Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Issues

Christmas can be a challenging time for a dad. There are the physical events, like tree wrestling and overhead decoration storage box lifting. Then there are the mental events, like light string outage troubleshooting and trying to keep all the lies straight about Santa Claus.

“I want a Wii for Christmas.”
“Sorry, son, Wiis are too expensive.”
“No problem, I’ll just put it on my list in my Santa letter.”
“What makes you think Santa would bring you an expensive Wii?”
“You said Santa’s elves can make anything, so why can’t they just make us a Wii?”
“Uh… Your mom and I already talked to Santa and told him no electronics. You get enough screen time as it is. Go play outside.”

Wii or no Wii, there are always financial challenges to Christmas as well, and it usually takes a few months in the austerity wing at the hospital to recover from the wallet-ectomy procedure that Dr. Retail performs on you every year.

I found this year that my two personal Christmas Eve challenges came as a direct result of Santa Claus. That jolly old elf and I need to have a chat. I know he is supposed to have a busy night, but he has caused me to stay up way too late on the night before Christmas.

A few years back, possibly after one or three too many Christmas Eve beers, I accidentally started a tradition. We were celebrating Christmas at my in-laws’ house, and the kids had all made “reindeer food” out of dried oats and glitter. (As if any animal, magical or otherwise, wants to eat glitter! What are kids thinking?) Anyway, after an elaborate and mentally taxing explanation of how Santa would be gaining entry to a house in a California beach town that doesn’t have a fireplace, it was decided that the obvious place to put the reindeer food would be all over the front walk. After the children were all snug in their beds (presumably with visions of toys or puppies dancing in their heads, since no one knows what the hell a sugar plum is), it was up to me to make sure the reindeer food was “eaten.” Out to the front walk I went with the broom and dust pan, and while sweeping up glittery oats, I unfortunately had a brilliant idea. I went and found a bucket, and with some water and dirt, fashioned muddy reindeer hoofprints on the front walk as evidence that Dancer and Prancer had gobbled up their treats.

It went over really well on Christmas morning, so guess what I do every Christmas Eve now? My wife won’t let me stop. Even when we’re at our own two-story house with a fireplace, and we’re leaving carrots for the sleigh team, it is still suggested through a wild series of parental lies and childish imaginations that it makes perfect sense that Santa would land on our roof, come down our chimney, eat his cookies and drink his milk, grab the carrots, head for the front door, throw the carrots out onto the front lawn, and whistle to the team to come down and have a treat, but to make sure to gobble them down quickly and get back up to the roof to meet him when he’s done with all the stocking stuffing. All I can say about that is be careful what traditions you start, or you might find yourself on your hands and knees out in the dark and cold with a handful of mud, smearing hoof tracks on your concrete while your wife is warm and cozy in bed.

My other challenge came after I had cleaned up and thawed out my hands well enough to hold my beer again. Son Number Two had spent more than a few hours creating a masterpiece poster-sized drawing that was a gift for Santa. It was a full-color depiction of Santa’s castle, complete with fortifications and gun turrets. I guess the North Pole is as rough a place as any. You never know when the elves will need to lay down suppressing fire to keep the invading hordes at bay. Anyway, it really was a great piece of six-year-old artwork, and it had spent the last few weeks rolled up and tied with a green pipe cleaner, leaning next to our fireplace with a note for Santa, explaining that it was for him to take back to the North Pole.

So here’s the dilemma: Santa has to take this picture back to the North Pole. Therefore, the picture has to disappear from our house. We cannot risk keeping it, but simply throwing it away wouldn’t work either, because through some unforeseen trash spilling incident, the picture could be discovered, and a six-year-old’s heart would be broken into a million pieces. So after I took a picture of it with my phone for posterity, I shredded it. On Christmas Eve, I was up in my office shredding a picture that my son spent hours creating for Santa. Talk about feeling like a Scrooge! Like punishment for bad behavior, or administering bad-tasting medicine, it was done out of love, but that rarely makes you feel any better about it.

It was most likely guilt from shredding the beautiful 4-foot-long poster that led me to the idea of having Santa leave him a thank-you note. Now, I imagine the real Santa probably writes notes on scrolls of parchment with an ink-dipped quill, and seals them with the Cringle family crest stamp in red wax, but since I didn’t have any of those things, I used Son Number Two’s very own construction paper and one of his Sharpies. I knew he wouldn’t recognize the materials, but he might recognize my all-capitals handwriting, so I had to disguise my penmanship. I spent the next half-hour trying to learn how to write in cursive again. I hadn’t even attempted a curvy letter that wasn’t part of my signature in 25 years. Even my signature doesn’t really have cursive letters anymore, except for a capital M. From there it has degraded to a short wavy line, a swirl meant to be a capital S, and a longer wavy line with a flourish on the end. It has actually gotten so bad over the years that I really don’t even know why I bother signing things anymore. I might just start using an X to save time.

Anyway, after five practice letters that I also had to shred, I was able to produce a pretty good thank-you note from the big man. He was very appreciative of Number Two’s efforts, and promised to take the poster back home to show Mrs. Claus who would surely love it. I admired my handiwork, and decided that Son Number Two would most likely frame the note after he read it in awe 19 or 20 times. Here’s how it went the next morning:

Son Number Two finds the rolled-up, scroll-like construction paper note in his stocking.
He mumbles, “What’s this?” and throws it over his shoulder to get it out of the way of the loot.
I stop him and say, “That looks like a note from Santa, buddy. You might want to read it.”
He says, “OK,” and unfurls it, attempts to decipher my cursive for a few seconds, then gives it to his mother to read to him.
She reads aloud the magical, personalized note from the most famous and sought-after gift-giver in the entire world, to which he responds, “Cool,” and goes back to tearing open gifts.

Hmmm… Feeling a little underappreciated, here, fellas.
“Did you guys see the reindeer hoofprints on the walkway?”
“Yeah, that was cool.”

Santa and I really need to have a talk. Between his existence and my brilliant ideas, we’re creating a lot of work for me here, with very little payoff in return. I put most of the blame squarely on his shoulders, but he’s hard to pin down to reason with. I was able to stick it to him a little, though. I ate all his cookies and drank his milk. That’ll teach him!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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