The waiting room crawled with toddlers in tasseled GAP boots, and babies in tiny knit hats, and they were all smiling at us.
“They are so happy,” My 10-year-old daughter said to me as we waited for her Strep test. “Don’t they know they are at the doctors?”
“I guess not.”I said, “They haven’t learned to be afraid yet.”
“Aww, look how cute that little girl is.” She crooned, “Looks like I am the oldest one here.”
It was true. I thought of the days when she was happy to crawl around this very same floor, chewing on books and banging at the Lego table. Now she sat next to me, my confidante, nervous in her knowledge of the pain forthcoming from having a stick shoved down her throat. She was growing up.
I thought how three days ago I put up on the mantlepiece the magical elf ,”Christopher Popinkins” ,who is supposed to stay with us from Thanksgiving to Christmas and magically “pop”around the house when the children aren’t looking. I was surprised when her usual glee at seeing Christopher, her excitement at the presence of Santa’s helper that would make her run around and shriek, was replaced by torpor. “Oh, yah,” she said. “Look at that.” Yawn.
I shouldn’t be so sad about the demise of this tradition since Christopher has caused me much anxiety over the past years. Many nights I would come home late and forget to move him and then wake in a panic when I heard little footsteps on the stairs. At which point I would spring from my bed and rush past the kids, sometimes actually pushing them against the wall to get to the living room before they saw that the elf was in the same spot as the night before. Sometimes I grabbed Christopher just in time to fling him high atop the christmas tree or up on the chandelier, but other days they were too quick for me.
Sad faced they asked, “Why hasn’t Christopher moved?”
And that’s when I should have had some moral dilemma regarding lying to children but instead said something like,”Oh he moved a few times while you were sleeping, I saw him in the kitchen and the playroom, he must just be back on the mantle by coincidence.”
Then there was the time when our new dog Carly had somehow jumped up and was chewing at him like he was a leg of lamb. I walked in the house to screaming children,”Mom, WHAT are we going to DO????Carly got CHRISTOPHER! DO something!”
This called for quick action. You see, according to the legend, Christopher was not allowed to be touched or he would go back to Santa, never to be seen again.
“Ok, We have to cordon off the elf!,” I commanded. I surrounded Christophers’ stuffed little body with three baby gates which we were using for the dog and I backed everyone away like it was a crime scene. We stared for a little while not knowing what to do.
And then I lied again.
“Grownups can touch him. Did I ever mention that? It’s totally fine if a parent picks him up in times of crisis.”
And they bought it. I replaced Christopher to his perch, higher this time, out of the reach of our elf-eating canine.
Since my daughter’s bored reaction the other day, Christopher hasn’t moved. And nobody seems to care. My daughter’s belief in magic is sadly slipping away.
Back in the waiting room I watched a cool, hip young mom walk in with her 4-year-old son. Kneeling on the floor in front of the reception desk I noticed her slightly flared corduroys and her chunky boots,probably her favorites as the bottom of the heel was worn away on one side. I remembered my favorite Doc Marten boots that I wore everywhere, replaced now by my more grown-up suede boots. This young Mom was trying desperately to talk to the receptionist and fill out paperwork, while her energetic little boy jumped around in the chair chattering to her, “Can I have gum? Mom, can I have some gum? Gum, um,gum. MOM I want some GUM!”. She held one hand out to steady the boy and alternately said “hush” while she answered questions about her insurance coverage.
It was at that moment I became happy about my age. Not in a “Thank God I don’t have to go through that” kind of way, but because suddenly I knew exactly what to do to help this woman. Because, as a young mother, I NEVER would have interfered, I would have sat there feeling bad for her but wrapped up in my own insecurities and unable to move. Oh I may have given her a sympathetic smile, but the young me would never have taken action.
See, I had raised 2 boys. I knew what to do. In the corner bookshelf I spied a book on Trains.
“Maeve,” I whispered, “go get that book and give it to him.”
“What? No way, Mom.” Exactly how I used to think.
Without hesitation I retrieved the book and approached the little boy. “Hey, do you like trains?” Of course he did. As I knelt down so he could point out all the different cars to me and we talked about train-tracks and coal cars, his mother was able to finish her business. I had taken a chance that the woman would be pissed off that I had approached her son but she did not say anything–just smiled at me when she was finished.
When I sat down my daughter looked at me like she was noticing me for the first time, amazed at the magic I had just preformed on this little boy, “You-are- awesome-mom.”
And then I got it. It is alright that my kids grow up and lose their belief in elves and fairies and magic. This is supposed to happen — but now it is my job to make sure that it is replaced by their sheer and utter belief in human kindness.