Household Word
Cornering St. Nick
Last week, I was momentarily possessed by the Ghost of Christmas Presents, so I relented and took my youngest son to see Santa at the mall.

“I know that you won’t buy me PlayStation 2,” said Lew, “so I’m going to ask Santa for it.” His face was aglow with anticipation. “Do you think he can get me an iguana, too?”

We found St. Nick holding court in a garland-festooned gazebo decked with glitter and fake snow. There was a big crowd waiting to see him. Children squirmed, parents forged lifelong friendships and one family used a cell phone to call for pizza delivery in a line that reached from Baby Gap all the way to next Christmas.

This was a new experience for me. Neither of my other kids would ever agree to sit on Santa’s lap. Maybe they were scared of his power, his fake beard or his breath.

Not Lewis.

He had a mission and a list that included action figures, computer games and an iguana. The only way he was going to get that kind of stuff was to talk with the Great One himself. So we waited.

“Can iguanas live in the North Pole?” Lewis asked as the line crept forward.

After two bathroom breaks (the woman behind us held our place) and a quick trip to Mrs. Field’s Cookies, we were almost there. A photographer, in full elf regalia, collected $5 from each parent who wished to document the precious holiday moment with a framed instant photo. Lewis quickly reviewed his list and I dug crumpled bills out of my purse. It was our turn!

I gave my son an encouraging little shove toward Santa’s throne. He didn’t move. He dug his sneakers into the plastic snowflakes and instead of clambering up on the velveteen lap, turned to me and said: “Actually, I changed my mind. I don’t really want to see him.”

“C’mon,” I urged. “You waited so long.” I could feel the eyes of the other parents bearing down on me. I wasn’t ready to forfeit our audience with Santa. So I seized the opportunity and plunked myself on his ample lap.

“Santa,” I said. “I’ve been a good mom all year – just ask my kids. I did the laundry, paid for piano lessons and took everyone to the dentist twice. I chaperoned a field trip to the fish hatchery, watched soccer games in the rain and went out to buy poster board at 11 o’clock at night. I’ve hosted birthday parties, bought new winter jackets, and still, they want more. And I’m the one who bakes the cookies that you eat at my house on Christmas Eve and it’s me who reminds the kids to leave carrots for the reindeer. So now, I’d like a little something from you.”

“Make it quick,” Santa said. “My legs are getting numb.”

“OK,” I hissed into his ear. “Here’s the deal. You promise to load up your sleigh with toys that don’t need 20 AA batteries or a doctorate in physics to assemble. Fill the stockings with yo-yos and playdough, not Game Boys and PlayStation 2, and throw in a couple of lumps of coal to keep my kids humble.

“Bring them gifts that inspire creativity and cooperation, but don’t bring them everything on their lists. I know that there is value in the gift of disappointment and, someday, they will, too. Keep bringing Legos, and puzzles, books and board games for the family and this year I won’t leave any broken cookies for you or limp carrots for your reindeer. Santa, help my children believe in you and the magic of the season and I promise that I will do my best to keep your spirit alive at our house all year long, and to continue to teach my kids that the true joy of the holiday is not what you get, but what you give.”

As the elf moved in for the photo opportunity, Santa winked, gave a nod, and then gently pushed me off his knees.

“Oh, one more thing, big guy,” I whispered. “No iguanas.”

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From United Parenting Publications, December 2002.