Santa’s little helper

“Dear Santa,” my then 3-year-old dictated as I did the copying.

It was my child’s first conscious Christmas, and she wanted her letter to the big man to be perfect. “How is the North Pole?” she continued, making a little light conversation before launching into the clincher. Skyler had only one wish for that biggest day of the year – the one morning when she could have her own personal treasure trove – one piece of precious cargo to find waiting under the tree.

“For Christmas, I would like a blue lollipop,” she said aloud. “Please don’t let my Dad hide it, and please don’t bring me any coal. Love, Skyler.”

Skyler then smiled, pulled back and looked at the sheet in my hand. “OK, Dad, now show me where it says, ‘blue lollipop,’” she said sternly, fearing I’d done a little creative secretarial work. I showed her, neatly folded the letter, and dropped it into the fireplace per Sands family tradition, swearing the pieces of ash would reconstitute after they’d blown north. Sadly, “Santa” did not receive the message in full. Somewhere over the Corn Belt, our ashes apparently got disrupted and the word “blue” plummeted to Earth.

Call me a hippy, but this St. Nick was reluctant to put Blue No. 2, aka “indigotine,” anywhere near my toddler’s open mouth. So it was that my daughter spent Christmas morning sucking on an agave pop, complete with a light trace of blue, and tasting her first hint of holiday disappointment.

That was by no means my first miss as Kris Kringle, I’m sorry to report. I’ve actually had a long history of underacting in my reluctant role as Santa.

My first trip into the red suit and bushy beard was way back in the second grade, on the eve of a stunning, breakout theater performance. Like many lucky children, I’d landed the lead role and starred as Santa in our local production of “The Night Before Christmas.” Unfortunately, Skyler’s not the only one with hippy parents.

You see, my folks always managed to cut a few corners ’round Christmas time, and the big community pageant was no exception. Thanks to help from my own personal costume department, I walked on stage wearing a pair of skin tight, bright red long johns (Let’s just say that the largest present in my sleigh was not my 7-year-old package). Rounding out the ensemble were a dozen cotton balls taped to my young face, a bright red Doobie Brothers T-shirt and a burgundy ski hat with the remaining cotton ball taped to its limp tip. In spite of my rosy red cheeks of shame, skin-tight Santa brought the house down in unexpected fits of laughter. “On Flasher, On Vixen, On Crasher and Circumcision … .”

Stage fright aside, I have managed to crawl back into the red and white suit on each of the past seven Christmas Eves. Yep, this jolly old elf has snuck everything from that barely-blue sucker to my daughter’s first mountain bike and ski setups under the tree.

There were the early years – the gravy seasons – when the brightly colored paper and ribbon stole the show, and expensive gifts were discarded for bits of mylar and tinsel. Not long after, a St. Nick-in-law sent my child a purple rain slicker and a matching undersized umbrella, a gift so unusual she dubbed it a “hang glider” before crash landing the flying machine into Dad’s annual gift – a bottle of high-end reposado. And there was the fateful year when a mischievous elf snuck the complete Barney the Dinosaur Christmas Treasury under the tree. It was to be the first gift that my toddler truly embraced and the first that nearly sent me and my beloved scampering for the padded cell. Luckily, the elf made a return appearance a month later and spirited the fuzzy T-Rex and his happy lisp down to the Bondad landfill, one vital step closer to an overdue extinction.

This year has been a little different. Maybe my 7-year-old’s started to see through the disguise, but Christmas morning has been a little blurry in the Sands house. After several attempts to sit down and pen her letter, we’d come up empty and couldn’t quite get a grasp on Skyler’s Christmas wish list.

She had uttered the usuals – another kitten, real live pony and visit to the set of “High School Musical” have all gotten air time. The bizarre words “Zhu Zhu” had even sounded inside in our house (we’re still waiting for translation), but nothing had taken form.

The dawn finally broke last Saturday, just as Mr. & Mrs. Claus were about to give up hope and close the workshop. There at the 11th hour, my little woman finally said, “I’ve decided what we’re going to write, Dad.”

I passed her the notepad, sharpened a pencil and sat back and watched as she scrawled, “Dear Santa. How are your rain deer? This year I have a speshul wish. Please send me money.”

I saw the words hit paper, gulped down a mouthful of coal and watched as my inner Kringle deflated. Money? What kind of parent’s kid asks for money? I pointed the finger inward, fearing I’d failed not only as St. Nicholas, but as a father.

Unaffected, Skyler’s pencil continued on down the page. “I need 13 new dollars,” she wrote, pausing to think and then added, “or else Mom and Dad won’t get presents. Santa, please help me get gifts for my family. Love, Skyler.”

I’m not sure if Santa got the full message, but I certainly did. And I have a sneaking feeling that blue lolly will finally find its way into someone’s stocking this year. I know that I’m holding out for a fresh pair of tightie reddies. I hope Santa’s little helper got my list.

– Will Sands

 

 

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