You’d Better Not Cry, I’m Telling You Why

You’d better watch out, you’d better not pout
You’d better not cry, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming town

From “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Gillespie Coots

“Don’t sit there!” June cried, as I started to slide into the seat next to her at the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge late Friday afternoon. We were eating an early dinner en route to Rehoboth for our annual Christmas shopping trip.

I stood and stared at her, waiting for an explanation. “Lillian’s sitting there,” she said. Early in the drive, she’d informed us that her older sister Lillian, who is five years old, was sitting in the back seat, in between her and Noah. Noah has had the same imaginary mouse friend since he was three years old, but June’s imaginary friends come and go so quickly it’s hard to keep track of them. In fact, while we were at Taco Bell, she acquired two more sisters. One was named Sally and I can’t remember the baby’s name.

A classmate of hers has a baby brother on the way and June’s a bit put out that we refuse to supply her with a baby sibling as well. She seems to think the Yellow Gingko is getting an unfair advantage here. At least that baby is a boy because otherwise June would be even more jealous. She really wants a “she baby.” Along with June’s newfound attentiveness to gender norms has come a preference for all things female, the more insistently marked as female the better. The stuffed penguin with the ribbon on its head is better than the one with the Santa hat, for instance, because “it’s a girl and I like girls.”

We arrived at our hotel around 7:15. There was enough time to let the kids burn off some of their pent-up energy from the drive jumping on the beds. I was hoping by bedtime they’d be calm and sleepy so I could slip away for a walk on the beach. Silly me.

Well, they were in bed by 8:05, but the sleeping part wasn’t happening. We’d put them in one double bed, reserving the other one for ourselves. Noah and June have never slept in the same bed before and the novelty of the arrangement was exciting. So exciting June felt the need to poke Noah repeatedly, causing him to squeal and squirm and jump out of the bed from time to time. Around 8:30 I gave up trying to get them to sleep and I decided to leave for my walk. I told Beth she was authorized to separate them if she thought it was the only way to get them to sleep and to issue any consequences or enticements to sleep she thought might work. June started to cry as I left. Wincing with guilt, I ignored her and slipped out the door.

Even though we were in an oceanfront hotel, it was a ten-minute walk to the beach because the section of the boardwalk in front of the hotel is undergoing repairs and there’s no beach access for several blocks. Once I got to the boardwalk, I was surprised to see the colored lights that usually light up the boardwalk around Christmas were nowhere in evidence. Even worse, I didn’t see Santa’s house. Half the reason we come to Rehoboth in December is to see Santa in his natural habitat. Yes, our children believe (or believed in Noah’s case) that the only real Santa you see this time of year is the one at the Rehoboth boardwalk. If he wasn’t there, we’d be in trouble the next day.

I took a short walk on the beach, but I was too disturbed by the Santa problem to fully enjoy it. I decided to go back to Rehoboth Avenue and scout around. I tried the bandstand first, then the area in front of the huge Christmas tree. No Santa house. Just as I was about to give up I spied it. It was on the sidewalk in front of Grotto Pizza. Relieved, I checked his hours and found Santa would be receiving visitors starting at 3 p.m. Saturday.

I returned to the room at 9:15. I was sure Noah would be asleep by then but I wasn’t so sure about June. She’s been resisting bedtime the past few months and it would not be unusual for her to still be up at 9:15, even at home. I tried to enter the room as quietly as possible. Both Noah and June sat straight up in bed. I was back! Where had I been? Why did I take so long? Beth reported they’d consulted with each other and decided I was out buying them Christmas presents because there was no other explanation for such a lengthy absence. After they came to this conclusion, June composed and sang a ballad about how I’d left them and was never coming back. (Both of the children sing non-stop but whereas Noah’s singing has the cheerful tone of show tunes, June’s songs resemble mournful-sounding mid-century folk music. Think Joan Baez, circa 1959.)

I lay down with the children and sang some lullabies in hopes of getting them to sleep but the poking had resumed and I decided to separate them. Beth joined Noah in his bed and I carried a limp and exhausted June to the other bed. I told her I was going to take a shower and then I’d come to bed with her. Noah fell asleep before I emerged from the bathroom, but it was past ten before June slept. I think Beth fell asleep before she did. Once the room was filled with the sleeping breathing, I stood in front of the sliding glass doors and watched the waves crashing on the beach for ten minutes before I crawled back into bed. I fell asleep listening to the sound of the sea.

Noah popped out of bed at 6:05. He went to the bathroom so he could turn on a light to read without disturbing anyone. June was up by 6:30. I was hoping she’d sleep later because she’d been up so late, but no dice.

Intermittent rain in the morning and steady rain in the afternoon was forecast so our plan was for me to take the kids to play on the beach after breakfast if it wasn’t raining since it might be our only chance all day. Since we’re always up for hours before any stores open, it seemed like a good plan: play on the beach, shop, lunch, nap, Santa, more shopping, dinner. Well, it was raining pretty steadily when we woke up, and still raining during the reconnaissance mission June and took to see what restaurants were open at 7:30, and still raining while we ate our blintzes and bagels at the Gallery Espresso ( (I had the pumpkin blintzes, which I recommend if pumpkin pie for breakfast sounds like a good idea to you.) It was a hard, cold rain, too, so the beach was out and it was past nine when the first few shops open so we decided to start shopping.

Beth and June went to Browse About Books ( while Noah and I swung by the hotel so he could change shirts. (The berry blitzes he ate for breakfast were hard on his pale blue button down.) When we got to the bookstore, we found June pushing around a little shopping cart and filling it with many items, quite of few of them pink and sparkly. I tried explaining that when we Christmas shop, we try to select items the recipient will like and not things we like. June considered this and suggested brightly that we just buy everything in the cart for her.

“I suppose you’ve already had this conversation,” I said to Beth. She nodded. We decided to let June continue with her shopping unfettered for a little while longer so we could browse for our own gifts. But eventually the moment of reckoning had to come. I picked through her cart and actually a few salvageable items. There was a little book that allows you to write limericks by filling in the blanks. Noah likes poetry and Mad Libs so we thought it would work as a gift for him. There was also something crafty I thought my sister might enjoy doing with June so we said she could buy that, too, for Auntie Sara. Everything else would have to stay in the store, we told her. June was crushed. How could she leave Lila at the store? Lila was rag doll in a princess costume with blonde hair streaked with pink. It was a bad sign that June had given her a name. Clearly, she was in love.

Beth threw out some broad hints that maybe June would get something like Lila for Christmas. Then she suggested they take a picture of her holding Lila so she could keep that as a memento. They were still deep in negotiations as I wound my way to the checkout counter with June’s purchases, a birthday card for my stepfather, and a copy of Black Beauty for Noah. He’s been reading the A-Z Mystery series (, which is so poorly written it inspired me to buy him some classics. There was a book signing by Bam Margera ( scheduled for noon and an hour before the start time, the store was jam-packed with teenagers standing in a line that snaked through the aisles, so we agreed I’d wait for them at the front of the store instead of trying to fight my way back to the children’s area.

As I waited I heard crying. That sounds familiar, I thought. I hoped it was someone else’s kid, but I didn’t think it was. Beth arrived with a sobbing, doll-less June in tow. She left her with me as she went to make her own purchases. As Beth walked away I asked if I should offer to make our previously scheduled stop at Candy Kitchen our next stop. “That sounds like a great idea,” Beth said. With that promise, June’s tears started to taper off. And once we were in the store and she had a lollipop of her own, she was even able to listen to Beth’s instructions about what kind of treats certain people like best and to look for them. I’m not saying she’s embraced the spirit of giving yet (that’s a long, multi-part lesson) but I think we made a little headway.

After lunch and a nap, it was time to visit Santa. Still curled up in bed with her, I told June that Santa might say “Ho Ho ho,” and then he would ask her name. Concern crossed June’s sleepy face, “But he knows,” she said.

“He might not recognize you from last year since you’ve grown so much,” I said, thinking fast.

June beamed. “He’ll be surprised to see I growed into three!” she said.

Noah, who hasn’t believed in Santa for two years, had agreed to go through the motions for June’s sake. He went into the house and greeted Santa. Santa asked if he knew what he needed to do to get presents. What? Listen to his mother and try his best in school, Santa answered. Then he asked if Noah knew what he wanted. Noah was coy and wouldn’t say. Santa knows, Santa assured him. Then Santa turned to June, who needed a little convincing to step into the house, even with Noah still in the room. Santa said she didn’t need to sit on his lap. Some children like to touch his finger to see if he’s real, he suggested. June held out her finger and they touched fingertips briefly. Did she know what she wanted? She was unable to speak. I asked Noah to convey her request, which she’d gone over with us many times during the past few weeks. A princess tent, Noah said.

“A princess tent. We have a lot of those in the workshop,” he assured her.

Then Santa’s assistant gave both kids little bags of cookies and we left.

June was keyed up from her encounter with Santa. “We didn’t shake hands. We shook fingers!” she said giddily.

The rain was still coming down but I hadn’t been to the beach all day and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I got myself a 20-ounce hot cranberry tea and wrapped a wool scarf over my head (it was too windy for an umbrella and my jacket has no hood) and I went out to brave the elements. No one can say I am the beach’s fair weather friend.

At five, we met up for dinner at Grotto’s. There the kids got balloons. Noah’s was red and he named it Cherry. June’s was pink and she named it Pig. Pig met a sad end in the hotel room and for the rest of the weekend June carried the scraps around with her, saying, “Pig was my most favorite.” Noah kept speculating about whether or not Cherry would pop and neither Beth nor I laughed. We didn’t even crack a smile. We are that good.

When the sun rose on Sunday morning, the skies were blue with big, puffy pink clouds. I took the kids to play on the beach after breakfast. June and I built and decorated five sand castles with shells and pebbles and sea grass and I built several more for Noah and June to stomp on. The kids, who had not had much outdoor time that didn’t involve hurrying from hotel to stores to restaurants and back the day before, tore around the beach like wild things. June traveled long distances in search of pebbles that were identical to the ones near her castle site. Noah got too close to the water while trying to collect sea foam and soaked his feet. (He was the only one of us not wearing boots.) We left after forty minutes, only because of Noah’s wet feet.

Sometime Sunday morning, June had a brainstorm. We could go get Clara from the store and show her to Santa so he would know what she looked like and he could bring her on Christmas. Clara? Further conversation revealed June had changed Lila’s name. (There was an abridged Nutcracker book at YaYa’s house Thanksgiving weekend, which I assume is where June got the name.) Santa wouldn’t be in his house until after lunch, and we were leaving after lunch, we told her, but we were pretty sure he knew about Clara already. Didn’t he already know what Noah wanted?

While the kids and I were at the beach, Beth went back to Browse About and bought Clara.