It’s Christmas Eve, and long after her bedtime a young child–three years old, four years old, the age of belief–calls out for her mother. The mother enters the dark bedroom. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“I can’t sleep.”
“I know. But you have to or how else is Santa going to come?”
“Tell me again about Santa.”
“Oh, honey, I’ve told you a hundred times already today…”
“Again. Tell me again.”
With a sigh, the mother sits on the edge of her daughter’s bed. It’s been such a long day; so many things to get done at the last minute, so many well-intentioned people who want to help. Trying to make them feel like they are helping takes more out of you than you’d expect. The mother herself could fall asleep in a second.
Where’s the father? Not there. He could be dead, but I’d prefer to think Afghanistan, or whatever other war was/is happening when you hear the song. Second deployment, so the mother’s lonely ache at a holiday is familiar but not any easier.
“So, Santa,” the mother says. “He’s coming tonight, from the North Pole. 2000 miles. It’s very far.”
“That is far,” the daughter says.
The mother continues to tell her daughter for the hundred and first time about Santa, but as she does a strange thing happens: Santa and her absent husband get all mixed up in her exhausted mind. They are both very far away. She misses him so much. Even as she’s speaking aloud to her daughter about reindeer and sleighs and bags of toys, in her head she’s speaking about–speaking to–her husband. Remember that time on the boat with Jack and Katie? We had so much fun, I was so in love with you that day. Our hearts were singing–it felt like this, it felt like Christmas. Just like our daughter can’t stop thinking of Santa coming tonight, I think of you all the time. And sometimes, in a dream, you appear. Even right now, I’m imagining you showing up, like Santa, travelling the impossible distance that 2000 miles represents to a kid.
The little girl has fallen asleep. The mother leans over and gives her a kiss, closes the door quietly on the way out. She hears voices outside, carolers, and it brings her back to the moment: that’s right, tomorrow’s Christmas! She still has things to do, presents to wrap, milk and cookies to make look half-eaten. She won’t always have to do all these things alone. But for tonight, it’s up to her to make sure her daughter never doubts for a second that Santa has made the long journey to get to them.