My mother used to work at Equitable in Manhattan. In 1982, when I was seven, the company planned a Christmas party, and all of the employees’ kids were invited. I loved my mother’s office, and the city at Christmastime, so I was very stoked for the big day. When I got there, my excitement increased tenfold, because there was a huge room filled with wrapped presents that Santa had brought for the kids!
Now mind you, I loved Santa tremendously, and was his avid apologist. Just a year earlier, I would debate his existence every morning before school started. It started when my friend Jeffrey told me there was no way Santa existed. I was having none of it. Both of us were pretty smart for our age, and neither was satisfied with leaving things at “No he’s not real/yes he is.” No, we took things to a rather remarkably intellectual level for six year olds. Every morning, we’d arrive early, sit on our desks, and discuss the pros and cons of putting faith in an invisible man who brought you presents. These science versus faith debates attracted the attention of other children seeking to better understand the world, and by the end of December, almost the entire class was gathering around and participating in the “Santa Claus: Immortal Saint or Parental Scam?” forum. The teacher never put a stop to it; I think mainly because she was rendered speechless by the courtlike atmosphere in her classroom. We were quite official, because this was a very serious matter at hand! In the end, I liked to believe that I had won some converts for my boy Santa.
Imagine then, my complete and utter distress when the last present at the Equitable party was distributed and I had received nothing. Every child around me had a gift except for me. Surely there had been a mistake. “Ask your boss if there would be presents somewhere else, Mommy,” I implored my mother, whose current panic I attributed to Santa’s major blunder. After all, she knew that he and I were tight. “I don’t think so, Judith,” she said. “It must have gotten lost.”
Needless to say, I was inconsolable. What had I done? Why didn’t Santa love me anymore? True, I hadn’t exactly been a paragon of good behavior in second grade. My smart-alecky mouth and issues with authority had already earned me two notes sent home from the teacher, a trip to the principal’s office, and a U in behavior on my report card. Was this why I didn’t get a Smurf of my own? But surely if I was proof that he knows if you’ve been bad or good, then Santa would take into account our history together. No WAY did all those other kids love him as much as I did! And no way had they run the risk of mockery from other classmates by doggedly defending his very existence!
My heart was in tatters. I think I was mostly in shock at first though, because my mother didn’t seem to realize that anything was wrong. “He’ll probably drop it off at the house on Christmas,” she assured me, thinking that all was well.
All was not well. Later on, she came into my room, and I was lying on the bed, wracked with sobs.
“Judith, what’s wrong!” she exclaimed.
“Santa…doesn’t…lovvvvvve meeeeeeee,” I managed to get out.
She looked horrified. “Oh no! Judith…”
And then it was confession time. No, she didn’t tell me there was no Santa Claus. I obviously was nowhere near ready for that. Instead, she made up a really great lie about how the parents were supposed to bring in a gift for their kids, that it was in “the spirit of Santa,” that Santa didn’t actually make the rounds until Christmas Eve, and she had forgotten about the spirit of Santa thing until she got to the party. She had no idea I would take it so hard. It was obvious that my mother felt absolutely terrible, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized she was also trying not to laugh, which, you know, who can blame her?
Did it bother me that my mother forgot about my present? No. Did it strike me as fishy that Santa was referred to by name only earlier in the day, and there had been none of this “spirit of Santa” business? No. Santa loved me again; my misbehavior in class had not destroyed our relationship, and all was well with the world again.
And also, my guilt-ridden mother promised to get me a Smurf. Which was awesome.