The year my daughter was 4, she ran, bright-eyed and blond-haired, to her stocking, where it hung by the chimney with care.
My husband and I ran behind her, video camera blazing and our own excitement churning to capture each and every magical Christmas moment. As she pulled down the stocking and reached into it to unwrap the small stocking stuffers and exclaimed over her favorite candy, we exchanged the proud and misty-eyed smiles of tired parents on Christmas morning everywhere.
As my daughter got to the end of her stocking, however, she froze.
Hand still at the bottom of her stocking, her smile faded and her chin started to tremble, betraying the tears that she was stoically trying to hold back. Suddenly, with a weight so intense that my chest felt filled with all of the coal from Santa’s sack, it hit me.
I had forgotten to take out her letter to Santa.
The story goes like this: Every year on Christmas, my kids compose their Christmas lists to Santa and, as most kids do, mail their letters to the big man in the red suit in the regular snail mail. That year, however, my daughters had gotten a little overzealous in their letter writing, composing sonnet after sonnet of good cheer to Santa and, in an attempt to save myself a little sanity and stamp money, I told them to simply put the letters in their stocking for Santa to collect on Christmas Eve.
Except, of course, I was the bonehead who then completely forgot about the letters and forever crushed the magic of Christmas residing in my innocent little girl’s heart.
I will never forget the complete look of devastation that came over my daughter’s face as she pulled out a crumpled stack of pages filled with serious crayon-colored artwork, painstakingly sounded-out thank-you letters and Christmas wishes that made up the stuff of her childhood dreams.
“Oh,” she said, looking up at us with dejected eyes. “I guess Santa forgot my letters.”
I wanted nothing more in that moment than to curl up in her stocking and toss myself into the fire, so great was my own devastation. For months I had worked on creating the perfect Christmas. For months, I had planned and shopped and wrapped and baked and crafted. For months I had looked forward to this very morning, when the magic of Christmas would surround us all. And now? I had ruined Christmas morning with a simple stack of forgotten notebook papers and the destruction of one little girl’s dreams.
As my husband and I exchanged horrified glances and I felt a twinge of resentment that after all I had done for Christmas, this would be my fault, I rushed to explain Santa’s forgetfulness. “Oh honey,” I said soothingly, choking back my own horror at my error. “I’m sure he just was in such a hurry to leave your presents he just forgot to take them, that’s all. But I’m sure he read them and loved them.”
And then in the great diversion of parenthood, I asked, “Now how about we open some presents?”
My daughter eventually recovered that morning, soothed by the classic childhood gift of the Easy Bake Oven and the resulting inedible brownies it produced, but I’m not sure I ever will. In what I know will serve as an example of my parenting failures for years to come, I fear that this moment is the one she will remember when she reflects fondly back on her childhood, because that’s how it always goes for parents, isn’t it? It’s not all the things I did right for Christmas that will sear itself in her childhood brain, but it’s the one time that I ruined Christmas that will leave an indelible scar forever.
Moral of the story?
If you tell your kid to mail her Christmas letter to Santa through her stocking, for the love of St. Nick, don’t forget it.