It's Christmas Eve, the kids are in bed, and David and I are about 45 minutes from collapse ourselves...but for some reason tonight I was thinking about a Christmas that happened when I was somewhere between eight and 11, on the cusp between childhood and adolescence.
My mom was big on Santa Claus. At Christmas she did all kinds of things to encourage our belief in him: she would ring bells in the hall outside our doors on Christmas Eve to convince us the elves were there; she talked to Santa on the phone; she helped us write letters to Santa; she encouraged us to look at a map of North America and figure out his progress over the course of Christmas Eve (since of course he came straight to our neighborhood; how he made it everywhere else was not an issue I bothered much about). One memorable year, she even got some boots, rubbed the soles in ashes from the fireplace, and made ashy footprints all over the carpet in the living room as proof that Santa had indeed come down the chimney.
Some people may say that this was a dangerous thing, that no parent should have gone to such lengths to perpetrate a myth, that when the truth came out the child would be disappointed and angry. Not true, at least not for me. At some point, of course, I figured out there was no Santa, and I was disappointed. But mostly I was impressed with the lengths my mom had gone to while the magic had lasted.
The Christmas I'm speaking of happened one year when I had pretty much reached the conclusion there was no Santa, but I had not actually said so out loud. I wanted there to be a Santa so much that giving him up was painful, and I enjoyed the mystery. On this particular Christmas Eve, I remember sitting with my mother on my parents' bed in their darkened bedroom, looking out the window over the neighborhood, and "seeing" Santa visit all the other houses. I saw him go to Jimmy Blacks' house, and Brenda Culverson's house, and Jimmy and Leanne Pitts' house, and then to my grandparents' house next door. And then he flew away--because, my mother suggested, he realized I was at the window watching him. He would be back later, after I was asleep. I wasn't seeing anything, of course, but the pretense was magical. And it was a moment we shared, just the two of us.
The next year I was too old for such nonsense, and for years after that I thought of that incident as just an example of my mom's silly side. I think I had to become a mother myself to truly appreciate what she did for me that night. My mother never went to college; she was orphaned during the Depression and I am reasonably sure that there was never a moment in her own childhood when she enjoyed a similar moment of magic. Her childhood was so deprived that at one point she and her sister ate out of garbage cans to stay alive. But somehow this woman who had been given so little in life found a piece of imagination and creativity to pass along to me, along with the unspoken message that imagination and creativity were qualities that could create new realities in a humdrum world. It was a kind of faith that there was a reality beyond what our senses can tell us. Where she got this insight I do not know, but she gave it to me, and it's a gift I'll never forget.
Merry Christmas, all you moms out there.