Evan the man is just about perfect. Independent. Self-assured. Moral. A loving son and a loyal friend. A little bit impatient.
Evan the 7 year old was a constant challenge.
Independent and self-assured to the point that he found listening to his parents unnecessary, hot headed, argumentative, loving and very, very impatient.
He was moral, adhering to a strict code of conduct. Unfortunately he had formulated rules to live by known only to him.
It was Christmas 1991.
Neil was 12, consumed by the tasks associated with impending teenager hood. Andrew was 3 and adorable to one and all.
Evan was stuck somewhere in between.
This made him irritable. And irritating. The chaos of the holidays didn’t help. He spent the week after Thanksgiving throwing tantrums, toys and spewing profanities that he had picked up God knows where.
I was at wit’s end with him.
I should have been shopping for presents, addressing Christmas cards and baking cookies. Instead I was shooing Evan out of Neil’s room, escorting Evan to his room for another time out and begging Andrew to please please please forget the naughty word Evan had called him.
Nobu had threatened to sell each of the boys to the gypsies at one time or another. Either I was going to have to find a band of gypsies that needed an ornery little boy or come up with a better idea.
I went up to Evan’s room and opened the door. He was throwing his legos in handfuls against the wall, three distinct mounds of equal size forming under the window. I took a moment to admire his accuracy.
Evan’s face was puffy, his eyes red and swollen. A perfect picture of misery. I remembered how much I’d wanted another child, how thrilled I was when I found out I was pregnant, the joy the first time I’d held him in my arms. I had wanted this child more than anything and now, here I was, squandering our days together going from one battle to another.
I brought him downstairs and gave him a bowl of ice cream. I did the dishes as I looked at my son–a little boy at a big table.
I said soothing Mom things as he composed himself, sobs still catching in his throat. He concentrated on each spoonful, not wanting to waste a bite of this unexpected treat. I try to be humble but I couldn’t help congratulating myself on the restraint and good humor I’d exhibited, knowing that in many other houses Evan would be grounded until well after the New Year. I said aloud, not expecting an answer,
“I wonder who is luckier. Me to have you or you to have me?”
Evan stopped in mid-bite, sniffled and said, “You to have me.” He lifted the spoon to his mouth.
Of course he was right. I needed a fresh idea.
I helped him into his pajamas and walked with him to brush his teeth, holding hands. Andrew toddled by and Evan used his free hand to push his brother to the ground. I helped my baby up and hoped inspiration would come to me soon.
The next morning I sat with Evan on the sofa. “Let’s do something special. Just the two of us. Anything you want.” Evan pondered, silently weighing his options.
Uh oh. I knew better than to offer “anything”. I started formulating excuses. He didn’t need his own car. He was only 7. Hawaii was too far away. Even if he had a cape, he couldn’t really fly. My mind was racing from one improbability to another.
“I’d like to go see Santa. The one at the Aurora Mall. He’s the best and his beard is real.”
I was taken aback. Last year we’d had “the talk”. Rumors had been swirling around school that Santa didn’t really exist. Evan had asked us to confirm what he already seemed to know. His father and I told him it was true. No Santa. No eight tiny reindeers. No elves. Evan took it well and the subject was dropped. I supposed he might’ve forgotten but that seemed unlikely. Relieved that I wouldn’t have to explain that a trip to the moon was unavailable, I made arrangements for our day.
Evan did not like to be told what to do or what to wear, so I resisted the urge to pick out his clothes. In the interest of detente I would accept his favorite attire of jeans with holes and Neil’s old sweatshirt, two sizes too big. To my surprise he came into my bedroom wearing last year’s stripped shirt with the green collar and matching corduroy pants. I changed into something more festive.
Evan said, “Don’t forget Grandmother’s Christmas tree pin.” My late mother had worn this broach every holiday I could remember and I had upheld this tradition. I dug around in my sock drawer until I found it. I started to fasten it in it’s place over my heart.
“Honey, you look so handsome. Would you like to wear it?” Evan nodded and solemnly fixed it to his sweater. “Your Grandmother would be so proud!”
We passed by the family room on our way to the car. Nobu was trying to distract Andrew so he could watch the football game, and Andrew was trying to distract his father so they could play trucks.
Andrew pleaded as we left, “Can’t I come too?” Evan said, “It’s okay Mom.” Nobu and Andrew held their breath. “No. This is our special day.”
Tears flowed in the family room.
Andrew cried, too.
We got in the car and Evan strapped on his seat belt.
“Wouldn’t you rather go to the Santa downtown? The Aurora Mall is such a mad house. ”
“No. The Santa there is the best.”
“I’m a lot more patient than you are, Evan. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
I had said “anything” so I held my tongue once again.
We finally found a parking space and made our way through the throngs. The line for Santa was so long they’d added additional ropes. We stood there for thirty minutes amidst crying babies and ear throbbing din. Evan stood holding my hand, humming Jingle Bells and caressing his Grandmother’s pendent. My jaw was aching from gritting my teeth and holding my tongue. I didn’t want to ruin this day, but I had to ask.
I blurted, “Sweetheart. You believe in Santa, don’t you.”
Evan answered, a little crossly, “No. I told you last year. I’m too old for that.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because I believe in the spirit of Christmas. Don’t you?” he demanded.
This should have been the simplest of questions, but I had been so preoccupied with gift giving, cooking, cleaning and decorating that, clearly, I had lost my way.
I wrapped my arms around my boy. He brushed my tear from his cheek and flattened his hair with his damp fingers.
“Look! We’re half way there.”
We sang along with the piped in Christmas Carols until it was our turn.
Evan hopped on Santa’s lap and the white bearded man bellowed, “HO, HO HO. Have you been a good boy this year?”
“Pretty good, Santa.”
Pretty good indeed.