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The Little Elf That Couldn’t

Samantha Yaffe’s opinionated view of motherhood with allergies.

I never post anything on my Facebook wall. Never had a good reason to move past my inherent voyeurism.

But on the morning of this year’s Santa Claus Parade in Toronto – the 106th seasonal dose of pre-Christmas spirit in the city – I couldn’t resist telling my random little Faceworld about my shining little elf.

What forward-thinking Jewish mother could hold back sharing the irony and sweetness of her edgy, third-grade super-athlete missing his basketball game to play Santa’s helper and spread the Christmas cheer in a sparkly red and gold costume, topped with a cap and bell? Priceless. Right?

I thought so, but turns out my elfin 8-year-old saw no humour in what he eagerly signed up to do a year earlier, and what I ultimately moved mountains for him to do safely – in the allergy sense of the word – because I wanted to believe his change of heart was just last-minute jitters. After all it was Lucas, not me, who had been counting down the years to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Yup, my father, my very Jewish, very philanthropic father, has been a clown in the Santa Claus Parade for 20 years. He, like a select group of other disguised do-gooders ­­– including some of Canada’s most prominent businessmen – actually pay to play. Believing in Santa, Chanukah Harry or the return of Lord Rama is totally beside the point.

This unsung clown posse not only leads the annual procession, but hours before the 12:45 p.m. start time, they’re geared up to visit the Hospital for Sick Kids and spread cheer to the little ones who don’t have the strength to spend the day curbside.

And so our story goes, Lucas has been watching his clown of a grandpa toss candy to kids and inspire fanfare like a bona fide celebrity for as long as he can remember. He would bring his grandfather in for show-and-tell and tell anyone who was listening that, when he turns 8, he too will be in the parade. My father was overjoyed by Lucas’ interest and was equally excited about his grandson’s inaugural year.

When the news quickly came that he was going be an elf on the Toys ‘R Us float, Lucas was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about the whole prospect. That was 10 months ago.

Fast forward to three weeks before the parade, when I receive my letter detailing the events of the day. Among the many strict instructions, it said my child must be dropped at a community centre on one end of the city at 10:15 a.m. and picked up at a building on the other end six hours later. And in bold, ABSOLUTELY NO PARENTS ARE ALLOWED BEYOND THE DROP OFF POINT.

I don’t drop my kid off at a play date without full allergy training and knowledge of where and who I’m leaving him with. But for Santa I’m expected to hand him over to a swarm of strangers, who know nothing about him or his allergies.

He’s to get into wardrobe and makeup (ingredients unknown) and then wait around, without even a friend or any form of time-passing activities, for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon before he moves through the two-hour parade. My regret sets in quickly, but like it or not we committed, so on the horn I get to the higher ups.

Within a week, I move through the chain of command, finally ensuring that my elf-to-be retains his coveted position while being accompanied for the entire day by at least one of his parents.

Honey was all for canning the plan, but not me. I haven’t spent seven years protecting my allergic son from a restricted life to be intimidated by Rudolph’s rules and regs.

Without knowing any of this, Lucas had already begun to hem and haw about the parade. He really didn’t want to do it anymore, but I wasn’t giving his feelings much consideration ­– of course he’d rather be playing basketball in the second game of the season, but we make choices …. And after I raised a ruckus with the otherwise unyielding parade-security regime, there was no way we were backing out.

In my own quest to make this work safely and seamlessly, I lost site of the fact that my child was no longer the kid who brings his grandpa in for show-and-tell  – my 5-year-old has taken over that honour. Lucas doesn’t do campy or dress-up, and he’s not the same kid who made this choice a year ago.

But the TSN turning point came when ­after four hours of waiting around, in costume – two inside the building, two outside in a sub-zero wind tunnel, where Lucas was strapped in on Float No. 29. He was doing his best to hold back the tears that came and went and froze mid-stream while he begged to get off – the float began to move.

The marshal had assured me that the kids – who were frozen and deflated ­– perk right up once they get moving. And they did. All but one – the little elf that couldn’t.

As the float took off, Lucas’ intermittent tears and pleading exploded into a full-blown hysterical meltdown, circa 2004. Then it finally hit me, “what the f*k am I doing to my kid?” There was no light at the end of his tunnel. He doesn’t care about Christmas or irony or bragging rights. He’s freezing, desperate and humiliated. “Okay, enough, enough, get him off,” I yell to the marshal. “Get him off, nowww!”

My son is hysterical. I’m hysterical. The crowd is cheering wildly. They’re taking pictures. But nobody’s taking him off.

“Help me, muuuuuuuuuuum,” he’s crying out to me, as I’m speed weaving through the throng of parade fans trying to get to him. The marshal’s saying she can’t take him off until we get to the next intersection. But my baby needs me. I screwed up. I have to get him off.

Parents in the crowd are acting anything but Christian toward me, grumbling at me and throwing elbows as I step in front of their children to keep pace with my son. Then I finally break through like a crazed fan at a Bruce Springsteen concert. And off he comes. Thank god. Whomever’s god, just thank god it’s over.

Fade to black.

A few weeks have passed, Lucas has moved on and my guilt has mostly subsided, but I’m still left trying to figure out the moral of this holiday story gone awry.

Maybe it’s about taking your kid’s cues and giving the allergy protection act a little bit of breathing room. Maybe it’s about figuring out where to commit and when to quit or redrawing the line between your comfort zone and his.

Or maybe the lesson is to stop focusing on the lesson or how we come off or what’s right and wrong or how safe is safe, and just enjoy life as it unfolds, at least for one day.

As they say at the yeshiva, “we plan and god laughs.” And on that note – Happy Holidays, readers!!