I’m beginning to suspect that my daughter Sophie no longer believes in Santa Claus.
Sophie is 11 (or as she’ll quickly correct you, 11 and a half) and preoccupied with the trappings of tween life – One Direction, cheerleading, mascara, boys. She recently announced that purple is no longer her favorite; now she’s into blue, a “grown-up color,” she tells me.
In many ways, though, my little girl is still just that. A little girl. Sophie sucks her thumb and carries around an old, stuffed Piglet. I had to get her Velcro-fastened tennis shoes for cheer, since she can’t tie her shoes. And for years, she’s dictated her Santa letter to me each December, afraid, she explains, that he’ll never be able to decipher her handwriting. She’s right, her handwriting is terrible, despite years of therapy.
Sophie has Down syndrome.
My husband, Ray, and I didn’t know Sophie had it before she was born; she was the first person with Down syndrome I’d ever met, this tiny, jaundiced baby with squinty eyes and a bad heart. In those early days, after talking to nurses and friends, I pieced together a few “facts,” sort of a playbook on D.S. Nothing particularly useful, as it turned out, but all I could handle at the time.
Sophie would be cheerful and loving, and maybe a little stubborn. She would never drive a car. She would probably be the Homecoming Queen in high school. She would live with us her whole life.
And she’d always believe in Santa Claus.
It’s funny, looking back at that list, it’s sort of like a yellowed old connect-the-dots coloring book. In the last 11-plus years, Sophie has jumped off the page, a 3-D version I never could have imagined. She is cheerful, loving and stubborn, yes. She can also be both wickedly funny and horrendously mean; for example, she has banned me from singing and dancing anywhere, anytime, and isn’t afraid to announce that to anyone. Sophie’s honest to a fault, and she tells white lies, too.
In other words, she’s her own person, which is usually awesome but sometimes not. She’s different than the rest of us in the family, and from her peers at school. She knows it -– and doesn’t always like it. For years, now, Sophie has been rushing to grow up. When her older sister Annabelle (now 13) asked for a bra, Sophie demanded one, too. Today her collection is far larger than my own, although she still doesn’t really need to wear one at all.
She leaves a trail of books behind — in piles on the couch, her bedroom floor, the kitchen table — books like “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Hobbit,” but not long ago her English teacher recommended I buy Sophie the Madeline series, explaining gently that she needs to learn to read past the first couple pages of a book.
That made me sad, but to be honest, there’s a lot about Sophie’s arrested development that I’ve come to adore. I love that she hugs and kisses me when I drop her off at junior high in the morning. She’s the only grandchild brave enough to climb on my curmudgeonly father’s lap, and tell him she loves him. I even love (most nights) that she demands entrance to my bed, snuggling up between Ray and me.
But my favorite is Santa.
Annabelle stopped believing years ago. When she was 5 she announced to Ray that there’s no Easter Bunny. “Whaddaya think, Peter Cottontail comes hopping down the bunny trail? Sheesh!” she said.
That has left just Sophie. Each year, she begins her Christmas list right after her birthday in May then waits impatiently till Thanksgiving when I finally deem it time to write the letter. Then we sit down together and she dictates. But this year, she wasn’t interested. I was crushed. And I got a little pushy.
“Hey Sophie, isn’t it time to write the Santa letter?” I asked.
“No. Maybe later,” she said, eyes trained on SpongeBob.
I tried getting her best friend to write the letter with her, tried coaxing her list out of her. Nothing. Finally, Sophie announced that she’d decided what she wanted for Christmas.
“A what?” I asked.
“Oh, like a toy R.V.?”
“No. A real one.”
Clearly, this was a test, and one that Santa Claus and I were going to fail. I decided to quit pushing.
Just when I was about to give up on Santa entirely, Sophie popped out of bed one morning and announced, “It’s time to write the Santa letter!”
She dictated the following:
I love you. I have a crush on you. I want a new Piglet soft animal and for Daddy, the fifth Game of Thrones book. Actually, please get him the whole series. I want the Barbie Glam Camper and new sippy cups and milk. And Brownie mix from Trader Joe’s. I also want the Orbi Spa, new Xbox 360 games, an iPhone, an iPod, and my cousins Ben, Kate and Sam and Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Jenny to come visit. A cuddle from my mom and a gift card to Target, Bath and Body Works and Claire’s. And I also want a gift card to my favorite store, it’s called Justice. And that’s it.
Halfway through the writing of the letter she stopped, looked worried, and told me to cross out “I have a crush on you.” I did, and when we were done she grabbed the paper and pen and added this:
PS Hid this form Mrs. Close I have a crush on you!
Does Sophie still believe in Santa? I think she might; every day since she wrote the letter, she’s gone out to the porch to look for his letter back. (I am working on the response, an annual ritual that involves fancy Christmas stationery, admonitions from Santa to Sophie to lift the no-singing ban on mom for the holidays, and a signature from the guy who works across the hall from me, for authenticity’s sake.)
Maybe she believes, maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she isn’t sure. Maybe she figures it’s the easiest way to make sure she gets a big pile of gifts.
Or maybe Sophie gave me an early Christmas present. I’ll take it, no questions asked.