We weren’t even in the humongous box store five minutes when I felt a tug on my sleeve.
I smiled down at my five-year old son.
“Mom? The clues for the Easter basket scavenger hunt are from a computer. I don’t think the Easter Bunny has a computer. Are you the Easter Bunny? You and Dad?”
I corralled him into the bra and undie department, thinking all the while:
To lie or not to lie.
With my back to a rack of thong underwear, I crouched in front of him. “You know how we taught you kids to always tell the truth, no matter what?” He nodded. “You’re right. We are the Easter Bunny.”
“Yes, I knew it!”
A few minutes later en route to the light bulb aisle, he paused to stare into the distance. I shook my head. Here it comes.
“So does that mean… Are you Santa, too? And the Tooth Fairy?”
I patted his blonde curls. “Dang, you’re smart.” Then I pretended to zip my lips. “Don’t tell your big sisters.”
“I won’t, Mom, I promise.”
“They’ll figure it out some day. When they’re as smart as me.”
How old was I, I wondered, when I stopped believing. Or should I say, when I stopped acting like I believed.
The morning of my twelfth Christmas, I tiptoed into the living room and found no presents beneath the tree, not a one.
My lower lip pooched out. Are you kidding me?
Back in my bed I proceeded to throw a hissy fit. A fake one, but still. Sob, sob. Sniffle, whimper. Loud, angsty moan.
Mom cracked my bedroom door and crept over to my side. She placed her hand tentatively on my shoulder. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
I rolled toward her and wiped my eyes. “Santa didn’t come.”
“I must’ve been really bad this year. The boys, too.”
Her blue eyes saucered. “Um… that’s not it. I mean— Go back to bed. Who knows? Maybe a reindeer got sick.” She handed me the book off my nightstand. “Why don’t you read for a while?”
An hour later, she returned, a cheery smile on her face. “Guess what? Santa came. And he left this beside the fireplace.” She held out a piece of paper.
“Dear Ward family: Sorry I was late. I deliver alphabetically—first by country, then by state. United States and West Virginia are both at the end. Love, Santa. P.S.:
“You all were very good this year. Keep up the good work!”
Grinning, I nudged Mom aside in order to get to the living room.
“What are we going to do?” I asked Tony as I unfolded my tissue to find a dry spot.
“I called every store around and there is not one Baby-Go-Bye-Bye within 50 miles. Should I try Pittsburgh?”
Tony snorted. “Absolutely not. So she doesn’t get Baby-Gaga for Christmas this year. She’ll get over it. And she’ll learn not to change her main toy wish the day before Christmas.”
“But she’s only three!”
“This’ll damage her for life. I mean, if you can’t depend on Santa, who can you depend on?”
He rolled his eyes and murmured something about drama.
That’s when I had a brain blast. I rooted through the messy drawer in the kitchen and found a red magic marker and notepad. At the kitchen table I wrote in block letters, instead of my usual fancy script.
“Dear Little Girl: I regret to inform you that your Baby-Go-Bye-Bye doll fell out of my sleigh over Alaska. I hope the Playskool kitchen I brought will suffice. Love, Santa.”
Tony peeked over my shoulder. “The language is a little grown-up, don’t you think?”
With the marker I added another line: