Thursday, November 3, 2011

Like a kid at Christmas: Dec. 22, 2002

I like stuff. I like to buy stuff and have stuff and give other people stuff and just generally enjoy stuff. I am an unapologetic consumer, which makes me an unapologetic fan of the holidays. Having kids gave me a whole new reason to love Christmas. Seeing it through their eyes is the best possible view of the annual holiday spectacle.

Christmas is more fun when you’re Santa Claus
    I was 9 years old when my baby sitter told me there was no Santa Claus.

    I tricked her into telling me by pretending I already knew. (One of several early signs that I was destined for a career in journalism.) We were talking about what I wanted for Christmas — more specifically, what Santa would bring me.

    "Duh, Lisa," I said in my most condescending 9-year-old tone. "I already know there’s no Santa. I’m not a baby."

    "OK," she said. "Just don’t tell your little brother."

    I had suspected for a few years, of course, that the whole thing was a made-up story perpetuated by adults to keep kids in line (extreme skepticism — another hallmark of the burgeoning journalist). But it was another thing entirely to have it confirmed.

    I felt both vindicated — Ha! I knew it! — and disappointed — Oh, no, really?

    I never let on that Lisa had blown the secret, never talked to my parents about it. Knowing the gifts were from my folks certainly didn’t stop me from ripping giddily into the wrapping paper every Dec. 25, nearly deranged by avarice. But I did stop dropping letters addressed to the North Pole in the mailbox and just started telling my mom what I wanted for Christmas.

    Now my son, Jack, who is 2 1/2, tells me this about Santa: "He brings Jack presents and cake." This is the first year he has really been able to appreciate the spectacle of the holidays, and watching him is so much fun it almost hurts.

    The arrival of the Christmas tree at our house last weekend prompted joy that verged on hysteria. Jack danced and jumped around the room, awkwardly hugged and kissed the tree, then pronounced it "poky and very green and big."

    Every morning he wakes up and trots immediately to the tree, demanding that I "make the lights twinkle." Any time a visitor stops in, he dashes to the tree and points to it — "Look, look, a Christmas tree!" — apparently worried someone might fail to notice the 8-foot-tall tree in his house.

    His unabashed wonder is teaching me one of the best lessons I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning: It is immeasurably more fun to be Santa than it is to believe in him.

    Knowing this has given me a new understanding of my own mom and dad. When I was a kid, Christmas morning always found my brother and me tearing into toys and games while our folks sat wrapped in their bathrobes, blinking sleepily, until one of us scrounged up a package for them to open, which usually contained some really scintillating gift, like socks or the Three-Volume Biography of Some Important Dead Guy.

    Yuck, I thought. It must be horrible to be a grown-up.

    My parents always wanted to do the craziest things on Christmas morning, like drink coffee, eat breakfast, take a shower or, astoundingly, sleep. It seemed downright pitiful to me, the way they treated that day like any other — as if mundane chores like eating and sleeping and bathing mattered on Christmas.

    Later, when I was a teenager, I still felt sorry for my parents at Christmas because I always came away with a stack of new CDs and cool clothes while Dad had to settle for ties and underwear (yes, really), and Mom got ceramic cats and lapel pins.

    Even after I grew up, I looked forward to my Christmas haul. It was the only way I figured a 24-year-old could justify asking her mother to buy her a new outfit. And later, my husband, after a shaky start, turned into a really wonderful giver of gifts — largely because he works in a store that is crammed with stuff I want.     

This year, however, budgets are tight all around, and there’s nothing in this world we need more than we need to save money. Jack will get some toys to add to his collection, but no one is buying anything big. My parents are planning a slim Christmas, and my husband and I have made a pact not to buy each other anything at all.

    A few years ago I might have been disappointed, but now I don’t care a bit. If I never get another Christmas present from anyone, it won’t matter. All I want is to sit in my bathrobe, blinking sleepily, and watch Jack as he marvels that Santa somehow knew he would love to get a car carrier truck and a puzzle shaped like a fire engine for Christmas.

    That’s what my son has given me for Christmas this year, and for every year when the sight of a tree in his house can set him dancing. Seeing him happy is the happiest I have ever been.

    Thanks, Jack. Merry Christmas, little boy.

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