There Comes a Time
I knew what that stretched out, whiny, questioning tone meant. Every dad knows what that means. Something was wrong. And if that wasn’t a dead give-away, being met at the door was—my son hasn’t met me at the door when I got home from work since he discovered Minecraft. And the arrival of Fortnite only fortified his resolve to just keep right on playing as I proceeded to the kitchen. So I knew there was a problem.
“What’s the matter, Lenny?”
“Brooke says there’s no Santa Claus. She says your parents pretend there is and then put presents under the tree themselves.”
“She must be nuts,” I said as convincingly as I could. “Of course there’s a Santa Claus.”
No Santa Claus? I can’t have such talk in our house. We love Santa too much. He is as real inside our home as you and I are.
Then Lenny announced “I’m going to Google ‘is Santa Claus real’ and find out.”
OMG! Google? There’s no parental filter that can stop Google from crushing a child at Christmas.
“No, don’t do that!“ I said in a panic. “Santa monitors your searches. You don’t want him thinking you’re a Doubting Thomas.”
“I’ll do it in private mode,” Lenny replied.
“Noooo! He has his own system, based on that magic snowball he got from the Winter Warlock. You saw that on TV! It can’t be blocked. Don’t get yourself on his naughty list. Leave it alone.”
“I gotta’ know.”
“Ok. Let’s call Milo,” I suggested. ”Santa’s a client of his. He’ll tell you all about him.”
Milo runs the largest building code consulting company in New York. Of course Santa is his client—Everyone else is.
“What?” Lenny seemed intrigued.
“Hey, how do you think Santa gets all those brand-name toys that aren’t made in his workshop? He has to buy those toys! For like a gazillion kids! That takes a lot of money. But he has it, because he owns real estate all over the world. Milo handles his properties in New York City.”
I was already texting Milo. And just as quickly deleting the conversation.
Lenny called Milo and got put right through.
Kris doesn’t want anybody to know anything about his real estate holdings.
“Hi, Milo. It’s Lenny. My dad says you do work for Santa Claus. Do you?”
“Your dad should keep his mouth shut about that,” Milo scolded. “Kris…I call him Kris, doesn’t want anybody to know anything about his real estate holdings. But yes, I consult on all his purchases and renovations and I help out with any violations his buildings get.”
“Can I meet him?”
“Sorry, Lenny. Nobody gets to meet him. Jeez, when I need to see him in person, I have to go to the top of the Empire State Building at like 3 in the morning. It’s all very secret.”
“Really? How do you do that?”
“Remember those pictures I showed you of that little room at the top of the peak of the Empire State Building with the little door that goes out onto the platform around the antenna?
“Yeah, that was crazy.”
“Yes, it was. It was crazy small and crazy scary. But when I meet with him to talk or sign papers or whatever, that’s where I have to do it. He comes in the middle of the night and hitches the reindeer up to the antenna. Then, a second after he hitches those animals, BANG, he’s in the room with me. I don’t know how he gets in: I know he couldn’t fit through that door. But there he is.”
“Whoa. That’s cool.”
“Yes, it is. It’s magic. But it’s secret, too. So button your lip.”
The Elf is not on the Shelf
That seemed to work. I couldn’t have been more relieved. He wasn’t ready. I’m not ready! It’s only been 11 Christmases! That’s not enough. I want more Santa. I want to help write more letters to him. I want to keep hiding toys in the garage. I want to stay up late more Christmas Eve’s assembling toys and arranging them under the tree. I need to leave more cookies by the fireplace and put more reindeer feed on the lawn. I still want to lift my son to see Santa at the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade. I want to wait on line forever at Macy’s for a picture with Santa… again.
I went a lot of years without Santa Claus. Like 25. So I know what I’m taking about: Christmas is better with Santa Claus. I want him to stick around a bit longer. I want to delay telling my son that most terrible truth about him. Both for his sake, and mine.
Then it happened again.
“Yeah, Len. What’s wrong?”
“The elf is in the guest room.”
“He was inside the fake book with the old photos in it.”
“What the heck was he doing there?” I asked, although I knew. I forgot to pack him up with the Christmas decorations last year, and when I noticed, I hid him in there temporarily…and then forgot about him. Until right then. My bad.
It could have been some ‘fake news’ or some Russian troll site.
“You know, Lenny, these elves have a mind of there own. He could’ve been in there doing something for when grandma comes, and then you popped in and he had to hide fast.”
“Baloney. I Googled ‘The Elf On The Shelf’ and I read everything.”
‘F’in Google,’ I thought.
“Lenny, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. It could have been some ‘fake news’ or some Russian troll site. How many sites did you check?”
“Yeah. You got tricked. That was a ‘fake news’ site you saw. When you Google something, you have to look at a whole lot of sites, so you make sure that you’re not relying on something that’s full of lies.
“OK. Let’s do another Google search.”
“NOOO,” I cautioned. “Remember what I told you about Santa monitoring your searches with that magic snowball. You don’t want him to see you do this. The elf is his buddy. It’ll upset him. Trust me, the elf is real. Just leave it at that.”
That seemed to work.
This was my second scare since Thanksgiving. Christmas was still weeks away, and Google wasn’t going anywhere. I was worried.
The Terrible Truth
It used to be so easy. It was just last MLK weekend that we were in the Original General Store in Pittsfield, Vermont, when a stout fellow with a billowy white beard walked in and took a table behind us. He had rosy cheeks and a glint in his eyes. But then it was only 5° outside.
“Lenny, be cool. Don’t stare,” I said motioning with my head toward the man. “That’s Santa. Joe told me he lets him rest-up here on the mountain right after Christmas.”
Lenny was awestruck. He bent his head forward and pressed his lips together, and I could tell he was working hard not to burst out in glee. Then ‘Santa’ got up from his table and walked past us. As he did, he paused and said to Lenny “They make good pancakes here, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” Lenny replied. “They’re great.” Then he mouthed to me “He talked to me!” He was so excited. He was sure he had just been addressed by Santa himself.
That’s why Santa got into real estate a long time ago.
But now there was a new question every other day:
“Daaaaad? How can the toys for every kid in the world fit into one sleigh!”
“They can’t!” I said. “That’s why Santa got into real estate a long time ago. In the weeks before Christmas, his elves drop off toys on top of all his skyscrapers. On Christmas Eve, he drives his sleigh from building to building and reloads.”
“What did he do before skyscrapers?”
“But what about the bells?”
“He put the toys behind the bells.”
“The churches were ok with that?”
“They were fine with it. He is a Saint after all, right? St. Nick?”
Yeah, the explanations are getting more and more outlandish. I even tried to pull off a riff about reindeer running at light speed. ‘Ahead, warp factor 1, Mr. Rudolph!’ Lenny never expressed any doubt about what I told him, but I could see in his eyes that it didn’t all add up for him anymore. The jig is nearly up.
I know where this is headed. My little boy is growing up. Soon he won’t let me hold his hand crossing the street. He won’t kiss me, not even on the cheek. And he won’t snuggle with me under a blanket to watch TV. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an occasional bro-hug.
Yeah, I know the terrible truth: this is the last Christmas with Santa Claus. *