It turns out I suck as an elf.

When Jackson got to be about two-and-a-half, Jack had to straighten me out on the logic of Christmas: you put up the tree, but you don't put the presents out until after the child has gone to sleep. This fosters the belief in an unseen but all-knowing and usually benevolent disburser of rewards for good behavior.

Well, that may seem obvious to most sensate bipeds, but back when I first rolled in (third child) my parents were well past propping up the fictive North Pole regime. They just covered stuff in last year's wrapping paper and put it under the (fake) tree when they damn well felt like it. The stocking stuffers may have suddenly appeared Christmas morning, but since I'd been with my mom at the drugstore when she bought all the toothbrushes and rolls of Scotch tape that went into those fuzzy red and white synthetic stockings that she'd written our names on with a black Magic Marker, and since we didn't have a chimney, I never got my crampons real far up the north face of Mt. I-Believe-In-Santa.

So, last weekend I was in Williams Sonoma with 800 other last-minute shoppers, loading up on lemon squeezers and knife sharpeners and silicone cupcake brassieres. And Jackson was hanging around the free sample counter, although whenever a be-aproned employee offered him a peppermint chip he'd always politely decline, pointing to his mouth and explaining, "I have gum."

But when all that over-thought kitchen paraphernalia got pulled out of his father's stocking, Jackson was visibly taken aback.

"How did Santa put all that stuff in Daddy's stocking?" he asked, shocked as Jack examined a useless pair of rubber tongs he'd just removed from his fancy embroidered, velvet-backed stocking.

"Uh," I said, filling that word with all the intelligence a woman of my age and experience could muster, given the circumstances. "Well! I guess Santa knew I forgot to wrap that stuff, so he helped me out by putting it in Daddy's stocking!" Jackson looked skeptical, so I opened my mouth a little wider so I could get the whole heel of my slipper down my throat. "Santa takes care of all the children's stockings, but we help him out by doing some of the shopping for grownups' stockings."

Jack and his mother avoided my pleading gaze and busied themselves by numbing their incredulousness with a couple of expertly made Bloody Marys.

I don't know. Maybe I subconsciously wanted to begin breaking down the whole Santa fantasy. More likely it was just bonus seasonal sloppiness on my part.

Remind me to tell you about how my whole "Let's not believe in God, let's believe in Science!" childrearing experiment has already backfired on me.