I probably stopped believing in Santa Claus around 8 or 9, but my parents thought I still did. It was probably something about retaining innocence or the fact that I was the youngest child — as first generation Asian immigrants, maybe my parents wanted me to believe in Santa as a way to acclimate with American culture. In any event, it was always a tradition in our family to open our presents on Christmas Eve, and during my childhood, my parents and my older brother would still leave another present for me the next morning, under the guise that Santa Claus left it.
Naturally, cookies and milk were left overnight (always Oreos or Chips Ahoy), and in the morning everything was half consumed — a little bite into each individual cookie, and the glass of milk half full (as opposed to half empty). I always knew better, particularly because who could resist not eating all the cookies, of any cookie?
In 1993, I was a huge fan of X-Men: the comics, the poorly-scripted and bastardized animated series, and most of all, the action figures. I had the whole semblance of a team: Professor X, Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Rogue… I even had the original team: Cyclops, Beast, Archangel, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure of April O’Neil that I painted the hair red and blue armor around her cheekbones. She was supposed to be Jean Grey. They have yet to officially release her so I improvised — faceplate, green eyes, and all — but you know what just became available to toy market?
Weeks before Christmas, I was at the now-defunct department store Venture (think Target or Walmart), and I stared in awe at the Iceman/Bobby Drake figure displayed in the action figure toy aisle. Surprised at its rarity, I immediately grabbed it and begged my mom to buy it. Sure, the action figure’s head was way too small compared to his X-Men counterparts. Yeah, the toy’s special “feature” was that his chest, coated in a temperature-sensitive paint, turns from clear plastic to frost if you put him in the freezer. I needed Iceman to join my team, in order to complete to the original 5 members. Iceman, with his stupid ice slide that didn’t slide, had to defeat the Magneto that had a chest that sparks for some reason or Juggernaut, if you toggle the switch on his back, swings his arms back and forth, like he’s dancing at wedding.
After pleading with her, my mom refused to buy it, and I walked away from our cart in disappointment.
Christmas Eve rolled around, and I think I got a calculator, some shitty train that you’d get at the Walgreen’s seasonal aisle, and a giant sugar cookie decorated like a yellow smiley face. It was a sad Christmas, and by this age I already knew Santa didn’t exist. I did not expect anything to happen the next day.
To my parents’ expectations, I was wrong.
In the morning, right before breakfast, my parents and my brother forced me to search the house. By the way they acted, I deduced “Santa” gave me a present, and I spent an hour searching the house and deciphering cryptic clues my family gave me to the gift’s location. As I was about to give up, my family literally pointed to the plastic, light-up Santa displayed by the living room window. Lo and behold, next to Santa’s feet was Iceman and his dumb ice slide, packaged in bright orange, comic-halftone cardboard.
The magic of Santa? Nah, just my parents playing tricks on me, but I was privy to their games. You see, even as a child, I was a planner and a schemer. I knew how to straight-up manipulate others and turn things back onto themselves. I will use people’s predispositions of me against them, even as a 10-year-old. I knew their ploy.
The next year my parents had an inkling that I no longer believed in Santa. Still, I knew how to play the game. I think my lawyer cousin gave me a Sega Genesis that year, so my parents felt that they were off the hook from giving me a worthwhile present. On Christmas Eve, I got a book and a piggy bank — nothing spectacular. Christmas Morning rolls around, and naturally there was no present from “Santa.” Offended that my own parents failed to give me a good gift that year and had to rely on remote relatives to give me something cool, I began to cry and futilely search the house again. I acted distraught, searching every corner of the house for “Santa’s” present. These weren’t real tears running down my face, mind you, and I wailed, “Santa didn’t give me a present! Did he think I was a bad child this year…!?” The fake crying was pretty convincing, and my mom knelt down to console me as she whispered something to my dad in Tagalog. As my mom hugged me, my dad discreetly slipped away. A second later, he yelled to for us to come over to the kitchen.
Even though I checked the sliding door to our backyard during my disingenuous search for a secret gift, Santa apparently left a twenty dollar bill tucked in the opening of the door.