My son may never sit in Santa Clause’s lap. Not because Santa can make a child cry, or because I have any deep-seated suspicions that he’s a pervert, but simply because, so far, the big fat man just doesn’t resonate with the little man. Little Man and I stayed at a hotel with my mother over Thanksgiving, and Santa’s much storied arrival there the following day was met by my toddler with cool disinterest.
I must say, Cayce embraced the whole “scene” with great fascination. He stepped boldly into the ballroom adorned with Christmas trees we had watched the “elves” decorate that morning and now filled to brimming with children and their cheery, cocoa cup holding parents, and he dipped through and among them all, truly “working the room.”
At the center of it, Santa Clause sat in his oversize chair, accessorized by an adorable female elf who called up the children name by name from her stack of papers. Santa was too buried in the white beard and spectacles, too shiny and chintzy in his mass-produced suit, and my little boy, a face man, simply couldn’t relate to him. Had his suit appeared a little more home made, had his beard shone less a la authentic Father Christmas, we might have had a deal. But I don’t think Cayce even saw this guy as human. When I pointed to him, delivering the requisite amped up enthusiasm, Cayce’s eyes seemed to fall not on Santa, but on the child sitting in the big red man’s lap. She was a beautiful Asian-American girl of about five, dressed in a fancy green quilted velvet dress. She didn’t look happy.
I guess in that moment I made the decision that I would never impose this on my son. Should he give me a cue, and beg to wait in line and write a list and take a turn on the jolly old man’s lap, then I will probably acquiesce. But you are not likely to ever see me trying to bust down the doors at Macy’s in pursuit of such a happening. We will put out carrots for the reindeer, and cookies and milk for Clause, but I wouldn’t mind if Santa remained just as a figment of our imaginations. We could really be spared the wish-list cluster fu*k with the rented Santa.
The holidays take on a whole new meaning once you have a child. When you have one of the smallest Who’s in Whoville you want to make sure that his world swells with song even if the Grinch should come along to preempt Santa’s sleigh. You want the day to be about the bonds of love. And yet you cannot help but want his gifts to be ample. You want him to find them as expressions of your love, and as tokens of all that’s possible. But above all you want the day to be about balance, and the ties of family.
So take the adult who perennially flies buzzing into the end of the retail season with a nagging sense that she does not have enough for everyone, who starts pulling all the glittery items off the shelves of the check-out aisles in an impossible and vague quest for perfection, who never seems to have a budget and never manages to stay within the check ledger lines of “do-able” without impending debt, whose nostalgic and misty feelings of gratitude and peace are always bracketed by an undeniably lacking pocketbook, and add a child.
Add a child who is already perfect in every way, and so far unspoiled by material expectations and the commercialism of Christmas. Add a child for whom every day is a celebration.
How to build up the spiritual and life affirming aspects of the holiday, the bright colored lights penetrating the early darkness, the sweet smell of fresh evergreen, the snowman gathered out of a child’s mitten hands that can come to life, how to hold and embrace the good will of men and all that is good about the holidays and keep at bay the greed, the sorrow, the difficult childhoods that percolate under the piles of fake snow? For while all that glitters may not be gold, all that is gold most certainly makes its shiny and enviable presence known during the holiday season.
Things were not always hunky dory at Christmas time for me and Cayce’s father as children. As I try to create a meaningful Christmas for our one-year-old, I realize I have few memories of my own early Christmases. I remember one jovial snowy night In New York city when we picked up a tree on Broadway and carried it as a team along the streets to our West End Avenue apartment. I remember my brother in front of me, holding the top of the tree, laughing. I believe we all sang carols as we took the tree home. A picture perfect moment. And there was the year we built an elaborate gingerbread castle with our father, who had returned home just for this, an occasion that was captured in black and white by a professional photographer.
Later, after we moved out of the city the year I turned eight, big Christmas mornings emerged, replete with a bounteous piles of wrapped packages. My mother and stepdad finally had two dimes to rub together, and they were making up for past years when we had gone without, or when our father had been too sick to visit, or had made a shaky showing, producing books or record albums wrapped abysmally in crinkled tissue paper.
Kelly remembers rescuing presents out of the snow in the yard after their father had hurled the tree and everything on and under it out the front door.
We had, I guess, average childhoods, childhoods whose many happy memories are shot through with holes. In this year in which my first child has grown to be one, I lost my sister to suicide, a bitter reminder that things have not always been sugar plums dancing in Whoville.
When you suffered yourself as a child it is very scary to become a parent. The need to preserve your own child’s dreamy innocence runs deep. How can we create for our son a childhood that will be absent of painful memories, that will be sewn seamlessly from happy ones? How to teach the beauty of love expressed everyday, and made especially beautiful and symbolic at Christmas? How to avoid the commercial manufacturing of a child’s desires and stay true to the heart, without also being a stingy Scrooge of a parent?
I remind myself that I have made a choice to stay at home to raise my child. The choice to stay and play and nurse him every day has given him more than I could ever spend on the FAO Shwartz-iest Christmas. While the sacrifice is that we cannot deliver big on the store-bought Christmas we are stocking him up on love and liquid gold. When I nurse him I shower down the quiet, hushing snow that promises a future of white Christmases. This is much more precious than anything that can be bought in a store, and it bears no price tag because it's value is priceless.
It is such a treasure to discover again this holiday season the rich lessons from nursing—that I am enough, just as I am. That if every day I can give my child my heart, my tenderness, my ears and eyes and voice, and the miracle food that is made from my body, then that is Christmas everyday, and that is just enough.