The Amazing Rosie is suspicious.
She hasn't come right out and said so - at least not to her grandfather and me - but we think she has her doubts about the fat guy in the red suit. Early in the season, there was disturbing talk on the school bus. A troublemaker, a much older kid in the fourth grade, told her that Santa Claus does not exist except in shopping malls.
Rosie does not know the word "sneer," but I believe she conveyed its essence in her report. "Brandon says only babies believe," she said. And then he pulled her hair. We think the boy has a serious crush.
Henry Napier was the blabbermouth on my bus. He said all the presents came from our parents, then he punched me on the arm and made a Frisbee out of my Brownie Scout beanie. My father said he was just trying to get my attention. I think he was a bully and his attention was entirely on the Twinkie in my lunch bag.
Anyway, I didn't believe Henry, at least not at first.
The underwear theory
My brother Steven and I discussed it, deciding that if Mom and Dad were the ones putting stuff under the Christmas tree, we'd have gotten gym shoes and underwear instead of bikes and cowboy hats. Case closed. But the seed had been planted. And I was nowhere near as smart as Rosie.
She got a letter this year from Santa. It was postmarked the North Pole and signed in real ink, my daughter and son-in-law's last-ditch attempt at damage control. But you can only do so much when a kid can read and knows how to use the TV remote. Rosie, polite as ever, wrote back, asking for a live unicorn for herself and a Chicken Dance Elmo for her little sister.
We think this was a test.
In a completely unrelated incident, involving a completely unrelated child, I saw more troublemaking - this time involving a bully in the smoking area of a Pizza Hut. I couldn't see the whole drama, because I was sitting in the Clean Lung section. But I could hear a man's angry voice.
Too much Christmas shopping? Too little pepperoni on his pizza? Maybe the drink refills were not arriving to his satisfaction. A little girl at the table next to the commotion never looked up from her coloring book. Oblivious, I was thinking.
The man became angrier. Still, the little girl never raised her eyes. Well, her table was a little noisy, too. Her mom looked as if she had her hands full. A baby in a high chair. Two older kids were up to their elbows in hot wings.
The man ranted on. Finally, the waitress started to cry. The manager was called. Shortly after that, the man left. The little girl's family was shrugging into their coats by then. And while the mother was boxing up the remains of their pizza, the child carefully tore out the page she'd been working on. She slipped out of her chair and sidled up to the waitress, who had dried her tears and was clearing tables.
The child silently handed the woman the brightly colored Santa. Luckily the waitress still had a tissue in her pocket. The little girl darted to the door, still without a word. Proving that children always know considerably more than we think they do.
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