My youngest brother, Mark, was only four years old when he found out there was no Santa Claus. No, it was not accidental; he didn’t wander aimlessly into my parents’ bedroom in a half-sleep to find them wrapping his gift or anything.
He found out there was no Santa Claus because the little shit deserved to find out.
You see, things like that happen when A) brother #5 acts up and is bratty with his four older brothers and B) its Christmas break and we’re bored out of our freaking minds. What’s more entertaining than watching a four-year-old kid’s notion of wonder and magic disappear faster than a snowflake on your tongue?
We gave my mother all she could handle, the five of us did. From raiding the fridge and skipping out on chores to simply beating the hell out of each other during wrestling matches that went too far (coffee table face plants, anyone?) But when we told Mark there was no such thing as Santa – to be completely accurate it was Steven, the oldest who bore the news – it drove my mother over the edge.
“There will be no Christmas this year!” she announced. “Take all the Christmas crap down!”
A church couldn’t have been quieter. And by the sad look in her face, my mother meant what she said. There simply wouldn’t be a Christmas. As we took down decorations, including all the poorly colored cards and ornaments made from ice cream sticks, she reminded us of all the money she’d be able to save by not having to “continue the illusion.”
As an adult and as a father I can fully understand why she was so upset. Sure, Mark was only four and shouldn’t have found out that there was no Santa Claus at that age. We (Steve, really) were jerks for not giving him a few more years of belief. But we also robbed my mother of seeing that belief come to fruition for at least a few more Christmas mornings. I’ve got to believe that was the sadness I saw in her face.
But on Christmas morning that year, when for some reason she woke up in a spectacular mood, I saw a different look on her face. It was one full of mischief.
“I want to know which one of you left the garage light on all night,” she said in a stern voice.
As was usually the case in times like these, five voices answered back in unison: “I don’t know.”
She then turned to me with the same mischievous look on her face.
“It was you. You left the light on all night, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I sighed, knowing full well that I was nowhere near such a conversation but threw in the towel to avoid more confrontation. After all, there were no presents, it was Christmas morning and taking the blame for something I didn’t do wasn’t going to kill me.
“Go and turn it off right now,” she commanded with agitation. But as I got up to approach the light switch, she did something that sparked the bulb inside of my own head.
She winked at me.
In an instant I knew. An excitement took over my body as I ran to the garage. My brothers followed with equal excitement. There were five shiny new bikes begging to be ridden, each with our names on them (Mark’s had training wheels). It was snowing and cold outside, but nothing was going to stop us from blazing new trails – not before my mother could get in a final word.
“There might not be a Santa Claus,” she said. “But you’ll always have me.”
“Now go…and don’t anyone come inside crying!” she yelled with a door slam.