A Christmas Chronicle

– Jan  2008

I wonder if there other parents out there who have experienced this.

“This” is the anticipation I have felt since Christmas, at the thought that it won’t be too long now before my six year old daughter finds out – maybe this year, or perhaps then the next, but surely no later- that her dear, loved Pere Noel (that’s what we call Santa Claus in France) and her sometimes-monster mother are but two sides of the same coin.

It’s a double life I lead. Teaching math, reading, tidiness by day; packing Christmas presents by night that I will leave on the balcony, to be discovered by two ecstatic little girls the next morning.

The sky has been overcast all day and I am worried that it might rain and soak the presents, thereby ruining my efforts. I look around the balcony for a while, wondering what to do about avoiding this potential pitfall.
Plan B would be to leave the presents outside the front door. But this would imply that Pere Noel took the elevator to our third floor apartment – not as charming a notion as the idea of his sleigh gliding down on to the balcony. So this is not the ideal option.

But then suddenly I have this “Eureka!” moment. Spotting their toy wheelbarrow behind the clothes dryer’s frame, I arrange the presents as nicely as I can in this unlikely receptacle, and wheel it under the tea table.

Voila! Doesn’t Pere Noel think of everything!

The tea light candle, in the lantern that swings from a little hook in the balcony’s wall, was lit by the girls before they went to bed, so as to help Pere Noel find his way to our apartment. That’s a little custom we initiated two years ago when Indira wondered aloud whether Pere Noel would know the way to our home. And this evening, with the NORAD Santa tracker still showing him a few countries away, they finally agreed to go to bed after conceding that the lantern was bound to catch his eye this year too, when he got to this part of France.

Well, this – wrapping the presents in lengths of paper of varied but harmonious colors and patterns (a detail that artistically inclined Indira is sure to notice/comment on), thinking of ways to make sure the presents stay dry until morning, is the pleasurable part.

The trouble, of course, is with doing the other part of my job – the day job.

I am sometimes troubled these days, as I walk a difficult path, trying to teach the girls the things I imagine they need to learn. On this journey, I wish there was some way of knowing how strict is too strict; or how long is enough time spent on sums (for Indira); or in watching television (for 3 year old Noor); or whether my anxiety over Indira’s school work will forever set her mind against learning. But like many an ambitious, middle class parent, with our “all we have is our education and hard work” ethos, I think I push my kids too hard sometimes– especially the older one who is now in primary school.

But I wonder about this too – that if they don’t learn the importance of working hard and getting it right (the first time; every time; on time; and so on) now, then will it be too late afterwards? Surely these are habits either learned young or never?

But enough of that for now. For the moment, I am enjoying this sudden, pleasurable realization that it won’t be too long now before Indira at least, will realize that the same person who gives her those dreaded lectures about her school work, goes on about keeping things back where they come from, and fusses about so much else that needs to be done just so, is also the person who is her much loved Pere Noel.

She had quite a list for him this year – nothing big-ticket, just lots of little things that she really had her heart set on. A new skipping rope; new sets of coloring pencils and pens for school; a new fad toy -little animal figures, part of a series called “pet shops”; things like that. My little Noor, in the meanwhile, seemed to hope that Pere Noel might oblige where her mother doesn’t and asked for LOTS of bonbons and the inevitable Barbie.

Partly to make up for my monster mum personage by day; partly because they do oblige me and do me proud by being all that I ask of them; but chiefly because they really are just the most delightful, loving little girls who light up our lives with their being– I decided that Santa was going to find place in his sack for everything that they had requested in the multiple letters that they wrote to him. Though here too, I couldn’t bring myself to be totally indulgent – Santa was going to be practical like me and only bring a couple of dresses for the several Barbies they already have, instead of yet another one of those dolls.

So in the last ten days, ever since his sleigh landed on our balcony, every time that Indira has exclaimed yet again “Oh but isn’t it really nice that he brought so many things! Everything that we wanted!” I confess that I have felt more than a little jealous of Pere Noel and the love and gratitude he inspires. They even wrote him a thank-you letter, with Noor contributing a scribble, promising him a gift in turn next year.

But I also feel this little glow of anticipation, as I wait for next Christmas. Friends with older kids tell me it will likely be this year that Indira might finally stop believing in that man in the red and white suit. Justice shall finally be served, I like to think, with me getting my five minutes of glory.

Just you wait Santa- the truth will out, and I will have my day.

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