4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
We were sitting in an upstairs room at our favorite neighborhood eatery last week. It’s an old inn turned restaurant with sloped floors, tilting narrow steps and a rabbit’s warren of dark rooms on the second floor which we can reserve for a nice family celebration. We love this place. Also, they pour a glass of wine to the brim. Did I mention that we love this place?
Towards the end of dinner I heard a ho, ho, ho behind my left shoulder and watched as my kids’ eyes got round as saucers and then sort of horrified. All eyes darted from the ho, ho behind me to my face, and their expressions said, “Tell me how I’m supposed to feel about this, Mama.”
I gotta see this, I thought.
(If only I’d had the piece of mind to snap the picture… but there was the glass of wine in front of me and the delayed motor response to such a sight.)
I turned to see a man dressed as Santa leaning on the door jamb with his beard and mustache pulled below his mouth, Pennsylvania-Dutch-style, and a green checked pillow sticking out from under his jacket.
This wasn’t just imitation Santa, this was sloppy drunk faux-Amish Santa. I gave the kids my best fake-it-nod-and-smile-face and they turned on the charm and acted very coy and five-years-old-seeing-Santa. After a few minutes of garbled blathering faux-Santa moved on. Disaster averted.
Five minutes later a woman leaned against the door jamb and asked, “Didja’ see Santer, kids?” Drunk Amish Santa had an entourage? Really?! In response, our three year old piped right up, “Dat Santa’s not re-eel.” The woman looked taken aback. “Honey, Santa is real!”
About a month ago, I was laying in bed with six-year-old Jasper after bedtime reading. We were in talk-about-my-day mode, when suddenly he sprang the question.
“Is Santa real, mama? Because Nick* is this 2nd grader and he said Santa’s not real… And I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”
And so this is what I said.
“Did he? Well that’s ironic, because Santa’s name is Nick. Have you seen this Nick kid before? Is his last name Claus? It seems suspicious that you’ve never mentioned him before, it being just weeks before Santa comes…”
“Okay, I’m with you. How could Santa live at the North Pole? I mean, it’s floating ice, right? It’s not even technically tethered to anything. And Richard Peary had to be carried by the Inuit when he allegedly got there… And he still lost, like, all his toes and then some. I mean, is Santa Inuit? And what about the elves? How do they fair in the great white north, right? Is the North Pole like an invisible snow globe that’s temperature controlled, or maybe a cave underground like Bin Laden lived in? I don’t know. And does he see everything? Because that’s both comforting and creepy.”
“Yes. Who’s binladen.”
“Let’s focus on Santa here.
“Once when I was living in Portsmouth, RI, I saw a guy with a white beard and a big belly. He had this awesome smile and literally a twinkle in his eye and the kindest face. I saw him in the bank parking lot and it wasn’t even Winter. I parked my yellow VW bug right next to his apple red, old-fashioned pick-up truck. I couldn’t explain it but I just felt like this guy is the real deal. Like, I got a little choked up and suddenly remembered all these good things about growing up and my Dad and how happy Christmas made Pop-pop Groeber.”
“You saw the real Santa, Mama?”
“I don’t know. What I do know is that there is magic at Christmas and it revolves mostly around kids. I know that gifts are given and received and memories are made and that feels good. I know that right around the time you get old enough to seriously question Santa, he stops gifting you and it’s your turn to gift others, which is still pretty awesome. I think there’s people all around us who get the magic around Christmas and some of them get extra magic and they dress up like Santa and take his messages and help him.”
“So Santa is real?”
“What do I know, baby? How do we ever really know? What I do know is that there’s something magical about sharing and kindness and giving and most of all, there’s something magical about children. And all those things are pretty much Santa in a nutshell, right?
“So, yes. In that case, I’d say yes, Santa seems pretty real to me.”
I mean, what would you say? Maybe the drunk faux-Amish Santa isn’t the real deal, or the farm stand guy with the fake cottony beard who was waiting for his ride (although that one seemed to have a fair share of the Christmas spirit and magic in tow, so I’ll give it to him), but somewhere out there I believe that Santa is real. The story of sharing and celebrating and giving is real and it lives inside me and Tim just as it lived inside my parents and their parents before them.
Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.
*Nick is the kid’s actual name. I have done nothing to protect his identity. Take that, “Nick”.