Pen in hand, my ten-year-old son is slowly, methodically writing out his Christmas wish list. For the uninitiated, it is a confusing read – Beyblade Burst Quadstrike, Yo Gi Oh trading cards and a pair of moon shoes from K Mart. I console myself with the thought that it could be worse; I’m not raising a tween girl with an inclination for a $100 Drunk Elephant whipped cream moisturiser from Mecca. I recall my first makeup purchase, a kissing gloss, a sticky and sweet rollerball that bestowed a shiny sheen to the lips and cost a mere six dollars from Granny Mays.
Though I digress.
My son has finished his list now and I remind him that we are heading into the city on the weekend for Santa photos. The time honoured, annual experience where I swipe my credit card in exchange for two 6 x 8-inch photos, five never to be used bookmarks and a handful of tiny wallet size photos. For an extra $15 you get yourself a digital download. Still, this is a tradition we have shared since he was a newborn and a ritual I treasure enormously.
As he carefully signs the bottom of his list, I suggest that he put it on the fridge, so he remembers to take it to read to Santa. No need he tells me; he has it committed to memory and I am now left contemplating how much time Santa has allocated to spend per child.
I watch him put the list on the fridge and he studies it one last time, satisfied that he has all bases covered. I watch him do this and I wonder if this will be the last year that there will in fact be a list on the fridge.
There is the ‘Santa window’ you see, and I fear ours is starting to close.
When you think about it, the first couple of years of a child’s life, Christmas is rarely about Santa. It’s about empty cardboard boxes and the delightful sounds of wrapping paper being torn. By the time a child is two, the excitement of new toys is more tangible. From memory, it was around the age of three or four that the true notion of Santa was brought to life. So, if a child starts to comprehend Santa around that age, and then stops believing around ten years of age (and this can very much depend on the family) you can see that over a lifetime, the Santa window is brief. Brief and yet significant.
I think back to when my son was a baby. A time when advice, solicited or not, came in all forms and from all directions. Everyone, the midwife, the woman at Target, my friends, they all said it, with a reminiscent, knowing smile, “enjoy this time, it goes by so fast.”
In addition to juggling Santa duties there is also, for some families, the introduction of Elf on the Shelf. Undeniably a controversial topic at this time of the year. I don’t know if there is a family tradition that is quite as decisive as the elf who typically arrives early December and sends participating parents into a tinsel spin. We welcomed our elf into our lives when Charlie was three and this is Elfie’s 7th year with us. I suspect it is also his last.
The first couple of years with Elfie were his busiest, most mischievous, and imaginative. The adventures back then were inspired from relentlessly scrolling through Instagram seeking out ideas. These days he is a little lazy, right now he is sitting in a vase and shortly I will pop him in the freezer and maybe even hand him an ice block just to raise the stakes. Several years ago, I recall seeing a Facebook post where a mum asked the group if she should ‘elf or not’ and judging by the volume of comments when it comes to the elf, people have thoughts. Comments were encouraging of the tradition but there were plenty that were warning parents of imminent danger. Comments ranging from life is too short not to bring joy to a child’s life to warnings to do elf on the shelf at your own peril. To each their own I say but I have always liked the Elf tradition because if moving a toy around each night was going to motivate my child enough to get him up and out of bed in the morning then who am I to deny that. And also, the elf does, after all report back to Santa, and look, as a parent that can be helpful.
This year my son notices Elfie has moved and acknowledges where he is and what he is doing, but unlike previous years, he does not wake up with the single focus to do nothing until he has found the elf and experienced profound joy at his antics. I fear that our elf is losing his magic and once again I am reminded that the window is closing.
Not for the first time, I am reminded of all the things I wanted to be over and wish I had them back. We take snapshots of the ‘firsts’ and we safeguard those memories. First words, first steps, first Santa photos. But what about the lasts? Those fleeting moments we don’t appreciate because we don’t recognise them for what they are.
Soon I will watch as my son, clutching his list, approaches Santa and makes clear his requests. He will then sit next to him and smile for the camera, I will pay for this privilege and hope that I will get to do it again next year.