“Becoming Santa” was originally posted on December 20, 2016. Life was pretty rough for us last year, and I couldn’t have been happier to see 2016 go. Then 2017 happened, and it was like a wild ride on a rollercoaster with high highs and low lows that now feels like it’s picking up steam to crash head-on into 2018. I’m again unemployed, searching desperately for a job after Irma wrecked Florida and our life in the Keys, we have to move out of here to who even knows where (because where do we go when I don’t have a job to relocate around and only have $2500 to my name), spawn is doing homeschool and feeling homesick, we have no contact at all with extended family to the north, and my closest friends are struggling with unemployment, ugly divorces and the godawful, unimaginable sudden loss of a child. I keep saying that I really hope we all had a blast in whatever previous life landed us all with this kind of craptastic karma; it better have been worth it.
Last night, Spawn told me that he wishes it wasn’t Christmas, and it would go away. He’s feeling down and unsettled, and so am I. He wants so desperately to believe in Santa and magic and that things will get better. He’s again suffering with depression and anxiety. Limbo is hard, and the future feels uncertain. I’ve told him this is going to be a “light” year, and to keep his expectations in check because keeping a roof over our heads in some capacity is more important than stuff in boxes, and finances are not looking promising. But I was again looking at a little boy near tears and feeling helpless to well, help. So I reminded him of this story, and how so many people helped us that we were able to help other people, too. We talked about how people can be really good and how that doesn’t always make the news. We listed all of the things for which we are very grateful. And we thought about how the universe and God and the great Cthulu probably didn’t make things fall into place to get us to Florida just to see us be homeless under a bridge in Miami on Christmas Eve. At least, that’s what I hope, and that’s the story I’m selling him. Me? I’m not feeling so sure.
Becoming Santa, 2016
Fifteen days before Christmas, the spawn’s Xbox died. How it died is a matter of great debate at the Gamestop in Wayne, where Rob and Jeff dismantled it, did techno-CPR and tried to bring it back to life. Alas, it was pronounced dead, along with its warranty.
I pronounced to the spawn that I had no way to replace it, and he was going to have to sell some toys if he wanted another. The kiddo’s had a hard time lately. He was in the hospital for Thanksgiving week. Already struggling with some serious depression and anxiety, he agreed to sell some of his toys, and I listed them on FB Yard Sale sites. Then he got sadder, and he got quieter, and he decided he didn’t really want it back at all. 2016 was not Spawn’s year, and on top of this, they had just found a furever home for a foster dog he loved and wanted to keep, and Tank had moved away.
And as I do, I posted an update about the awesomeness that is the staff at that GameStop, and Friend read it and offered to replace the Xbox. I was reluctant because she had already helped so much, but I accepted after I thought about it. I hate receiving financial help, but I’m torn when it’s things for him. For me? I don’t want anything except for wine, even boxed, delivered anonymously to my patio with straws because I don’t know how to do IVs. But for him? Another friend had already offered to put together Christmas for him while he was hospitalized, so it’s not like there was nothing in the works. But replacing that machine? Not in my budget of $58 for the rest of December.
So, I went with the gift card, and with the generous trade in on the other machine (have I mentioned how great that GameStop is) and the Minecraft game that was stuck inside of it, I was able to upgrade to an Xbox One and buy him one game that he’d asked for before the catastrophe. I hid it all away with the other things that people had been dropping off here and there, and that I’d picked up with gift cards that people had given me, and I started messaging another friend that my closet was beginning to look like the storeroom at a ToysRUs. People are very generous. People love the spawn.
But the spawn became more and more insistent that he did not want the damned Xbox back. “It’s lonely to have it in my room,” he said. “Other kids can be mean on it,” he said. Okay, true. I get it. But all I’m thinking is that there is a super-expensive piece of equipment in the Closet Where Christmas Exploded that has a return policy. And said return policy is one week. Tick tock, mama. I felt the parental panic that I’d totally screwed things up and gotten him something really big that he didn’t even want.
Yesterday, before he came home from school, I wrapped it up, and I put it under the tree. I’ve long done the Twelve Days of Christmas (or some variation) with him, giving him gifts in the weeks leading up to CHRISTMAS DAY when Santa delivers something special. It gives him a chance to savor each thing, and it prevents the overwhelm you see on some Christmas mornings.
“What’s that?” he asked me, looking at the box. “Is it for me?”
“We need to talk,” I told him. “I’m afraid it’s something you don’t want, and I need to be able to take it back if it’s not. So you’re going to have to make a decision.”
“Is it from Santa?” he asked, looking at it more closely. “Is it an Xbox?”
I turned that one over in my mind for a moment. I’ve been ambivalent about Santa. My mother planted that seed. Her philosophy was that while Santa is magical, parents work hard to provide things for their kids, and they deserve some credit for that. The jolly old elf shouldn’t be the hero. And I’ve added to that my musings about how to justify why Santa brings some children a hat and mittens and a puzzle and other kids…well, let’s say I struggle to reconcile all of that.
“Yes, it’s from Santa,” I said. “It’s from Santa Friend’s Family. They wanted to make sure that you had one, but now you’ve said you don’t want one, and I need to bring it back if you don’t.”
Spawn tore the paper from the box, and he just sat for a few minutes, hands on the box, looking at the tree. I couldn’t quite tell, but it looked like he was ready to cry. Spawn does not cry easily. My unease grew.
“Buddy, it’s okay if you don’t want it. It can go back to GameStop, we’ll have the money on a gift card, and when you decide what system you want, we can go get it. No pressure.”
He turned to me, and he was crying. And then he gave me the biggest hug.
“I want to call her and say thank you,” he choked out through his tears. “Please, can I write her the best thank you note ever? I never dreamed I could have one. I was afraid I never would, so I said I didn’t want it.”
I hugged him back, as hard as he was hugging me.
“Of course, we’ll write her the best thank you note ever,” I told him. But the truth is that he has no idea how much gratitude I feel for her and her family and their kindness, and the least of it is for the game system. But that’s adult stuff for another time.
He sat back down and held the box, and then began to open it so carefully I wondered if there was hope he’d someday be a surgeon. But then he stopped.
“Mom?” he asked.
“I want to be Santa now. I want to be Santa for a kid who doesn’t think he’s getting anything,” he said. “Can I be Santa for someone this year? I don’t want one other thing than this. I’m the luckiest kid in the world. I want to give everything else to other kids so they have Santa, too.”
My heart stopped then. And my eyes welled up. Oh, kiddo, you do rock. You have no idea how much, but you do.
“Sure,” I said, choked up myself. “I’ll see what I can do.”
He kissed me twice last night. On the forehead. Spawn is very affectionate and generous with hugs and snuggles, but he hasn’t given me a kiss in a long time. He carefully set up the system, and he kept thanking me and wanting to thank Friend. I had picked things up for him from another Friend, carefully chosen for him, and those would be his. They were hidden away. But all of the rest?
The kind folks at the food pantry had more gifts for him this morning, and while I was there, CHOP called to tell me that as part of a huge and unexpected toy donation, they had a box of things for the kiddo that they were dropping off. So I started to think, seriously, about to whom we could be Santa. At this late date, I figured most places would be covered. And none of my local friends was likely to know anyone in need.
So I called the guidance counselor at the spawn’s school, whom I love and who helped give rise to THE KRAKEN, and I explained that I was right at that moment staring into the abyss that is the Closet Where Christmas Exploded and that even more stuff was expected tomorrow and the next day, and that the spawn really wanted to be Santa but I didn’t know anyone in need and I thought maybe she did.
And dontcha know that she knew two families who have nothing for Christmas. One of them has not had any kind of Christmas for two years because of unemployment, and the teachers had gotten them a tree but were not allowed to give gifts. I know how that feels. So I said that spawn and I would like to be Santa for them.
The next night, Spawn and I sat and sorted through the “extra” gifts. We unwrapped them and packed them into the car along with wrapping paper and some gift cards to grocery stores that we’d been given but didn’t need as much as those families needed a holiday meal. I drove him to school the next morning a few minutes late, and the guidance counselor and principal met us at the door and helped us make trip after trip with the goodies.
“Spawn,” the guidance counselor said to him, “This is an amazing thing that you are doing. The kids who are going to get these things don’t even think Santa is real. But you’re going to make them believe again. What you are doing is awesome. You are making magic for them.”
Spawn looked down. He doesn’t like compliments. He doesn’t like to hear about other people suffering. He’s a sensitive soul. He asked her if she was sure the kids would like the presents, and she assured him. She told him that their dad was coming soon to pick them up, and he couldn’t thank us enough for being Santa for them.
And then I felt the familiar chills that I think means that you are doing what the universe or God or whatever you believe in wants you to be doing, and even I felt a little bit of hope.
And that’s how the child went from believing in Santa to becoming Santa.
If you’d like, and if you can, and oh please, you can make a donation to The Kraken Fund to help us keep The Kraken going and move to a permanent place after the havoc of Irma!