Focusing on reindeer’s problem at hand

Editor’s note: This is the eighth of a 12-chapter holiday tale running daily until Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

Joy halted right outside the big white barn doors.

“What? Me? On your sleigh?” she asked, her stomach fluttering in excitement.

Santa laughed. “Of course. How else would we get you home?”

Joy shrugged. “Same way I came?”

Santa raised an eyebrow. “Well, if you’d rather skip the sleigh ride…”

Joy shook her head excitedly. “No! I mean, yes! I’d love to ride in the sleigh!”

“Good, good.” Santa gestured to the barn. “First, though, let’s focus on the problem at hand.”

He motioned for her to follow him to a stall in the far corner. A small reindeer sat inside, munching on a giant sugar cookie. An elf dressed in red and green striped overalls swept the floor, and smiled as they approached.

“Good evening Santa,” she said. “And hello, Joy Noelle. It’s so very nice to finally meet you.”

Joy smiled back. “Hello.”

“Good evening, Suzette,” Santa said. He looked at the reindeer. “And good evening to you, Maxy.”

The reindeer paused, lifting his nose from the cookie for a second before resuming his meal.

Suzette sighed, leaning on her broom. “It was a good evening until it came time for training.

“Oh?” Santa asked. He knelt next to the deer and scratched behind his ears. “Well, that’s OK. We have more important things to do.”

“We do?” Suzette and Maxy asked.

Santa chuckled and waved for Joy to come closer. “Yes, we do. I brought you a new friend, Maxy. This is Joy Noelle. She’s my special guest, and I was hoping you’d show her around the reindeer ranch.”

Maxy’s big brown eyes widened. “I can do that!”

“Wonderful!” Santa exclaimed. “You two have fun on your tour. I’m going to go check in with the fellas and go over flight plans.”

Maxy sighed, walking with his head down.

“He might as well not bother. I’m gonna ruin Christmas,” he said glumly. “I’m Donner’s replacement, the next in line. But I’m a failure, I’m not good at taking off. And if can’t take off, there’s no way I can fly! And a North Pole reindeer who can’t fly…well, that means I’m not good at anything.”

Joy nodded sympathetically. “I used to think the same thing about me. But I’m starting to believe I was wrong.”

“What changed your mind?” Maxy asked curiously.

Joy stopped at the fence and placed her arms over it, watching Santa and his reindeer talking in the beautiful snowy meadow before her.

“Magic, I suppose,” Joy said quietly and smiled down at Maxy. “It’s this place. It’s special, and it’s helping me see that I’m special, too.”

“I used to think I was special,” Maxy sighed. “Being Rudolph’s son and all.”

“But you see that?” He nodded toward a shiny ramp that had to be two hundred feet long, and almost as high as the workshop in the distance. “That’s our training jumper. I messed up once and fell. It hurt. Now every time I even get close to the top, I freeze. I just can’t do it.”

“And it doesn’t help that my dad is so successful and famous,” he added. “He expects me to be as perfect as he is.”

“I bet that’s not true,” Joy said gently. “I bet he just doesn’t want you to give up.”

Maxy snorted. “I bet you don’t have a dad who’s perfect at everything he does.”

“I don’t have any dad. Or a mom.” Joy said it matter-of-factly, and for the first time in her entire life, she didn’t feel sad or hopeless at the thought that she hadn’t been adopted yet.

“Oh, no,” Maxy said, sounding miserable. “I didn’t know. I’m really, really sorry.”

Joy smiled and ruffled the fur on Maxy’s head. “It’s OK. Even without parents, I still have people who care about me. And you know what? I bet if you go out there and don’t think about your dad, you could make that jump.”

“But, how?”

“I’ll help. I’ll be right there with you the whole time, cheering you on. And I’m going to ask Suzette for something. Back home, we have these big inflatable bouncy mats people use for when they need a soft landing. If she has something like that, and you fall, it won’t hurt. Simple as that.”

‘Wow,” Maxy said excitedly. “I wonder why they haven’t thought of that before?”

Joy Noelle just laughed and started back toward the barn. “Let’s go find out.” she said as she wrapped her arm around Maxy and smiled.

“You can do anything Maxy,” she said. “You just have to believe.”

Read the next installment in Friday’s Tribune Chronicle.