Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa the Stalker and other Holiday Mishaps

I was one of those little kids that hated to sit on Santa's lap.  I put up with it - but that was just to insure that I got what I wanted.  My mother even insisted that she proof read my Christmas list before I sat on his lap to make sure there were no typos.  She would even let me know if there was something on the list that Santa might have a hard time getting it into the house.   Down the chimney was not an option since we lived in Miami and fire places were rarely needed when most of the December morning temperatures were in the 60's and you could play outside in your shorts by noontime.  

Standing in line to meet Santa always seemed to me what it would be like after you die and you're waiting at the pearly gates for Saint Peter to peruse his naughty and nice list to decide if you made the cut into heaven.  To me, Santa was omnipotent and in a sense more real than God - I mean his branding was the white beard, red suit, reindeer and a bag full of toys - that was a form of omnipotence that any kid could grasp.   I knew that God was out there but short of the Sistine chapel and Michaelanglo's vision, you didn't have a consistent view of what God looked like and he sure wasn't known for giving toys out on a specific night.   Santa could "see you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." If that is not Godlike, I don't know what is.  

So I would stand there and see kid after go cheerfully and sit on Santa's lap.  Sure there was the occasional crybaby - but for the most part kids were excited to be there.   I always had to share my Santa time with my youngest sister, Sharon who I nicknamed Dee-Dee. I stood there year after year trembling wondering if any of my past misdeeds would haunt me like the time my mother gave me money for the ice cream man and I lost half if it and told Dee-Dee it was her half that got lost.   I used to scratch and bite up until the age of three but after that, according to my siblings, I grew out of it and was a pretty sweet kid.   Dee-Dee never seemed to be phased by Santa, maybe it was because she was more fearless than me or maybe she honestly never thought she did anything wrong - being the youngest she could get away with more than the rest of us.   Each time a child finished his appointment with Santa meant Dee-Dee and I got closer to the all knowing one.   The "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" lyrics continued to haunt me as we were just feet away.   Was he stalking me - always watching through some sort of digital camera from the year 2011 that only he would have access to in 1969?  Did he see me shove clothes into my toy chest because I didn't want to put them away?  Did he see me not make my bed for the fourth day in a row?  Or did he (gasp) see me pour my milk down the drain because it got warm during dinner and now my mother expected me to drink it.   How many points did you get counted off for each of those transgressions before you officially crossed over into the naughty list?   How could anyone be expected to be perfect - the strain would be too much. 

Finally, it was time to face the Santa.  My sister and I were put on his lap and he looked to me as the oldest and asked my name.  I always wondered how someone who would stalk you year after year could forget  your name, but I went with it and told him.  "Well, Kelley, have you been good this year?"   My blue eyes got bigger, my face got flushed and even my white gold hair seemed to turn red, I stammered without saying a word.  Finally, my mother spoke up, "They have both been very good girls this year."   A good word from the mother must have some pull in spite of the hours of video he probably had to the contrary.   "What would you like for Christmas?" the jolly old elf asked.   We both answered in unison "A Mrs. Beasley doll!"   For those that don't know the show Family Affair, Mrs. Beasley was Buffy's favorite doll and every girl her age wanted one.   Santa spent the rest of the time talking to Dee-Dee who also rattled off a few more things that every younger sibling had to have.  I was happy just getting out what I wanted and feeling like I had a pretty good shot of getting it.    Sure enough, on Christmas morning, we both got Mrs. Beasley dolls which prompted many a tea party with the other dolls and stuffies.   It was one of the most perfect Christmases I can remember.   

The next year, I felt a little more confident and a little edgier.   I asked for a Flip Wilson doll.    Again, for those that didn't grow up in the 1970's, Flip Wilson was a comedian who also did a character in drag named Geraldine.   That was back in the days when the whole family could watch sketch comedy shows that came on before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights.   They had made a doll of Flip Wilson in a groovy suit on one side and Geraldine on the other.   I remember asking Santa for that and getting a bit of judgement from Kris Kringle.    "You're parents let you watch that show?" he asked quizzically.  "Yes," I replied -  again surprised that after stalking me all these years, he didn't know my favorite TV shows.   The great thing about my sister and I both getting the Flip Wilson doll was that we could turn one to look like Flip Wilson and the other could be Geraldine.  They generally had some funny things to say like "The Devil made me do it" and "I'm going to sick Killer on you!" at the tea parties.  Mrs. Beasley actually got most of their jokes.  Who says a white doll with glasses and polka dots is not hip and urban? 

Another holiday photo ritual was capturing the five of us in various poses for the holidays.   My mother would try to color coordinate and pose us somewhere in the house to present a perfect group of children.    The outfits needed to look just right and hair in place - an image of perfection that just wasn't us.   We were a group of very diverse people even as kids.  It's always fascinated me that the same group of people could have the same parents and the same upbringing and be so totally different.   In the beginning for the holiday photos,  it was probably a chore to get Dee-Dee and I as toddlers to sit still for the photos.   But as the years passed and the older siblings got into their teen years, tempers were bound to flare during the quest for the perfect family photo.  Finally, the night of the guitar holiday photo, it all came to a head.     My brothers Bill and Steve mouthed off to my teenage sister Kathy who finally had enough and seconds after this photo was taken, took a guitar and hit both my brothers over the head.   They didn't need medical care, and all three got a stern look from Mom and sent to their rooms.    She still managed to get a good shot and sent out copies of the photo with the holiday cards but that was the last year of the Christmas family photo.  The pursuit of perfection ended with near concussions.  I'm pretty sure this is not what the baby Jesus had envisioned.  

I'd like to say that I've learned that you don't have to be perfect to still make the nice list.   But when you're a kid and you ask Santa for something and it magically appears under the Christmas tree just as you had imagined it - you get a sense of euphoria and belief in the impossible that is very enticing.   That sort of  high comes just once a year and you want to make sure it happens again so that it can sustain you for the next 12 months.   It's Christmas, the lights are up, people are happy and life is perfect as you move to that one day when all is right with the world.   But as you grow older, you realize it's not as simple as it was when you were six.  So in your adulthood, you try to recreate that for yourself and your children or the nieces and nephews.   You want them to have that same buzz and to feel that anything is possible.    It's that drive towards the perfect Christmas that can make you lose your compass of what the season is all about.    I'll be the first one to admit that I'm guilty of that.    Each year my husband Max asks me not to go crazy for the holidays and my initial response is "Crazy is the only way I know how to do Christmas!"  I've come to the conclusion that I'm a Christmas crack addict.  I got that first high during the Mrs. Beasley Christmas and have been in search of the same fix ever since.    It was great when I was a kid, but now that I'm a seasoned addict, I need more from Christmas than I'm getting.  It means that I keep needing a bigger and bigger December 25th crack rock but the reality is that I'm not six years old anymore and chasing that feeling just leading me down another alley of disappointment just like a real addict.

So this year, I'm scaling back.   I'm not blowing my budget.   I'm not buying a ton of gifts and I'm not making a ton of gifts (I've done as many as six quilts for gifts which sounds good unless you enjoy being at your sewing machine until 3:00 in the morning on December 24th just to get it all done and sobbing uncontrollably when you have to rip out a seam and start over).  It's smaller and more meaningful and I'm beginning to look forward to the holiday and letting it build slowly.   It's not going to be perfect  - it's not going to be grandiose and I'm not going crazy.    I'm not going to martyr myself in the name of Christmas.    I'm going to have it all done so that I can enjoy a glass of wine on Christmas Eve in front of the fire place, tackle my husband and kiss him hard without a speck of mistletoe in sight - and if he asks what brought all this on -  I'll tell him in my best Geraldine voice "The Devil made me do it!"

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