I was sitting on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table, drinking a screwdriver. The dishes were all ready washed; the leftovers packed away in the fridge; and the trash can was emptied. All that was left to do was to check out the tv listings and see what shows were on to entertain me. But before I could read the listings, the phone rang. It was one of my older sisters number.
I debated whether or not I should answer the telephone. I wondered what my sister wanted. We aren't particularly close. I mean, we love each other, but we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Most of my older siblings are not really close to the three of us who are the youngest, my two brothers and I. It might have to do with the age differences. I mean, most of my older siblings are more than ten years older than the three of us who were the youngest. Somehow, our older siblings feel like they had the right to tell us young'uns what to do, always judging us, like we were still children. News flash, we're not children, and we're not your kids, either! It's like they're always looking down on us, thinking that they're better somehow. Nothing we ever do is good enough for them. Not that their lives are any less chaotic than ours. I mean, they make mistakes, too. I just don't care to listen to them go on and on about what they want me to do. My life, my choices.
It does bother them when I don't listen to their instructions. When they start bitching at me, I enjoy telling them, you're not my mommy or my daddy! You can't tell me what to do! When I'm feeling really mischievous, I like to say, you're not the boss of me! It's not that I don't love them, I mean, I do. It's just that I don't care for their judgments and their interference in my life. I've learned to ignore their attitudes and dismay at my decisions. I'm happy with my life, and I think it pisses them off that I don't listen to them, because I enjoy really making my own choices.
Most conversations with my sister end up with her telling me what do and expressing her disapproval. I didn't know if I wanted to pick up that ringing phone and talk to her tonight. I thought about letting the machine pick it up. If it was something important, then she'd leave a message. But at the last minute, before the answering machine kicked in, I picked up the phone instead.
I was surprised to hear that it wasn't my sister on the other end of the line. Rather it was my niece who had called me. At eight years old, she was the youngest of my sister's four kids. It was a surprise to hear her voice.
I wondered what was going on so I asked, "What's up? Everything all right?"
She was quiet, and said a tentative, "Yeah," but I could hear that anxiety in her voice, like she had something important she was trying to ask, but wasn't sure how to ask it.
So I bought her some time and asked, "What's everyone doing?"
She said, "Mommy's in the kitchen. Dad's in the office." Her siblings were either playing video games or watching tv.
So I gently asked her, "What's going on? Did you want to talk about something?"
She was quiet, but then completely surprised me by asking, "Is Santa Claus real?"
Well that was unexpected. But she was at that age where kids start to question things. I wasn't sure how to answer. So I asked her, "Well, why do ask?"
She said that some kids at school had said that Santa Claus wasn't real. And when she got home, she asked her older siblings, and they too said Santa was not real. When she asked her parents though, they both assured her that Santa was real. But she now had doubts. So, she thought she'd call me and see what I had to say about Santa Claus.
Oye, now I'm really wishing that I had let the answering machine pick up this call. My niece was having a crisis of faith--in things magical; and I wasn't sure I was the right person to help her. I mean, she was at that age where reality starts to tear away at mythical beliefs and magical wonder. I wasn't sure how to handle this. Should I be honest with her or let her enjoy that childhood fantasy just a little while longer? But wouldn't encouraging her to believe in Santa Claus hurt her more when she finds out that maybe we've lied to her?
When I was a child, the concept of Santa Claus confused me. I mean, I liked getting presents, but I had a hard time understanding why some old man in a red suit would give me presents and only on Christmas. And trying to get pictures with Santa was a confounding experience. I was very unsure about that, and I didn't want to do it. I'm supposed to sit on some old man's lap and tell him what I want for Xmas? I thought I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers! Hello? Mom, Dad, I'm getting conflicting messages here! We didn't have a chimney either, so I wondered, how would Santa get inside our house? So I asked my parents about that, and how would Santa know which house was ours? I was told, he was magic! And I believed it.
Of course, when I got a little older, I became more disturbed at the thought of Santa Claus. Have you ever listened to some of the lyrics of Santa Claus is coming to town? He knows when I'm sleeping or awake? He knows if I've been bad or good? Oh, my God! Is Santa spying on me? Is he watching me while I'm using the toilet or taking a shower! Is he following me around? Stalker! Are he and his minions listening in on private conversations and phone calls, reading personal mail like some secret, shady gov't organization? And why hasn't Santa been arrested for breaking and entering into sleeping people's homes? Isn't home invasion against the law? Just because he's leaving presents doesn't mean it's okay to break into someone's house. It's called trespassing!
But nevermind my issues with Santa Claus; this was my niece seeking answers. I just wasn't sure what to tell her. So I asked her, "What do you think? Do you believe there's a Santa Claus?"
She was quiet again, but then she said, "I don't know. Do you believe in Santa?"
Well, I thought about it; then I said, "You know, there are a lot of things in this world that we can't see or touch; but they're real. You can't see the wind but you can feel it. You can see a rainbow but you can't catch it. You can't see love but you know it when you feel it. That's like magic. You can't always see it, but you'll know it when you feel it."
"So Santa's like magic? He's real?", she asked.
I thought, aww, what the hell, why not?, "Santa's magic is real. You know why?"
"Why?", she asked.
"Because," I said, "Santa's magic comes from the spirit of giving. Christmas isn't just about getting presents. It's about being kind to people, doing something good for someone else. Because the spirit of Christmas is all about sharing. That's what Santa is all about. And when you give a present or do something really nice for someone, you're a part of Santa's magic. So long as you keep sharing and giving, you keep the magic alive."
Well, that seemed to make her happy; for now, she was satisfied and much more upbeat than when she first called. Then she asked if I wanted to speak to her mommy and I quickly said no, thanks, maybe some other time. So we said our good byes and hung up the phone. I finished my screwdriver and got up and fixed myself another. But before I sat back down to enjoy this one, I had one more task to do.
I pulled out a Xmas card and addressed it specifically to my niece. I wrote her a personal note and put in a 20 dollar bill. Well, the kid's had a rough experience, so she deserved a nice surprise. I'm sure her siblings will be jealous when she gets her card. It's been years since I bought any of my nieces and nephews individual gifts. There's just too many of them! Seriously, I've lost count! So I've been sending group gifts instead, something they could all enjoy. But this was a special case, and my niece deserves to be treated just a little extra special this Xmas. I wanted her to keep believing in the Christmas magic; I wanted her to maintain that child's sense of wonder and enthusiasm for fantasy and magic, that all things were possible if you believed.
Besides, it wasn't my place to take away her hopes and dreams and crush her fantasies. That job belonged to her parents!
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