He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
From “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore
“I don’t need Santa,” June declared in a determined tone as we walked down the corridor of the hotel on our way to breakfast.
“You don’t?” I questioned.
She sighed. “I’m feeling a little sad,” she admitted.
“Do you feel sad because you have to wait until this afternoon to see Santa?” I asked.
It was eight-thirty on Saturday morning. We’d arrived in Rehoboth around seven the previous evening and from June’s perspective all we had done was wait. She’d been promised sand castles on the beach, gummy butterflies at Candy Kitchen and a visit with Santa, but when we arrived in Rehoboth after a three-hour drive, we perversely insisted on going to dinner and then checking into the hotel and going to bed before any of the good stuff happened. (She was consoled by a short walk along the boardwalk to see the lights.)
Santa was the biggest attraction and since he would not be in his little house on the boardwalk until three in the afternoon, she still had a six-and-a-half-hour wait. This is June’s first year of having any idea who Santa is. Because last year was Noah’s final year of believing in Santa, we’ve had a seamless transition from pretending for one child to pretending for the other. Noah has gotten in on the fun, playing along and telling June all about Santa.
After breakfast I took June down to the beach and we made sand castles (and sand snowballs and sand monsters and sand people menaced by sand monsters). Then she wanted to take a walk on the boardwalk. I soon realized she was steering us toward Candy Kitchen. I didn’t have my wallet with me but it was only nine thirty and I didn’t think they’d be open yet so I let her walk over to the door. I thought we could peek in and I’d promise her we’d come back. But the lights were on and soon we found ourselves inside. I told June we were just looking to decide what we’d get, but we couldn’t buy anything right now. She made a beeline for the case where the gummy candy is displayed. We affirmed that they do indeed still sell gummy butterflies. When I tried to leave, her face crumpled. “But I want gummy butterflies!” she cried on the verge of tears. The cashier rescued me, offering a free sample. We left happy.
After some Christmas shopping (the alleged purpose of the trip), a lunch of leftover pizza in the hotel room and a nap, June was ready to see Santa. We headed down to the boardwalk. There were a few people ahead of us in line. June watched them go into the little house and talk to Santa. Noah offered to go before her to show her how it was done. He chatted with Santa about school and finally said he wanted “anything with a remote control.” (My mom’s got that covered.) Then he collected a reindeer hat from Santa’s bin of prizes and stepped outside.
Now it was June’s turn. She hesitated at the threshold. I lifted her over it, set her down gently inside the house, and then followed her inside. (I’d promised ahead of time I’d go in with her.) June stood a couple feet away from Santa who held out his hands and asked if she’d like to sit on his lap. I said she’d be more comfortable standing. He asked what she’d like for Christmas. June just stood there silently, looking half-awed and half-terrified. She eyed the doorway and seemed close to bolting. Santa called out to Noah, who was just outside the house, and asked him what June wanted for Christmas.
“A cake,” he answered. She’s been saying this a lot. None of us know why.
Once June’s request was successfully transmitted, Santa offered her a reindeer hat. Out of the house with her hat in her hands, June was giddy with relief. She’d done it, she’d seen Santa and it was over. She looked at the hat proudly and said, “Santa gave it to me.” Pretty soon, she was engaging in some revisionist history, claiming, “I talked to Santa.” No one corrected her.
The rest of the weekend sped by. We returned to Candy Kitchen, shopped some more and I played a couple more times on the beach with both kids. I also got to take a long solitary walk on the beach at dusk. We enjoyed the hot tub and the ocean view in our room and watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town on the big screen television while eating Thai take-out. There was a gorgeous blood-red moon rising over the ocean on Saturday and later that evening June and I took a second tour of the boardwalk lights.
At lunchtime on Sunday we encountered Santa again at a restaurant where he was roaming through the dining room. As we were the only ones eating there at the time, he came by our table several times. Noah was talkative, but June cringed. Apparently she didn’t expect to have to screw up her courage to see Santa all over again and this time right before naptime when she can be emotionally fragile. The waitress brought paper and crayons and asked if the kids would like to write letters to Santa. We thought this might be easier to handle than face-to-face conversation. Noah said he’d already talked to him on the boardwalk, so he and Beth collaborated on a drawing of a Christmas tree instead. I asked June what she’d like from Santa. She didn’t answer right away so Beth suggested books. June agreed, and then she remembered about the cake. I wrote it all down in red and green crayon and we left the drawing and the letter in the stocking on the wall where Santa was collecting letters. The waitress gave us candy canes and we soon we were driving back to Maryland.
It was a good weekend. I made a decent start on my shopping. I felt the sand in my fingers, the water rushing over my rubber boot tops and the sun on my face. June got her sand castles, gummy butterflies and a visit with Santa.
We’ve been home several days, but she’s still processing the trip. She often mentions how big Santa is, asks when he is coming and claims she can hear him laughing. Then she demonstrates: “Ho ho ho.” At school this morning she made a drawing “for Santa” and later she asked me, “Why does Santa bring presents for children?” Then tonight at dinner she told us a story in which she was Santa and got into her sleigh and flew away. She made a large sweeping motion with her arms as she said this. Imagining being Santa seemed to make her joyous and expansive.
I don’t know if she needs Santa, strictly speaking, but he fascinates her and I hope that as time passes, her fascination grows into comfort and she realizes she has nothing to dread.