I just realized this Christmas that I’ve officially retired from my job as Santa’s Helper.
I had the job for 21 years, so I think I can retire with benefits. Maybe I’ll get cookies and milk for life. But I can honestly look around my house today, empty boxes and styrofoam stacked in the mud room, wrapping paper strewn everywhere, and shirt boxes full of gift cards, tissue paper, coffee mugs and books, and say, “My work here is done.”
I think my kids will tell you I did a decent job. I tracked Santa’s journey on NORAD, helped Cary sprinkle oatmeal and glitter (reindeer bait) all over the front yard, supervised the kids as they wrote notes to Santa, and helped Santa eat the cookies, feed the carrot to Rudolph, and drink the milk, even when it threatened to curdle the three glasses of wine I had with dinner.
I was a good shopper for Santa, too. Starting with a 400-piece people-guy zoo for my son in 1990, every year Santa brought some awe-inspiring gift for somebody at our house. And I’m not talking about whatever over-hyped Talking Elmo people were gouging each others’ eyes out over. I’m talking about real good gifts. Like big earmuff headphones for everybody, and cheese for the dog.
I wrapped all Santa’s gifts in his special paper – all juvenile prints, snowmen, cartoon Santa heads, red, green, red green redgreen, redgreenredgreenredgreen. Santa didn’t have time for bows, tags or other fluff. He wrote the intended recipient’s name on the top of the package with a special red Sharpie in his handwriting, which was firm and confident, big capital letters, just the kind of penmanship you’d expect from a fun but no-nonsense, busy man.
I kept an Excel chart of what each kid was getting, keeping the cost and the number of gifts somewhat equal. To my credit, we never had a tear shed on Christmas morning, except the year my husband kept the video camera running on a tripod and I threw a hissy fit when I realized that my rear end was in the camera from 6:15 to 7:45 a.m.
I hid all of Santa’s booty well and if my kids ever found any of the stashed presents, they’ve been warned to never tell me. There are things you don’t tell your mother, ever, no matter how much time has passed.
I was careful to wait until they were really asleep before helping Santa put stuff under the tree. This got harder as they – and I – got older. One early year, when my son was about 4, while waiting for him to fall asleep, my husband and I got so involved in a Nerf basketball contest, we nearly forgot to put out the rest of Santa’s gifts, fell asleep and narrowly missed a Christmas disaster.
Years later, I was hit with a stomach virus just as our Christmas Eve guests left and I still was able to set out the presents just the way Santa always did it, in between trips to the bathroom.
I shopped in secret, hid things like a drug dealer, and lied to my kids with a straight face and looking them straight in the eye, as any good Santa’s helper should. I assembled things at 4 a.m., wrapped gifts in my 4x4 closet, and made secret returns and exchanges to the “North Pole.” If my kids’ friends told them there was no Santa, I made up stories about their mothers.
This year, the kids were in the next room when I brought Santa’s gifts out from my bedroom closet and put them under the tree. It was 8 o’clock at night on Christmas Eve. We opened the presents a half hour later, had an egg nog and by midnight I was in bed. I slept in until 9:30 the next morning and when I woke up, I realized I was retired.
All that job experience . . . all those skills . . . down the drain. No one to use my finely honed Santa’s helper traits on. Where do I go from here?
I’m thinking I may be able to get hired as a bag man, an undercover cop, or behind the perfume counter at Macy’s.