Dominic’s bedroom door has been closed a lot lately. Since he’s 11, I guess I should be giving him privacy and stuff. But I remember what I was doing when I was 11, so I bungee corded that shit open.
“There are no closed doors in this house,” I said. And then I vomited, because I remembered my father saying the same thing to me in 1997.
What that open door means, though, is that we’re subjected to the sounds of whatever nonsense he’s doing in there, whether it’s listening to Sirius Hits One or watching inane YouTube videos with his precious hour of screen time. Today, there came a repetitive crashing noise, which I could only deduce was him throwing Hot Wheel after Hot Wheel into a plastic container.
After several hours of metal meeting plastic, the pre-teen emerged from his cave. “I counted all of my Hot Wheels today,” he said.
“Don’t keep us in suspense,” I said. “What’s the total?”
“One thousand, six hundred and ninety-six,” he proclaimed.
The number slapped me across the face. Seventeen hundred cars? I mean, I knew he had a lot, but that’s not the collection of a hobbyist. Seventeen hundred Hot Wheels veers into obsession land, where weirdos and Star Wars fans live.
Melinda must’ve been equally shocked, because from the kitchen, she burst into laughter. “That’s absolutely absurd,” she said. “You know that means over the course of your life I’ve spent almost two THOUSAND dollars on Hot Wheels?”
“That’s not even counting the ramps,” I added.
Dominic shrugged. “You didn’t buy all of them,” he said. “Gammy and Bumpa bought me some of them, and Santa brought me a bunch of them too.”
Melinda and I exchanged a cynical look. This again?
The last few years, we’ve talked privately about when it’s time to have the Santa talk with D. I sussed out the truth about Santa and the other imaginary gift-giving visitors in the fourth grade after realizing the logistics of a rabbit taking the eggs from our refrigerator and hiding them in the backyard were awfully tricky.
Each time the topic’s come up, Melinda and I decided not to directly confront the matter. Maybe his friends will tell him at school, or maybe he already knows and is just being a good sport for his younger sister. But now, completely unprompted, he brought up Santa as a giver of gifts, as though he was some separate entity from his mother and father.
Has he not put together the pieces? The fact his presents are wrapped in the paper we keep in the garage? Does he think Santa really builds his toys at the North Pole, stuff we clearly tell him to add to his Amazon Wishlist?
We didn’t say anything, just grumbled agreements. Maybe this year wouldn’t be the year after all. But how long could we continue?
I pictured him a senior in high school, sporting an Adidas hoodie and a dirty upper lip, anxiously tapping his foot while waiting in line at the mall to see Santa. At what point should we be concerned?
In the interest of gathering a little intel, I asked some of my high school students when they stopped believing and how their parents broke the news.
One student said she figured it out around second grade because her parents were unwilling to let a fictional fat man takecredit for all the cool shit under the tree. They told her Santa only brought the stuff in the stockings, which struck me as fantastic, because everyone knows the gifts in the stockings are selected for no reason other than they can fit in a stocking. My mom used to put an apple in the toe of mine every year, as though I couldn’t get one out of the crisper drawer.
I guess it would be nice to get some recognition for the thoughtful things Melinda and I get the kids, but honestly, the reason I’m most looking forward to outing St. Nick is so I don’t have to move those fucking elves.
Sometime after the Facebook algorithm started showing me baby pictures instead of binge drinking, I scoffed when these stuffed elves started popping up on my feed. Photo after photo of new parents showing the rest of the world how caring and creative they were by making that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas way more special for their kids.
No way in hell was I going to drop 30 bucks on a doll that I had to hide all over the house every night, I thought. These kids got plenty: clean clothes, warm blankets, mac and cheese dinners twice a week. The last thing they needed was some toy bullying them into being good by spying on them.
I made this stance pretty clear the first few Christmases Melinda and I spent together, and she laughed right along with me. And so four years ago, my wife didn’t spend $30 on an elf doll.
She spent $60 on TWO elf dolls.
They’re named Eagle and Rosie, and according to Dominic and Josephine, they come from the North Pole. Not like all those other sucker elves we walk by every time we go to Target. Eagle and Rosie are the real deal.
You’d think after living with these things for so long we’d get better at moving them, but it’s the same every year. We’ve got great ideas the first few days: playing in the M&Ms bowl like it’s a ball pit, smearing chocolate on their faces next to an empty cookie plate. But by the second week of December, we’re gasping each other awake. “We forgot to move the elves,” one will say at four in the morning.
“Fuck!” says the other.
In that pre-dawn hour, there’s rarely motivation for creativity. They move from the bookshelf to the refrigerator to the china cabinet with none of the Pinterest-worthy antics. We don’t even change their clothes until one of the kids points out they’ve been in the same outfit the last 10 days.
Last year, I felt like I was shouldering more than my fair share of the elf-minding duties, so I threatened Melinda with compromising poses.
“If you don’t get out here and move these elves, they’re going to be sixty-nining on the kitchen counter!” I’d hiss into her sleeping ear. Nothing rouses a mother like the promise of a dirty elf tableau.
While my visiting father-in-law became public enemy number one last year for picking up Eagle so he could check his tag (“I just wanted to see what he was made of!”), I was infinitely grateful for the five days of rest that came as the result of Eagle’s convalescence. We strapped him to a Barbie bed, comatose, while Rosie held a round-the-clock vigil.
I was similarly appreciative this year for COVID, as it gave Melinda and me an excuse to quarantine the elves in Mason jars for the first 14 days.
Still, it didn’t help on December 15 at 2 a.m.
“We have to move those fucking elves,” I mumbled to Melinda.
“God. Dammit,” she mumbled back.
Maybe it’s just time to break the news. I could sit the kids down and level with them, or I could put them in a situation where I accidentally spill the beans. I could put Dominic and Josephine on a call with Ned, one of my sophomore students who confessed he inadvertently told his younger cousins the truth about Santa on a family Zoom session this year.
Or I could pay for one of those Cameos, where washed up celebrities deliver personalized video messages. Hey kids, this is Screech from Saved By The Bell. Santa isn’t real!
Then again, I guess there are worse things than letting a kid believe in Santa. We’re always hurrying to the next stage, pushing kids to grow up so they can, what? Get a job and fret about the world like we do?
It’ll work out because it always does. Just yesterday, Josephine asked Dominic point blank if he believed in Santa.
“I don’t know,” he said, looking out the car window as though he was searching for the truth.
I know I need to enjoy what little innocence this pre-teen has left. Because it’s only a matter of time before EVERYTHING will need to be bungee corded open.