Thing1 and the Big Guy had just headed off to Hubbard Hall, our local community theater and art center, to take part in a Holiday and Christmas reading. Thing2 and I were headed to the library in Arlington Vermont for a visit with Santa.
We had missed seeing Santa at our town’s Christmas party (it’s a village of about 300 that is sort of a bedroom community next to the bustling metropolis of Arlington, VT), and I knew Thing2 really wanted to see him this year.
He is six. He asks questions all the time about everything, and Santa lore is uppermost in his mind this week, as it is with every child under the age of 12 (believers and non-believers alike). As I guided the car down the dark muddy road, he asked how did Santa’s sled fly. I knew the tried and true answer of “magic” would not suffice. He had already begun hypothesizing. Would it have jet boosters? Did the reindeer have some sort of special feed? Then he began asking who St. Nicholas was. Were he and Santa the same person? Where did Santa come from? I knew what the next question was.
I’ve been down this same road with these same questions before. It seems like only yesterday that Thing1 was asking them. Thing1 is a born skeptic. However, Thing2 is more than willing to look for the magic in everyday items and events, so I thought we would keep the magic of Santa going a few more years before logic and skepticism threatened it. But as I drove I wondered if this would be our last year.
Thing1 has been well aware of the fact of the myth for many years, but he was willing to play along – after all it’s in his best interest. As he’s grown older, he has enjoyed playing Santa along with us, helping us keep the story going for Thing2 by advising us to use special wrapping paper and even what should go in the stocking. But I am not ready to surrender Santa on behalf of Thing2 just yet. Part of me knows that with the end of that bit of make-believe goes a special part of his childhood, as well as this magical phase of our parenthood.
The questions grew increasingly challenging, and I was relieved when we pulled into the parking lot at the library. The parking lot was crowded, the library was hosting Santa story hour, along with a Christmas basket lottery.
We climbed steps, and Thing2 asked, “Who’s playing Santa is here”.
“Santa, of course,” I answered.
“No it’s not mom.” Thing2 appeared very knowledgeable suddenly. All the Santa lore he had cleaned from years of Christmas specials on TV briefly came to bear now as he authoritatively told me, “Santa sends his helpers.” I didn’t know how to combat this so I listened to his theories until we got to the door and went in.
We were slightly late, and I was glad. Santa had already arrived (no need to explain the lack of arriving reindeer – they were parked in back according to Thing2) and was getting ready to read The Night before Christmas.
Suddenly Thing2’s air of authority dissolved. He clutched my hand pulling me closer to the front of the crowd to get a better look but was unwilling to go with his best friend to sit on the floor to hear Santa up close and personal. Thing2 was silent through the story, his arms wrapping around my waist occasionally. The story ended, and Santa invited the children to come sit on his lap and tell him their hearts’ desire for Christmas. Thing2 and I got in line, and he waited politely, his grip on my hand tightening as we got closer and his doubts shrinking with the line.
But this Santa was about to banish every last shred of doubt from his mind.
Thing2 watched his best friend climb on Santa’s lap. Then his little brother and little sister climbed on. Thing2 began to dance nervously. A few more seconds and the last child in front of him was finished attesting to their own good behavior for the year. Now it was Thing2’s turn.
Santa called Thing2 by name as he lifted him on to his lap. My first-grader appeared only mildly surprised. Then Santa told him he was sorry he hadn’t seen him at the Christmas party last weekend, and Thing2 was silent.
He stared at Santa, his list forgotten. Somewhere in his mind the acknowledgment was forming that Santa might actually see him when he’s sleeping and knows when he’s awake. Santa asked him if he been good this year. Thing2 thought about that carefully for a moment and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He closed his mouth and looked at me for confirmation for the answer he wanted to give. “He’s been very good this year,” I said.
Santa called him by his name again and said, “Well that’s wonderful to hear. And has your brother, Thing1 been good too?”
Thing2 nodded solemnly and said, “We’ve both been very good.” Santa laughed, and Thing2 finally screwed up his courage and told Santa his wish list. Then he wished Santa a Merry Christmas and hopped down.
We drove home talking about his visit and the Christmas basket we’d won for Grandma. We talked about the kids he’d played with until we stopped to pick up some vittles at the Country store.
Thing2 bounced through the door of the establishment and immediately fixated on a toy the store’s owner had put out on one of the counters for display. He played while I waited for the food and paid. I picked up our bag and called to him to move along.
“I’m playing,” he responded with a mischievous smile. Normally I would answer this type of insurrection with military efficiency and discipline (which, for some reason they don’t always take seriously), but tonight I reached into my arsenal for a new weapon.
“Remember,” I said, “Santa’s watching.” Thing2 instantly straightened up and walked calmly to the door, and I reminded myself to feel ashamed of my ploy once I had him buckled in.
“Is he really watching?” Thing2 asked as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“He is in this town,” I answered. And that was the end of the questions as we drove out of sight.