My 6-1/2 year old son, Sammy, has finally come to understand Santa Clause. The awesome power the jolly red one has over present dispersal, his mighty gravity-defying reindeer, those audacious digs in the great Northern expanse, and his weakness for milk and cookies. Make that soy milk, because, according to Sammy, Santa is lactose intolerant. Who knew?!
The Saturday before last Christmas, I, my husband, and our son went to the mall. We saw the latest Christmas movie and had dinner in the food court. My husband seemed to wince a little at my suggestion, but we decided to walk the mall.
We mainly window shopped and smiled at the decorations. Then we saw Saint Nick. My eyes lit up and with a big hopeful smile, I asked Sammy if he wanted to have his picture taken with Santa Claus. My son's eyes widened, but not in excitement.
"Maybe…a little," he said, turned, and walked to a bench.
"Honey, what's the matter?" He began to pace. "You don't have to have your picture taken." He seemed distressed and I didn't want to force him into sitting on a stranger's lap, even if the lap WAS Santa's.
He sat on the bench. "Mommy, I don't want him to know!"
Sitting next to him I asked, "Know what?"
"To know," he hesitated then softly confessed, "to know I was naughty." His anxiety forced his eyes down.
My son has had his moments and many a time he had to go to his room to think about his behavior. "Well, if you just tell the truth everything will be fine, 'cause ya see Santa likes it when you're truthful. Then, maybe you tell him what you would like for Christmas."
He pondered that for a moment. Through his eyes, I could see him arguing with himself, debating if he could face this dilemma. It wasn't the present he thought he might not get; it was the act of admitting to Santa he might be like the child in the movie "The Polar Express" who insisted he didn't do it, though there was solid proof.
A few minutes later, my son's face resolved, he nodded his head with determination, whispered yes, and asked me to "lick your hand that way and rub it on my hair?"
He was asking me to smooth his hair down so he would look presentable for Santa Clause!
Proudly, he walked over to the entrance into Santa Claus' sitting area. I watched him, his face so innocent in his belief, unconditional in his admiration for this icon that visited once a year, his eyes fixed only on Santa.
An elf came to the gate. "Would you like to visit with Santa Claus?" she asked my son. He gazed up at her face, and with intrepid glee, shook his head yes.
Before entering, Sammy took my hand and looked up at me. He smiled tentatively, dropped my hand, and slowly walked towards Santa.
As he crawled into the big lap, I could see how much my son was growing into the young boy who soon would be too cool to have his photo taken with Santa. But for now he listened attentively to the whispered words of the jolly man, smiling softly, and giggling, whispering back. A private moment he will always have for himself.
The elf called to Sammy and Santa Claus to smile for the camera. It took a few times before Sammy would allow his smile and dimpled cheeks to radiate for the camera.
He waved shyly to Santa and said thank you after about three or four prompts from me.
While we waited for the picture to develop, Sammy stood quietly next to me. He hadn't looked back at Santa since he jumped off his lap. Another child had quickly taken Sam's place and was joyfully listing all the gifts she wanted that year.
"Did you like talking with Santa?"
"Huh-huh, it was alright." My son of few words.
"Did you tell him what you would like for Christmas?"
"Yeah, I told him I wanted an air hog."
"Well, I'm sure he'll get it for you honey," I said, making a mental note to find that toy before Christmas Eve.
"You were right mommy! Santa thanked me for being truthful!" He began humming to himself and watching the elves working. "Hey, the picture's ready."
An elf handed me the priceless photograph and Sammy marveled at it while I marveled at the cost of one photo with Santa. While I paid the elf, Sammy ran to his dad who had already moved on to the store next door.
While the elf ran my credit card, I stared into the eyes of my son in the photo. I thought about how he truly believed that this person, Santa Claus, was real. At present he would not waiver in that belief and no one would make him--at least not yet. And I thought about how I had no belief as innocent as that, it had been corrupted over my last 47 years and, unfortunately, so will Sam's.
I signed the bill, secured my purse and began to catch up with my husband and son. But then I stopped. What does it matter if I don't believe in Santa or other things that seem to good to be true? You see, my son and my husband is who I believe in.
Staring at them from behind, each standing like the other, a little hand reaching for his dad's, a large weathered hand wrapping gently around a son's, I saw my belief; the belief in the love of my family.
And I didn't have to sit on a jolly man's lap to get it!