One of the best things about being retired is being able to spend more time with the grandchildren.
This year I was even invited to go Christmas shopping with five of them and their moms.
My job was to entertain the kids when they began to get bored. I thought they were quite well behaved. Of course, it helps if you don’t mind making a real fool of yourself in a crowded store.
On one of the last stops I found myself pushing a cart that held the almost 2-year-old and the noisiest toy I could find. Her first-grade brother was running along beside the cart so he didn’t miss his turn to push the button that made the toy bong, jingle, grind, rattle, wail, and flash lights.
Hey, I should worry. No one knew me there. The store management should have been happy. Lots of kids were picking that toy up after they saw what it could do.
When that wore thin, we moved the cart rapidly through the aisles making train noises while deftly avoiding collisions. It made the little one happy, but her brother had discovered the scanners that gave customers prices on toys. So, in every aisle he picked up a toy, checked the price, and then badgered his mom, “Will you buy me this?”
She began by refusing with a soft polite, “Not now,” progressed through, “Santa’s coming soon,” and finally arrived at, “If you ask for one more thing I’ll…” When she finished he put the umpteenth toy back, stalked over to my cart and muttered through clenched teeth to no one in particular, “There’s one more thing I want for Christmas—a new mom!”
On the way to the mall, the 6-year-old granddaughter kept reminding everyone that we had to get home in time to see Santa at Corning, Grandpa’s old stomping ground.
Halfway through the trip the moms realized we wouldn’t make it to Corning, so they offered a visit to the mall Santa who was more interested in getting an 18-year-old girl on his knee than in the kids. He also wasn’t too happy that the mom brought her own camera instead of buying their premium priced photos. He did pose graciously with both sets of kids and gave them their treats — little boxes of cereal.
But, big sister noticed baby brother didn’t get a treat. She strode back through the exit and politely pointed out, “You didn’t give my brother his treat!”
Santa looked surprised, checked out the 9-month-old brother in his stroller and replied, “I didn’t think he could eat it.”
The 6-year-old sister looked at Santa in disbelief, “What do you think he is, a baby?” She took the treat and stowed it under the stroller while the fourth-grade oldest sister gave Santa a sympathetic smile.
Much later, as we were returning home, the first-grade sister said, “How soon will we see the Santa at Corning?”
The moms and I hesitated for a second. We knew we were dealing with a very tired child.
Her mom finally said, “We’re not going to see that Santa.”
Came the predictable wail, “But you promised!” And then, Mom’s equally predictable, “No, remember you talked to the Santa at the mall.”
“You don’t understand! You said to tell each Santa just one thing I wanted. I got seven things to go.” That’s why the kids got ice cream at a drive-thru on a really cold day.
The next day I wondered just how old kids are now when they quit believing in Santa. I decided to ask an expert — the third-grade granddaughter who stopped by to visit. “Do you believe in Santa?”
She nodded her head positively as she said, “Yes!” Then she explained. “Everyone knows that parents buy the clothes and stuff like that you get for Christmas, but Santa brings the toys. I feel sorry for the kids who don’t believe in Santa. They don’t get many toys.” Her mom was always a practical kid too.
So don’t forget, keep believing in Santa if you want to get toys, and please remember that Christmas is Christ’s birthday.
Best wishes for a happy holiday from our house to yours!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate on Dec. 20, 1995.