The Innocence of Youth

In honor of Christmas, here’s an encore posting from December, 2012:

I still remember that fateful afternoon. I was 8-years-old, walking home from school with my 10-year-old sister, when I learned there was no Easter bunny. She divulged it as if Easter-Bunnysimply commenting on the weather.

In disbelief, I ran crying all the way home, anxious for my mother to dispel that awful lie. She tried, but to no avail. Once I allowed myself to reason, doubt crept in.     

I don’t remember who told me about the tooth fairy, or if I figured that one out on my own. But that was another huge let-down. Now, when I lose a tooth, I get an $800 bill for a porcelain crown instead of a quarter under my pillow. It’s just not the same.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not lamenting “growing up,” but sometimes being able to reason kind of sucks, if you want to know the truth.

It was in the fifth grade, once again walking home from school, when I learned where babies come from. Too horrified to believe it, I never bothered interrogating my parents. Instead, I asked my schoolmate, Tony Manascalco, because she knew just about everything. To my dismay, she assured me no storks were involved.

Looking back, many of my introductions to reality were from school friends. If I hadn’t always walked home with those more enlightened, who knows when I would have realized my mom was the one who signed our gift tags, “Love, Santa.” If I had taken the school bus instead, I might still be leaving carrots for that elusive Easter bunny.

I remember the time my cousin Rick slept over on Christmas Eve when he and I were little kids. We knew we weren’t supposed to go into the living room after bedtime because if Santa saw us he might not leave us presents.

Naturally, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning needing to pee (pun intended). Of course, the bathroom was right next to the living room. I knew if Santa happened to be putting toys under the tree, there was no way I couldn’t take a peek.

So I reasoned that if I wasn’t getting any toys, neither should Rick. Therefore, I dragged him out of bed and took him with me.

On our way down the hall, we thought we heard sleigh bells outside and ran to the bedroom window facing the street. Our breath fogged the cold glass as we peered into the night sky, searching for that sleigh. I swear I could hear my heart pounding and thought it would wake my parents.

Proceeding down the hall, I noticed the living room door was shut. Unable to resist, I pressed my ear to the door. Just then, we heard a noise on the other side.

Our mouths dropped open. We stared at each other, eyes wide with surprise. Turning, we raced back to our beds. I jumped in mine, willing myself to sleep whispering the words, “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.” Somehow, I slept without wetting my bed.

I look back on that night and marvel at how my senses were so alive with the prospect of running into someone I’d known and treasured all my life but never had the chance to actually meet. (I don’t recall visits on Santa’s lap.) And here he was making noise in my living room, yet still hidden from view.

When I was young, the simplest things were exciting: new shoes, going to a drive-in movie with my parents, getting a king-size candy bar when trick or treating, finding a dime in the street. Everything is new. Anything is possible.

Then you grow up. There are no more drive-in theaters and you discover that finding a dime doesn’t get you much more than a couple minutes on a parking meter.

But some things never change.

I still like the smell of a new pair of shoes and now I give out the giant candy bars on Halloween. And even though 10 cents doesn’t go as far as it once did, I’ll still bend to pick up a dime in the street.

Some habits die harder than others. Technically, I may be “grown up” now, but on Christmas Eve night, I still half expect to hear those sleigh bells.

4 thoughts on “The Innocence of Youth

  1. Merry Christmas sweet Janet. I’m never tired of reading your stories, in fact I look forward to them on Sundays and this one did not disappoint. I can almost see you with your head up against the door and looking out the window for Santa. We had wonderful child growing up, didn’t we?

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