The Easter Bunny Died On A Sunday

I wasn’t ready.  No one is.  I was sitting across from my 9 year old son in a breakfast diner.  I had just slurped down a welcome bit of coffee and was waiting on my waffles.  Suddenly, he said, “Mom, okay, you need to be a 100% honest with me:  Is there really a Santa?”  This was in May.  What kid asks this question in May?  Maybe November when thoughts of sugar plums begin to dance in their heads but not May.  This wasn’t the first time he had asked the question but I’d somehow dodged the bullet.  That was in December, closer to the ubiquitous thoughts of Christmas and I was ready for it.  Or at least, I was wondering if my then eight year old still believed in Santa.  So, I had a rough answer prepared.  But the May query caught me off guard and so, I decided in the space of 2 seconds a sacrifice had to be made to throw him off the trail.  So, I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Santa, is totally real.  The Easter Bunny is not.”  My husband, startled, looked up from his smart phone and gave me a look of what have you done ?!?!?! Which was followed by my son saying, “What?! But, everyone at school thinks the Easter Bunny is real!” Are you kidding me?  While everyone was discussing the existence of Santa in his Gr. 4 class, apparently  the Easter Bunny was off the discussion board because a 7 ft bunny that randomly hides chocolate for the amusement of children for no apparent motive, unlike Santa who has a moral undertone to his actions, is without question real in the minds of nine and ten year olds.  Go figure.

I guess a kid in his class had found unopened toys identical to those later received under the auspices of “Santa”.  He threw the class into a tizzy with his suspicions and I was left dealing with the aftermath.  I had sincerely thought the first mythical creature under suspicion would be the Easter Bunny because of the gaping hole in his back story.   Santa and the Leprechaun have loads of tales to corroborate their existence but the Bunny seems to pop out of nowhere and he has absolutely nothing to do with the spiritual gravitas of the coinciding Christian observances.  The Easter Bunny is just fluffy lore to pun it nicely.  Mental note:  children are easily fooled or at least their reasoning can be abducted with a few tasty morsels of chocolate; plan to lay out more chocolate around Christmas.

At this point you’re probably wondering what I told him to make him believe in Santa.  Well, it wasn’t that hard because some part of me really does believe in Santa.  The story I told him was evidence of some grander magic embodied by the man in red and it began like this:

When I was ten years old, we were living in a trailer on a First Nations reserve in Alberta.  This trailer was on loan to any teacher that wanted to live on reserve while they taught at the school, which my Mom did.  She was teaching special education, meaning they had cleared out a storage closet, stuck some desks in it and she tutored any student that had special learning needs.  The teacher trailers, as they were known, were relatively cheap to live in compared to the nearest town or city, which was Lloydminster, an hour drive away.  The major downside to these derelict trailers were the infestations of mice.  The trailers had never been properly sealed or if they had, there were now multiple entry points from the outside.  Trailer row was occupied by only one staff member from the school, that being my Mom and the rest of the trailers were occupied by band members since no roof was to be left unoccupied on a reserve with chronic housing shortages.  It was a testament to my mother’s economic situation which was more distressed than the average teacher at the school.  My step-dad was chronically underemployed and she being the only earner, we lived paycheck to paycheck.  The cheap rent made the money go further, even if the extra cash went into my step-dad’s pocket to play Bingo – one of his few pleasures and social outings that didn’t entail binge drinking.

Anybody who has lived in a mice infested home knows the first thing one learns is to never, ever trust a box of cereal or crackers or anything that can be chewed through by hungry mice teeth.  Upon pouring out the cereal into one’s bowl, you find a disappointing array of rice shaped black droppings and you curse yourself for having left the box lid opened.  One morning I found a half drowned mouse in the left opened honey container.  Being ten, I took this opportunity to place the distressed mouse in a cage we had kicking about and decided to give it water, some food and grass to bed on.  The mouse spent a long time trying to clean its fur but the grass kept sticking to it and it was a miserable mess.  My mother came home and demanded the mouse be returned outside which I dutifully did.  The reserve had various packs of roaming dogs, the teacher trailers being a popular spot for one group because of the readily available scraps pitched by a concentrated group of inhabitants.  Most homes at that time were built several miles apart but as the number of people grew and the economies of running infrastructure to groups of homes made more sense, rows of homes became more common.  I remember putting the sticky, sweet mouse outside and the pack of dogs sniffing and following the curious bonbon.  I didn’t wait around to see what happened.

I had a curious dream at that time, one that entailed my head being entangled in something and me trying to disentangle myself.  In the morning I found mouse droppings all over my pillow.  The mice were getting bold.  I decided I would try to catch them.  This was more for fun and to rid myself of boredom.  I propped a box on a stick with a string tied to it, left some food under the box and waited on the other end of the string.  My trap was set in the middle of the kitchen floor.  This usually never works because mice try to stay to the perimeter but by this point they had the run of the house.  I caught one, two, three, four, five.  It stopped being fun and I went to bed hoping they wouldn’t join me.

Christmas was on the horizon and that year my niece came to stay with us.  My step-dad had a daughter in her twenties and she had a four year old daughter.  It was fun having a younger kid to play with after my older sister had left home the year before.  It also made Christmas seem more exciting because Santa would have two reasons to visit. On Christmas morning, we had a plethora of gifts and the most memorable were the 4 ft cloth dolls we each were given.  I’m pretty sure that Christmas was special for my niece too because if I thought my life was hardscrabble, it was nothing in comparison to what she had and would eventually experience.

A short time later, I don’t recollect how the conversation started, maybe I was asking my Mom if Santa really existed, my Mom admitted to me there had almost been no gifts for Christmas.  She told me that as we sat in the motel room in Lloydminster, the load of groceries bought and the overdue bills paid, just a few days away from Christmas, she had just $30 left.  We were driving home the next morning so she decided to give my step-dad his Christmas present – the last $30 to play Bingo.  There was probably two reasons for this, one to keep him at the motel for the night so he wouldn’t ditch us to go drinking and two, to chance a bit of luck.  Well, he got lucky – twice.  He won $700 that evening and so they decided to keep the room another night so my Mom could buy presents the next day.  He went back to play the next day and won $500.  This was 1988 and that was A LOT of money back then.  My step-dad had also lost a lot of money at Bingo but that one time, the most important time as far as I’m concerned, he won.  As my Mom told me this story, as disturbed as I was that our fate could have been much worse and that it also implied Santa had not directly given us these gifts, I felt – no I believed powerful magic had enabled my step-dad to win.  From then on, my understanding of Santa matured from the jolly fellow that swoops down the chimney to the spirit of something much larger than ourselves, the cumulative understanding of something good and holy that pushes us to do better and create magic for the downtrodden and vulnerable.  We were not a Christian household, so the birth of Christ never factored into this epiphany but as I’ve grown older, I recognize the spiritual duality of Jesus and the Santa lore.

When I told this story to my son, he nodded his head knowingly and looked relieved.  Children understand magic.  They understand it inherently and we have to protect it  when we are trying to make sense of the world.  I feel a bit bad about killing the Easter Bunny.  My husband secretly admonished me that night, after the kids had gone to bed.  He told me he believed in the Easter Bunny for a long time.  I think a tiny part of him still does.  In future I need to be more careful in guarding those mythical creatures that inhabit my home for they also inhabit my family’s hearts where they embolden the imagination and fortify against despair.  For what is more precious than faith whether it be in a God, the universe, or in a red nosed, grizzled old man?  Who am I to judge.

 

 

 

Christmas Vacation

My son is a holiday dictator.  I mean that in a good way.  He has taken our playful observances of Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas and imposed a strict timeline of decor, tradition and excitement.  He can be depended on to initiate and sometimes completely take over decorating for the holidays and only due to his short stature are we obliged to hang lights above 4 ft or help with the stove and measuring if baking is required.

Since he was old enough to talk he would come outside and help me in any way he could to prop, hang and dig our Halloween decorations into place.  It didn’t help that I would talk about Halloween starting around the end of August and build the momentum until we had baked Halloween cupcakes, bought more Halloween decorations to add to our growing collection, tried on and played with our tickle trunk of costumes for several weeks and slowly overtook the end tables, mantle, walls and coffee table with an assortment of kitschy Halloween paraphernalia.  My husband eventually imposed an October 1 start date on our Halloween madness so that no planning or purchase of  goods or early decorating could be mentioned so as to minimize his growing ire with our enthusiasm.

Valentine’s Day was forever imposed on happy memories when we took our 14 month old son to a fancy restaurant on a ‘family date.’  Most people would think us insane to attempt it but we were on kid #1 and we wanted to maintain some sort of normalcy in our relationship.  Our son recognized our attire and decorum had changed in the candle lit and flowered setting.  He similarly put on a charming display of smiles and goodwill as he wolfed down mashed potatoes and braised beef in a wine reduction sauce.  The delicate desserts of chocolate encrusted confection impressed him as much as it did us.  The crowning moment came when we handed our Valentine’s Day cards to one another which we alternatively gushed over and then handed an envelope over to our toddler; he opened it to discover a card embossed with a smiling truck and large billowing hearts.  He was over the moon to receive it and he kept opening and closing it, each time looking up to express his amazement.  Every year we go on a ‘family date’ on Valentine’s Day and believe me, kid #1 and #2 love getting their cards and sometimes a few red, shiny knick knacks to go with it.

Easter is of course the time of the Bunny and all the tasty treats waiting to be found.  St. Patrick’s Day found a foothold when the year long ban on sugary cereal was lifted by a rascally leprechaun who left an opened box of Lucky Charms and wee little gifts of tiny handwriting and a forgotten shoe (the shoe was taken to school the next day for the other children to marvel at and is now in storage in a treasure box hidden somewhere in my son’s room).

Nothing quite compares to my son’s reverence for the tradition of Christmas.  By the time December 25th had been realized this year, my son had made laborious attempts at creating a magical feeling in our household.  He was adamant about purchasing a 12 ft blow up Santa with his own savings of gift and allowance money but his father and I demurred and made the purchase ourselves.   He strung the tree with lights before I even knew he had finished and he brought up the ornaments from the basement with the fervor of reclaimed memories.  Despite the Christmas music and his little sister’s drunken delight in the glass balls and delicate figurines, he grumbled the tree was perhaps too haphazardly assembled and would require some better coordination of lights, garlands and ornamentation to be truly beautiful.   He then could not stand the hollow beneath the lowest branches and proceeded to wrap the presents he had purchased at the school Christmas flea market and even hustled to make some drawings carefully folded and wrapped so as to add height to the first stack of shiny papered packages.  Surfaces were claimed for singing dioramas of polar bears and penguins and removable hooks were attached to the walls and mantle to string even more lights.  His little sister got on the wagon of festive cheer by insisting beautiful cookies were to be made for Santa and our friends.  On Christmas eve the four of us sat around the table for several hours dabbing the final edible beads on our iced sugar cookies of trees, snowmen and snowflakes.

What happens to a boy as he grows up each year with another layer of memory and fondness for the warm glow of family and magic?  Four Christmases ago, when his little sister was just 7 month old and I and my husband were straining under broken sleep, the reality of searching out a live tree was too daunting.  The family in Saskatchewan, 7 driving hours away, was anticipating our visit and the new baby for Christmas so we told our son that we would forego a tree that year.  Our son had just turned six a few days before and he made a remarkable decision.  We had a three foot plastic tree in a weighted decorative pot with white lights meant to decorate the outdoor threshold of a home.  He asked that we bring it up from the basement and use it as our Christmas tree.  We thought it was a great idea and decided the white lights would suffice for decoration.  But, over the next several days while we were distracted with the usual baby/household demands, he dug through the Christmas boxes and finished decorating the humble tree by himself with a plethora of ornaments.  It had begun.

To give you a sense of what awaits our family you need only to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” circa 1989.  Chevy Chase stars as Clark Griswold, the torch bearer to all hopes and dreams of Christmas past and present.  Hours are spent on a confusing array of string lights, ladder and staple gun to bring messianic splendor to his home’s and family’s exterior.  An epic crusade to the forest finds him the perfect tree which induces his daughter’s hypothermia and overwhelms his living room.   When it is destroyed by neglected watering and a reckless cigar, he is driven to a temporary insanity which finds him hacking down a front yard evergreen.  Two thirds through the movie I had my epiphany – all Clark Griswolds were once little boys who embraced the holidays with overzealous dreams and lofty ambitions.  They were the boys that hauled the boxes two times their weight up from the basement and began the decorating in earnest while mom and dad drank wine and played cribbage.  These were the boys that grew up to be men with synchronized Christmas music and light shows that choked up neighborhood traffic and were later posted on YouTube.  I saw all of it clearly and in the midst of the movie I turned to my son and jokingly said, “That’s you.  That’s you when you’re a dad.”  Except my son didn’t laugh.  He turned back to the screen, took in the frenetic joy of chaos, lights, family and eggnog and gave a knowing nod in agreement. Damned if I hadn’t raised our torch bearer.   He would surpass even my own aspirations of holiday grandeur.  Now, I just had to survive several more years before he relinquished my home and decorations in exchange for his own.  It’s a wonderful life when you got family like this.