Buster was asked – two hours before a play performance – if he would step into the role of Santa Claus in a local community Christmas production that travels around from library to school to kiddie groups. Since one of his props would be a clipboard on which he could keep his lines, he agreed. I understand his first performance was a bit shaky, but the next day’s was much better, and he’ll be playing St. Nicholas several more times before Christmas Day.
He loves doing it. Buster is a ham who was born for the limelight, and he’s found he especially loves performing for children. “They’re so open,” he says. “I go out on stage and even though I’m neither fat nor old, I can hear the kids get excited and say, ‘it’s Santa Claus! Santa!’ to their parents, and after the play they hang on me and talk to me with absolute trust. They’re funny and adorable. But the parents…” he trailed off in a scandalized tone.
“What’s the matter with the parents?” I asked.
“The parents are out of control,” he said with some feeling. “Some of them are so insensitive that they say right in front of their kids, who are totally into the illusion, ‘he’s not fat enough to be a good Santa,’ or they complain ‘what’s the point of having a Santa if he’s not at least giving out candy canes?’ I mean, is that ALL the parents know about Christmas or St. Nicholas? That it’s all about spending and presents, and what the kids can GET? How about Santa is there and the kids are loving him, and he’s loving them back, why isn’t that enough? The kids seem to know it’s enough, why don’t the parents?” he railed. “Or my favorite, some parents can’t let their kids just enjoy themselves, they have to give them stage direction for their video cameras and get annoyed that someone else’s kid might be in the shot and spoil the notion that their kid isn’t the only kid in the world. ‘Stand over there, Kayla! Smile! Tell Santa what you want for Christmas! Be louder, Kayla, so the camera can hear you!’ The parents were ticking me off.”
Those of you familiar with Buster know he is not one to hold back his feelings – but I’m happy to see him on the same page as Benedict. I allowed that I was surprised that Santa didn’t have a few candy canes to give out, but Buster glared at me and reminded me that the production is free, the actors work for free and provide their own costumes, props and transportation and “God forbid you give a candy cane to a kid who’se allergic to peppermint, or whose mother is a sugar freak – or the kid chokes on the candy – then you’re asking for a lawsuit!”
A good point. My 16 year old son should not have to worry about a lawsuit because he’s agreed to play Santa. Our society has become so litigious, he sadly is mindful of it. But I am glad to see him becoming mindful of other things, though – like the need to allow a child some imagination time, and some room to breathe, away from the ubiquitous video cameras. “I’m glad you didn’t do that to me,” he said. “I’m glad you didn’t make me perform for the cameras.”
Truth is, this is no virtue on my part. When his Elder Brother was little, we were too broke for a video camera, and when we could finally afford one, we quickly came to the realization that when you are busy filming a thing, you’re not fully experiencing it (a revelation made plain to me when we once watched the tape of a parade I’d never seen…”what do you mean you didn’t see it,” my husband said, “you TAPED it.” Bingo. What I taped, I didn’t see.)
Actually, it was the day Buster went off to kindergarten that I really soured on video cameras. As we waited for the school bus, I was the only parent without a video camera whirring away. I was the only one NOT telling the kids to stand near a tree and demanding answers to questions about school and whether they were nervous, and what their teacher’s name would be…and I was the only one who was able to give my kid a big hug before he boarded, the other parents couldn’t hug their kids because they were too busy giving direction – getting the bus driver on tape, directing the kid to smile and wave as they got on the bus (some of them didn’t want to smile…they were a little afraid…). I was the only parent to wave until the bus was out of sight – the rest got to tape the back of the bus, and fade out, artistically.
I’m not saying that I am a superior parent, far from it. In fact, I was probably the most neurotic parent there, because as I walked back to the house I was struck with a need to follow the bus all the way to school, and I hopped into my car and did it…just to discreetly watch and see how Buster was when he got off the bus. So, yes, I’m nuts. But while the other parents have it all on tape, and I don’t, I still think I got the better part of it; I got the enormous hug that has always been Buster’s signature, and the big “bye, Mommy!” I’d rather have the hug – and the memory of his excitement as he hugged me – than the tape, anyday.
Not videotaping everything has not kept Buster from being a ham who loves the spotlight, but sometimes when I can’t sleep and I’m flipping the channels late at night, I see these terrible ads for “Girls Gone Wild” and I realize that a whole generation has grown up “on camera.” To them, having a red light flashing at them – and performing for that light – is normal and unintrusive…and perhaps they have lost their own sense of boundaries and f just where the line is between “public and private.” And how much we parents have contributed to that loss?