December 12, 2013
I am tonight exercising one of the options I allow myself, when Christmas prep gets overhwelming, to make a reposting of one of my Holidailies posts of the past. A week ago I stood out on a bridge in darkness and cold to wait with a young woman who had just had the back end of her car crushed like beer can because she whipped out around me on the entrance ramp, directly into the path of a big rig. I was stopped at the end of the ramp, which has two access lanes and can be tricky to navigate in calm daylight, and saw her coming at me from behind. I thought she was going to hit me, but she pulled around me. The impact was so strong that I thought I’d been hit. She was able to steer her car to the very narrow space between the roadway and the bridge rail, and I pulled up behind her. The trucker took longer to stop. Neither of us had more than about a foot’s clearance on our driver’s side to be able to get out.
I was amazed, and frightened, by just how much an enormous structure of concrete and steel can shake in the wind, suspended over black swirling water. (I am assuming the water was black and swirling. I did not look down.) The girl was about 19 and said she was on her way to class (the main campus of the community college is just on the east side of the bridge). I waited with her until her mother arrived, and the rig driver reported the police were on their way. I was out on the bridge probably less than 20 minutes, but the next day I felt the effects of the wind and the temperature. I am tonight wrestling with a full-blown cold.
With the brouhaha I’ve heard of regarding discussions over whether Santa Claus, who is (SPOILER ALERT: Santa Claus is not real) is a white man or a member of some other race, I thought it was time to bring back my post about Lynn’s first three visits to the jolly old elf. Enjoy (again, for some of you)! And do also click on over to “Cruel Mother,” the post that follows, for a rundown about how I was berated for telling Lynn from the start that Santa Claus is a pleasant fiction.
December 19, 2007
Lynn was born in September of 1985, so she was just three months old at her first Christmas. I wasn’t working that first year of her life, and in those days, as now, I went to a women’s social and study group on Thursday mornings. Afterward I often went to the mall just to walk around and have a change of scenery, my infant snuggled against my chest in a corduroy carrier my sister had made.
I have some hazy childhood memories of visiting Santa at Pomeroy’s, the downtown department store that had elaborate animated displays in its Fourth Street windows every year. I can see the gray carpet and hear sounds like doorbells that came from the elevator and the loudspeaker in some kind of code summoning clerks or managers. I remember being handed a candy cane and a magazine. No pictures exist of me or my sister visiting Santa, although even before the era of Polaroids such snapshots could be had. You paid and filled out a label and waited for the pictures to come in the mail. My mother would have thought such an expense frivolous.
On a whim one Thursday afternoon of mall strolling I decided to place my newborn in Santa’s arms and step back while the picture was snapped. Lynn was an easygoing baby who was used to being handled by adoring grandparents and other relatives. In this picture Santa’s beard blends with whatever outfit I had her in that day, and it’s her big brown eyes that fill the frame for me.
The next year Lynn was fifteen months old and a lot more aware of her surroundings. And I was teaching again, so our mall trips took place on Saturdays, when such places are most crowded. Clearly I was planning this photo op with Santa. The dress she’s wearing is a red gingham check with a gift tag on the yoke and her name embroidered on it. I remember standing in line, Lynn looking around, as always interested in what was happening. When it was our turn I picked her up out of the stroller and set her down in Santa’s lap. She recoiled immediately. I soothed her, and tried again.
What was I thinking? What was so important about this picture with a mythical figure we never even pretended we wanted her to believe in that I would make my beautiful little girl endure what was obviously a frightening ordeal? Is this the incident she’ll be in a therapist’s office in the next decade talking about? Notice, however, that she accepted candy from this terrifying stranger and is clutching it fiercely.
After the debacle Lynn and I continued to prowl the mall. In a Hallmark store she pulled a stuffed bear off a display. It was a Snuggle bear, the mascot of the Unilever fabric softener. This is a child who had forty-dollar handmade bears waiting for her in her nursery before she was born. When I was ready to leave the store I tried to take the Snuggle away from her and put it back, but she clutched it as tightly as she clutched the candy cane. It seemed to be soothing her and, feeling regretful that I’d put her through the unnecessary ordeal of visiting Santa, I bought it for her.
That Snuggle bear became the bear of choice. He lives with her still, somewhat bedraggled with matted fur and eyes that got bashed against the walls of the dryer so that he looks like he has cataracts.
In 1987 I tried again. At almost two and a half, Lynn was walking and talking, a confident, curious, intelligent child. I explained about Santa, about how having her picture taken with him would be fun. I have no idea now why this was so important to me. We stood in the line for a while, and when it was Lynn’s turn she took a step or two toward the right jolly old elf. Then she stopped. She turned to me. “I a little bit fraid of Santa Claus,” she said. “You don’t want to sit with him?” “No.”
I asked that we have a picture of Santa alone.
And she got her candy cane.