That’s me in that picture. I was nine years old, wiped out from an exciting day opening presents, playing with my toys and sneaking sips of “grown up drinks” when no one was looking. Those Winnie-the-Pooh feetie pajamas were the height of sleepwear fashion back then, as was the decorative yarn in my hair.
I wrote thank you letters to Santa back then, because I was still young and naive enough to believe that the fat guy really existed. Nevermind that I had this inkling that reindeer couldn’t fly and that it was physically impossible for Santa to carry all those toys and swoop around the world in one night. A couple of listens to the Man of LaMancha Broadway soundtrack (as prescribed by my my mother) and I learned how to dream the impossible dream. So Santa was real, as was the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and the little goblins that lived under my bed and would bite my feet off if they hung over the bed at night. Which is why I wore feetie pajamas. The bites didn’t hurt as much.
Makes you wonder how much of your childhood thoughts were based on lies your parents told you. All those fictional holiday heroes were just figments of someone’s overactive imagination. Who thought these things up, anyhow? Hey, let’s make up some neat characters whose reward system of toys and candy and money will bribe the children into behaving and later on, when they are older, we’ll spring it on them that (ha ha!) we were just kidding and they will be crushed by the unfairness and duplicity of it all! Well, that certainly prepared us for dealing with politicians, didn’t it? Remember back in the 60′s when the great mantra of the time was don’t trust anyone over 30? They were right. Once you hit adulthood you begin lying to kids as if it were programmed into you.
My mother and aunts used scare tactics that placed Jesus and his dad in the role of Big Brother. Jesus will be upset if you do that! God is watching you! He’ll punish you for that! And then I would trip over the dog or bang my head on the cabinet and I would wonder what I did to make God punish me like that.
The lies seemed to roll of their tongues with ease. If you have a sore in your mouth, it’s from lying. Have you been lying to me? I used to lay in bed at night wondering how many Ethiopian kids were starving to death because I refused to eat my spinach. All that stuff had to be true. Because if it wasn’t true about the starving kids and the eyes in the back of my mother’s head (I never did find them, no matter how hard I looked), then everything must be a lie, including Santa. So I believed it all because not believing one thing would mean not believing anything they told me.
I went on asking for and accepting gifts from St. Nick. He didn’t bring my everything I asked for, of course and one year – I believe it was the year of that photo – I came to the conclusion that Santa was not bringing me a record player or a baby brother (Two sisters? Is that some kind of punishment?) because I was being selfish. I figured if I doctored up my Christmas list with some altruistic wishes, I would get everything I want because Santa would see that I was an unselfish, caring, compassionate little girl.
I asked for world peace. That’s what all the people on tv asked for when they were interviewed about their Christmas wishes. I asked that the starving kids in Africa get some food. And please, make Jesus stop watching me all the time, because that’s your job, Santa and it’s kinda weird to have the two of always knowing if I’m bad or good and it puts the pressure on me to be good for goodness sake.
So Christmas morning, I woke up and ran to the living room, expecting a nicely wrapped box under the tree that would contain world peace and an end to hunger, piled on top of boxes that contained all the good stuff I wished for. It’s not that I didn’t want world peace, I just wanted it in tandem with the doll whose hair grows. When I got to the living room, dad was already up, the tv on and, well, crap. The war was still going on! Which led me to believe that the kids in Africa were still starving, despite my Christmas wishes! Damn you, Santa, damn you to hell!
Much to my surprise I did get the record player. And I did get the doll with the hair that grew. I didn’t get the baby brother but, looking back, that was probably in my best interest. It turns out I didn’t really care much about world peace anyhow at that age, because I spent the rest of the day in Christmas glory, playing with my new toys and listening to my Disney records.
Now I’m thinking about Santa again, and what I would ask for if he was real, if there really was a guy who could grant me favors and wishes once a year.
It sure would be nice of me to wish for things like world peace, a good economy and a better rock radio station in New York. I could even do something really nice for the world and wish for an end to Uwe Boll’s career. But in a little twist of fate, it turns out that what I really want is….a record player.
It turns out that 37 years after that one Christmas of my youth I’ve been reminiscing about all morning, my Christmas at 46 will be pretty much the same as my Christmas at 9: the war will still be going on, kids will still be starving in Africa and I will most probably get my record player.
Would it make me appear any less selfish if the first record I play is “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”