It's at this time of year, now my children are grown, that my memories go back to the fun, chaotic times of Christmas’s past, when my children were quite impressionable.
By “impressionable”, of course I mean "easy to fool".
It was one year when my youngest were six and seven years old and asking questions. It showed me that they were beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Clause. Being one that loved to play head games with my kids, I was greatly troubled by not being able to think of an imaginative way to prevent this suspension of belief. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my husband in the presence of my oldest boy, Adam, who was thirteen at the time.
Now in a family such as my husband's, each boy eventually went through a "manly" right of passage. So when Adam suggested he climb up on the roof with my wreath that had loud bells, my husband enthusiastically embraced it as his oldest son's initiation into manhood.
As a mother, I was horrified at the idea of my son, my darling boy, climbing about on top of my house during a blizzard with high winds. I told him, "No! Absolutely not! Are you both crazy, sending a boy up there?"
Needless to say, during the worse storm I've seen so far that year, there was my teenage son getting prepared for the "Great Xmas Little Kid Fool" Mission. I was protesting strenuously, while my husband was snickering on the couch. The younger kids were already bathed and in their room, supposed to be sleeping. Of course, sounds of jumping and crashing were coming from their shared room, and I shuddered to think how it would look in the morning. It was Xmas Eve; any thoughts of sleep were far from their minds. It was a good thing that, as an established "Mother from Hell", I had impressed on them the importance of staying in their room when it's bedtime on pain of death, or at the very least, severe bodily harm.
Adam left out the back patio door and proceeded to climb up the tree, where its broad branches would allow passage to the roof of our 1-1/2 storey farmhouse, the wreath with Xmas bells clutched firmly in his gloved hand. I stood nervously by the back door, listening carefully for any sounds that would alert me to the instant death of my beloved oldest son, all the time murmuring, (loud enough for my husband to hear), "This is the stupidest idea you guys have come up with yet!"
"Relax, woman. The boy will be fine. You worry too much." My husband, lovingly known as “Himself”, now disavowing any responsibility, relaxed and watched TV, oblivious to any danger his son faced with this doubtful quest on this snowy night.
As I listened to all the outside noises with anxiety, I heard my son scramble onto the roof and crunching his way over the peak to the front end of the house. This was where my younger sons’ bedroom window was located. I followed the line of noises with my eyes on the ceiling, as if I could see his progress. Finally, the crunching stopped. Then I heard the bells ringing vigorously and a falsetto tenor howling out a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho..." from the roof.
All destructive sounds ceased from my younger son's room. Then I heard Ryan, my No. #2 son, whisper loudly enough for me to hear, "What was that?"
I could almost see them both staring with wide eyes, listening again for the sound.
Then it came again, but this time with a distinctive difference. "Ho, Ho...HooooooCRAP!", and a suspicious sliding sound. I rushed into the room to see the boys staring fascinated out the window at a boot that was waving outside the window, swinging wildly on the other side of the pane and threatening to kick out the glass. The bells on the wreath were ringing frantically.
With horror, I realized that Adam was slipping off the roof!
Ryan turned to me with wide, brown eyes and whispered in awe, "I think Santa is falling." Chris, being the enthusiastic horror movie fan he watched with his father when I wasn't home, (definitely against my wishes), started to giggle.
"Santa's falling, Santa's gonna die," his stiff little arms wrapped around himself and rocking back and forth with glee. I was too horror stuck to reprimand him for his callousness. Instead, Ryan whipped his head around to him and snapped, "You know if Santa dies, you don't get any presents!" It was only then that Chris' greedy little mind grasped the consequences. "Oh yeah," he whispered, all delight gone at Santa's dilemma.
The boot was still weaving outside the window and scraping the siding off the house, and I knew my son was frantically trying to find a foothold.
I finally snapped out of my frozen horror and raced out of the room, skidded on the floor as I turned by the living room door and scrambled to the back door, quickly pulling on my boots. "What's up?" asked Himself in that irritatingly calm manner.
Trying to shock him out of his apathy, I snapped, "SANTA is falling off the roof."
"Santa's getting clumsy in his old age," was my dear, loving husband's only retort, smirking and returning his attention to the TV. Occasionally he glanced with curiosity out the front window, in case a body went flying by to amuse him.
Just as I was reaching for my jacket, not bothering to take the time to lace my boots, Himself decided to ease my distress, since that took less effort than rescuing his eldest son. "You realize, don't you, that there is six feet of snow on that side of the house. I'm sure 'Santa' will have a soft landing, eh?"
I considered and I had to admit I hadn’t thought of that. It did calm me a little. However, I also considered the possibility of smothering in that six feet of soft snow, so I continued to dress, though what exactly I was going to do I had no idea. After all, I wasn’t young anymore; climbing trees went by way of my 35th birthday. Just then, I heard Adam scramble over the peak and slide down the drainpipe as a shortcut route off the top of the house.
I heard later from Adam that he had managed to grab a foothold with his other foot on the evestrough, to stop from falling off the roof. Looking a few days later, there was a distinctive V-shape where his boot had bent it.
I gave a large sigh of relief as I noticed he wasn't dragging any broken limbs. He had even managed to maintain a grip on my favorite wreath. He stowed it quickly by the back door, out of sight, as the boys rushed through the living room and out to the kitchen, completely forgetting my rule about leaving their room in their excitement.
"Adam, Adam…you should have seen it! Santa was up on the roof, and he almost fell off, and we saw his boot, and we heard the reindeer rush to his rescue..." Ryan was babbling in excitement and expanding on the facts a little.
"Really? Santa, eh? Sounds kinda stupid to me," Adam said as he removed his coat, shaking it free of snow all over my clean kitchen floor and leaving puddles everywhere. "I don't believe in Santa. It was probably just a big bird." He winked at me, ignoring the glare I was giving him regarding the mess he was making everywhere. He tossed his coat on the floor despite the closet being a whole foot away, just so it would leak more snow on my floor.
"Birds don't wear bells, do they?" said Chris with scorn, always the sarcastic voice of reason.
"Bells? You heard bells?" Adam looked suitably impressed.
"Yes, there were bells, and hoof sounds from the reindeer, and ....and...everything!" That's Ryan; so eloquent.
Ryan continued to babble to Adam as my oldest headed for the stairs to his room, Chris toddling after with his particular sideways crab walk, a result of a broken leg and FOP that fused while it healed. Adam showed unusual patience towards his brothers, smiling indulgently at them as they recounted the whole episode to him. “Himself” merely smirked, the proverbial Christmas Grinch.
After the boys had recounted the whole adventure for the second time, Adam's patience, always thin when it came to his younger brothers and wanting to get back to his music, told them, "Well, I don't believe in Santa, so I think you're just making this all up."
"Tell him, Mom...tell him!" Ryan and Chris both looked at me appealingly. They both looked at Adam's retreating back as he headed up to his room.
Chris looked at me gravely after Adam had closed his door. He commented, "Adam's not going to get any presents this year!" Ryan nodded his head in sad agreement as I hustled them back to their beds.
This was the year that my boys, with their divergent personalities that too often caused conflict between them, all played a part in the elements that made this the perfect Christmas Eve, despite my moments of terror. My oldest, Adam, who had a mischievous sense of humour and would go to great lengths to pull off the perfect joke; Ryan, my No. 2 son, who is still impressionable but will be the happiest of my sons, because of his bright view of the world; and finally Chris, my handicapped son who has a sophisticated, intelligent sense of cynicism, but hides it well with all but his own family.
They still talk about that magical Christmas Eve, especially now that they're all grown up and have realized that as brothers, they have to stick together and be kinder to one another. You see, they know now that Santa isn't real, but they are also certain that their older brother's love for them, even though he was too often at odds with them previously, was so strong that he risked life and limb to keep the Christmas magic alive for them.