Watching him come slowly to grips with what it means to be a kid was a lot of fun, largely because I never expected him to have to learn how to do it.
Child warms up to the idea of Santa Claus
Last year, my quirky little son was apprehensive (and kind of skeptical) about Santa Claus. He didn’t believe for one second that Santa would fit down the chimney, and he didn’t want a stranger in his house at night anyway.
"Can Santa just leave the presents on the porch?" he asked anxiously.
"Do we have to open presents outside in the cold?" I replied.
"No," he said, leveling his blue eyes at me as if I were just a tad dense. "You and Daddy will bring the presents inside."
Last Christmas, Jack was 3. The whole point of having a 3-year-old, as far as I was concerned, was getting to relive my childhood with the added bonus of access to credit cards and no one having the authority to tell me to stop eating cookies.
But Jack was not having it. He assured me he would certainly NOT be sitting in the lap of someone he had never met, and there would be NO wide-eyed acceptance of what he saw as the preposterous and vaguely threatening notion of a huge guy jumping down the chimney into our house while we’re all asleep.
He did like the idea of presents, but he said all he wanted was a truck.
"You have a lot of trucks," I said. "Can you think of anything else you might like? How about a scooter? Or a robot? Some puzzles? Or how about $1,000 in fresh, new $20 bills?"
He considered my offers, shook his head. "I think I just need another truck."
Also, he got tired of cookies really fast. He ate a couple and then announced he’d had enough. What self-respecting adult can sit on the couch pounding down sprinkled sugar cookies shaped like festive stuff while the 3-year-old abstains? (Well, I did it, but I’m not just eaten up with self-respect or anything.)
Last year, in my quest to interest Jack in something besides trucks, my son and I stopped at the neighborhood toy store one weekend. Santa was in a room at the back of the store posing for photos with kids.
"Let’s go see Santa," I suggested.
"You don’t have to sit on his lap or anything. You can just say hi to him. He’s really nice. You can tell him you want a truck."
Jack sighed. "OK."
I held my son as he peered warily into the room where Santa was parked on a low chair in front of a digital camera on a tripod.
"Hi, Santa," Jack said quietly. "Can you please leave the presents on the porch?"
But then Christmas morning came, complete with a bike and a train table and hilarious little wind-up toys that spun in furious circles on the dining room floor. Jack’s feelings about Santa took an abrupt turn. Santa was suddenly looking like a pretty good guy.
This year, my son headed into the holiday season with a vivid memory of last Christmas. He started asking me over the summer how long it would be until Christmas. He wanted to know what Santa was going to bring him for Christmas. He wanted to get a Christmas tree in September.
"Do you still want Santa to leave the presents on the porch?" I asked.
"No," he said. "Santa can come in."
The real breakthrough came when we were at the mall one recent cold weekend, riding the escalators for a cheap thrill. Jack spotted Santa on the ground floor and decided he wanted to go look at him.
"Just look," he said.
"OK," I said.
So we looked. We watched Santa as he entertained a parade of kids, some of them grinning, others shrieking in terror as their parents forced them into the big guy’s lap.
"Do I have to sit on his lap?" Jack asked.
"Nope," I said. "Not if you don’t want to."
We watched some more.
"I want to talk to Santa," Jack finally said. "But you have to hold my hand."
We stood in line, and when our turn came, we approached Santa slowly.
"This is Jack," I told the big man. "He’s a little shy, and he just wants to talk to you for a minute."
Jack was absolutely dumbstruck. Before I knew what he was doing, Santa lifted my son gently onto his lap and cajoled a few words out of him. The elf with the camera pushed a button. Jack managed to ask for a red train for Christmas and then climbed down.
"Wow," I told him as we waited for our photo. "That was amazing. You were so brave."
Jack nodded solemnly. "I am brave."
The photo is not typical Santa’s-lap fare. It shows my shy little son nervously twisting his fingers, ducking his head, almost smiling, as Santa leans in close to hear his few whispered words. It’s not the stuff Christmas cards are made of, but it’s a perfect memento of what turned out to be a very big day for my little boy.
Now, if I could just get him to help me eat all these Christmas cookies.