A couple of weeks ago, Lou got into my car at backdoor pick up with a telling furrow on her brow. I braced myself – when she has a rough day, I think she starts a running checklist of all that has gone wrong in her mind and saves it up, only to regurgitate it into my lap upon first sight of me. “What’s the matter, Lou?”.
As it turned out, someone told her at recess that Santa isn’t real. But Lou? She’s a believer, so she settled on “He is too!”. In the quiet of my Jeep, though, she wondered. “Is he real, Mama?” I could hear it in her voice. Part curious, part nervous, part sad. “I told him, Mama – I told him Santa *is* real and he shouldn’t try to ruin Christmas.” 2016 has been a year and we’ve let go of a lot, but damn it, Santa was not going, not this year. “Santa is real, Lou. He’s kindness and wonder and magic, all wrapped into one.”
Later that night, as I tucked her in, Lou started crying. “Santa can’t come, Mama.” Lou isn’t one to let things go…I can’t imagine where she might get that from. “Why not?” I was ready for just about anything: because he isn’t real, because we don’t have a chimney, because….just about anything…except for the one thing she said. “Santa can’t come because he’ll be in all the other houses first. He’ll be covered in germs and he’ll make Ky sick. Santa can’t come, Mama.” There it was.
Lou is 9. For as much as they fight – and wow, can they fight – her brother is her hero. It was a long summer of infrequent visits. She missed him. He missed her. Each week after Ky’s doctor’s appointment, Lou finds a way to quietly ask how things went. Is he okay? Did anything change? What medicine is different this week? She never does it in front of him, instead she waits for a quiet moment when I’m starting laundry or laying out clothes.
Like Bill and I, Lou is keenly aware of germs. She doesn’t love it, but each day she comes home from school, showers and changes clothes. She’s aware of who in her class has the sniffles or went to the nurse…and she avoids that kiddo….and provides a full report, as only Lou could, of the arc of their cold or stomach bug.
Laying there in the dark, I didn’t have any answer but this: of course Santa will come, Lou. Of course he will. He’ll find a way. A moment later, she said “I’d rather he didn’t. It just isn’t safe.”
I had a long weekend of my stomach being gnawed by the sadness of that. As it happened, we had two clinic appointments that week. One of Ky’s levels was low on Tuesday, so we went in Thursday for an infusion. Ky was premedicated prior to his infusion and mostly sleepy when I enlisted the help of a nurse to save Christmas. He smiled as he heard my plan; he isn’t a believer in Santa, but he’s a believer in the magic of Christmas.
The nurses at Ky’s oncologist’s office are, like so many others we’ve met in the last seven months, angels among us. Within an hour, they’d made my vision come to life.
Tinsel, our Elf On A Shelf, was quiet for 24 hours. That’s pretty unusual for a guy known for making huge messes on the daily. When he stirred back up, he had a package and a note. The note was to Quinn – Santa heard her concerns about germs and he consulted the top doctor at the North Pole. She put together a safety kit for Santa – complete with a chemo-proof gown (surely germs can’t penetrate that), gloves, boot covers, and a cap to cover his hat. Santa would be able to visit the Macdonald family after all. His special outfit will be by the door, next to his milk and cookies.
Yes, Lou – there is a Santa Claus. He dwells in the hearts of all the people who have found a way to hold us close and pray for our family. He is in the minds and hands of doctors and nurses who cared for all of us during the last seven months. He is the twinkle in the eye of a total stranger – all the way in the Netherlands – who gave Ky a second chance. He lives in your brother, Lou, who is braver than anyone could have ever imagined. And he is absolutely alive and well in you, Lou – like Santa, your heart is full of love and wonder.