It was 6 A.M. on Christmas morning. My brother, Doug, and I had woken up much earlier, but our parents said, “Don’t wake us up before six.” Each minute seemed to drag before, finally, we could spring into our parents’ bed shouting, “WAKE UP! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”
Both of them rolled under the covers, in hopes of grabbing a few more seconds of sleep. My dad cried, “Spirit! Haunt me no more!”, before letting my brother and me climb into bed. It was very easy to fit two parents, a four-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl, and a two-year-old cat under the same sheets. We were all warm, snug, and full of Christmas cheer. Inevitably, my Dad would always ask the same question, and it would always break my heart.
“Did you hear Santa last night?” My dad asked.
“Sure did!” Doug replied.
“Oh…yeah…me too…” I stammered, faking a smile.
It was the same routine each year. Dad and Doug would talk about hearing Santa Claus, and Dad would re-tell the tale of when he saw Santa fly past his window. I would smile, pretending I heard Santa too, when in truth, I heard nothing at all. Talking about Santa proved to be another painful reminder how I was “different.” Even as a little girl, I knew my ear infections were not like those of other kids. While my classmates had maybe one or two infections and got through them easily, I had them every few weeks each year. Hearing anything felt like a strain, and I was fascinated by things that made loud noise because sound eluded me. At Christmas each year, it stung a little “Santa” was one of those sounds.
Being six, however, I cared more about my Christmas presents than I did about being different. Nothing was going to keep me from enjoying what Santa brought on Christmas Eve. Shortly after I swallowed the sting, my brother and I pulled our parents out of bed and dragged them to the living room. If I recall correctly, that was the Christmas where we got our first bikes.
The sting of Christmas came and went, but was followed by another tumultuous year of infections. My hearing continued to decline, and became more problematic when I entered first grade. Though my loss itself had not changed much, my first grade teacher was a soft-spoken Englishwoman. For a seven-year-old child with a hearing loss and fiery will, this was an absolute disaster. Frequently, I would excuse myself from class and enter the back room to read. If I did not, I would come home from school with headaches and throw up on the car ride home. Between the infections, diminishing hearing, and my poor classroom experience, it was decided that I needed ear tubes.
One fateful morning in December, my mother woke me up at 4 A.M., and dragged me into the kitchen before we left. I remember feeling angry about being up so early, and the dangling calendar, embossed with “December 1998” and a brown bear. My memory jumps to being in a pink hospital gown with a little brown dog, and Mom reading The Berenstain Bears On the Moon. A group of nurses came into my room, and offered me a “cocktail.” It was the nastiest thing I have ever tasted, and it took me years to drink alcohol after having that vile liquid. I still do not touch anything bitter because it evokes memories of crowing like a rooster to get the “cocktail” out of my mouth. The nurses and my mother laughed, not expecting a rooster cry while giving me a pre-anesthesia sedative.
Another nurse arrived and pulled me towards the operating room. He mentioned that my bed was a boat. Remembering The Berenstain Bears On the Moon, I said, “No it’s a rocket ship!” He made rocket noises and pulled me into a room where black and green screens beeped, and overly bright lights shined in my eyes. My next memory is a tube going into my throat when I was supposed to be “asleep”—a memory that cemented my fear of surgical procedures. It was one could not talk about until I switched hospitals, and made me wonder if surgery had a point. All of this pain, trauma, and agony. What was it for?
I found out on Christmas Eve of 1998. Mom had put Doug and me to bed, telling us that Santa was coming in the middle of the night. With anticipation of my presents, I fell into a long winter’s nap that seemed unbreakable.
At least… until I heard the THUMP!
It was the reindeer stomping on the roof, and Santa preparing to go down the chimney. There was not much time to celebrate this victory, as I had to fall back asleep immediately. If I stayed awake, I wouldn’t get presents because Santa can only come when you’re asleep. I closed my eyes, drifting into a world of sugarplums, snowflakes, presents, and sleigh rides. At 6 A.M., Doug and I woke up together to begin the next Christmas celebration. As usual, my parents protested until they finally let us in bed. Where it deviates for the norm, however, was with Dad’s famous question:
“Did you guys hear Santa last night?”
“Yup!” My brother replied.
“Me too!” I shouted.
December 1998 was the first time I said, “Me too” about Santa, and really meant it.
I have since discovered that Santa is a metaphor for the spirit of giving, and that the thumps I heard were my parents in the attic. Age, however, has done nothing to tarnish my memory of hearing Santa Claus, especially when I think of parents telling Santa stories. Dad’s has become well-known within my family, and I hope mine will be the same, should I have any children. This story I share with Open Ears is what I will tell the next generation each Christmas. My Santa story involves surgery, hearing loss, and the joy of finally being able to hear him on the roof. It may not be the prettiest of Santa stories, but it’s one that I can say is 100% real, regardless of what is said about Santa.