Sleighbells ring, are you listenin’…. la la la. My first and only trip to Santa’s lap was when I was no older than 6 or 7. Generally we were not allowed anything Christmas; no lights, no trees, no reds or greens. I wasn’t even allowed to go to a friend’s house to decorate their trees! “We’re Jewish dammit! Now what’s taking that bacon so long to cook?!”
Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what happened to bring this occurrence about. I only know that we were somewhere with my friend Jonathan and his mom. Maybe in a mall? I can’t quite recall. I only remember my flutter of excitement as, permission granted, I clambered up onto Santa’s lap. It was glorious, magical, everything I’d dreamed of. Me on one knee and my best friend on the other. So close to wishes being granted, so good! Santa turned his face to Jonathan and asked what was on his list. Jonathan and I had already discussed our answers. We both wanted remote-controlled cars. We’d seen the commercials countless times and couldn’t wait to get our hands on the buttons and throttles, to speed those red racers everywhere. So I knew what he was whispering through that cotton puffy beard. Then Santa’s attention turned to me. My insides turned to water and I thought I might throw up. The scandalous nature of my position (a nice Jewish kid sitting on Santa’s lap!) mixed with the heady tenability that he could possibly, might even be, real, along with the strong possibility that momster would regret her decision and then take that anger out on me later nearly took my breath completely away. Before the question was even out of his mouth though, I was pulling him down to whisper in his ear. In the evanescent seconds that followed my request, I saw the coalescence of question in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you prefer a dolly?”, they said. He never spoke those words. But he didn’t have to. His expression, the tilt of his head, those eyes, said it all. In humiliation I hastily looked away. Staring shamefacedly into my lap I said defiantly, though in a thin, reedy, tiny voice, “Well, I want to be a boy. That’s why. I want the remote racing car.” And with that proclamation, anger flaring and hopes dashed, I scrambled off his lap, dashing back to my mother’s side.
That night in my bed I tried hard to tamp down the overwhelming factious feelings washing through and over me. What had I done?! Why had I said that?! What was I thinking?! More importantly, what was going to happen!? What if he told my parents?! The thought made me break out in a cold sweat. Unimaginable fear and dread. I shook that scare off with logic. He hadn’t told her when she was standing right there in front of him. And anyway, I didn’t give him my name. And alternately, what if he was the real deal? Would I get the car? Screw the car, how powerful was this guy? Was Santa omnipotent enough to make me a boy??? Wouldn’t that be amazing. Warmth, hope and satisfaction washed over me. Good, maybe I was glad I said something to him. But then the squeamish anger trickled in, because it just didn’t feel right to say I “wanted” to be a boy. That never felt (still doesn’t feel) correct. I don’t want to be a boy. Inside I AM a boy. In fretful ignominy I tossed and turned through the night.
The next day I still wasn’t a boy. I was no better or worse for my transgression. My parents still did not know. And Every year at this time, at my first sighting of a Santa, I remember this experience. But for the life of me, I cannot remember whether I got the car.