Santa? Don’t Be Silly. But Still ...
Santa? Don’t Be Silly. But Still ...
By LISA ROMEO
Published : December 23, 2007 / The New York Times
MY husband, Frank, and I had been waiting for The Question for a few years already, and while our son Sean may have thought of it a year or two before he finally asked it, he did not bring it up until he was nearly 10.
“Some kids at school say it just can’t be true,” Sean said one evening in early December. “I mean, the whole world in one night, in a sleigh, with reindeer — that’s just unbelievable. Right, Mom?”
Sean waited for me to answer. I swung my head around the corner to be sure his 6-year-old brother, Paul, was still playing a computer game, earphones on. I knew I had to say something. Yet I was pricked with sadness that my first-born was already too old for childish pleasures. I also recalled with chagrin that this was, after all, what I had lobbied for years ago when Frank and I had discussed — heatedly — whether to spin the Santa tale for our children: Total honesty at all times, I had naïvely declared. Frank called me a Scrooge, I relented and Santa moved in.
Now, I took a breath — and hedged, in the most modernist parenting-speak. “Well, Sean, what do you think?” I asked, willing Frank to come through the door from work early, hoping the soup might boil over and need attention.
“I get what I want every year, and once there was ash all over the living room carpet from the fireplace,” Sean began. “And lots of strange things do go on in the world — right, Ma?”
“Yes, lots of things are not easily explained,” I agreed emphatically as Paul charged in, asking what was for dinner.
Sean went silent and gave me a knowing look that made me wonder if he had already thrown in with the children at school.
Two weeks went by, and the subject did not come up again. The stockings went up. We saw Santa at Willowbrook Mall in New Jersey, and greeted Santa when he came around our Cedar Grove streets on the fire truck as usual, but even Paul understood that these were “Santa-helpers,” not the real thing. “Santa is way too busy at the North Pole in December,” he explained to a younger cousin.
Paul wanted a Lego train set. Sean was counting on a weather station. And both were rabidly overinvested in getting the Arkansas state quarter to complete their commemorative quarter map for that year. In the four years that special state quarters had been issued, we had never had any trouble snaring the newly released coins every few months. But not Arkansas. I had asked everyone I knew to study their change, pestered my local bank and even called my mother in coin-rich Las Vegas to be on the lookout, but no luck. I promised myself that if it did not show up by the 15th, I would have to pay that questionable Web site I had found the full $1.25 for the quarter, plus $5.50 for shipping.
Sean took to giving me wise, sideways glances whenever Paul talked about Santa, as if he and I were members of some secret club. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell Paul,” he whispered one day. I kept silent. A formless sorrow descended, yet at the same time, an equally puffy pride, as Sean suddenly seemed to add another reason to be, in his little brother’s eyes, right up there with the moon and Spiderman.
“Let’s go to William Street,” Frank suggested one evening. Ever since Frank and I had been children ourselves, the family on William Street in nearby Little Falls had annually transformed their suburban home into a holiday paradise. The oversize double garage was propped open to reveal a vista of crisscrossing trains and miniature villages, battery-powered figures, animatronic reindeer, artificial snow scenes, robotic elves, snowmen, polar bears and cable cars. Colored lights of every size and from every decade adorned the house, and the lawn was covered with life-size plastic lighted figures. In the glassed-in side porch, an enormous tree and boughs of pine glinted with sparkly lights. Inside the garage, on a velvet armchair, at precisely 7:30 each evening, a traditionally clad Santa welcomed children onto his lap.
“He’s the only one that really is the real Santa,” Paul said as we drove over. “He looks exactly right, and I know he’s not one of the helpers — right, Dad?”
Frank nodded gravely. “He’s the real deal.” Sean gave me a smirk.
Paul was first to take a turn in Santa’s lap, snagging a candy cane, and then looked expectantly at his older brother. “It’s your turn, Sean,” he said. “Come on, hurry.”
Sean grinned, gave a slight shake of the head, and then sat down. Reluctantly?
“Well, son, what are you hoping for this year?”
“I want the Arkansas state quarter,” Sean challenged, arms crossed, jaw set.
Santa looked at me, eyebrows raised. I held out my hands, palms up, shrugged and shook my head slightly.
“Arkansas you say?”
“Yeah, we have all the others,” Sean explained. “Arkansas is impossible to get.”
Santa gently pushed Sean off his lap, gestured for us to wait and mounted three steps from winter wonderland to suburban kitchen. He returned seconds later, hand behind his back.
“Tell me, son, do you believe in me?” he asked Sean, and before he even got an answer, he was handing Sean something small and silvery.
“The Arkansas quarter! Wow, is it for me?”
“Of course it’s for you. Already had it set aside, son.” Santa winked at me, and Sean stared at his palm.
“Paul, look, the Arkansas quarter. Can you believe it?” Sean asked.
“Sure, he’s Santa,” Paul said solemnly.
Sean put the quarter under the tree, and on Christmas Day, he showed it to each newly arrived relative, relating his Santa story.
“Sure are lots of strange things in the world — right, Mom?” he said at bedtime.
I agreed. “More than you know.”