Having been raised under the philosophy of, “Question everything, believe nothing you’re told” from an early age, which, despite being brought up Catholic and attending mass with enough frequency that I could, to this day, recite The Lord’s Prayer backwards on PCP, my parents have found themselves with three more or less agnostic daughters, of which I may be the most skeptical. I can trace my affinity toward skepticism to one specific incident, however, in which the value of inquisition made its most formative appearance in my life. Christmas Eve, 1994. I was writing my letter to Santa with profound sincerity because there were Polly Pockets on the line and I was almost painfully aware of my long history of being, even as a child, an unrepentant smartass. “Dear Santa, I have been very good this year (except for the time my little sister and I were left home alone for a few minutes and she ended up covered in chocolate syrup) and I would like the Polly Pocket school set that comes with real stamps you can cover yourself with like tattoos (which I will later get several of and bother my mother) that I will get bored of after about a month and abandon to recruit my sisters into an Ace of Base cover band using a stick of sidewalk chalk as a microphone and probably driving the neighbors into increasingly irritated madness with my megaphone-loud tone-deafness and propensity toward hamming it up.” I signed the letter, set it next to the plate of cookies and glass of skim milk (Santa is on a diet, my dad had said) and then a thought appeared in my little child mind. The whole thing was implausible, was it not? One fat old man hauling his cookie-induced belly rolls all over the earth chucking toys down chimneys and bestowing coal and abject shame on the bad kids who maybe just wanted to see what would happen if their little sister ate a chunk of Play-Doe that she thought was candy because someone with an inquisitive, scientific mind may have led her to believe so? Unlikely, at best. And we didn’t even have a chimney. So I slid the letter across the table and added a post-script. “P.S. Can I have your autograph?” And I drew a line on which I intended him to sign. Gotcha, I thought, and went expectantly to bed.
The next morning, I raced to the letter to determine the results of my clever ruse. And there was his signature, looking suspiciously like my dad’s. “Hey, Dad, sign this,” I said, handing him the letter. Face neutral, he signed next to the alleged Santa. Interesting, I thought. Close, but not exact. Suspect, but not conclusive. But then I was distracted with toys and games and the suspicion evaporated.
Until next year. I was still ruminating on the fact that I might have been duped, so this year, I added a second signature line. “P.S. Can I have your AND Rudolph’s autographs?” I set the letter next to the the plate of cookies and shuffled off to bed. And now we wait, I thought.
Upon waking, I booked it to the letter to inspect the evidence. Santa’s signature was there, looking the same as last year. But on the line designated for Rudolph, there was something that stunned my little brain. A paw print. Not a hoof, but a paw print, like a dog, drawn as an outline next to his name in pen. I snatched up the paper and approached my dad. “There’s no Santa, is there?” He and my mom looked at each other. “Do YOU think there’s a Santa?” my mom asked cautiously. “No,” I said, pointing to the paw print and staring them dead in the eyes. My dad chuckled. “Oops,” he said. “Don’t tell your sisters.” I nodded solemnly. “I won’t,” I promised, and then grinned to myself, having successfully resolved this most burning question with a year-long plot fueled by a quest for the truth, and then opened my presents with deep satisfaction, feeling a little more grown up. Nice try, fat man. You’re no match for a scrawny eight year old with a profound love of Taylor Hanson (you kiss a poster one time and suddenly you’re obsessed) and a history of going on house-cleaning strike (complete with bubble letter signs) to increase my allowance to two dollars a week so I could meticulously save for a year, stashing each bill individually folded in my Rugrats wallet, and then annoyed the cashier at Circuit City as I triumphantly unfolded each one over the course of several minutes as the grumbling line stacked up behind me (Nirvana fans wait for no one) to purchase a bright yellow Discman that I would have until college, when all the cool kids had iPods and I was still carrying around a book of CD’s because I was broke and edgy. I may have been a pain in the ass as a kid. Thanks for your patience, Mom and Dad.