Never place the Santa booth next to the fountain at the mall.
The one and only time I ever took a child to see Santa was in the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto when Rebecca was almost two. The line stretched further than the twelve reindeer pulling the sled, and as I talked with a fellow mom, my child decided to explore the pretty water beside us. Leaning over she splashed vigorously, soaking herself from head to toe (and me from toe to knee). I carried my wailing tot—who was far more interested in frolicking in the fountain than in chatting with the Red Guy—out of the line, and found a cheap sweatshirt to wrap her in until we could get home and change clothes. And we never returned to the Jolly Old Elf again.
I’m just not very good at these typical rituals of childhood. This week my girls and I were at another mall, watching the frightened children being enticed to sit on a stranger’s knee. Such a scenario never struck me as a very good idea. The terrified tots cry into the camera, while a tired woman dressed as an elf waves a stuffed animal at them, as if a shaking moose will help them forget the fact that they are sitting on a strange man’s lap while Mommy crouches out of reach.
My mother-in-law has the classic photo of my husband as a baby crying on Santa’s lap. Amazingly, one friend of mine actually has a picture that is too cute for words, with her gurgling baby wearing nothing but a diaper and a Santa hat, laughing at the Big Guy. But such a thing is a rarity. So we as a family brushed off the Santa experience.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t much more successful with the tooth fairy, because my husband and I both seemed cursed with a lack of short-term memory. The children announce loudly the passage of the tooth, proclaim loudly where said tooth is hidden, and then go to bed. And in the twenty minutes it takes for them to drift off, the whole episode leaves our minds. Our girls grew up assuming the tooth fairy needed at least a week’s lag time, but as they grew older they became suspicious. They considered leaving the tooth on top of our pillows, rather than below their own, in the hope that it might induce the fairy to pony up a little more quickly. It didn’t work.
Christmas baking is another tradition at which I have failed miserably. We did make cookies for several years, but all of them were consumed far before the blessed day.
One year I decided the problem was that I was baking edible things, so instead we created dough ornaments to decorate the tree! The girls and I mixed flour and water and salt together, shaped them and baked them, and dutifully hung them. That was the year Katie was two, and she had stopped eating, as many toddlers do. But I would awake to find my little girl munching on the dough snowmen adorning the lower branches. Even my non-edibles were eaten.
For many years I felt like a failure. After all, we have to provide the family with the perfect Christmas memories, the perfect rites of passage, and the best presents, don’t we? And so we make these big Christmas plans for all the baking and caroling and crafting we are going to do this year.
None of these things is bad in and of itself. But instead of thinking of all the things I should do, I’m going to just plan on one overarching thing: I want the girls to have a memorable and meaningful Christmas, and I don’t care how that’s done. I hope we’ll bake, I hope we’ll make some gifts, and I hope we will go caroling. But if we don’t, I won’t feel like a failure. I’ll just realize that’s who I am. Whatever we do, or don’t do, at least we’ll be together, experiencing the season and talking about what it really means. And that is how lasting memories are made.