Osmond sat in the back of the classroom and doodled on his notebook. The page was full of similar circles, spirals and crosshatching, and his eyes zoomed around, looking for a blank spot. The teacher at the front of the class was speaking, but to Osmond her voice was like white noise. He didn’t take heed of it even when it called his name sharply. He didn’t notice the ominous looks his fellow students were flashing him as they all turned in their seats. He didn’t even notice the teacher standing over him until he realized that his notebook was in a shadow that hadn’t been there before.
“Miss?” he raised his eyes, innocent as a lamb’s.
“Show me your notebook,” she demanded. Osmond turned to the page behind the doodles and handed the notebook to the teacher. She scanned it from top to bottom, and her eyes widened. Her mouth hung open a little and Osmond had to bite his lip in order to keep from smiling. Finally, after an eternity of students holding their breaths, the teacher slammed the notebook down on the desk without a word and began to talk briskly again, as if she’d never interrupted her lecture to yell at Osmond.
Making sure her back was to him, Osmond allowed himself a smile. He went back to his doodles. Every few minutes, in a flurry, he’d turn to the previous page and scribble furiously everything important that teacher had said. He’d then turn back to continue drawing. Nobody ever understood how he took in anything the teacher said when he was so clearly not listening, but somehow his notebook was one of the neater, better arranged ones in the classroom. When his friends asked him about it, he always waved it away, claiming he simply had a gift.
Little did he know that his gift, his strange concentration skills, would lead him to be recruited, at the age of thirty-five, to the most top-secret of the world’s intelligence corps.
August 27, 2010
Dear Santa Clause,
Mommy and Daddy say you don’t exist because we’re Jewish. But my best friend Wanda says that you do and she’s my best friend so I’m going to listen to her.
I’m 8 and I’m starting 3d grade tomorrow. I don’t want to go back to school. But Wanda says that Christmas will be here very soon (in 4 months) and that then I can get presents from you if I ask for them nicely.
Wanda got a lot of nice presents last year. She got another pony doll for her collection and a bathing suit for the summer (she says that was a funny present to get in the winter but I said it was a good idea and that you’re smart for thinking ahead) and a computer game about ponies (how do you know that she likes ponies? Does she tell you?) and also a book that’s about a horse (she likes ponies better than horses but she still liked the book. It was about a ghost horse! It was a good book. We read it together.)
I have been very good this year Santa. I wrote in my diary every day like the reading and writing teacher said I should last year because I wasn’t so good at it. Mommy helped me with spelling all the time but then she also showed me how to find the right spelling on Google. Do you know about Google Santa? I bet you do. Maybe you started it. I asked Wanda why I couldn’t email you and she said that you didn’t have internet in the North Pole (or South Pole? I can’t remember but I’ll ask Wanda before I send the letter).
I have also been helping Mommy do shopping for food every week and I take my dog Pesky for a walk every day (Mommy and Daddy take him for walks too) but only around the park because Mommy doesn’t want me to cross the street alone yet. I crossed the street alone once because Wanda dared me to but except for that I have been very good!
I know it is early to write to you, but I wanted to tell you that even though I’m Jewish and we have Hanukah I still want to have Christmas too. It’s not just for the presents. I’m not greedy! It’s just that Wanda has a fireplace and we don’t so I think you’ll have to come in through the window in my room (it’s biggest) and then I’ll get to see you. I want to meet your raindeer. Why are they called that Santa? Do they like the rain?
Like Mommy said to do I’m reading everything I wrote now to check for spelling and I fixed some stuff (ok a lot of stuff but I’m getting better!) and I know that I asked you a lot of questions. Will you write back to me Santa? I hope you will. I want a penpal.
I hope I see you in December!
Me (Wanda says you know who we are and that we shouldn’t write our names in case someone else finds the letter and tries to find out where we live. But you know where we live already so that’s ok)
If you think about it, the concept of birthdays is a strange one. We commemorate the day we were born – a day which we can’t remember and which we didn’t have much physical participation in. Wouldn’t it make sense to remember the day we said our first words? Or the day we took our first steps? Maybe the date of our earliest memories? But no, we celebrate this day of all days in the year as something special.
When I was a kid, birthdays just didn’t feel like regular days. They felt magical, full of special occurrences, little traditions and big wrapped gifts. My mother would read me The Birthday Bird book by Dr. Seuss every birthday morning, and then the whole family would go out to a hidden picnic table in my favorite park to eat cupcakes, play Frisbee, talk and watch the sunset through the distant skyscrapers.
Today felt like a pretty normal day, despite being my nineteenth birthday. But then, that’s what happens as you get older. Birthdays stop being magical and become just… nothing much. There are still presents and there’s still some fuss made with friends and loved ones, but the magic is gone from the day. It’s bittersweet, really, because although I miss the special fuzzy feeling that I got on my birthdays, I also appreciate that I’m wiser now and more willing to find magic in my daily routines and simple pleasures instead of putting all my excitement about life into one day of the year.