Unwrapped Christmas gifts cover every inch of the kitchen table. Stuffed animals stacked on top of Barbie dolls stacked on top of puzzles stacked on top of Nintendo DS gadgets stacked on top of Dream Houses. There are too many to count. Lola, my daughter, sits on a chair in front of the table. I walk into the room with two rolls of wrapping paper under my arm, scissors, tape and some green and red bows.
“We’re gonna wrap these presents like Eminem and Snoop Dogg,” I say.
Lola slowly turns her head and gives me a motherly look, like I’m the eight-year-old who just told a fart joke. She deliberately blinks her eyes to add effect.
“That’s not funny,” she says.
“It’s a little funny,” I say.
“No. And who the heck is Snoop Dogg?”
“He’s a rap legend. Fo shizzle.”
“Never mind, we have to wrap all of these gifts. Let’s start an assembly line.”
I cut the paper and wrap the gifts, then Lola tapes them and puts a bow on top. One by one we start to wrap each gift. In the other room we can hear Jenn, Lola’s mom, sorting through hundreds of unanswered letters from Santa with Grandma Claire and her two cousins, Perryn and Dana. Stuffed animals are really hard to wrap without a box. We keep going.
“Is Santa real?” Lola holds her hand out for more tape.
“Yeah,” I say. I believe in the spirit of Santa, so I’m not lying. Santa Claus is the magic we all possess inside ourselves. I remember my first Christmas in Maine. It was December 24, 1977, and I was on the fence about my belief. I wanted to know the truth, so I asked. My mom told me that Santa is real if you believe he’s real. I didn’t know the definition of “ambiguous” or “convoluted” at the time, but if I had, that’s how I would have described her explanation. I was more confused than before. The next morning I awoke to a brand new blue and white New England Patriots bike, decked out with decals, stickers and the Patriot’s logo on its front. It was awesome even though I was already a Cleveland Browns fan. But what was even better than the bike was the joy I saw my parents receiving from my own joy. And that cinched it for me. “Yes, Santa is real.”
“This is what I don’t understand then,” Lola says. “How come Mommy has to answer all of those letters for Santa then?”
That’s a good question. Jenn started a charity called Mrs. Clause for a Cause that works directly with Harlem Dowling, one of New York City’s first orphanages founded in 1836. Mommy is trying to figure out how she’s going to answer over 500 wishes from kids to Santa.
“Sometimes Santa needs help,” I say. Just then, Jenn walks into the kitchen. “Lola was wondering why you have to answer all of these letters if Santa is real.”
“Well,” Jenn says. “A lot of these kids are in foster homes or they live with their grandparents or aunts and uncles. So sometimes they don’t have a return address to put on their letters to Santa because they move around a lot.”
Good answer, Jenn.
“Cool,” Lola says. “That makes sense.”
“Come on, Lola. We gotta keep wrapping,” I say.
“Is there really a guy named Snoop Dogg?”