We tried to visit Santa earlier in December, but the wait was too long. So we left.We didn’t get back to Santa until December 23—when the wait was three hours. Thankfully we were able to give Santa’s elves our cell phone number. So we spent three hours lunching at Dewey’s, visiting Joseph-Beth Booksellers and shopping at Trader Joe’s. The elves texted us when they were ready for us (times have changed).
Sophie had a lot of questions about Santa this year. She wanted to know how he stayed awake all night. (“Doesn’t he get tired?”) And where he went for a new coat when his got old. And where did he use the bathroom? (I told her I’m sure people didn’t mind if he used theirs—that we wouldn’t mind if he used ours.) One afternoon I found her in our fireplace, banging on its walls and ceiling. Our fireplace is a non-venting gas one, so there’s no opening to the chimney. She was quite upset by this. “Magic,” I said. The response satisfied her.
She was so excited to meet Santa this year. And this worried me. The first two years she cried when we sat her on his lap. Last year, she so wanted to tell him she wanted a butterfly net. And she did, but only barely, while clinging to me.
It reminded me of the summer, when all she wanted to do was go down the orange, curvy tunnel slide at the park. The entire walk there she would say how brave she was going to be, that this was the day she was going to do it. And for many weeks, she didn’t go through with it, even though she tried. She sat at the top of that slide, scooted around on her bottom and walked, defeated, the other direction. And the entire walk home she talked about how next time, she was going to do it. It broke my heart, but I knew it was something she had to do on her time, when she was ready. And, eventually, she did.
But the slide is available always. Santa, only once a year. My mom suggested a picture. We had Sophie draw a picture for Santa and on it we wrote him a note: “Dear Santa, I want a scooter. Love, Sophie.” It was a brilliant idea. If she freaked and cried or couldn’t speak, he’d have the note. She would know that he knew she wanted a scooter.
I watched her in line, head titled down, mouth set. I knew she was nervous. But I also knew she was trying—so hard—to be brave. It’s been a long time since I’ve had butterflies in my stomach but I had them all the time when I was kid. I imagined her, having them. Standing there, waiting, waiting, waiting.
We happened to be there during a snow time. It actually snowed, inside the mall. There was music and Santa came out to wave hello to children. I knew how nervous she was when she hardly acknowledged the snow—head tilted down, mouth set. She wanted to see Santa, but she wanted it all to be over with it. I felt for her, so much then.
We all agreed ahead of time on a plan—everyone would go up to see Santa together. The boys would sit on his lap (which they loved, can’t you tell?) and Sophie would stand next to him (and that she did, at a distance). She gave him the letter. She asked for the scooter. He told her to always wear a helmet (for which we were thankful). And she did.not.cry.
I was so proud of her. I hope she was just as proud of herself.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.” —Francis Pharcellus Church