Last Christmas Eve, my wife Monica and I tip-toed into our three-year-old daughter Violet's bedroom and fumbled around in the dark. Monica doing her job, me doing mine, like two secret ninjas at work.
Then, back down in the dining room, I stared hard at the couple of cookies Violet and her little brother, Henry, had placed on Henry's rolling highchair for Santa (it was convenient!). And the carrot they left for Rudolph? I looked closely at it, like a scientist inspects a fascinating specimen.
There was a plastic Dora the Explorer cup of chocolate milk, too.
It was for the jolly elf to wash things down.
The jolly elf, indeed.
In the morning, well before the crack of dawn, I heard Violet's tiny footsteps pattering their way to my bedside. I arched an eye open the best I could (Christmas Eve wine still dancing like sugar plums in my head) and waited to hear her voice. It didn't take long.
"Daddy, Daddy, Mommy!," she whisper-yelled, trying hard to remain in 'morning mode', but failing wonderfully. "Daddy! Mommy! Wake up! Wake up, please! Santa Claus left the candy canes in my slipper!"
I smiled in the 5am darkness.
It had worked.
Seeking out and finding candy canes in my slippers on Christmas morning had once made me so excited I could have almost puked with pure joy. It had been my mom's way of proving to me that Santa had indeed been not only to our house to scatter gifts under the tree, but that he'd also eased his way upstairs and stood right above me deep in the night!
He'd left candy canes to show he'd been there. Oh man, how electrifying it was to find them there; I was overwhelmed by the unmistakable proof of his Santa-ness year after year.
Now, here she was, my own daughter, experiencing that same inimitable magic.
I had told her to be on the lookout for this very magical touch, and she had remembered.
I plugged the tree lights in while Violet paced back and forth at the tops of the steps as her bleary Mom held her baby brother. The same scene so many parents live out Christmas morning all over the world, I suppose.
The room lit up, the reds and greens ricocheting off of the silvery strands of tinsel and the shiny, fake plastic balls. I held my breath. Here we go, I thought. Showtime.
"Okay!" I hollered up the steps. "C'mon down!"
As in, she didn't actually touch any of the steps on the way down, I don't think.
Her face and Henry's face in the tree's glow were the things we will remember for the rest of our lives. Smiles born way down deep, way back in where the good stuff lives. The twinkling in their eyes was every bit as awesome as I had hoped it would be.
Violet was a believer now; old enough to understand the Santa Claus thing and young enough to savor it for all it was worth.
She ran over to the highchair. There was nothing but cookie crumbs, a carrot's butt end, and the last few drops of a well-enjoyed glass of milk.
"Santa!" she cried out. "He was here!"
And, she was right.
Serge Bielanko is proud to be a Shine Parenting Guru. He can also be found writing all about the ups/downs/joys/and blues of being a dad at Babble.com.