It was a Sunday before Christmas. I was standing at the study window, waiting my wife and daughter to finish dressing before going to church. Snow had just begun to fall, the white fluffy flakes of fairy tales.
Our Christmas tree stood in a corner adorned with decorative balls and silver garland. Earlier, my wife, Amy, allowed Alice, our daughter, to turn on the colorful twinkling lights to give ambiance to the room in the early morning hours.
Alice, age seven, is what most would consider pretty with blond hair, blue eyes and a knock-out smile. In a few years, too soon in coming, she will turn beautiful – like my wife. She is also precocious to the point of exhaustion.
Alice had left one of her books lying on the sofa, “Alice in Wonderland”. Sitting down, I picked it up to see she'd left a pencil mid-way through the book, presumably where she’d left off reading. I scanned what she’d read and smiled.
On each page where the name Alice appeared, she had underlined it; and in the far left margin, numbered how many times it was mentioned on the page. Quickly skimming, I counted at least 56.
As I read, I heard commotion in the room and looked up. Alice had come in to join me. She was dressed in a red velvet dress with pearl buttons. White stockings came up to her knees and her feet were clad in Mary Janes.
“Hey, Princess, you look beautiful. Is Mom ready?”
She rolled her eyes with mock annoyance – a secret signal between us about the beloved queen of our household; and how the earth would surely stop spinning if she was ever on time for anything.
Sighing, she scooted herself into the corner of the sofa opposite me. Her legs, supported by the cushions, stuck straight out and the toes of the Mary Janes clicked noisily together.
Recognizing this behavior, I presumed her to be anxious about asking a question - probably what Mom wanted for Christmas, “So, what’s up?” I ask.
She pursed her lips. “Is there really a Santa Clause?”
I knew this question would someday come, but frankly, I didn’t quite feel ready for it. My wife and I had agreed early on that our children would instinctively seek out the parent they felt best suited to answer life’s perplexing questions; and that would be confirmation enough we could give a reasonable answer.
But now, looking at my seven year-old with pursed lips and clicking Mary Janes, I seriously doubted the wisdom of our agreement.
I glanced at my watch, an hour before church and no Amy in sight. Yet, none-the-less, I began. “Why do you ask?”
“Billy says there isn’t.”
“Billy, the bully at school? Why’d you believe him?”
She looks at me as if in disbelief. “I didn’t say I believed him.”
“No, I guess you didn’t.”
“Well?” Feet still clicking, she folded her arms, one over the other as if for emphasis – a trick I’m sure she learned from watching her Mom when asking me if I’d really vacuumed the carpet in the living room. (Which, by the way, is never dirty because no one ever goes in there, anyway).
“Mom says it’s not polite to tell a lie,” she admonishes before I can answer.
I didn’t feel it was the right time to discuss the different nuances of truth, nor to correct her by saying it’s not only improper manners to tell a lie, but it’s wrong as well. So instead, and with all the conviction of Nathan Hale after his capture by the British, I answered. “Yes, of course there is.”
She seemed to study me, Chief Justice Susan Day O’Connor morphed into my little girl and wearing Mary Janes, searching the depth of my soul for truth.
“How do you know?”
Imagination, belief, faith: to some worthless intangibles in a mortal world; yet soothing balms I would not deny her. “Because,” I said, “you believe.”
She cocked her head. “But what if I didn’t?”
“Then you’d have to believe me when I said I believe you really do.” I reached over and pinched her nose. “And I would never, ever lie to you.”
She considered this for a moment and smiled, doubt easing from her face. “I do believe, Daddy.”
“I know you do, Princes,” I kissed her on the cheek. “And so do I – with all my heart.”
“A secret? Sure.”
“Don’t tell Mom, but I like your answer best.”
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