Despite the fact that I am now an eligible member of AARP (I thought the application I received in the mail was a joke) anyone who knows me will attest that I’ve remained a child at heart. Even when I became a mother at age 30, there were not many things I enjoyed more than playing Santa Claus. What I believed to be innocent, spontaneous acts of joy and seasonal celebration caused numerous problems in my household. One issue was that since my husband never enjoyed the shopping and wrapping parts of Christmas as much as I did, he was rarely around to reign me in as he has most of our married life when I’d go overboard. Christmas morning often dawned to reveal surprises for everyone beneath the tree. The other and more serious problem was that while our son liked receiving presents, he was terrified of Santa Claus.

Oh yes, instead of the free-spirited  innocent mini-me I expected to raise, God had other ideas. He planted the soul of a suspicious, anxious old man inside our little boy’s body. Our son didn’t trust Santa Claus or anyone else for that matter prowling about our house at night.  Ever since a workman putting down a plywood subfloor in the attic had fallen through his ceiling, the idea of a huge sleigh and a team of hairy reindeer prancing atop the steep roof just above his second floor bedroom made him uncomfortable. When in late November we began reading “The Night Before Christmas” , Brennen would eye the visible patch in his sheetrock ceiling nervously.

benedrylAs Christmas Eve rolled around and our son was all worked up into a holiday fervor, even drugging him with Benadryl could hardly make him fall asleep. Like most parents my husband and I simply gave up on getting him to sleep in his own bed and allowed him to snuggle with us downstairs where he felt more secure. Once his breaths were deep and regular, I’d roll quietly out of bed and grope my way into the dark living room. As quietly as a mouse, I would pull bags and boxes out of closets and the trunk of the car, arranging the loot around the tree while my husband stayed in our warm and cozy bed on “lookout”. Since hubby was oblivious to most of the gifts being given, he was frequently as surprised as our son on Christmas morning. He was especially taken aback the year Santa brought a live bird. It was after midnight on Christmas Eve when I sneaked into my neighbor’s basement to retrieve the beautiful white cockatiel parrot I’d purchased the day prior. I slipped the birdcage under the tree and covered him with a tablecloth,  praying that he would not burst into song until he was revealed the next morning.

That was the year we learned that gifts from Santa are non-returnable, even with a father’s protest.

Like all parents we forced our son to get his picture made with Santa. We were only able to do this for one year because in subsequent years, he keenly remembered the event as traumatic and wouldn’t get within fifty feet of a man in a red suit.  There is a photograph of our son, arms outstretched, eyes terrified and shrieking “Mama-hold-you!” Long before Elf on the Shelf, the Santa of my generation was like a perverted Peeping Tom who gazed in the windows at night and lurked behind the trees by day. I frequently sang about it, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” I’d murmur. Like our own parents had done to us, we tried to bribe our children into being good by explaining that Santa was always watching and would bring a lump of coal if he misbehaved. Of course, the simple fact of having gas logs and a heat pump in our 2 level suburban tract home did little to enhance any positive or negative attributes of coal. Also, I staged phone calls with relatives and we wrote letters to Santa addressed to the North Pole. Without fail, we left cookies and milk on the side table near the Christmas tree and scattered reindeer food on the sidewalk on Christmas Eve. One year I tracked talcum powder all over our dark hardwoods so realistically that my husband awoke convinced that Santa himself had been stomping around the living room spreading someone else’ ashes.

In hindsight, I admit I went overboard. I’d like to think rather than being a horrible mother I may have simply done the wrong thing for the right reason? (I’m not sure if that’s any better than doing the right thing for the wrong reason but it sounds good…)We were so fortunate and it was easy to be carried away by it all. We had a beautiful healthy and slightly neurotic son. We had a warm home with dirty hardwood floors to call our own. We had good neighbors who left their basement door unlocked, plenty of food to share and enough money to buy Christmas presents. We had the hole in the ceiling patched. Most importantly, we had our family.

While those days when our son was young were precious, Christmas today in our near-empty nest has become more simple. As I debate the benefits of my submitting that AARP application, I have started to accept that simple is best. They say that when our Christmas list is short it is because the things we want cannot be bought. I’d have to agree.  A sound and discriminating mind, good health, freedom, the continued presence of those we love, safety and world peace… these are things which all human beings long for and cannot be bought at any price.

Today, our formerly terrified toddler is a grown man, working and in college and newly engaged to be married in September. I am so happy that he has chosen the best gift of all this year: a sassy, intelligent, compassionate woman just quirky enough to blend into our weird little family. A young lady who will hopefully be a mother to his children and a partner for life! While my husband and I hope they spend much of their early years simply loving and focusing on their marriage, I must admit I look forward to having grandchildren in and out of the house one day. There’s just something magical about children and Christmas. I need to start reading up about this Elf on the Shelf thing. I’ve got some ideas…