For Ben, birthdays were always wonderful, Easter just too delicious, Halloween gloriously scary, but Christmas? Christmas was the highlight of his year! It always had been and probably always will be. His belief in Santa real and his long-held dream as one of Santa’s elves, remained ever true – but he was now 21!
“You need to tell him Charlotte. He’s an adult now.” Ryan’s eyes were almost accusing as he spoke those words.
His knowledge of leaning disability and judgement of their needs was far superior to my own and my belief in him had always proved reliable; my reason for asking him to work as Ben’s P.A. originally - Ben hates the word carer ‘I don’t need care, I need support’ he always says - But I was torn, although my respect for Ryan didn’t waver, I wasn’t totally convinced he was right on this one.
Poor Ben, how can I possibly tell him the truth and shatter his allusions of this perfect being, this man who travels the world in one night, visits every child and always brings Ben the exact gifts he wants? Ruin his most sacred day of the year? I don’t think I can do it, I haven’t the heart. To murder his innocence or force him into a fantasy-free adulthood – what a decision!
Ryan watched me as indecision puckered my brow, clearly seeing my internal battle. “Charlotte he’s in the adult world now and if he’s going to fit in at all, and I know you want him to, he can’t go spouting off to all and sundry have wonderful Father Christmas is.” His eyes flicked to the stairs, to ensure Ben wasn’t hovering on the landing, eavesdropping on our conversation.
“Yeah, I know you’re probably right, but he’d be so devastated. I can’t ruin Christmas for him, it’s only a couple of weeks away now!” I could feel my shoulders slump as I searched the room for a way out of this death sentence being placed on Ben’s innocent beliefs.
“I know, but he’ll get over it and in the long run it’ll be better for him. Really.” Ryan patted my back lightly in a half-felt show of empathy as he rose to his feet to check Ben’s progress. “If Ben doesn’t get a move on soon, we’ll end up arriving in the middle of the film, and we all know how much he hates that!” He chuckled lightly as he commenced to mount the stairs. “No doubt he’s beautifying himself as always.” And then called to the empty landing above his head. “Hey Ben! Dude! D’you need some help choosing your outfit?”
Damn the film, I had bigger issues whirring around my head – the potential death of Santa Claus! I was sure he was right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to burst Ben’s bubble, not yet anyway, it meant too much to him and I was loath to take that away – But maybe Ryan was right, maybe I should. I had little time to make my final decision.
So when Christmas morning arrived there was Ben, as was our custom, sitting in my bed with his bag of Santa gifts weighing heavily on the duvet while his face glowed in pure joy and his belief remained intact.
As he opened each present and discovered yet another item that he had so carefully penned in his letter to Father Christmas the week before, his excitement rose.
“Oh mum, Santa always know what I want! Look he bring me Harry Potter!” He waved the DVD so close to my face I thought I might lose an eye.
“Yeah alright you don’t need to hit me round the face with it!” I said, laughing as I pushed the offending item away.
He slid his glasses up his bridgeless nose, more of a habit now that a necessity. “But mum Santa amazing! He so kind and generous! I love him.”
He pulled the DVD to his heart and rocked backwards and forwards, his eyes raised to the ceiling, glazed by his devotion. “THANK YOU SANTA.” He shouted. “I LOVE YOU SANTA - so much!”
As each present he opened received further bellows of thanks to the ceiling and adoration towards the supposed giver I began to feel a little miffed that my efforts to find absolutely everything he’d asked for in his letter was being attributed to someone else, someone who didn’t even exist, a mere figment of every child’s imagination . . . my enthusiasm to uphold his belief began to waver.
He started to rip the paper on the next gift and as a Gryffindor sweatshirt fell out he again screamed out his adoration. “Santa you’re AMAZING!” And lifted the sweatshirt to his nose hoping to breathe in the essence of Hogwarts.
“Mum look! Mum look what Santa bring me! He AMAZING! Eh mum eh? He soooo kind! He so generous! I LOVE YOU SANTA!” He shouted again towards the heavens.
That was it, I couldn’t stop myself and without even thinking it just spilled out. “It’s not really Santa who brings those presents you know, it’s me.”
And I watched in dismay as his face turned from ecstasy to disbelief, then to horror and finally to disillusionment and grief as his brain slowly processed this information. I immediately regretted my words, deploring my . . . jealousy was it? Resentment? A desire for recognition or an indignation at the adulation this fable had received instead of me? I don’t know which, but I knew I had ruined his oh so very special day because of some selfish emotion, and I hated myself for it. I needed to put it right again - somehow.
Usually the best way to lift Ben out of sadness, anger, fear or in fact any bad situation, was to make him laugh and decided it was definitely worth a try.
“You can call me Mother Christmas if you like?” I forced a laugh while closely scrutinizing his face, hoping beyond hope that he too would find it funny and, as his tear-filled eyes turned upwards instead into laughter, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief.
“Hi Mother Christmas, nice meet you.” He proffered his hand which I shook wholeheartedly, thankfully even, then he turned to give me the biggest hug. “Thanks mum, oops I mean Mother Christmas.” He said, his words muffled by my thick blue dressing gown, before returning to the excitement of opening his next present.
It was about two weeks later, he’d spent the day with his friend Scott – who also had Downs Syndrome – and on his return, with barely a hello and certainly no preamble at all, he placed his hands on his hips.
“D’you know what mum, Scott still believe in Father Christmas - what a baby!” He said it in such a condescending tone that even an angel would have felt shamed by his words.
“Benjamin Morse! Until two weeks ago you did too!” He belly laughed, grinned his mischievous grin at me and disappeared into the kitchen to find something to eat.
That was all many years ago now, but every Christmas he still leaves out a drink and a mince pie for Santa and never forgets the reindeer’s carrot – all of which, at some point during the night, he half consumes to leave just enough on the plate to prove Santa’s visit, confirming his very existence; he still declares how wonderful, kind and generous Father Christmas is, shouting his thanks to the ceiling after every present.
And when I quietly remind him that Santa isn’t real he just shrugs his shoulders, breathes a sigh and says “I know mum, but I like to believe.”