I have lost my job. I only just realized this today.
It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice the signs, though clearly I should have. Like many who work in the same position for a long time, I’d become good at it, and took a lot of pride in my work. It had become a big part of my identity, too, even as I might be heard to complain about its duties, its low pay, its thankless, never-ending tasks, especially around year-end. I guess because I’d held the job so long, and had considered it so completely mine, I failed to notice how much had changed.
Which is why it was a bit of a shock to realize that I had been replaced.
It was a very cold day and I was in the workplace when it happened, which is to say in my red car, where I sat with my hair a tousled mess of heavy sleep and early Pilates class and without the benefit of makeup which might have resulted in some color in my otherwise jolly cheeks. I did not wear a belted and pelted red coat, but had stuffed my chubby body and totally unacceptable outfit into my black puffy one, its promise of Arctic warmth outweighing any suggestion of shape or style. The coat is really too long for my elfin stature and hides the above shortcomings less well than I like to believe; the overall look is more busted-open tube of crescent rolls than Christmas hero. ButI told myself, none of that mattered: only the work did. I glanced down at the handwritten list in my hand—culled from links sent to me in emails by my adult clients (my kids), clandestine research about my clients’ (my kids’) interests, and my own brand of expert, compulsive brainstorming—and sagely reminded myself of the importance of reinforcing their Nice behaviors while overlooking the Naughty.
And then I got a text from a person so special to one of my adult children that she is, of course, special to me, too. She asked if I needed any shopping ideas for him—he who is my first-born and her beloved—which I totally did, because he is hard to buy for, and also has not given me much to go on. She gave me some great ideas I would neither have known nor thought of, things she had ultimately decided against but knew—presumably from her own professional growth in the role— that he needed or might enjoy. I texted back my thanks and added them to my list. Nice!
And then a vague heaviness descended on me. I thought at first that it might be the cold, and cranked up the dashboard heat. But the truth came to me like the warm air: slowly, stinging a bit at first, bringing a change that was swift and undeniable.
The truth is that I do not know anymore what my son most needs in his day-to-day life, what he might have mentioned casually or in passing, what he could use. What new hobby he might be tentatively exploring, what might really come in handy for his ride to work. Even though for decades, I was the only person on the planet who knew all of his sizes, I now can only make an educated guess at a few. I cannot remember which shoe size is his and which is his brother’s. Someone else knows these things much better than I do.
All of which led me to realize that I am not Santa anymore.
It was a really good run while it lasted, which was 27 years or so, although maybe it was much less than that. It is with embarrassment that I realize I am not really sure how long I have been showing up at this job unnecessarily. I wonder if I am like the octogenarian partner at the firm who arrives each day to his corner office, blissfully unaware of his obsolescence even as his younger colleagues notice, as they elbow each other, that he is again asleep at his desk.
There will be no retirement party or even a roast; I am certain there is no severance. There is just me, jostled from sleep by reality, by the humiliation of drool on my lapel. Unceremoniously packing up mementos of my long career, and slinking out of the building with my box. Wondering where the time went and where in retirement I might use my hard-earned expertise, that which is known by all moms who have similarly done this job.
We have spent years noticing, in fall and early winters, the clothes our kids are outgrowing, the budding interests that are emerging, the playthings they’ve been coveting. We have know when a child might need a book a little too hard, or a toy a little too young, just to remind them that there is room between the lines.
We have written tags on Santa packages in loopy, oversized cursive so elaborate that even skeptical children declare that it is not Mom’s handwriting at all, they know what that looks like, and that Santa himself must have written their name right here on this paper! We have convincingly claimed to have forgotten something just as the car begins to pull out for Christmas Eve Mass, running back into the house to place old-fashioned looking brown packages on the stoop while the conspiring father distracts the children. We have cooed with feigned surprise when the magical pajamas from the North Pole pajamas are discovered upon our return.
We have set up dollhouses with convertible cars to match, and play kitchens with food that velcro back together after being cut through with a plastic knife. I can tell also you that even in the middle of the night when you and your husband are exhausted and hollow-eyed and fighting because they took so much longer to put together than you expected, these play versions of houses and kitchens are much more fun than the grown up kind that I am left with today.
Many of us have declared with conviction to little boys every day at breakfast that they had better come up with something on their list besides Nintendo Game Boys because they are Not Getting Those and then, moments later after they have left for school, raced to Target to check the night’s restock for the handheld games. We have repeated this exact process every day for weeks, and kept quiet about this particular reality for years, allowing gleeful children to believe that Santa pulled rank even when Mom said no. That we were merely gracious in defeat.
And then, it would happen: the year would come when one of them would come to me quietly, sometime after the tree had come down, with a vague sadness behind their eyes, and I would know instantly that they knew the truth, about Santa. That there was nothing to do except wrap them in my arms and wish I could protect them from the painful truth, from the loss of a magical age. It would be the first time their hearts were broken; the knowledge that it would would not be the last would break mine. And as we sat together, our hearts broken but still and again beating together, as they had so many years before, I would tell them the whole grown up truth.
That the magic of being Santa is perhaps the single thing in the whole world better than believing in Santa. That they—that we—would always have that kind of Santa magic, together.
Neither the skill set nor the resume, the vestiges of my years as Santa, are good for much now; I know that. I know that it is over, and that it is time to pass the torch. I know that the next generation of Santa is ready, and that they, too, will do a great job.
I think I just wanted to remember. To have the chance to say once more that I had the time of my life, being Santa.