When I was little, I went to Prairie Market with my mother to do the month’s shopping. Prairie Market hawked groceries at a grossly reduced rate, leaving everything in shipping cartons in an unheated warehouse. Since it predated the days of ubiquitous scanners, we dug cans of soup out of the crates, and wrote the price on each one using a red wax pencil. I got to ride around on a platform hand truck instead of in a janky cart.
In a weird, frugal way, it was awesome.
On one fateful shopping trip, however, I looked up from my can-labeling extravaganza to see my mother sneaking Christmas candy into our pile of supplies. This might not seem like a big deal to you. Keep in mind that–except for a pack of Trident gum in the kitchen cupboard–we never had candy in the house. I came unhinged. I made a huge scene. Demanding to eat it then and there, I fussed and begged and whined until my beleaguered mother thrust a small, foil-wrapped Santa at me, allowing me one single bite.
She wrapped the chocolate back up neatly and paid for it with the rest of our haul.
On a cold and jolly winter’s morning, I reached into my stocking and pulled out a half-eaten Santa.
I immediately marched over to inform my siblings, two of whom offered feeble explanations; the last looked away, likely stifling a guffaw. What was this, I wondered? Could they not handle the truth? I squinted at them–perhaps with a bit of pity–not realizing the absurdity of the situation: a six-year-old unveiling life’s truth to a room full of teenagers.
Cut to this year.
At around 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve, I was crouched on the floor beside the bed, reading my godforsaken, depressing book by headlamp, trying to stay awake without disturbing the spouse.
Must. Stay. Awake.
I know. That was pathetic, given the hour. It’s not like I had to make it through midnight mass or anything. But, after two weeks of insomnia and holiday hullabaloo, I was really ready to hit the hay.
Trouble was, one of my kids was on the couch in front of the stockings, holding some sort of vigil. Whenever I thought she must have dozed off, I would tiptoe to the top of the stairs and look down, only to witness her stirring, waiting, watching.
I was torn. Don’t my kids know who plays Santa, anyway? Wasn’t that the reason for her vigil, to have real proof beyond past year’s mistakes and discrepancies, such as:
How come this present is wrapped in paper we have in our office closet?
Why is my friend’s Santa so much more generous?
Why didn’t Santa bring what I really wanted: an iPhone?
If I just bailed and went to bed, I’d be fresh for the morning. I could stick some gifts in the stockings after sunup, right? It’s the same stash, either way.
Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy for my mother, the Santa-killer. I was by far the youngest of four kids. She had been willing herself awake for eighteen Christmas Eves so that some imaginary person could take the credit for all of her thoughtful work. That woman was done.
I’ve only been at it half as long. I can’t yet bail in good conscience.
Ho, *#^%(!), ho.