Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the season of miracles

Just before Thanksgiving, my sister, Eileen, sent the children an "Elf on the Shelf."


They were thrilled.   

Everyone - or so it seems - at their school has an Elf and why it is that they've been denied for so many, many years (or three, however long it's been since the Elf has made its appearance?) is a mystery.  Not only did Eileen send the Elf, she also sent a full flight suit for him (bomber jacket and googles).

And a book and a movie that tells his complete story.

The Elf was promptly named, Jackson, as a tribute to their new little cousin who was born in October. And then as quickly as he appeared, he vanished. Poof!

Gone into thin air. 

The children all knowingly explained to me that the Elf cannot come out until after Thanksgiving so it was likely he went back to the North Pole and yes, yes, this all makes sense.  Sure enough, on December 1st, the Elf reappeared. He was propped on a picture in the hall and spotted by Henry who turned inside out upon seeing him.


And so it is that every morning for the next ten or so mornings, Jackson would show up someplace new in our home. Perched on Charlie's coffee pot ... nestled in our Christmas tree ... sitting on top of the cuckoo clocks, etc. etc. etc. 

One of the mornings, however, in the throws of my sickness when I could nary move a muscle, as I lay in bed, I was suddenly gripped with dread when I remembered:  I had forgotten to move the fireplace screen so Jackson could fly out the night before, and although Charlie was home - he was not aware that such coordination efforts were required to ensure that the Elf could return to the North Pole - report on the children's behavior to Santa - and return to his new perch in our home.  

Earlier in the week, when I was under the weather and on solo parent duty, I'd been unable to help facilitate Jackson's relocation and his non-movement prompted dire concern from the children and caused Elizabeth to immediately craft this letter to Santa Clause.


It reads (typos corrected),  "Dear Santa:  I think Jackson is sick. He hasn't moved in to a new hiding spot. But if he is sick, I am reporting back to you.  (This is when she turns in to a total nark!) My brothers punch each other and my sister hates my clothes.  My mom is sick and thinks she is going to die. :(  Louie threw up today. My Dad is very happy and for me, I really don't know but I think I'm happy today. Those are all the reports I have today. Love, Liz L." 


Because I didn't a repeat of that situation,  I flew out of bed at the speed of a turtle on muscle relaxers, and rushed in to the living room.  My eyes quickly scanned the house and I did not see, nor hear, anyone that was awake yet.

The Elf was still perched on his ledge from the day before, and reaching up in one swift move, I snatched him off the shelf.   My plan was that I would "help" Jackson move to his new location.

What I did not see, however, was that laying right there in front of me, was one fully alert William who with his blonde hair and barren chest, was perfectly camouflaged against our beige couch.  He gasped loudly, "MOM! YOU TOUCHED HIM! YOU TOUCHED THE ELF!!"

For those not in the know, it is a cardinal sin to touch the Elf because doing so will zap them of their Christmas magic.  And yet, here I was, red-handed holding Jackson.   There was no disputing it, and yet I tried.  "Did you see how he just FELL right off the shelf? He toppled and I grabbed him out of the air!"  William shook his head and said, "No, he didn't fall off the shelf. I was just watching him and wondering why he didn't move and you GRABBED him! I saw you Mom, don't even try to deny it."

And I knew in that moment that I could continue my lie, or come clean and tell my son, who was highly suspicious of the whole Elf thing from the beginning, the truth.


So I summoned him in to the dining room, the most far removed room in the house, and I whispered, "William. I have something to tell you but you must promise you'll keep it a secret." He nodded in agreement, and taking a deep breath I said, "The Elf is not real. He's been created as a fun addition to Christmas, but he doesn't really fly back to the North Pole each night."

William seemed relieved to hear this and said, "OK, that's fine.  I get it."  Then he paused for a moment and asked, "But Santa's real, right?!"

"Of course Santa is real!" I said.  "Yes, of course absolutely positively. YES."

Because I wholeheartedly believe that. 


Fast forward a few days, and William very seriously asks, "Mom, you've got to tell me the truth. Is Santa real?"  My first course of action was to grab our book, "Yes, Virginia There Is A Santa Clause" and read to him about Santa is as real as love.  

But the more we talked, the more my skeptical son wanted to know if there is a man in a red suit that flies around the world on Christmas Eve, slides down chimneys, and delivers toys to children.  He wanted to understand the logistics, and spatial physics, of such an operation.

Again, I summoned him to a part of the house where we could talk quietly.  We sat on the edge of a bed and I said, "William, your first question is whether Santa is real.  The answer to that is YES." Then I paused and said, "Your second question is whether there is a man that flies around the world on Christmas Eve and slides down chimneys delivering toys to children." He gazed at me with big eyes and I paused again and had a feeling that is akin to RIPPING off a band-aid.

You've got to just do it. 

I cleared my throat and said, "The answer to that question is no. There is not a man that flies around the world in a sleigh and slides down chimneys on Christmas Eve."  He look bewildered and said, "But you just told me that Santa is real!"  Nodding I said, "Oh yes, Santa is real ... the spirit of Santa is very real!"  Then I pulled up my friend, Google, and looked up Santa Clause so I could read William the origins of Saint Nicholas.

As I scanned the page, I said, "He lived a long time ago and sold all of his belongings to give money to the poor. He was especially generous to children.  Let's see ... then he was put in jail .... um, was released from jail ... and then he died."

His eyes flew open and he cried, "Santa's dead?!"

Good heavens, am I totally incapable of having an age appropriate conversation with my children?!

Taking a moment to regain my composure and find my breath,  I explained, "No, wait a minute! Santa's SPIRIT is ALIVE in everyone who believes!  That's why we say, 'If you don't believe, you don't receive the gift of Christmas' ...  and I believe more than you could ever imagine! "

As my son sat next to me with tears streaming down his face, I rambled on about love, grace, kindness, giving ... and the real meaning of Christmas which is the birth of God in human form.  I'm sure if there was a fly on the wall, they would have told me it was a bit of a mess.

But I finally seemed to gain some traction when I told him that there is a special magic that comes with believing in a man that flies around the world in a sleigh on Christmas Eve, and then I winked and said, "Now, let's revisit your questions again.  Yes, Santa is real; that response is never going to change." Then I said, "And YES, {wink, wink} there is a man that flies around the world in a sleigh and delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve.  It's the most magical thing and he's coming to our house ... squee!!!... in three days!"

His teary eyes twinkled and with a smile he said, "Mom, you do a GREAT job with the ashes near the fire place and the boot marks. You really had me fooled."  Then he added, "Now I see why you want us to go to bed at 7:00 on Christmas Eve. You and Dad have a lot of work to do at night."  After he sat thinking for a moment, he concluded, "You can count on me to keep this magic quiet and to help get the other kids to sleep on Christmas Eve.  I'll be your Number One Elf!"

The more we talked, the more he came to understand why we do Toys for Tots each year. He'd always wondered why Santa didn't bring those children gifts, and now he understands there are families who are not able to provide gifts for their children. He also understood why this year, our small group from church adopted a low-income nursing home - and brought gifts for 74 seniors and stood singing carols for them in their dining room - because they might not otherwise receive anything this holiday season.


This morning, I took the boys on our annual outing to the mall so we could pick out gifts that they could give to their sisters.  As we were checking out at Macy's, we asked the 50-something year old cashier if she was ready for Christmas.  In this day and age, that seems like a bold thing to ask a perfect stranger, but given her Christmas-esque sweater, I felt pretty confident she would be celebrating the holiday.

She nodded and said, "Yes, I'm ready."  Then she hesitated and added, "I didn't do any shopping this year."  Our eyes locked and she continued, "Things are very tight for me and I just couldn't...." her voice trailed off and she looked down at the register.

Every so often this feeling comes over me, like a little nudge on my heart.  Taking a quick inventory of my situation, I see that I'm standing in Macy's with my two beautiful and healthy little boys, enjoying the first week of our two full weeks off for the holiday season, and all I could think was that everything I need, I already have in abundance.

So when the clerk handed me back my debit card, I handed her the cash that I had in my wallet. It wasn't much, but enough that she looked confused.  I gently touched her arm and said, "Merry Christmas. Hopefully, you can use this for something."

Her expression went from a look of confusion, to one of surprise, to disbelief as she shook her head and couldn't speak.  The boys piped up, "Merry Christmas!" as we collected our bags. While we walked back to our car, William squeezed my hand and said, "Mom, that was so awesome.  As far as this Elf is concerned, you're at the very TOP of the nice list!"

Considering I haven't had the most stellar parenting moments as of late (in addition to being especially short-fused, not sure anything can top, "Santa is dead?!") ... I accept his heartfelt sentiment as evidence that Christmas miracles really do exist.