Santa’s Little Helper
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Cathy wanted a Barbie doll. David wanted a bike.. They told Santa, each in turn sitting on his knee, facing the camera because Mommy and Daddy said they should.

“Mommy, I don’t think Santa was real,” said David.

“Why ever not?”

“Because his beard wasn’t tangly enough and his tummy wasn’t fat.”

“Oh well,” said Dad. “Perhaps he was one of Santa’s helpers.”

“Okay. That works.” And disaster was averted for another year.

Cathy wanted Barbie’s pony and stable. David wanted a computer.

“Will we see Santa’s helper again this year?” David asked.

“I suppose so,” said his mother.

“Yes yes yes yes yes yes,” said Cathy with glee.

And when the pony and stable proved stubbornly unavailable by Christmas Eve, David helpfully suggested that perhaps the man in the store hadn’t been a real Santa’s helper, besides not being a real Santa, this time.

“He must have been. You got your computer,” said Cathy grumpily.

“And you got Barbie’s car AND her little sister AND her little sister’s little dog,” said Mom wearily. “I’m sure Santa did his best.”

It was the smirk on David’s face that convinced his parents he knew more than he was letting on; that and the list of computer games he started making in summer “so you can check the stores before they all sell out;” that and the way he winked theatrically. Eight-year-olds do such very impressively theatrical winks.

But Cathy still believed in Santa, and the tooth fairy, and magic elastoplasts that make boo-boos go away. So David, being a good and responsible big brother, obeyed his mother and was kind enough to refrain from disillusioning her.

Cathy had a wobbly tooth next Christmas.

“Mommy,” she asked. “If the tooth fairy sees Santa will he disappear and not leave us any gifts?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so, Cathy.”

“But what if Santa sees the tooth fairy? Will she disappear then and not leave me any money?”

“Let’s not worry about that. Maybe your wobbly tooth will decide to stay put for a little while longer.”

“No it won’t Mommy. See. It’s wobbled out.”

Once upon a time, Karen had known she would never play these games. Once upon a time she had told herself—she and Peter had told each other—that you should always give children the truth, no secrets, no lies, no whisperings deep in the night. But that was before they had children of their own; before they had friends and family with children and cultural assumptions and taboos and rules that refuse to let you go.

“Oh well, you’ve got to let them join in I guess. Mustn’t make them feel left out.”

Now David was giggling round every corner, catching her arm and whispering in her ear. “Watch out Mom. Santa and the tooth fairy… What if it’s like matter and anti-matter and blows the whole house down.”

“Oh David. Please.”

The pillow was surrounded with toys, so the tooth fairy could hide. The floor was laden with boxes and blankets and rugs, so Santa could crouch down and not be seen. And Peter, in his dark red dressing gown with a Santa hat bought from the school fair last year, with Karen’s fluffy white scarf wrapped round his lower face, with silent tread… tripped over a toy box, fell against the bed, dislodged a Lego brick which caught between his toes, dropped the secret present that was meant to lie next to his daughter in bed and woke Cathy up, just as Karen was trying to slide a dollar coin under her tightly-held pillow.

“Hello,” said Cathy, rubbing her eyes. “Hey David, I was right. Daddy is Santa’s helper after all, and Mommy really is a pretend tooth fairy.”

David, heavy sleeper that he was, didn’t answer, despite the snorts of his parents’ helpless laughter whispering through the night.

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