Frickin’ Frackin’ iPads

apple

My sons seemed a bit underwhelmed when they opened their new iPads on Christmas morning. I mean, they appreciated them, they are gracious kids, but there were so many new toys to focus on. Pokemon figures, Kirby figures, books and art supplies. They rushed from the room to play with toys, and stayed up there for several hours, getting along and having fun together. It was a veritable Christmas miracle.

And so, the iPads remained untouched most of the day, still in their packages. I’d kept the receipt, of course, the one that showed the warranties I’d purchased for far too much money. I cleaned the house, had a short nap, cooked lunch with my boyfriend. After lunch, the kids wanted to play video games, and they spent a few hours playing Kirby Star Allies, their current favorite. That’s the game the toys they were playing with came from. It was around dinnertime they wanted to use their new IPADs finally.

“Okay!” I responded with enthusiasm, glad they were remembering their most expensive gift. “Just give me a few minutes to set them up!”

I opened the packaging on the first one, pulled off the plastic pieces, set aside the instructions, assembled the charger and plugged it into the wall. I pushed the bottom button and the white apple icon showed up on the screen. Technology has come a long way since I was a kid, I thought.

I followed prompts, indicating English as the language of choice and that we resided in the United States. Then the iPad instructed me to hold my own iPhone over the iPad so that it could connect to my account through the Wifi and download my information automatically. A few minutes later, the iPad mirrored my phone itself, complete with text messages and call history, a larger replica of my phone. Which was cool, except I didn’t want an iPad for me, but for my son. I looked up a series of prompts on how to create a family account for my child, and began following those instructions. And about ten minutes later, it needed me to verify a text message code sent to my phone and then enter it onto the iPad so that I could prove that I was the parent. But the text never came. After some investigation, I realized that the text had been sent to a phone number that I hadn’t used in over 8 years and no longer had access to. Aargh!

So I called Apple technical support. After a ten minute hold, the man looked up my account and listened to my struggles. He estimated that the number was used because it was connected to my Paypal account, which was set up on my source, and he instructed me to log in to Paypal to change my user information, then reboot the iPad again. So I accessed Paypal, which would only allow me to change my number after I verified my personal identity, a process which took another ten minutes. I logged back into the iPad, started the process again, and got the same prompts.

“Dad, can I use my iPad yet? It’s been an hour.”

“Just a bit more time, buddy,” I replied, feeling my stomach acid start to build up to uncomfortable levels, and my heart rate increase. I called Apple support again.

“Oh, well if that isn’t working, just create an entirely new profile for your son. You can reboot it and he can just have his own account.”

“I can do that even if he is only ten? And my other boy is seven?”

“Yes, sir. Just go to this link.”

I’ll fast forward here and simply say that I spent nearly 40 minutes setting up those accounts, only to get told that because the kids were not 14, they weren’t allowed to have their own accounts. They had to have profiles created through family sharing on my direct plan, which is what I’d tried to do in the first place.

“God damn it!” I screamed while bringing my fist down on the table.

The kids were shocked, and I immediately apologized. It had been nearly two hours now, I explained, and I was getting frustrated, but I didn’t want to ruin Christmas. My boyfriend calmly offered to help, but I was stubborn and wanted to do it on my own. I retreated to the bedroom and closed the door as the kids kept playing video games.

I took several calming breaths, but I felt my fury bubbling. This should have taken ten minutes. I started the process all over, with both iPads running this time. I used my phone to create the duplicates of my account, then I created a family account for each one of them. And for some reason, this time, it sent the text to my own phone number, my current one, despite my having rebooted the iPads twice before. Once I verified my identity, I was able to create accounts for both kids to play in, and I set up the appropriate parental controls. Another thirty minutes had gone by.

“Dad, we are still playing Kirby. Are you almost done?”

“Almost, monkey! Be patient!”

Then I got into the space to download apps for the kids. I chose a few simple free ones for now, Animal Jam, and Youtube Kids. Both of them required me to send a permission request to myself, presuming I was the kid using the iPad accounts, and I clicked yes on both iPads. An approval link then showed up on my laptop and on my phone, both in my Email and text indicators. Wow, very thorough, I thought. I opened the link and clicked yes for my approval. Then I got a new indicator that stated I needed to receive a text verification code to enter I was really their parent in order to approve the apps. And the text verifier was sent to… you guessed it, my old phone number from 8 years before.

I then entered full meltdown mode. I shook so hard I was crying. I fought the temptation to throw the iPads against the wall and shatter them to little pieces. Why was this so futzing difficult! I felt like the dad on Christmas Story, who takes a wrench and beats the heater in the basement every time it breaks down. I couldn’t believe how aggravating this was!

Somehow I worked through my fury and rebooted the iPads yet again. I created the accounts, I downloaded the apps, I sent the approval notices, and this time it worked. I proudly called the kids into the room to show them their brand new iPads, and then showed them how they worked.

“You can create little animal characters and play this game! You can watch cartoons! You’re gonna love this!”

Both boys were thrilled. They got on their pajamas and then sat next to each other on the couch, the same places where they’d been playing Kirby just a few minutes before. Independently, they each opened YouTube Kids. Then they each, without speaking to each other, looked up ‘Kirby Star Allies’ on the app and began watching someone else play the video game on their screen. They did this for the next 90 minutes, watched a stranger play video games on the internet, on their brand new iPads that had cost an arm and a leg each.

Then at 9:30, they both turned off the devices and gave me huge hugs, thanking me for a perfect Christmas. I tucked them in, sat down on the couch wanting to cry again, and found myself still wanting to smash the screens in with a hammer. All that so they could watch video games that they had already been playing all day.

But I didn’t give in to my violent impulses. Instead, I did what any sane adult would to. I opened a bottle of red wine and closed Christmas out in style.

Advertisements

Ghost of Christmas Past

12246995_10156319315110061_8330321367475760310_n

During my social work education in college, I took several classes that focused on tools related to understanding complicated families. One of those tools is a genogram. Squares represented men, circles were used for women. Lines connected romantic relationships, and little dashes meant children. An X over a person represented death, a double line through a relationship represented divorce. I’ve used genograms with hundreds of clients over the years now. Some families look clean and organized on paper: father, mother, brother, sister.

My family genogram ended up looking like a massive printer malfunction, or like someone dropped a pizza on the floor. It was rampant with divorces and remarriages, couples who had kids that were his hers and theirs, and adoptions. If I could add slashes and dashes for prison sentences, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, faith crises and drug addictions, well, we’d have Picasso’s Starry Starry night in family tree format. Beautiful, but far too much to take in one glance.

But each little square and circle on that paper represent a human fixed in time, someone with experiences, heartbreaks, setbacks and successes. And each of those people, most of them related to me by blood, have their own changing stories, their own epics. For most, the endings remain unwritten. But even the youngest of my siblings is in her late 30s now, so there is a lot of history to draw upon.

And that takes us to 1985.

Back then, my family was my entire world, that and religion. We have one family Christmas video preserved now. It’s beloved to me. It was made in December, 1985, when I was newly 7 years old. I was the little brother, the sixth of seven children. Back then, Mom and Dad were still married, if unhappily. My little sister Sheri was three, and she had thin yellow hair that grew down past her waistline. (Many years later, Sheri and I would be the ones who came out of the closet). And all of the older kids were there, ranging from 11 to 20 in age at the time. Grandma and Grandpa were there, my mom’s parents, and my oldest sister’s boyfriend. The video shows us all around the Christmas tree, singing songs, laughing, performing special talents for each other, opening gifts. My mom and sister Kara played the nose harps as a joke, someone did a piano solo. We each took a day of Christmas and sang all twelve verses in little one-line solos. The camera pans around the room as we each share what we are thankful for. At one point in the video, I take out my recorder from school and I play a carol for the family, not actually playing the instrument but more realistically just blowing notes through it, generating the sound with my voice and sounding like an eerie robot. Later in the video, I ask if I can lead the family in a song. I stand in the center of the room, right in front of the camera, and I lead the music, just like I’ve seen Mom do in church a thousand times, except I forget to bend my elbow. I lead on the right cadence with my wrist hinging in every direction as my family laughs at me, and at the time I didn’t understand what was so funny. I was beaming. Family, music about Jesus, Christmas. It was perfect. I’m smiling from ear to ear.

That was over 30 years ago. 33 Christmases ago, to be exact. That realization startles me. And in another blink of an eye, it will be 30 years from now and I’ll be seventy and my children will be men.

But what if I could go back? If I could time-travel, step back into that room as a grown man and just watch it all as it happened… I wouldn’t be able to experience the family just then, in the present like that. I have too much perspective for that. I’d see everything that lies ahead for each person in that room as I watched them. If I wanted to, I could tell Grandma and Grandpa the days they die on. I could tell Mom that she only had to put up with my dad’s anger and depression for five more years before she would finally choose to leave him. But then I’d also have to tell her that her next husband would be worse, he would use fists and control and insults and profanity to terrorize her for a few years. But then, I could tell her, then she’d meet the man of her dreams. She’d be 60 by then, but he would make her so happy for the rest of her life. I could tell my dad that he would never really change, that in 30 years he would be nearly 80 and still sad and quiet and angry and morose. I could look him in the eye and tell him how I felt about his depression and the way it ruined him, and about the impact it had on me.

Would I change anything if I could? Would I want to? Would I warn them about their futures? Would I grab my oldest sister in a hug and tell her that she wouldn’t be able to have children, but that she would finally choose to adopt three when she was in her mid-40s, and that it was definitely not going to be easy after that? Would I tell my second sister that she would meet the love of her life at age 18 and they would go on to have six children together, but also tell her that this picture perfect world would not be easy, that it would be full of health struggles and financial burdens? Would I warn my only brother to stop touching me in our bedroom when the doors were closed tight and no one could see? Would I tell him to stay off the drugs and to change his ways before his three marriages, his criminal charges, his domestic violence issues, his animal cruelty issues? Would I tell him that he would father three incredible children, and that all three of them would turn out great not because of him but in spite of him? Would I grasp my middle sister, Kara, and tell her that she’d have to put up with 15 years of two terrible marriages so that she could have her four children, but that if she could just put up with the abuse, drugs, and anger from her first two husbands, she would finally meet the man who would make her happy? Would I tell her that her kids would add up to seven before she was done, and that she’d have her youngest child around the same time she became a grandmother? Would I warn the sister just above me in age to never start smoking, never start drinking, as those habits would dominate the rest of her life?

I love all of my family, of course, but when I watch this old video, I see Sheri and I the most. Sheri was the baby of the family, the quiet, introverted, and obsessive little girl would grow up to be a kind, loving, incredible woman. But first she’d have to get through her boy clothes wearing and no makeup high school years, and then brave coming out of the closet in her early 20s, and it would not go well at first. If I could change things, I’d want her to do it early, to not wait until she was in her 20s. I’d want her to save herself the years of religious indoctrination, to not waste a single moment thinking she was anything but amazing. Maybe instead I would just reassure her without changing events. She has a future, I would tell her, one with a wife, a full-ride college scholarship, a life full of opportunities. I’d tell her that in many ways she would grow up to be my greatest example, despite being younger than me.

And then I look at me. If forty-year old me could go back in time and spend an afternoon with seven-year old me… my heart breaks just thinking about it. I have a son that size, just 7 years old. He’s so small. He watches the world around him with hope and wonder, and he sees the best in everyone. Someone being a bully just breaks his heart. He has so much to learn. I see him in 7-year old me. I’d wrap little me up in a giant bear hug, and I would ask me how I was feeling. I would ask, and I would listen. I feel like no one ever asked me back then. I would ask the questions no one was asking me then. How do you feel about your dad’s sadness? Do you like church, do you believe in it, what do you like about it and what don’t you? Do you know it’s okay to have doubts? I’d ask what was happening behind those closed bedroom doors, and tell him that that isn’t okay for someone, anyone, to touch him like that, and I’d encourage him to speak up and I would tell him I was there to protect him. And because he would be too young to understand, I would try to find a way to tell him how my life has gone. I would tell him that gay people are normal, and that anyone who tells him that he is broken or an abomination or that he can be cured or that he should just ignore it and hope that it goes away, that those people are wrong even if they don’t mean to be. Believing those things would take some of his best years away from him. At worst, those people are big homophobic meanies, and at best they are just misinformed. I would tell him to come out, early and to the right people, and that he should spend his adolescence being real, learning how to love himself and take care of himself, learning how to fall in love and make friends and how to dream big. I’d tell him to love church but recognize that it is flawed and that it doesn’t have all the answers, so he should keep the good and let go of the rest. I’d tell him to eat well, to exercise, to find healthy outlets for his emotions. I’d tell him to not waste two years in missionary service, that he’ll regret it later. I’d tell him he is beautiful just the way he is, all the parts of him, the compassionate and the creative, the social worker and the storyteller, the singer and the quiet thinker. I’d tell him to not be so lonely in his 20s, to not wait so long to kiss, to hold hands, to fall in love, to have sex. I’d tell him to never compromise and marry a woman just because he believed it was the only possibility for him, because both he and she would end up hurt.

But then, I’d take it all back. I’d regret every word. He’s 7, and telling him all of that would put far too much weight on his shoulders (and goddamnit, he was carrying too much weight as it was). If I told him all of that, I’d want to run screaming into a corner, because if he changed anything, If he didn’t spend those years thinking he was broken, if he never served a mission, never learned to believe God hated him, never married a woman… that if he came out of the closet even six months earlier, than his two sons wouldn’t exist. And they have to exist. The world can’t BE without them.

Instead, I’d have to tell him to be strong. To hold on. To know that his suffering in the long run would pay off, because he would eventually come out, he would eventually find love, he would eventually learn to love himself. He would be 32 when it finally happened, so he only had 25 years to be depressed, then he could learn to live. And in coming out, he’d break some hearts, he’d have to redefine everything, and he would have to navigate a new life with two beautiful little boys, and it was going to be so hard for a while but it would be so worth it because those little boys would be the lights of his entire world, and he would learn how to see himself as a light as well. And I’d tell him that the greatest payoff of all of this, all the years he spent hurting, is that he would raise his sons to have all of the things he never had.

I can’t change then. But I can change now. I can give my sons what I wish I could go back and give to me then. I can ask questions and listen to their answers. I can talk about hard things. I can teach them about nutrition and exercise, about compassion and kindness and integrity. I can teach them to love themselves, to follow their dreams. I can teach them about taking care of the planet, being kind to animals, and reaching out to the underdog, the outcast, the misfit. I can teach them to be themselves, to love themselves, and to follow their dreams. And if I can do all of that for them, then I don’t need to change the past.

Because someday, 30 years from now, perhaps my boys will look back to this time in 2018 and wonder what could be different. Maybe they would choose to come back and give warnings about dire future events, or give hints to themselves about how they can have happier lives if they make different choices. But my greatest wish would be for them to look back to now, right now, and see it as one happy Christmas in a long life full of happy Christmases, with nothing they would want to change.

Master of the Universe

He-Man

“Whoa, that’s awesome.”

Mom watched me put together the final pieces of Snake Mountain, my big gift for Christmas, together in the corner of the living room. There was wrapping paper scattered everywhere. The other kids all had some of their new Christmas gifts off in some corner of the house, where they were playing. It was weird to hear her say the word ‘awesome’, a word I associated with kids, not parents. At least she didn’t say rad, or tubular. (When she was a kid, she probably would have felt the same way if she’d heard her mother say ‘keen’, ‘neat-o’, ‘swell’, or ‘groovy, baby.’)

“Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it.” I could set Snake Mountain against the wall in my room, opposite from Castle Grayskull, the craggy space where He-Man lived with his allies in EterniaSnake Mountain was for the villains, the ones working for Skeletor. I could already picture the epic adventures between the heroes and the villains that would take place. The two castles would line the different walls of my room, which I had divided into areas for the characters to play in. On the far wall were the tar pits and the mountains, in the center were thick forests. Outside the room, in different areas of the house, were other places for the characters to adventure. And outside each castle were some of the vehicles the heroes and villains used to fight each other, including a bizarre helicopter with a ghost face, and a huge spider with jagged red legs for the villains; the bad guys had the coolest looking vehicles anyway.

I toggled the different features of the new headquarters. There was a trapdoor that could be triggered, to send the heroes plunging downward. There was even a snake-headed microphone, battery-powered, that I could speak into as if I was Skeletor himself, one that would alter my voice to something deep and monstrous. I picked it up to practice.

“You’ll never get out alive, He-Man!” I tried the same phrase again, but this time in Skeletor’s high-pitched nasal sneer. “You’ll never get out alive, He-Man!”

My mother clapped her hands in enjoyment, hearing the cool sound effects. “You’re going to have so much fun with this!” She was right, I would.

I wouldn’t say it directly, but I knew there was no Santa Claus. After all, I was ten years old. So I knew she had personally sacrificed a lot to bring me such a nice gift for Christmas. After all, she had to buy gifts for seven children on a limited income. I would definitely make this castle a big part of my play. In fact, I already had an adventure lined up, when Skeletor could reveal to the heroes that he had constructed a massive headquarters to operate out of. They had been living in caves before this, and some of his henchmen were not happy.

Mom carried a list in her purse for whenever she took a trip or spent a day out shopping. I updated the list a few times a year, when they released new characters of the Masters of the Universe toy-line. On special days, maybe once a month or so, she would buy me one of the five dollar action figures, then cross the name off her list. I loved having new characters to add to my ongoing toy adventures. Each new face brought new rivalries, new alliances,  new points of drama to inject into the game. He-Man always won, of course, but it was the how he got there that made the game so much fun.

Lately, Evil-Lyn had been using magic to trick heroes to fighting each other in a giant arena, and forcing He-Man and Battle-Cat to watch in a cage, unable to help their allies. The villains lined the seats, watching and cheering. Fist-O, who had a giant metal fist, had just defeated Buzz-Off, the bee-man, and Moss-Man, the man made out of plant matter, had fallen to Man-At-Arms, the weapons expert. I already had it planned out, how He-Man’s most underestimated allies, Teela (a girl who was the captain of the guard, one who basically just reminded me of Princess Leia) and Orko (a clumsy magician that looked like a ghost and who always messed up his spells wit hilarious consequences) would end up saving the day by defeating Evil-Lyn, then the Sorceress, the magic woman who could turn into a screeching falcon, the one who lived in Castle Grayskull, could heal the heroes, who would then turn on the armies of Skeletor. I had been playing this storyline out for several days, keeping notes in a notebook, content to play it out and having a blast along the way. I could play before school, leave the characters laid out and pick up right where I left off when I got home.

The name Masters of the Universe for the He-Man cartoon and toys made me smile, from a sense of irony. I so often felt like everything in my life was out of my control, but I got to control the storylines here. In this one place, I felt like the master of my own universe. I couldn’t change much in the outside world, how my brother and sister picked on me a lot and were always arguing, how sometimes I remembered how I had been sexually abused a few years before, how my dad was constantly crying while laying on the floor or locked in his room, how mom always seemed so stretched thin trying to take care of a family with nine people in it, how I didn’t fit in with other kids at school, or how I was different than other boys and I knew it. I hated how awkward I felt around other boys. I couldn’t make a basket with the ball, hit a ball with coordination, or even ride a bike, and I got teased because I spent my time writing or drawing. I had a few friends, guys who also liked Saturday morning cartoons, but most of them weren’t Mormon (there weren’t many Mormons in the area of southwest Missouri), and I knew I was mostly only supposed to play with kids who shared my beliefs. But He-Man gave me a place to escape.

He-Man was cool, too. He didn’t fit in either. Well, at least not when he was Prince Adam. Adam was kind of girly, with thick blonde hair, and he acted scared of everything. He was royalty and always dressed fancy, even wearing a pink vest most of the time, but people were always confused by him and impatient. His only friend, well, his only true friend, seemed to be his cat, Cringor, a talking green tiger thing who was even more afraid than Adam. Cringe had a weak voice and he thought everything was either scary or inconvenient. Everyone saw both Adam and Cringer as helpless, silly, and incompetent, and grew frustrated with the fact that Adam was the heir to the throne. But Adam had a secret life. With just a flash of a sword and a few magic words, Adam transformed into the most powerful man in the universe, and Cringer into his mighty steed, Battle Cat. The pink vest came off and suddenly Adam was wearing a harness and a loin cloth with some fur-lined boots, and he had a sword that was bigger than any other man’s, the biggest sword in the universe. He was He-Man!

The plots in He-Man the cartoon often seemed a bit thin. How could Adam’s allies never recognize that he was He-Man… they had the same haircut! And exactly how many green-striped cats could there be in Eternia! But I always figured that maybe there was a magic spell that prevented people from figuring it out. A world full of magic. One where the guy who didn’t fit in could change into someone powerful and confident, with lots of friends and amazing adventures. One where the heroes were always sure to win, and where there was a happy ending after every conflict. Those were exactly the kinds of adventures that a kid like me needed.

The following year, in the fourth grade, I began bringing different He-Man characters to school, and my friends, mostly girls, would bring some of the toys from the line of He-Man’s twin sister, She-Ra. We would play together there. A few months after that, I switched my interest to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my He-Man toys got placed in a box and later sold at a garage sale. The characters I had infused such love into for so long were suddenly gone.

When the first ideas for this blog sparked in my brain, I went back to research the old toys I used to place with, and it dawned on me how horribly stupid so many of these characters were. I mean, listen to these character names, each of them resulting in a toy being sold to the masses. Buzz-Off. Rio Blast. Slush Head. Clawful. Stonedar, who could turn from man into rock. Two-Bad. Man-E-Faces. Clamp Champ. Screeech, with three E’s, and Sssqueeze, with three S’s. Twistoid. Webstor. Rattlor. Grizzlor. Plundor. Spikor. (Oh my gosh, Autocorrect hates every one of these names so much).

And then I began to realize how gay so many of these toys were. Mek-A-Neck, whose neck grew longer when you twisted his waist. And then a character named Extendar, who had mastered the power of extension! Man-At-Arms, who had the best porn-stache ever. Evil-Lye, who simply had to be a drag queen in that costume. Whiplash. Tung Lasher. Snout Spout, an elephant man with a huge trunk who also used the name Hose Nose. Dragstor. Mantenna. Not just Hordak, but also the Creeping Horak. Mosquitor, whose long nose could suck the life right out of you. Stinkor, the Evil Master of Odors. Ram Man. Prince Adam in his pink vest, with his leather harness and giant sword! Skeletor with the gayest voice of all time! And Fist-O, you guys, Fist-O!

I thought I grew up lonely and isolated, but it turns out my mom was buying me maybe the gayest toys of all time.

 

 

 

 

Mall Santa

SantaThere were only eight people in the line to see Santa Claus. A few “Dad, pleeeeeze” entreaties from my sons is all it took for me to agree. We could take some time to visit the Mall Santa.

The mall was bustling with people, and despite a few complaints about tired legs, the kids had done a great job weaving in and out of the people with us. The boyfriend and I had popped into a few stores to search for gifts, and the kids had avoided touching tempting displays, keeping hands firmly grasped in mine. I’m always protective of my children in crowds of people, silently terrified at the idea of being separated from them.

The other families in the Santa line struggled to keep their children entertained during  the wait. Some kids were dressed up for pictures, little boys in Christmas sweaters, babies in dresses and headbands. Some squirmed, some itched, some ran around in circles, some looked slightly comatose, like their sugar highs had just worn off. There were signs everywhere advertising the price of photos with Santa Claus, which could be sold as singles or packages, in various sizes, in print or electronic. They also reminded patrons that personal cell phones or cameras were not allowed.

The decor was gaudy. Christmas trees, pictures of elves and reindeer, and a candy cane fence around the perimeter. I pictured all of the decor being boxed up at the end of the season, placed in a musty storage room until the following year, where it would be assembled for another season of Santa in the mall. Things felt a lot less magical now that I was a grown-up. But I appreciated the sense of festivity put into the decorations. After all, mall Santas have been a Christmas staple for American families since the 1950s. The world had changed, but mall Santas somehow still reminded us of the roots of our parents in post-WWII America.

The line moved startlingly slow as the “elves” (bored looking workers ranging in height from 5’6” to 6’2”, dressed in red and green and impatient for their next cigarette breaks) tried upselling pictures to the person at the front of the line. It took nearly an hour for the few people in front of us to make it through, but we finally reached the front gate. An elf with a goatee opened the candy cane passage and bid us welcome.

“Would you like to purchase a family photo with Santa Claus?” He didn’t look at me as he asked.

“No thank you. The kids just to visit Santa.”

“Okay, there are no cell phone photos allowed.”

“Yeah, we read the sign.”

Finally past the sentinels, we rushed forward to Santa, who had been sitting quietly for several minutes while the elves negotiated price packages. He sat up in his chair, eager to be involved with children and it was apparent right away that he loved this part of his job. He was a delightful old man, just moderately heavy, in his red and white suit, with a real white beard on his lean face.

“Ho-ho-ho! Who do we have here?”

Both of my sons extended their hands, shaking Santa’s, and gave him their names and ages.

“I’m J, I’m nine.”

“Hi, Santa, I’m A. I’m 6.”

Santa gathered both boys on his lap, one on each knee, and laughed his trademark trio of Ho’s once more. “What handsome boys! And what do you want for Christmas?”

A launched in, ready with his answer. “I want a toy Yveltal!”

Santa’s eyebrows went up, and he looked over at me, a tiny bit helpless. “Oh! An–an Evil-tell?”

“No, Santa, and Yveltal!”

I smiled down at him. “Santa, I know it can be tough to keep up with all of the Pokemon nowadays. There are hundreds! Yveltal is a legendary Pokemon, an red and black flying Pokemon with feathers and claws? Remember Yveltal?”

“Ee-vell-tall! Of course! Ho-ho-ho! I can bring you one of if you are on the nice list!”

A brimmed with pride and excitement. “I am on the nice list!”

Santa turned to my nine year old, smiling. “And what would you like, young man? I can tell you are a great big brother!”

J smiled, a little nervous. “Hi, Santa. In school lately, we have been studying snowy owls. I would like to get a toy snowy owl for Christmas. And maybe some educational books?”

“Ho-ho-ho! I can tell you are a very smart boy. I will bring you those things but I would like you to make me a promise.”

J looked up, curious. “What promise?”

“I want you to promise to invent something wonderful that will make the world a better place, maybe by the time you are 20 years old. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Santa, I can,” he said with full confidence and without hesitation.

Moments later, I was walking way from the mall Santa, passed the bored elves, with my sons’ hands clasped tightly in mine. A was muttering to himself (“Yes! An Yveltal!”) while J was deep in thought. I looked down at I’m, curious.

“Hey, buddy, what are you thinking so hard about?”

“Well, Santa wants me to invent something to make the world better.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“And Santa loves Christmas.”

“Yeah?”

“So maybe I should make something to make Christmas better?”

“I think that is a great idea! What are you thinking of inventing?”

J bit his lip while we walked. “I should make something amazing. I think–hey, I know!” He looked up at me, beaming. “I could invent a candy cane machine!”

As we walked out of the mall and into the polluted Salt Lake City winter air, there was still a lack of snow, and my skin itched with all he Christmas commercialism we had just wandered through, but my sons’ hands in mine reminded me what the season was all about.

“Thanks, Santa,” I whispered.