What is that, my child?

Why have you never seen me kissing Santa Claus? That is your question? That is your question at twenty-two past ten, after keeping me here for seventeen book readings and one prayer to God that lasted longer than a Meatloaf song despite the fact you told the vice principal last week that you didn’t believe in God?

Well, the reason you have never seen me kissing Santa Claus is that we don’t have any mistletoe. And we don’t have any mistletoe since the Great Animal Hospital Christmas Eve of 2007 when the cat finally succeeded in capturing the mistletoe that had been dangling from the doorframe for weeks, taunting her relentlessly with its alluring berries that were just beyond reach. You would think that I would have heard the clatter that followed the crash of every valuable holiday heirloom I had ever received festooning the sideboard, but I was upstairs bathing your baby sister for the fourth time thanks to a particularly virulent strain of rotovirus that had passed through the Montessori school.

It was only after I plodded down the stairs, ready to wait for Santa, that I noticed the mess because I cut my feet open on the thousands of shards of colorful stained glass. It was while I was hunched over the dustpan that I noticed the dog and cat seemed to be enjoying a proximity I have never before witnessed between two species that spend most of their day plotting ways to vengefully kill the other. As they feasted over the leaves and berries that I could not wrest from their growling and hissing jaws, I called the animal hospital. While I would have happily awaited the gastrointestinal outcome God — or whomever you believe in now — had planned for these two cherubs, the night shift worker kept using words like “polysaccharides” and “negligence” and “animal cruelty.” The Christmas miracle was that the heroic veterinary staff accepts American Express in cases of bills that exceed most people’s pensions. That’s also the reason why you will not see your dad and me exchange gifts for the next one hundred years.

What’s that, my darling? You have never seen me tickle Santa Claus? Under his what? Oh, his beard so snowy white. I really need to get you listening to different music, like Iggy Azalea. Even those lyrics would be less awkward to explain than these. Well, honey, that’s a pretty simple explanation. Remember all those holiday dinners we spent at the nursing home visiting your great-grandfather? Yes, the one who called you Robert even though your name is Dylan. That is really the only forum in which I am accustomed to dealing with old men with beards so snowy white. While I never had the privilege to tickle under one, I came close enough to know that those beards are like a high school stage curtain hiding terrifying talents. Inappropriate variations of Danny Boy, jokes about pirates and wenches and wartime racial slurs I still haven’t figured out, not to mention the leftovers of meals long forgotten. I made a silent pledge to God — you’re going to have to let this go. I grew up Catholic and faith is my burden — that I would avoid the beards and laps of old men so long as we both shall live. Unless, of course, that lap or beard belongs to George Clooney. What? It pains me that you don’t know who that is, but that doesn’t diminish my feelings for him, but it does my feelings for you.

It’s time for you to close your eyes, my dear wonder of a human. If you don’t drift off to sleep now, you’re going to awake to find me not kissing or tickling Santa, but asleep, face-down amidst wrapping paper, duct tape, and electronics I will wind up withholding more than I allow you to use. You’ll find that I have burned the only batch of sugar cookies I had sufficient flour to make, testing Santa’s benevolence — and dietary requirements — by offering him and his reindeer hard-boiled eggs and dried oregano.

Good night, child. We will talk about the Easter Bunny another night. Now that guy really has some hair to get into.