Visit to Santa brings a few moments peace

by Brian Clarey

‘“He lives in the North Pole.’”

‘“Yes he does,’” I say to my 3-year-old. ‘“But what if I were to tell you that Santa Claus was here in town today?’”

‘“Santa Claus lives in the North Pole.’”

‘“That’s right. He lives in the North Pole. But I heard he was here in town today. In Greensboro.’”

He just looks at me.

‘“Where we live,’” I add.

He considers this for a moment.

‘“No,’” he says. ‘“Santa Claus lives in the North Pole.’”

I give up. He’s got it set in his mind that Santa’s in the North Pole just like he’s got it set that the word ‘machine’ is actually pronounced ‘“bachime’” and there’s nothing I can do to convince him otherwise. He’s just going to have to see for himself.

We pick his brother up from kindergarten and he too is skeptical.

‘“You sit on his lap and tell him what you want,’” I say.

‘“On his lap?’”

‘“It’s no big deal. You just climb on his lap and tell him what you want for Christmas.’”

‘“But he knows what I want. I already sent him a list. Everything I writed on my list.’”

‘“I remember,’” I say, ‘“but now you get to tell him in person.’”

He’s not buying it. Not really. I waver under his frank blue gaze.

‘“He might be one of Santa’s helpers,’” I offer. ‘“Santa’s really busy.’”

The boys have been going at it lately like only brothers can, tumbling around the house like squirrels; scratching, gouging, pulling hair and then racing to a parent to see who can rat the other one out first.

Being first is very important to the young boys who live in my house.

This impromptu trip to the Christmas village at the mall is an attempt on my part to bring them together, to give them a shared Christmas memory, and also an attempt to shake them up with a little bit of the old ‘“naughty or nice.’”

It worked last year, when after my oldest had been terrorizing his little brother for a span of days, I placed a call to Santa on my cell phone.

‘“I still think he’s a really good boy,’” I said over the line while the child in question whimpered wide-eyed in the back seat, ‘“but I know you’re watching the way he’s been acting lately. Is there anything he can do so he doesn’t get just a pile of rocks for Christmas this year?’”

As it turned out, there was.

Since last year the little brother has learned to fight back, and he fights kind of dirty to atone for his size disadvantage. These days my firstborn generally carries three or four scabbed-over scratches on his face as a result of their battles. I don’t want there to be any new ones for the Christmas pictures.

They start to get excited when we see the tree, two and a half stories high, festooned, ornamented and flourished. Santa sits in a throne-like chair at its base.

As they approach the man they both start to jump up and down.

St. Nick welcomes them on his lap ‘— I want them to do it together not just so they’ll have a joint experience, but also because there’s no way I’m shelling out for two separate Santa pics.

The oldest breaks the ice.

‘“I want a Darth Vader mask,’” he says, ‘“and a Mr. Potato Head dressed like Darth Vader.’”

His little brother is fundamentally awed to be in Santa’s presence. He’s twiddling his fingers and kicking his legs when he says in a barely audible voice: ‘“Soccer Boppers.’”

Santa considers their requests for a moment and then speaks.

‘“You know the routine, don’t you?’” he asks. ‘“You have to be good.’”

They’re nodding now, snapped into line by these few words from the man in the red suit. It’s very nearly magical.

‘“And most important,’” Santa says, leaning in. ‘“Be good to each other.’”

They’re looking at him. They’re listening. I believe they understand.

They’re still dazed as we leave Santa’s village, walking silently and holding each other’s hands. The afterglow lasts until we get back to the house and for about 20 minutes afterward, when the brotherly combat begins again in earnest.

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