator).
That’s right, Gabriel. Wahking hard.
And so, they understand that “You get what you pay for” (Kurt Vonnegut, in the novel Cat’s Cradle), and that they should “Dance with the one who brung ya” (Darrell Royal, football coach) and “Throw the box away if it’s empty today” (Nicole Jankowski, Quotes from a mini-van).
They really are the world’s okay’est kids.
But they love Christmas. The bright lights, big wrappings, large trappings of a good old-fashioned Christmas morning. They like the big breakfast, the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, the Honey Baked ham. They like the giving and the getting, maybe not equally, but both.
And I am okay with it.
I will admit that the whole Santa Clause concept is a little fucked up at first blush.
You spend weeks shopping for presents for your children, doling out your hard earned time and cash, long scrolling lists written in first grade penmanship in your gloved hands.
“What does this say?” you ask your son before you trudge out to the mall, offering him back his own list.
“Ummmm.” He squints at his own handwriting. “Hmmmm.”
“You wrote it Gabriel. What did you say you wanted?” Trying to stretch my own patience just far enough to last the conversation.
“It looks like it says…it says…turtle”.
“You WANT a turtle?”
“Nooo. Um. I actually think it says Legos. Yep. Right there, see. L-A-G-O’s.”
And then off you go, fighting crowds for parking spaces like big game hunters stalking their prey with only a handbag as a weapon. Relationships between husbands and wives are tested, marriages dying like old car batteries, in crowded lots at the mall.
“There’s one honey–THERE!…..Never mind, the grandma in the Buick got it. She’s like 90, she’s getting a walker out of the backseat. But she was faster than you.”
“Ok, THERE! LEFT! LEFT! LEFT! LEFT!”
“You aren’t keeping your eyes peeled. Next time I’m driving.” You don’t mean to grit your teeth when you say it, but it just happens.
He looks dejected and you want to care, but caring is for people without illegible lists and 6 children.
“Next time I’m staying home” he says, under his breath.
But since it is the holiday season and everyone who is shopping must be miserable, no one gets to stay home.
No, no one can stay home because Christmas is a time for togetherness. And even if it means you are both sweating in winter coats, waiting in a line 19 people long just to buy your daughter a $30 t-shirt at Hot Topic, you are spending time TOGETHER. And even if it means that you are eating stale pretzels for dinner, riding the escalator to the bowels of hell (i.e. the basement floor of J.C. Penney), you are hot, you are impatient, you are malnourished.
Maybe it’s true that the worst part of it is that we, as parents, do all of it ALL OF IT and give someone else ALL THE CREDIT. I’m the one with bunions on my feet and papercuts on my fingers but that fat man in the too tight velour jumpsuit steals my thunder. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
All over the media there are the stories about eliminating Santa or limiting him or omitting discussion around him. Perhaps this stems from a universal sense of sadness in knowing that Santa doesn’t come for every child, that there are lists scribbled in crayon that will never be granted.
My heart breaks for those children. And their parents, who must, just as I do, want to give their children all that they can, the intangibles and the tangibles.
We are most of us, but one tragedy, one misstep away from hardship. This I know.
And so,this seems even more of a reason why, for as long as I can make it happen, and as long as I have been able, I have believed in the honest, altruistic gift of Santa Claus.
It seems like it is about the things. But it’s not about the things, truly.
And I’m not saying any of it makes any sense. I’m just saying it’s okay to let them believe.
Because children aren’t children forever. I see this as my own life becomes a flipbook of memories, a little girl in footie pajamas, eyes shining under the tree. A teenager in a letter jacket. A baby in a santa suit. A 6 year old with his front teeth missing.
Because very few adults hold relentless grudges against their parents for “lying” about Santa Claus. They understand that their parents did so because there was magic in it and that magic is fleeting, like childhood is fleeting.
Fleeting until it disappears completely. Until wisps of memories, half Santa-magic but mostly a childish gratitude, drift in over a glass of wine with friends.
My father must have stayed up all night putting that bicycle together just so I could see it when I woke up on Christmas morning.
My parents worked so hard, we had so little–but Christmas was always so magical.
My mom worked a double shift on Christmas eve, but was somehow always awake before us on Christmas morning. Smiling. Asking us what Santa had brought, as though she hadn’t lugged it all down to the family room just an hour earlier.
We give Santa Claus to our children in the way he gives to them, without concern for our own recognition or credit.
We give him because even though they do not understand about sacrifice now, children almost always grow up to know it, keenly. Through the way we gave, through the way we tried, through the small window of time we let them believe.
In Santa Claus. In possibility.
And later, much later, when they are far away, when the children are grownups themselves, when the bicycle–the presents–perhaps even
are long gone—
They will hold tight still
to the gift that someone cared so very much
that they tried so unselfishly hard
to help them believe, for just a little while