The Question

 

I should have seen it coming.

It’s basically a rite of passage that nearly every child must face, and my son is, after all, a very smart fourth-grader. Besides, he’s my third child; I’ve done this twice before and I should have been better prepared.

This time, it hurt. Maybe it’s because he’s my baby, my last little one, my late-in-life “bonus” child. Or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more emotional now than I was ten years ago when his siblings asked The Question.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They never really asked. They just sort of figured it out and made the transition without any kind of trauma or fallout. I guess I expected it to go just as smoothly this time around.

Yesterday, my little Rooster looked at me with those great big blue eyes that are impossible to lie to, and he asked me in his direct way, “Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

I wish he’d asked me if Santa is real. That would have been easier to answer.

santa
Ah, the good old days!

 

 

Do I believe in Santa?

I was eight years old when I asked my mom for the truth. She wasn’t always a great mother, but she had a few moments of brilliance, and that was one of them. I remember how she explained to me that Santa is indeed real. Not as a jolly fat man in a red suit, she explained, but in the spirit of giving to others. He’s real in our hearts as long as we keep him alive in the joy of Christmas morning, in the happiness that comes with believing in something that we can’t see or touch or prove. As long as we believe in magic.

I realize now that she borrowed pretty heavily from Francis Church’s 1897 editorial assuring a little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but it did the job. I felt so grown up when she trusted me with the truth, and even more so when she woke me up at midnight to help her put the presents under the tree. It’s one of my best Christmas memories.

So I would have known how to answer my son if he had asked me if Santa is real. I like to think I would have been just as helpful (if unoriginal) as Mom was.

But do I believe in Santa?

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! … Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

 

I used to believe. Even as an adult, rushing around to get the gifts and make the food and dress the kids in their holiday best before hurrying off yet to another family gathering with this aunt or that grandma or those aunts and uncles and cousins. In the midst of the whirlwind, I believed.

In Polar Express, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Oh, the true spirit of Christmas was in my heart!

Christmas is different now for my little Rooster than it was for his brother and sister, who are a decade older. There are fewer family gatherings, and the family that gathers is so much smaller now. The few remaining members of my side of the family tree don’t even get together for holidays any more; my ex-husband’s side has drifted over the years until my youngest barely even knows his cousins.

There have been divorces and remarriages and deaths; children have grown up and moved out and become adults with lives of their own, and something about Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas any more.

It’s just Rooster and me in my little apartment now. I thought about getting a smaller tree this year and not even dragging out the big boxes of ornaments and decorations. After all, it’s not like anyone will actually see any of them. It’s just him and me now. Is it even worth it to haul out the Christmas mugs and the homemade ceramic nativity set? The latch hook toilet cover? The Christmas quilt I sewed for Aunt Marian?

Is it really worth it?

Do I believe in Santa?

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.

— Polar Express

I must have hesitated too long. My little boy crawled under the rocking chair and refused to look at me. “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.”

So did I, Sweetheart. So did I. 

“I don’t want to do Christmas this year,” he added.

My heart broke, just a little.

His father arrived shortly after that to pick him up, and we talked about it as a family. A fractured family, perhaps, but still a family. Rooster seemed to perk up a little bit before crawling out of his hiding place. A year ago, he would have curled up on my lap and dried his tears on the front of my shirt; this year, he wants desperately to prove that he is too old for that. A quick hug, and he was out the door before I realized that I had never actually answered him.

Do I believe in Santa?

I don’t know how long I sat there alone, asking myself that question. Long enough for it to get dark outside, dark enough for me to see the Christmas lights in the park in the center of my little town.

The lights reminded me of my family’s tradition of visiting Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park to see the decorations every year. My sisters and I would race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” and slide down the little snowy hill between the Wisemen and their camels. We’d snicker every year about the cracks and chipped paint on the faces of Mary and Joseph before dashing away to gaze in awe at all the lights on the trees — especially the giant Salvation Army tree.

Most of those trees were destroyed with the tornado went through downtown Kalamazoo in 1980. That cheesy old Nativity scene is long gone, and there are no more decorations placed on the snowy hill because it turned out to be an Indian burial mound. It’s the same park, but it’s not the same.

Or is it?

It’s still Christmas. Different trees, different decorations, different ways of celebrating. We can still go to Kalamazoo and race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” or catch a ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley, or we can stay right here in our own town and attend the tree-lighting party in the park, surrounded by our friends and neighbors.

We can make new traditions because it’s still Christmas.

It’s still Christmas, and we have each other, and we have memories, new and old. We still love each other, despite divorce and distance and paths that have taken some of us in different directions. There are moments of sadness, it’s true, but there are moments of joy as well, and it’s up to us to hang on to all of those moments and cherish them for what they are.

Do I believe in Santa?

Absolutely.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

Coffee or Tea?

coffee2

If we were having coffee this morning, you’d probably have to fend for yourself. Yes, it’s been one of those mornings.

My Sunday began a little before seven a.m., when I rolled over in bed and found a pair of big blue eyes mere inches away from my own. They were sparkling and oh-so-wide-awake. Disturbingly wide-awake. Terrifyingly wide-awake.

“Hey, Mom!” the boy chirped. “I wondered if you were ever gonna wake up.  Can we go watch TV? Have you had your coffee yet? Are you gonna make waffles today? ‘Cuz we’re out of cereal. We still have the Cheerios stuff but everybody else ate the good strawberry stuff and I never got any of it at all. Can we go to the Amish store and get some more of it ‘cuz it’s really good and it’s my favorite and I never get any because everybody else always eats it before I get any. We have some Lucky Charms but I don’t want it because I already ate  the marshmallows and now it’s just cereal. I don’t want eggs though ‘cuz it takes too long to make ‘em and I’m really hungry and aren’t you ever gonna get outta bed?”

I like to think I said something wise and motherly that fully demonstrated my love for this, my youngest child. In reality, however, I think there’s a pretty good chance I said something along the lines of “I have to pee.”

I haven’t really made coffee in my new place yet. I’ve basically switched to tea for a lot of reasons that sort of escaped me this morning. I dug around in the cupboards for the parts and bits and pieces of the coffeemaker, jammed them together, dug some more for the filters, and scraped the last bits of cheap dollar store coffee out of the bottom of the Folger’s can where I store it to trick myself into thinking I’m drinking the good stuff.

Now I’m somewhere in the middle of my third cup, and Little Man is polishing off his first. Oh, don’t judge me; it’s more milk than coffee, and it’s not as though a little caffeine is going to give him that much more energy. He can’t have more energy than he has at this moment. He’s already vibrating. He’s also playing some game in the living room that involves Matchbox cars, a stuffed camel, and a giant penguin that keeps playing “Let it Snow” on an endless loop that is seriously lacking in volume control.

The energy is a good sign, honestly. He’s settling into our new home and getting enough sleep, and I just don’t think he knows what to do with himself now that he’s fully-rested. He loves his “new” bed here, and I think this may be the first time in months that he’s actually been sleeping all night long without getting up in the night to crawl in with me or one of his siblings.

The coffee is really pretty bad, I’m afraid. If you really want to share some, you’re probably going to need some sugar and milk. Maybe a shot of whiskey, if I had any. Perhaps I should have offered tea?

I have some flavored coffee beans we could try if I hadn’t given the Princess my coffee grinder when she left for college. She was so excited about those blueberry-muffin-flavored coffee beans she bought herself, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the hammer-and-rolling-pin method she devised on her own.

She seems to be settling into college life pretty well. She sent me a copy of a paper she wrote about her Great-Aunt Marian, and I was a sobbing wreck by the time I finished reading it, so it would seem that she’s making a good start in that class, at least. She also seems to be pretty happy with Mr. Nice Guy, the newest man in her life. I don’t know much about him beyond the fact that he makes my daughter happy and he treats me with respect, and that’s enough.

My oldest son, the Dark Prince, seems to be settling into his Senior year as well. I can’t believe this hulking 6’3” young man with the size 14 EEEE feet is is the same little boy who taught himself — and all the other daycare kids — to ride a bike because his father and I weren’t teaching him fast enough. I can still see him whizzing around in circles on that little green Hulk bike.

Riding in a straight line presented a few challenges for him, if I remember correctly, but he mastered it the way he has always mastered the challenges that face him. He’s now in the running for a really big scholarship, and I’m busily crossing fingers, toes and everything else in hopes that the opportunity pans out for him.

So . . . life is going on.

It was an awful summer. One of the worst ever. But I survived, and I’m moving forward. Oh, we’re still tripping over boxes, and I’m starting to think I’ll never get all of our clothes put away, but we’re settling in and doing okay. Not great yet, but okay.

Even without good coffee.

Tea can be good too. Different, but good in its own way. I just need to be okay with the idea that my life is sometimes going to have to be different too, but good in its own way.

Quiet Saturdays

I remember waking up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Back then, there was no Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, and the single fuzzy PBS station was a little too kid-friendly in slightly creepy and condescending sort of way.  I still have nightmares about that crazy Romper Room lady who insisted she could see us all in her mirror, although I’m also a bit pissed off that I never once heard her say “I see Amy.”

Sunday morning TV was a wash.  We could watch Rocky and Bullwinkle and try to understand all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor that usually sailed over our heads, or we could try to sit through the awkward stop-action Davey & Goliath that always left me feeling vaguely uneasy.

I always wanted to be the first one awake on Saturdays so I could see shows like Clue Club and Speed Buggy before my older sisters took over the TV.  My middle sister and I especially liked the live action shows; we both crushed on the little blonde boy from Sigmund the Sea Monster, and we spent hours re-enacting scenes from Isis and Shazam!  We all three loved playing Bugaloos, but I always had to be the little fat firefly kid whose butt refused to light up.  I never got to be the pretty princess or even Witchipoo from H.R Puffnstuff.

No, I take that back.  I got to be the princess one time, and wore my favorite hand-me-down-dress with straps that tied on the shoulders.  The little neighbor boy came over to play, and I remember him staring at me with buggy eyes and crooning, “You look beautiful!  Will you go swimming with me?”

Ah, yes, my first date, at the ripe old age of five.

I could write volumes of blog posts about the lessons learned that day about beauty or male shallowness in the face of revealing summer clothes.  But I’ll take the high road here instead and go back to my Saturday mornings.

By the time I had kids, they had access to cartoons 24/7.  I always worked on Saturdays, so I usually didn’t see them until late in the afternoon on those days.  I only found out recently that my older kids used to tiptoe downstairs to watch Saturday morning shows after I left for work but before their father woke up for the day.  We had satellite TV, of course, but on Saturdays they turned off the satellite and watched the Saturday morning lineup on the same channels that I watched as a child.

They have the same kind of memories that I have:  wrapping up in an afghan on the couch, eating endless bowls of mushy cereal and watching TV with the volume turned down low to avoid waking their parents.  It didn’t matter that those same shows were available in a constant rotation on other channels during the week; Saturday morning TV has never been about the shows.  It’s about watching the shows, whatever shows they are.

Nutritionists and health experts are still bemoaning Saturday morning TV with as much vigor as they did in my era.  Of course kids are better off outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  Of course they shouldn’t eat multiple bowls of sugar-encrusted cereal in one sitting.  Everybody knows that.

But it creates a childhood memory, and isn’t that important, too?

Now, I am at my desk on a Saturday morning, catching up on my writing while I down my fourth cup of tepid coffee.  My teenagers are in their rooms upstairs, either sleeping in or playing on the internet with tablets and Galaxies and X-Boxes, oh my.  The Little Man spent last night with his cousin (and occasional partner in crime), and the house is shockingly, disturbingly quiet.  What I wouldn’t give to hear an annoying theme song right now; I don’t care if they’re singing  “Gotta catch ‘em all, gotta catch ‘em all!” or “Call me,  beep me, if you wanna reach me . . .”

My nest is getting empty, but never as empty as on this quiet Saturday morning.

Shoulda Coulda Woulda

Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.

 

Hoo boy.  I could write a novel about all of the things on that list.  Oh, wait.  Writing my novel is on the list too.

Now that my kids are all in school, my house should be spotless and my novel should be in the last stages of its final edit.  I should be able to prepare delicious meals for my family, complete with tasty desserts.  I should exercise, write letters to The Big Guy’s Great-Aunt, finish the baby quilt I am working on, read a good book.  I should reach out to old friends and family members that I haven’t seen in a while.  I should do volunteer work with all of this free time.

But . . . I don’t.

I can only blame just so much of it on chronic pain.  There are people out there in much worse shape than I am who manage to function.

It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to people who have never dealt with depression.  They ask me, “What do you do all day?” and I don’t know what to say.

“I sit here in this chair and think about all of the things I should be doing,” I should tell them.  “Most days, I cry a lot because I don’t know what to do or where to start.  I cry because I want to be a good wife and mother, a good person.  I want to do all of those things. . . but I don’t, and I don’t know why, and then I cry because I don’t want to be crying.”

I should explain to them that I spend my days making bargains with myself, trying to trick my will-power into getting back to work.  For every mindless half-hour of staring at the walls, I tell myself that I must do a chore.  Wash the dishes that never get completely done.  Fold the laundry that is wadded in the basket and should probably be re-washed.  Run the vacuum.  Go outside and go for a walk.  Write a chapter or a query letter or anything, for God’s sake.

Just get out of that chair and move.

And then it’s 3:00 and the kids will be home in a half-hour and I start to panic because nothing is done and I have to cook supper and make phone calls and scramble to cover up the evidence of my inactivity.  I have to dry the tears and get dressed and pretend that I remembered to shower.

I have to make up stories about my busy day to explain what they see as my being lazy.  I have to make excuses and try to act “normal” and then bow my head in shame in the face of the irritation and impatience and downright anger from the people who just don’t get it.

I should tell the world that I don’t want to live this way.  This isn’t my choice.

Depression is an illness, not a choice.    Who would choose to live like this?

I should be able to move on and stop dwelling on things.  Stop talking about and re-living the car accident that changed my life.  Stop grieving for the career that I lost—for everything that I lost –the night I broke my neck.  Stop feeling sorry for myself.  Stop missing Mom and Dad and Marian and Jennifer and Kristy and all of the people I loved who died too young, too soon.  Stop regretting  the way my life has turned out.

I should surround myself with positive people and read books that lift my soul.  I should pray harder and ask God for His help.

More than anything else, I should admit to myself and the world that I am suffering; I should accept that the time has come for me to ask for help.

I should step away from the computer and make a phone call.