The adorable little boy is spying on me over the back of his restaurant booth. He’s having dinner with his folks as I am enjoying my own family holiday dinner party. He manages a ghost of a smile. But he’s not to be distracted from his crucial task. To figure it out. To figure ME out.
This is what most little kids do when they see me. Small children regard me with intensity.
Not fear. Not mere shyness, although there’s some of that. And, sure, there’s the ingrained and necessary wariness of strangers, which parents’ admonishments to “Say hi to Santa’s elf!” diffuse somewhat. But as the mother of four children, I can attest that what children project when they run into me on the street or in the grocery store, is a deep, focused vibe.
Why is this? If you’ve got a theory, do tell.
My theory right now is that for kids, magic and play are serious stuff. Little kids still remember that these are important and meaningful, even though children may not be able to articulate that. And we adults so often circumscribe play. Confine play. To specific places or times or people, e.g. sports events, playgrounds, play dates, Santa Claus.
Then I show up. A maverick Santa. Not one enthroned at the mall or collecting for charity on a street corner, which are cool, too. The little girl with her mom behind me in a grocery store line is fascinated watching me– am I real? Do I personally know Santa Claus? Maybe I’ll even put in a good word for her and her wish list:). She smiles shyly as her eyes ask me a thousand questions.
Part of why I wear this iconic Hat is to affirm Play Is Alive! And well! And wandering around! Artists and social theorists and psychologists know this. They propound that play and creativity are what generate new ideas and solutions and beauty. Oh, yeah, and fun!
And so many strangers I run into know this, too. Which is why last Saturday over the course of an hour at least 15 people I passed thanked me for wearing The Santa Hat. Till recently, I was surprised at folks thanking me. But I now realize that for some The Santa Hat reminds them that play can thrive pretty much anywhere the imagination lives. And that making a connection of laughter or kindness can be pretty magical.