Claire Jenson

The Way to School

The route to my elementary school was inscribed in my brain – not by streets, but by landmarks: billboard, mermaid sign, house that looks like a cow, Dunkin’ Donuts, school. Every day, this mental path was worn and worn: Billboard, mermaid sign, cow house, Dunkin’ Donuts, school. On one day in April, during this rhythmic ritual, my second-grade mind was whirring as usual. Conversation among myself, my brother Alex (already in the impressive fifth grade), and my mother hovered on the popular toy Beanie Babies, but moved on to talk of Florida, our summer destination. I withdrew, as my train of thought choo-chooed right past the thought of Beanie Babies and chugged right ahead to when I could get them next: Christmas. While remembering stockings, thinking of nutcrackers, and really craving a candy cane, my mind rediscovered an idea that had been crouching in the recesses of my second-grade brain. I remembered that last Christmas, I had silently noted the similarity between the wrapping paper that Santa Claus put on his presents and the wrapping paper kept in our downstairs closet.

Having unearthed this idea, I was eager to show my elders how observant and intelligent I had been. “Mom, Santa Claus uses the same wrapping paper that we do.”

My mother replied, in an unforgettable tone, “Yeah…” The word was stacked with guilt and worry and nervousness and fear.

My mind raced…little connections clicked and buzzed in my brain. Mom was guilty…the wrapping paper…Christmas…. One final click, and I knew, but that’s when the emotion began. Dams were lifted and I was flooded with it. The emotional torrents crashed and collided and conglomerated in my mind. How could they lie to me? How could they exclude me? “Mom,” I said, “There is no Santa Claus, is there?” Before I finished the sentence, my tears began.

We drove by the house whose windows reminded me of the eyes and nostrils of a cow.

Her words, packed again with guilt and fear, came, but I already knew their content, “No, honey.”

The degree to which I was shocked was only exceeded by my feelings of exclusion. My parents had deliberately chosen to keep the truth from me. But my mind found a possible ally in my exile from knowledge – Alex. I asked, “Aren’t you shocked, too, Alex?”

“He already knows, Claire.”

We passed the Dunkin’ Donuts.

I felt so small and stupid. My other three familial companions had known about this, but didn’t tell me. They had been on the same level, and I, as usual, had been ignorant and inferior. I was embarrassed that I had been so naïve and immature.

“And…the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny?” I asked, knowing the answer. The realization about these minor characters was miniscule compared to my discovery about the beloved Santa Claus.

My tears continued as we turned the corner of my school’s “driveway.” I was still embarrassed about my silly beliefs in Mr. Claus, but I was more immediately embarrassed about my crying. Friends and concerned faculty at my school were bound to ask about my tears, and I really did not want to discuss it. I opened the car door and lifted myself out of the car in silence. My mother said, “I’m sorry, Claire…have a good day at school.” Her voice cracked, and from outside the car I could tell she was crying, too.

I shut the door and my mother drove away, while I remained on the steps to my school for a moment. Drying my face and wiping my nose, I realized that my hurt feelings would mend, just like they did after I was teased for watching Arthur on PBS, and after my crayon was stolen. I was still insulted by my parents’ lie, but I knew that I would recover. I adjusted my blue sweater and put my hair behind my ears. One, two, three – I climbed the stairs to the school. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten – I walked across the stone landing, and eleven – I opened the door.


 

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