Pop is in the wind?

We have been preparing for the holidays. Jonas has his advent’s calendar that Lisa, Tia, and I am made into the wee hours of the night last year. Each morning he eagerly pulls out a gift after standing in front of the felt calendar and asking “which one?” “Which number is today.” I didn’t consider last year, when I was making artsy number eights out of twisted ribbon– that this year my son would be learning his letters and numbers and that the abstract representations might make it hard to find particular numbers on certain days.

 

But this is the least of the unexpected surprises that parenting has brought this year.

 

Next comes: Santa. And with him, his sleigh full of presents, his flying reindeer, and his similarity to the German Nicholoaus, who comes earlier in the year than Santa and brings a gift to children who clean their boots. He leaves his gifts there, snuggled in all of the polished German boots left in front of bedroom doors.

We had just started talking about Santa and Nicholaus on the weekend of Nicholaus. A german couple who live an hour away in Blue Bell, in a gated community in the middle of nowhere, was hosting a Nicholous celebration, to which the bearded man himself was invited. On the way there, we stopped at the largest mall on the East coast– the King of Prussia Mall. After lunch, we went shopping. We wanted to show Jonas Santa, and on the way to see him, Jonas collected a leaf from a fountain to take to him as a gift.

 

We hadn’t planned on sitting on Santa’s lap; and when we got to the center of one of 100s of beautifully marbled and overfull centers in the mall, there he was: a beautiful bearded Santa with a soft face and gentle eyes. The line was long, not feasible for an almost 3 year old to wait through and be in any mood to enjoy a visit at the end of it. But Jonas had a gift for Santa, and I knew we had to get it to him. After some serious worry and a few minutes of reflection, I decided to ask the photographer if she could give the leaf to Santa. She agreed, and Jonas was perfectly content to give the leaf to Santa’s helper for later. And there ended that near disaster. Or so we thought.

 

Later, in Blue Bell, after too many cookies had been consumed and a little bit of soup, there was a knock at the door. All of the children ran to see Nicholaus coming through the door, his polyester beard crooked. “Who is it?” asks someone. “My dad” one little girl replies.

 

 

Nicholaus, though, was in a grumpy mood and had not read up on progressive child centered parenting. He invited each 3 something child up to stand alone in the middle of all of the others and asked them if they had been good. If they said yes, he insisted he did not believe them and asked the parents about a list of tasks that he felt they should do and do well, things which no three year old does consistently and few do terribly well: do you sleep all night?; do you go to bed when told to? Do you brush your teeth and do you do it well? Do you always listen to your parents?”

 

My blood pressure was rising, and Jonas was pushing back further and further into my lap. Oh man, I thought, a year’s work to create the perfect preschool for my child, and here I am ruining nicholaus and santa for him in one terrible 10 minutes–. Before his turn, both Florian and I whispered to him just to say that he had been good. And when Nicholaus asked him, and then in turn asked us, we all said “yes, he’s been good.” Nicholaus was displeased, having no way to make a good slam, but Jonas was spared a lecture.

 

Another near disaster saved. Or so we thought.

 

We left there at bathtime to drive an hour home. Jonas, in the back seat, started to be upset. “Why didn’t Santa have my leaf” he asked? Shit. Santa wasn’t even Nicholaus. Or was he? I whispered to Florian. We didn’t know. Default decision: don’t focus on that; focus on the leaf. Um. Well. “Nicholaus came straight from work and he probably left his leaf with the elves.”

 

“But why he didn’t say thank you?” Jonas replies. Real tears. Real crisis on the horizon. “Um. He Probably forgot, with all the children there Jonas. I am sure he’s thankful.” Not good enough. The conversation continues like this. (And I am still fuming that Nicholaus had the nerve to behave as he did; and now, Mr. Nicholaus who expects three year olds to do everything well that they can’t possibly do well, has forgotten to say thank you for a gift!.) Lights on the side of the road divert Jonas’ attention, though the question returns again many times in many forms before he is asleep, way too late.

 

Then comes the googling: Nicholaus and Santa are different. Santa is the Weihnachtsman in German. We need to straighten this out tomorrow. We realize we forgot to put the boots he’d cleaned for Nicholaus that morning in front of his bedroom door, where, the story goes, is where to put them. Oh man. Florian decides to write a letter. Brillant. A letter from Santa, that Nicholaus delivers and places in his boots (which are by the front door not his bedroom door) thanking Jonas for the leaf.

 

Whew. This is difficult. But the comedy shifts over the coming weeks to something even harder to navigate.

 

Jonas and I are making Christmas cards for everyone. Jonas made one for Nana, one for Papa, one for Grandmother. Then he wants to make one for Pop. Florian had already suggested that we talk to him about how Pop won’t be at Christmas. But I have not found a way to bring this up; how do you randomly tell a 3 year old that someone as passed away?

 

Big wave of emotion overtakes me. Breath. Take a breath. I don’t know exactly what I said.

 

Jonas, Pop won’t be at Christmas.

 

We can send it to him at his house.

 

Pop isn’t at his house Jonas.

 

Why not.

 

Jonas, at some point our bodies get tired, and then we leave them: our hearts and our spirits leave our bodies and go out into the world, bigger than they were before.

 

Pop is in the wind?

 

Yes, Pop is in the wind, and the sky, and everywhere. And in your heart.

 

I don’t want him in my heart. I want to give him this. He says, with his crumpled red construction paper.

 

I know you do. You can make him a card. He can see it.

 

With his eyes?

 

Um, not really, but with his spirit.

 

Can he take it with him to the sky?

 

He can see it from where he is.

 

I want him to hold it. I want to see him at his house.

 

He comes to me and hugs me.

 

I’m sad. Mom. I’m sad.

 

Me too Jonas. I am sad to. I miss Pop. (tears are pouring down my face now)

 

Don’t cry Mom. Don’t cry.

 

 

The next day, Jonas is wrapping everyone’s packages. He has spent an hour cutting paper and taping it together on packages. I tell him I am going downstairs to get the laundry. He runs to the top of the steps with a piece of construction paper.

 

I am going to make a card for who is in the sky, he says

 

For Pop? I ask

 

Yeah, he says.

 

Okay.

 

And we can take it to his house.

 

We can’t take it to him Jonas, but he can see it.

 

Why he leave?

 

We all leave our bodies one day, Jonas. We are here and do many things, and do a lot of work. We play, we travel, we meet people. Then our bodies get tired and we leave them. We go out like breath and become part of everything. And we live in people’s hearts.

 

I don’t want to go out, he says. I don’t want you to go. I want to stay in our house forever.

 

Mommy will always always live in your heart Jonas.

 

If we don’t finish our work, can we stay?

 

We all get to be bigger one day Jonas.

 

Can I make this card?

 

Yes Jonas, you can.

 

 

But he doesn’t. He carries the card into the living room and starts going through the Christmas books we checked out of the library. He digs out his two favorites: Santa’s New Suit and Christmas Magic.

 

In Santa’s New Suit, Santa purchases a new plaid suit, but no one likes it– not his wife, his elves, or his reindeer. In the end, he returns to his red suit. “

 

why they don’t like that one?” he asks, referring to the new one.

 

People have trouble with change, I say.

 

“I not,” he says, gesturing his hands upward in amazement.

 

I hug him sideways. “Santa would like that I bet.”

 

“Read this one” he says, and we are off to the North Pole again. Where a lovely Santa lives in a small house and is preparing for the magic that arrives one time a year.

 

“Why the magic come Mom?”

 

To help the reindeer fly

 

Why they not walk ?

 

They couldn’t get to all of the houses and deliver all of the gifts then.

 

What is the magic Mom?

 

Something we can’t see that makes things that don’t usually happen happen.

 

Reindeer don’t fly. (emphasis on don’t)

 

With magic they do, I say

 

“Read”, he says, and snuggles up against me.

 

 

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