It was December 1984. I was an eight-year old third grader dealing with a serious issue, and I needed some answers right away. Some of the kids in my class had started fairly somber discussions about the fact that Santa Claus may not actually be real. I joined in with a couple of the other believers, arguing the fact that Santa Claus did indeed exist and offering proof in the form of munched-on cookies that I had left for him last year and a pink bicycle under the tree that I was certain my single mother could not afford. This debate going down right in the middle of Mrs. Green’s class was a heated one, so much so, that I turned to my mother for some adult wisdom. I knew she would be straight with me.
However, instead of being straight with me when I asked her outright if there was a Santa, she pulled off a skilled move. “Do you think there’s a Santa?” she asked me in the way she had of always talking to children as if they were grown ups.
I thought about it a lot. What did I think? Was it possible that I had been a victim of a cruel prank each year for my entire life? Was my mom really the one putting the gifts under the tree each year like the kids were saying at school? It seemed totally plausible and absolutely impossible at the same time. That is when a genuine stroke of genius hit my tiny eight-year old brain.
The holiday season of 1984 went down in history as the year of the Cabbage Patch Kid. There were stories all over the news every evening about how the illusive dolls were impossible to find. Mothers and fathers were fighting and pushing and yelling in order to get their hands on one of the ugly things for their precious children. There were brawls in the aisles of K-Marts across the country, and footage on CBS of grownups playing angry games of tug-o-war with the innocent, dimpled cloth children. It was mayhem, and my little sister and I watched enrapt, totally impressed that a toy for kids our age could garner so much adult attention. The news stories were all saying the same thing: it was completely impossible to get a Cabbage Patch Kid.
I’d only seen one of them in person once. A girl in my class had one and brought in to show it off. It had blonde yarn hair with wide blue eyes and a blue and white checked dress reminiscent of Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz. I asked if I could hold the doll, and the girl was actually a real bitch about it, so I let it go. Some people’s kids. Either way, I knew we were kind of poor, so I understood that this was probably going to be as close to a real live Cabbage Patch Kid as I ever got. Until, of course, the aforementioned stroke of genius.
I told my mother right then, about two weeks before Christmas, that I would know there was a Santa Claus if I had a Cabbage Path Kid waiting under the tree for me that year. I even added on that my Cabbage Patch Kid would have green eyes like me, just to make sure that Santa, whoever he or she may be, knew that I meant business.
Had I been old enough to notice such things, I’m sure there was an obvious twinkle in my mother’s eye as I said this. I know the twinkle well from my older years, but as a kid, I just wasn’t as attuned to those nuances.
Sometime during the previous July, my mom had been out shopping while my sisters and I were at my dad’s for the weekend. She had picked up a couple of strange looking dolls on sale thinking that they might make cute Christmas gifts for me and my little sister. She stuck them up on the top shelf of her closet with a few other gifts that she had purchased throughout the year and there they sat. Those poor little Cabbage Patch Kids sat in the dark closet for the next six months, never realizing how popular they had become out in the real world. My mom just sat back and watched all the crazies with what could have only been a slightly smug look on her face.
On Christmas morning 1984, my sister and I ran down to the Christmas tree the way that small children are wont to do. We tore into our stockings and the piles of fabulous gifts under the tree. Among many other things, there were Cabbage Patch tee shirts and cassette tapes for each of us, and while I appreciated these items, I was still vocal about the fact that they did not count. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and write off Santa Claus for good, my mom pointed out two larger wrapped boxes, side-by-side, tucked at the very back of the tree against the wall. Bingo. I knew the shape of the box by heart. I grabbed my sister by the sleeve of her nightgown, “Courtney, look!”
Hungrily, we ripped the paper from our respective boxes. Two Cabbage Patch Kids with green eyes. Mine was a pigtailed redhead named Lee-Ann Lottie (scarily, this is what my real children may actually look like if I hang on to Mike). Courtney’s was a brunette who actually bore a striking resemblance to her. They had been delivered to us straight from Santa Claus, and we were basically the luckiest kids in the world at that very moment. It was a Christmas miracle right there in our little townhouse. Just for that last bit of proof, I pulled Lee-Ann from her box and yanked down her tiny pants. Sure enough, right across her right buttock was the signature. Xavier Roberts. It might as well have been signed by Santa himself; I was officially a believer again.
A few months later, because she felt it was time and because I was obviously a little too dense to figure it out on my own like all the other third graders, my mother explained to me how the whole Santa thing really worked. I took it sort of hard, but told her that I understood. She then asked me not to tell my sister, who was only six and was still young enough to believe. I promised not to…
…and then went directly upstairs to find Courtney. I found her in the bathroom sitting on the toilet with a Berenstein Bears book in her lap. “Corky, we have to talk,” I told her, trying to portray the seriousness of the situation on my face. I went on to explain to her everything my mom had asked me not to. She got upset and went running to my mom who had no choice but to confirm the bad news. I had done what I felt I had to. It was only fair that we should both be given the option of grieving the loss of Santa at the same time. My mom told me a few years ago that she got a call from Courtney’s teacher not long after my spilling of the beans. Apparently some of the other first-graders’ parents were upset that Courtney was explaining the Santa concept to their children prematurely. I’m sure my mom wanted to strangle me at that point.
A couple of months after we lost our mom in 2006, I randomly opened one of her boxes of stuff right before Christmas. I am not sure what I was looking for, and I had been pretty reluctant to open any of it until that point. But for some reason I opened a box that was full of random paperwork and photographs that had been haphazardly tucked away. I sat on the floor of my little office ,which had been converted into a storage room for my mother’s things until I could figure out what to do with them, and I went through that single box. There were a few old bills, a 1950’s picture of my great grandfather and his dog back in Ireland, some random photographs of my sisters and I as little kids. I pulled out my mom’s nursing license and her citizenship papers, probably two of the most important papers that she had in her lifetime, and right beneath them were the two most important papers that she had left behind. Two ornate birth certificates from the summer of 1984 for two very special dolls, signed by Xavier Roberts. Right then, right when I was so broken, so devoid of holiday spirit, and so desperately craving something, anything at all to believe in, I got all the evidence of Santa Claus that I will ever need, and I will never doubt again.