It all began innocently enough. The other kids in school all had elves on their shelves, and Jack was starting to feel unloved by Santa. So we caved. I remember saying to myself at the time, “This is ONLY until Christmas. This one time.”
Jack named him “Elfred.”
Elfred, Jack’s BFF for 3 years. Styrofoam cup crown, Magic Loom (TM) belt and bracelet designed by Jack. Dried, unidentifiable dairy product on left sleeve also fashioned by Jack.
We were diligent about moving Elfred to different spots in the house every morning before Jack got up. Elfred was really active. I refused to give into the staged mini-marshmallow snowball fights, and the flour sprinkled on the countertops and the floor to mimic all manner of after-hours elf naughtiness. Those shenanigans were best left to those overachieving mother-of-the-year types. (Okay, so some empty wine bottles may have been blamed on Elfred, now that I think back on it.)
On Christmas three years ago, Santa gave Jack an iTouch, with a special engraving on the back from Elfred, telling Jack that he was Elfred’s “best friend.” Jack beamed with Christmas joy. Unfortunately, “Santa Dave” didn’t consult with me first before accompanying this gift with a beautiful, calligraphy fonted letter from Elfred on linen paper, announcing that as of this Christmas, Elfred would be living with us year-’round.
The thought balloon above my head replayed Ralphie in that flat tire scene from A Christmas Story: “Oh…FUDGE…” My spirited chat with Santa Dave later that evening teed me up for a five-course meal of Life Buoy soap.
So this Elfred charade went on for three excruciatingly long years. Like any busy adults, we got careless. It happens. We’d forget to move Elfred for days–even weeks–on end. Jack was getting increasingly upset by Elfred’s lethargy, convinced his little elven buddy was dying. One morning, in my attempt to explain it away, I blurted out, “Well, he gets his magic from the North Pole, right? We just need to put him in the fridge to regain his magic!” Jack was satisfied with that answer. Problem solved. But every time I opened the fridge, I would startle, not expecting to see that creepy little elf face staring me down. Elfred became dieting MAGIC.
This past fall at nearly age 10, Jack finally looked me squarely in the eye one day and asked me to tell him the truth about Santa. Dave would have kept it going until Jack was in his senior year of college, but I established early on in our relationship that if Jack wanted to know the truth about something, I was the go-to parent. (Naturally, this has created many awkward moments when Jack has asked me for definitions to certain words. When I answer him truthfully, I usually get an “Oh, Mama, I’m sick to my stomach…I have to go lie down,” but I have remained steadfast in this role.)
If those of you reading this have children who are asking if YOU are Santa, one of my more mother-of-the-year-type friends shared this well-written explanation she found on Pinterest, which she just gave to her own daughter:
Dear (Insert Child’s Name Here),
Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”
I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.
The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.
I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)
I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.
This won’t make you Santa, though.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.
Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.
With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.
So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.
I love you and I always will.
P.S. As for Elfred, the last I heard, he joined a motorcycle gang out of Albuquerque. If you cross him, you’ll know him by that tell-tale stain on his left sleeve.