Santa baby

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The local Christmas scene is generous to new parents. Our son is in the four-month phase of discovery, reaching for noses, pulling hair, eyelids, and shoving his wet hands in my face instead of his own now. His little mouth allows for only one fist. Colorado Springs provides the changes of scenery required by such a short attention span.

He’s in a new state of awareness — looking around, up and down — everything a contradiction to his previous movement. He inspects me up close and then pushes me away to a studying distance. He finds things across the room and stares in fascination. He locks in on the hanging mistletoe. Glass ornaments fishbowl the reflection of his face and Christmas lights reflect the amazement in his wide eyes — even though the nightly ambush of timed lights is unpredictable to him and startles him to wobbling.

But he yawns at my scanty attempts at outdoor decoration. He craves more wattage. He rebels, looking around at the other houses, never at his own. He balls his fists and shakes his head. On the changing table he goes rigid, legs straight, unbendable and impossible to dress.

A man can only put so many bulbs on his house before he becomes a neighborhood nuisance. Neighbors will scowl at him from their windows. If I draped the house to the likings of a little boy, I would have no time in the day for anything else. I had to explain that our house would remain dull with shadows, so imagine his reaction when I told him he lives in a town that has an entire festival dedicated to the Christmas light. (He was speechless.) Yes, our town has the Christmas goods.

It starts with a picture with Santa Claus. The line to see Santa at the mall is a short one these days. No children older than three years there, only parents with babies on their hips, or short walkers peeking from behind their legs. Adults are eager to remind friends and relatives that their screeching children exist by way of glossy Christmas cards. Our son does not yet know about Santa, nor does the boy care for sitting on a stranger’s lap — though he likes the texture of a real beard and the color of the suit. I stand behind the camera, jumping and snapping for his attention.

Then there’s the Electric Safari at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Animals wander about in the dark and hide, undetectable to a baby’s eyes. The boy needs movement. He needs gorillas pounding the glass. He needs… the petting zoo. Here he can pull and yank fur toward his hanging tongue, trying for a taste.

Acacia Park now has an outdoor ice rink open through the holidays — where I go to impress the onlookers, always exiting the ice early and leaving my audience wanting more. From the safe pouch of the Baby Bjorn strapped across my chest, my baby boy looks on in dizzy wonder. The mothers around us raise their hands to their faces in gasps of awe, happy to see such an agile man take the role of father with such enthusiasm.

And at Santa’s Workshop, North Pole, children can see the "real" Santa Claus and his elves in person, and ride a dozen family-friendly rides. The amusement park is a giant hole over which parents stand, shoveling money into it with both hands, and with good reason. The young are young for only a short time. My son has interest in neither the rides nor another Santa to sit on, but he doesn’t fuss because there are goats and llamas to pet.

Christmas is a time for giving, and my wife insists we teach our boy early. We put a dollar in his hand and hold him over the swinging Salvation Army pot at the grocery store. He has trouble with the slot, so the Santa removes the lid. It’s the third Santa my son has encountered this season. This one has a fake beard tucked halfheartedly under his chin, but he rings the bell just fine. My son abandons the single dollar and reaches for the many more he sees in the pot.

A baby gives the holiday season a new purpose, a new feel. Last year he was our Christmas wish. This year he is our Christmas gift. Next year, he’ll see the town lights as new again, and I expect he’ll scatter about a fine Christmas mess — we’ll hang the stockings a little higher, and decorate the top half of the tree.

Pico spent his childhood years in the Springs. Now, as a father, he's seeing the city (and life) in a different light. Follow him on twitter at @DavidXPico.

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