My older sister has a daughter, my only niece. And I only have one nephew. His mother, my younger sister, is a single parent. When she was pregnant I promised I would be around more to help, more than I was with our niece. But life always seems to get in the way, and once again I have not been the best uncle I could be, but I feel I have had my moments. I really do love this kid she named Levi.
Anyway. He has had an ongoing fascination with Santa Claus. Not just around Christmas, but all year round. In summer you can catch him sitting with his legos building a perfectly crafted Santa with reindeer and sleigh. Sometimes out of clay, sometimes, with crayons, but always to perfection and with personality. To me that is a sign of a real good artist, where you can look at a detailed or even simply drawn image and it somehow comes alive, like it has a soul. He can make this happen in the most simple of creations.
Earlier this year he and his mother drove together to Indiana to purchase a real antique sleigh, 120 years old. The man who sold it was offered more money from another buyer, but then heard that a little boy who loved Santa and loved giving gifts wanted it, so he sold it to my sister, a few hundred dollars less than it would have cost for another customer. It was the exact Sleigh he wanted. You could see its resemblance in his drawings.
Every time I visit Levi he presents me with a drawing from his collection. They are always well crafted, and if they do not feature a Santa, then they feature a super hero, often both. A good Imagination makes things like that possible. Something in him is attracted to figures who try their best to help others. Often my sister would wonder if the mild obsession with Santa was somehow hurtful to him. But it never seemed to keep him from making friends or getting work done or functioning like a regular boy.
Levi is by far one of the last of his age to believe in the existence of Santa, and somehow over the years the kids coming to the realization of the contrary while around him did not deter his devotion.
Well… A couple days ago, Levi sat my sister down and told her to be straight with him and not to lie. He asked if Santa was real. And my sister had to tell him, "No." He got very sad and began to cry. He is also at that age where a human begins to realize that all things die, and somehow these concepts of non-existents and death combined and the weight of this information hit him hard. My sister told me he was going to stay home from school the next day, and I said I would stop by. I worked out things that I could say to him, to make him feel better about Santa and even about himself. And then I felt I over-rehearsed it and thought it wouldn’t feel real, and then I decided I would just play it by ear. Today, he just seemed like he needed a male play pal for awhile, so we had a drawing contest, then we just threw balls at each other. Later he tried to kill me with a sword but luckily I found the Truthful Glove of Surrender so he had to get whirled around on my back till he was dizzy.
Then he showed me his amazing, real to goodness sleigh, with antique cushioned seats and metal rails. It was outside in the snow but it was covered with a canvas to protect it from the elements. He said, “Mom and I are saving up money to buy a shed for me to put the sleigh in, and a place for me to go to draw.” I said that sounded marvelous, then picked him up and tickled him, then he screamed and laughed, ripped off my glove and then I no longer had the Truthful Glove of Surrender so I had to release him. After a few moments of silence I said, “Are you Ok?” He looked away and his eyes sunk to the ground. I put my hand on his shoulder, he teared up, and politely took my hand off. “I’m very sad.” And I just said, “That’s Ok.”
They drove me to the train station as the snow began to fall. Through the frosted car window he saw a cup on a vending machine outside the station. He said, “uncle John, knock that off for me when you get out.” “Do I have to?” And he with a serious smile said, “Yes, you do.” So I did. When he was out of view I picked it up and through it in a garbage can. On the train I felt bad that I did not say the things I meant to say, so when I got home I told my sister so, in an email. I pasted the paragraph I had planned to say to him in some order or fashion. She said it was beautiful and that Levi responds positively to compassionate things like that, and she asked if she could read it to him. And I said Yes. So she did. I don’t know how he responded but I hope it helps in some way.
“The things I feel you see in Santa are in you. Santa is kind, you are kind. Santa gives gifts, you like to give gifts. Santa brings joy, and you bring joy to your mom, grandma, your uncle and your friends. Santa Claus will always exist in your heart, because you are more real than he could ever be, and so he will always be around within you."