Yes, Sister Gabriel, There is a Santa Claus

This is me back in 4th grade in 1974. I can hear the giggles and see the pointing all the way across the blogosphere. God, that was a bad look for me. Although, the hair and sweater may have made me an excellent candidate for a spot with the Bay City Rollers. All I needed was a little tartan and a Scottish accent. What do you think?

It was before Christmas when this woman, Sister Gabriel, my 4th grade teacher, decided to drop a bombshell. No, she wasn’t retiring immediately and thus making 4th grade safe for children once again. That would have been too wonderful. Her announcement wafted over our heads menacingly like the smell that occurred when she made a boy named Tony sit on the heater to dry his pants after he peed them. And it was just as disturbing.

I can’t remember what led up to it but this is what she said:

Sister Gabriel
There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Easter
Bunny, and there is no Santa Claus!

 Miscellaneous Children
(Whimpering and Screaming)

As you can imagine, we were distraught and all ran home crying to our parents. Kids back then weren’t as jaded or grown up as kids are today. Our childhoods, and in many respects our innocence, lasted longer. All of my friends still believed in Santa at the age of nine, so Sister Gabriel’s announcement caused a bit of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, there was this authority figure, and a nun to boot, telling us this “truth”. On the other hand, she was a mean old biddy who hated children. What to think, what to think.

When I informed my mother what Sister Gabriel had said, she was very upset, saying that Sister Gabriel had no right to say such a thing, who did she think she was, etc. Then Mom calmed down and proceeded to dazzle me with her explanation.

Well, I feel sorry for Sister Gabriel
because the only thing she’ll get in
her  Christmas stocking is coal.

That was an excellent passive-aggressive response, wasn’t it? Fake concern for Sister Gabriel’s stocking contents while delivering an insult. Give my mother some props! Mom then went on.

But, is she right? Is Santa a lie?

Let me ask you a question.
Do you fill your own
Christmas stocking?

No! Who fills their own stocking?

That’s right. Mommy doesn’t fill
hers and Daddy doesn’t fill his.
Let me ask you another question.

Do you see how my mother has mastered the art of deflection? Like a smooth politician, she never answered my original question but went on to distract me with other questions and answers. Brilliant!

Do you fill Daddy’s stocking?

Of course not!

How about Mommy’s stocking?

No! You’re silly.

Well, if you don’t fill your stocking and you
don’t fill Mommy’s and Daddy’s stockings
and Mommy and Daddy don’t fill their
stockings, who fills them? Hmm?

This reminds me of those annoying word problems in math class that would include lots of extra information not needed to actually solve the problem. Instead of focusing on the trains traveling in opposite directions, I’d always get hung up on what the conductor’s name was or what kind of sandwich he was eating. Now I see why.

Well, it has to be…Santa!

I proceeded to hug my mother and I ended up believing in Santa Claus for another couple of years. Mom gave me more than answers that year. She gave me the permission to continue believing despite the protestations of others.  And she gave me love. These two things have always been the most treasured gifts. They certainly beat coal. Do you hear that, Sister Gabriel?


Gratitude isn’t second nature to me. My tendency is to focus on what’s wrong or missing and not on what’s right and what I already have. I’m not proud of this and it’s something that I’m trying to change, but it’s not always easy. Some of you know that this year has been a bit challenging for me. My mother had major back surgery that I helped her through. I subsequently hurt my back and lost my job. I’ve often felt like I was living in a depressing country song, without the big hair and sequins, that is.

While I realize that there are many people in extremely dire and depressing situations all over the world, our personal stuff is our stuff, after all, and it’s important. That’s why the news yesterday about my mother’s back was so welcome.

The surgeon wanted her to go for a CT scan in order to really see how her spine was fusing. Her recovery has been excellent so far. The debilitating spasms have disappeared and other pains have diminished and at age 78, she has her life back. And yes, I have been grateful for her renewed lease on life. However, I’ve still been operating in crisis management mode, monitoring practically each and every move she makes to make sure she’s not doing too much and worrying over every single thing. It’s exhausting for me and I know it’s annoying to her. This little coping strategy of mine hasn’t been conducive to slowing down for a little gratitude.

So, she went for the scan and the results couldn’t have been better. Her spine is completely fused less than seven months after surgery. This is amazing. Part of this is due to some innovative techniques by her surgeon. The other part of it is due to my mother.

She has survived more than her fair share of health issues and traumas throughout her life and she never gives up. She wants to live more than anyone I know and she puts in the work to get better. I, on the other hand, can brood about my birthday and feel that all my chances for happiness are behind me. (I know. Overly dramatic, much? I am a Leo, after all.)

Hearing that she has recovered faster and more completely than some patients half her age gave me pause. How can I not live each day fully and embrace life’s journey after watching my mother this past seven months? Without even realizing it, I became filled with gratitude, not only for her brilliant surgeon and other doctors, but also for her. I’ve always been proud to be her daughter. I’m even more grateful that she’s my mother.