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The Motherlode: Santa Mom

December 19, 2018

Right about now I stand in shock that I am, in actual fact, Santa Claus again this year.

Remember that concept of tip-toeing off to bed? Something about dancing sugar plums and a long winter’s nap? There’s a plate of cookies and milk left by the chimney with care ... and in sweet anticipation of a nutcracker-like slumber, you slip under the warm blankets until the miracle of Christmas arrives the next morning.

Well, wake up sister, because it’s not happening unless you get your game on. And you’ll have to eat that whole plate of cookies.

“Mom, I know it’s all you and there is no Santa Claus,” my 10-year-old daughter explained the other day, feigning ennui with the whole business.

“Yeah, well keep that up and we’ll see where you end up Christmas morning,” I warned her in a Grinch-like tone.

And just like that, she popped back to a wide-eyed wonder of a Santa-loving child. We are still in the sweet spot of childhood, albeit with ominous teenage portents here and there.

But what if Santa didn’t arrive one year? Or more to the point, if some mother decided to stand down one Christmas Eve.

“Screw it! Santa, if you’re so great YOU do it all this year, fat guy,” she might say, bleary-eyed after assembling an awful mega toy with a zillion pieces, batteries not included.

And then she’d hustle off to bed with the wide-eyed wonder of a forty-something who never thought she could be this tired.

“Claire, I’m actually sweating I’m working so hard,” my husband, Ian, complained on our first Christmas Eve as parents.

For some reason we found it enormously important to overwhelm our then-9-month-old son Louie with a vast array of wrapped gifts even though he had no idea what was going on.

Ian and I stayed up all night carefully setting up the spectacle of our first child’s first Christmas — and Louie couldn’t walk, talk or play with most of the toys. He loved the wrapping paper, though.

These days, three children in, Ian and I have it down to a science. Or a prison chain gang. We don’t stop shopping and wrapping until the work is done, even if it means we sleep only one hour before the excruciatingly early Christmas morning wake-up frenzy.

“Isn’t this supposed ... to be ... fun?” Ian asked wearily one year.

My mom has this great story of when my brothers and I were growing up in Brooklyn. Each year, we went to a family party where parents got inebriated and massacred Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, while children raced about high on sugar and Christmas anticipation. Returning home around midnight one Christmas Eve, my mom suddenly discovered disaster.

“Peter, all the decals are in the wrong places,” she told my dad, who had spent two hours assembling a 1983 Big Wheel Deluxe.

“These decals will go wherever the hell I put them, Jean.” my dad yelled back.

Let’s review all the hard work on Christmas Eve. First you have to get your kids asleep. But that requires reading “’Twas The Night Before Christmas,” leaving cookies and milk for Santa, rehanging the stockings with care, etc. Just try skipping one step and your kids will stage the “Nightmare Before Christmas.” The whole tradition is tailor-made to not get your kids to bed. And once they’re finally tucked in, there’s follow-up questions.

“Mommy, what exactly does it mean when they say Santa will see you when you’re sleeping? Is he coming in here to watch me sleep? Can I sleep in your room?”

Thanks, Santa.

Yet the fat guy in the red suit gets all the credit while I fall asleep in my mother’s creamed spinach hours later at Christmas dinner.

There’s one solace: You are not alone.

“OK, are we done here?” my friend Sandra asked me impatiently after I called to chat. “I hear what you are saying, but I have about 50 million things I need to do today. Christmas is six days away, Claire.”

Six days?

Somehow between now and then I have to sort through everyone’s gifts, make sure every child has roughly the same amount of loot, go to Costco to buy a tenderloin, massive amounts of bacon and other necessary Christmas food, pack everything up and drive five hours to the Adirondacks.

Six days.

But here’s the thing for mothers. There is always a moment, however small and fleeting, just before you head to bed on Christmas Eve. You have spent all night setting up and now you can gaze on your work: a perfect spectacle of tinseled Christmas wonder. The presents are piled high and you even left half the milk and part of a cookie to complete the illusion. You nailed it again, Santa Mom.

And so as you turn off the last light and head up the stairs, you look back. The window pane rattles, as the wind roars past. The quiet of the house hums audibly. And you smile somewhere inside. Because after all, Santa is coming.

Merry Christmas.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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