12/14 That One Time…

He laid in a crib made from scrap plywood, 1X2’s and a smattering of nails. The crib is long gone, but i’m pretty sure that the beige (yes, beige) paint that was used to cover any imperfections lives on somewhere. It was simply far too ugly a color as to not have some sort of half-life associated with it. In fact, thinking back, this crib was one of the rare items my dad created without the aid of shellac. Possibly because it was before he had yet discovered the stuff, but i tend to think it was really just all in a effort to enforce our memories of the crib – and the tradition associated with it – all the more.

Baby Jesus wasn’t in the crib when it first took it’s honored position in the corner of the kitchen, atop a T.V. tray that was made of fake dark wood top and completed by fake golden trim and leg. The kind of legs designed to snap easily into little plastic junctures located beneath the surface, that simply screamed anytime you placed anything greater than a pound or two upon the tray’s top. Beside the crib was a bag of hay, freshly purchased but never blessed. i have never once taken the time to ask my folks where, exactly, they found a source for little plastic bags of hay, but trust me, that’s all it was. And usually the bag was just big enough as to fill the crib to overflowing should all of it’s contents be dumped within. But all of it’s contents never were. No, as noted last time, how much of the stuff went into the crib was dependent upon us. Well, our good (or bad) deeds at any rate. Fortunately for both us and the babe, our activity was only monitored in this fashion from the time Advent began until Christmas morn. For every good deed, a handful of hay went into the crib, and for every bad deed, a handful came out.

i seem to recall hazily at one point that we were able to convince dad that he created an offense so great as to warrant his removing a handful of hay, but other than this one partially-remembered instance, the task of filling or emptying the crib lay solely on us three children. The parents apparently thinking they were above judgement and/or contribution. As to what my dad’s offense was, i can’t remember. But both the fact that we had mom on our side AND he actually conceded in pulling his fair share from the trough ensured that whatever it was, it must have been a doozie, even more grievous than our child-like minds understood it to be. Dad was never one to admit wrong-doing or error of any sort, and i have a inkling that once he does get up to heaven, he’ll spend a good amount of time telling God just exactly how He should have done it all.

Regardless, from the day the crib was laid down upon the table to the morn of Christ’s birth, we worked feverishly to perform some sort of good deed on an almost daily basis. The bad deeds seem to come a lot easier, and sadly, it took the three of us much too long to recognize the fact that tattling on each other when these deeds occurred served absolutely no one’s best interest. Bad deeds by the way, also included (but never were counted) items such as making up tales of fictional good deeds as well as randomly sneaking partial handfuls into the crib, both done to bolster the hay count before the blessed day of birth. Never was a full handful attempted on the sly, for surely mom would know. And she would have. All said, i’m none too sure if the crib-stuffing practice helped us to be good boys, or simply aided us in our training of the art of deceit. Possibly a bit of both. None of it mattered however, as long as the crib was at the level of “comfy” for Baby Jesus to snuggle down in by Christmas day (i seem to remember that one year it was not, but the memories of that event are far too sketchy as to recall them here).

Then, bright and early on Christmas morning (and in my house, it was much more early than bright, in that the sun hardly ever rose to meet with us at four AM when we were jumping from our sacks), we would get up and huddle close together under the tree in nervous anticipation of mom and dad also getting out of bed. Once they did, we would move the TV tray to the living room beside the tree. After placing Jesus – resplendent in a blue wrap and bow long since lost – into his crib and lighting the candle that was jammed happily into his birthday cupcake, we would rush through a half-hearted version of “Happy Birthday”. The faster we three sang, all the slower our parents did in response. It took several years to figure all this out and determine that the quickest way to get it over with was to simply sing it correctly first time around. We sang in haste, because it was only after we completed the song, blew out the candle and… well, i have no earthly idea or recollection as to what we did with the cupcake. Who the flip cared? The song was over! And while the cupcake was apparently having something done to it seeing as we never saw it again, the three of us were ravaging through the brightly packaged boxes under the tree, all in the hopes that the store Santa we saw was the real deal. Or at least had taken careful mental note of our desires (seeing as he was never with pen or paper), reporting them back correctly to the big man.

We followed this tradition each and every year for i don’t know how many years. Each and every year except one. As is the case so often, i firmly place all the blame on what we have dubbed “That One Time” (as in, “do you remember that one time…”) upon my older brother. He had to be the one who told us that morning, as we sat glassy-eyed under the tree in wonderment, that he had checked with mom and she had said it was OK to unwrap the gifts before we sang. If it wasn’t him who said it, it would have been my little brother. And that couldn’t have been the case, because we never listened to him anyway. By the time mom and dad became aware of our transgressions, almost every box was unwrapped, every Christmas dream revealed, and while i don’t remember specifics, i do recall that it was a year with a  particularly good haul. Mom was devastated that we had done such a thing, and dad – who had yet had the heart attack that would mellow him – went utterly and simply. Ape. Shit. Do you know how in cartoons, a character is occasionally shown with their head expanding to the point of explosion? i could swear that on that morn, my dad’s head actually did exactly that. Fortunately a new one grew back relatively quickly, but unfortunately as soon as it had, he made us re-wrap all the presents and place them under the tree again. OK, that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration – i can’t recall if we actually had to rewrap the gifts (but it sure felt as if we did), but we did have to re-tree each and every one and march off promptly back to bed, empty-handed.

We all three laid there, wondering if we were ever going to celebrate Christmas again. The pain was made all the worse by the fact that we already knew what awaited us, present-wise. After what felt like 80 years or so, my folks finally told us we could get up, and when we sheepishly returned to the living room, we saw Baby Jesus there by the tree, the cupcake in place and the candle lit. We were actually being allowed a “do-over” from my dad! Christmas miracles abounded! The thrill we felt at being saved further punishment far outweighed even the desire to get back to the presents, and i’m pretty sure that year was the very prettiest we ever did sing “Happy Birthday” to Baby Jesus.

To this day, mom always puts in my kids cards “remember to sing to Baby Jesus”, but we never do. i may be a bad parent, but i just don’t want my children to be bullied into their faith. It took me too many years to actually come back around and actively “choose” mine. Now, while we don’t sing as a family, i will let you in a little secret – i don’t sing it alone either. But every year, i do catch myself at one point or another very quietly closing my eyes for a brief moment and saying “Happy birthday Jesus.”

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12/7 conversations of Santa and Cybermen

The walk from my house to that of my parents is a scant six blocks. And while that’s a short enough distance when walked alone, when traversed with my three children, a great deal of conversational goop can accumulate well before the journey’s end. We went en mass this past Sunday to clear out my folks gutters from their leaves of Fall – a task that ended up being much more enjoyment than doldrum, much more bonding than chore. And within our brief walk over we discussed the following very important items of Christmas interest:

1. The flying sleigh of Santa is all a carefully laid-out ruse, set up by the man himself. He started the rumor long ago that had us all looking up, when we should have been looking down. In our shared brilliance we deduced that instead of flying across the globe, delivering toys through chimney, window and door, Claus actually has access to every house via sumps from each and every basement. That’s right – a web of catacomb-like underground trails connect us all to the pole of North, and the jolly man simply travels from hall to hall – from sump to sump – in delivering each package to each house while the residents within sleep unawares. It has to be the only plausible explanation. Even if they did exist, flying reindeer would NEVER be able to haul around not only themselves, but the sleigh and the loaded sacks – not mention the Man himself – through the sky as well. Not without some serious assistance from prevailing winds, or the hand of God holding them all up there at once in the wafer-thin air, that is.

2. As noted before, the tunnel travels take place with all of us being safely tucked away and none the wiser. Should however, some child wake to see the man of red unloading his bag, then they are quickly muffled, shuffled off and transformed (in a process very similar to that of the Cybermen of Doctor Who’s fame) into Christmas elves. That’s right, according to my children, elves are in fact formerly human children who, once seeing the truth of Santa’s existence, must be assimilated into becoming one his own – just to keep their mouths shut, and the secret safe. Now, i’m none too sure if it would be a wise thing to speak of this concept in an effort to get your young ones to sleep on Christmas eve – in that there might be the occasional daredevil who tries it simply TO become such an elf, but i’m pretty sure for the rest, it would only serve only to scare the living bejesus out of them.

3. Ninjas. Don’t ask me how this came about, but it did. Apparently all the elves, to the very last, is also a ninja. According to my first-born, the proof of the matter works something like this. “Do you know how you sometimes notice a hole in your wall, which looks like it could’ve been made with a nail, but you don’t remember ever placing a nail there? Well, that’s from an elf’s shuriken (throwing star).” Now, you may be wondering where he was going with that, but since i know him well enough to know that it could be a very difficult place indeed, i decided not to ask him to expound upon his theory, leaving you gentle reader, in the lurch (and probably a lot better off as a result, seeing as my first-born can take you into dimensions that you never knew – nor wanted to know – existed). My youngest, however, did take the opportunity to explain that the ninja theory had to be true, as there was no other way possible that children who see Santa could ever be corralled up to the North Pole without dispute. And he further proved his point by making random and Jerry Lewis-esque kicks into the air while the rest of us continued on our walk.

4. The conversation took a somewhat somber note as it began to dawn on some that – while even though the tunnel system saved numerous man-hours – it was still unlikely that Santa could ever get all the houses done in one night. Even considering that he did have a cushion of multiple time zones to play with. To my surprise, none of the children brought up the possibility of clones being used. And none brought up the idea that Santa might in fact be a large, octopus-like creature, who twirled out massive gift-laden tentacles that delivered all the presents of the world in one fail swoop. No, nothing so cool as that was mentioned. Instead, all three fell back on their Whovian (Doctor, that is) roots and came up with the idea that Santa was somehow allowed to stop time in order to get all the work that needed completion done. It was a solid idea, and sounded plausible to all, but there was some concern over where he would ever have obtained such a power from.

5. Being a dad always on the look-out for opportunities to pontificate my beliefs, and realizing that our walk was just about to come to an end, i used this turn of the conversation to both share my faith with the kids AND look like a dammed Smarty in the process by stealing an idea by C.S. Lewis. i stopped all three on the sidewalk leading up to my parents front door, and i told them that the only way Santa could circumvent time would be if God allowed it, and if He did, then that would mean that Santa was actually “above” time. The blank stares alerted me that an explanation was required even before they asked for one. Pointing to a seam in the sidewalk i told them to imagine that it represented time, and that the little leaves tucked within it were each a person, each to it’s own place in the line and each looking forward or back, but all being unable to move in either direction under their own will. i then told the kids to now look where they were in relation to that line at that moment – all of them being “above” it. And as a result, all of them able to move anywhere (or any time) along the line they wanted, as needs or desires dictated. This, i explained, is how i think God views time. And guessing that God might actually be a bit like i imagine him to be, i was pretty sure that he would also allow Santa to do pretty much the same.

To my knowledge, none of them have yet realized that i took the opportunity to turn an incidental conversation about Santa and Cybermen into a chance to teach them about my faith. And had i my druthers, i would hope that none of them do figure it out anytime soon, as i’m of the belief that the best lessons learned in life are the ones we never realize we were taught in the first place.

Just between you and me, i also hope that the idea about Cybermen elves isn’t true, seeing as i can think of three children (two at the least), near and dear to me who may very well be the type of “occasional daredevils” willing to try it on for size.