Most people who meet my older son Jack immediately think of him as the clean-cut, all-American, boy next door. With his wavy brown hair and freckles, his excellent manners, and his ability to make conversation with kids and adults alike, Jack has always exuded an old-fashioned friendliness...as if he were plucked from the 1950s, a modern Wally Cleaver.
Jack is the boy everyone trusts to shovel the snow from their driveways, weed their gardens, look out for the younger kids at the neighborhood pool, and pick up their mail when they're on vacation. Everyone loves him and trusts him, and they should; but they don't know Jack's secret.
When he was three-years-old, Jack told me, confidentially, that he thought he was the real Santa Claus. It was early December, and I remember I misunderstood him at first. I thought, initially, that he was asking me if Santa Claus was real. My heart sank. He was so little, and I had hoped he would always believe in the magic of Santa.
"What did you just say, Jack?" I asked.
He looked up at me and repeated, "I think I might me the real Santa Claus."
That's not what I had expected; and as stunned as I was by this revelation, I was relieved that he still believed. He more than believed...he believed he was the Big Guy, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas.
"Well," I said, stalling a little so I could gather my thoughts, "what makes you think you're Santa?"
"I love Christmas so much," he said, with a sincerity that wrung my heart, "and I love to give gifts to people. I think I AM the REAL Santa."
I wondered what this would mean for us on December 24th. The logistics of giving gifts from Santa to the real Santa suddenly seemed like it might get awfully complicated; but I knelt down in front of him and said, "You know what, Jack? You just might grow up to be the real Santa. You already act so much like him. Children will be so lucky if you turn out to be Santa Claus." He smiled. That's all he needed to hear.
Years later, he still loves Christmas. He has always been my biggest helper...shopping, icing cookies, decorating the tree, wrapping gifts late into the night. Several years ago, he encouraged me and his Grammy to start a Black Friday tradition; and the three of us head out before daylight the day after Thanksgiving, gift lists (checked twice) in hand. Jack saves birthday money and money earned from odd jobs throughout the year so that he can buy gifts for me, his dad, and his brother. He also buys gifts for his Papaw, both grandmothers, and his aunt. So much thought goes into each present, and he insists on wrapping everything he buys. While we wrap, we watch Christmas sitcom episodes on Netflix. In our town, a local radio station starts playing holiday songs on November 1st. Jack loves it. For two months, my car radio dial is set to 94.5; and we sing along with our favorites. He and his dad are exterior lighting experts, and he spends hours in the cold helping my husband light the giant pine in the front yard. Jack is the first one up on Christmas morning and the last one to bed most nights during the holidays. He likes to enjoy every moment of the season. The day after Christmas is one of the saddest days of the year for him.
Although Christmas is nine months away, today is another special day for Jack. It's Jack's 16th birthday...a day he receives gifts instead of gives them; but he has given those who know him, especially his mom, 16 years' worth of happy memories.
It's still too soon to know for sure if Jack is, in fact, the real Santa Claus; but I hope to see the day when some little brown-haired, freckle-faced children (who look a lot like Jack) wake up on Christmas morning to find that the real Santa knew exactly what they wanted and delivered it magically in the night while they slept.
I won't be one bit surprised if that happens.