East Lyme - Two days before Christmas 19 years ago, the little white lie rolled off Carol Baton's tongue.
"You know, Leif," she told her grandson, then 2 1/2 years old, "Santa flies by to see who's naughty and nice. It's easy for him to peek in the windows."
The Attawan Beach home of Baton and her husband, George, was fully decorated for Christmas. The stockings were hanging by the fireplace, and it was lightly sleeting outside.
It was the first year Leif really understood what Christmas was all about - the first year Christmas presents got more interesting than the wrapping paper they came in.
Leif had heard all about Santa, and now Santa was out there, somewhere, possibly checking in on him at that very moment.
Just then, the family heard footsteps on the roof.
"Ho, ho, ho, is Leif Carlson there?" a voice boomed down the chimney. It was Baton's son, David Carlson, Leif's father.
Leif was thrilled and terrified at once. Something he'd been hearing about was suddenly real.
"He wanted presents, but then it was like, 'Oh my God, he's on the roof, Grammy's roof,'" Baton said. "He didn't want to miss that opportunity, but he was scared."
"I'm here, I'm here!" Leif said, before running to his mother, Heidi, and yelling "Help! Help!"
"Have you been a good boy, Leif Carlson?"
"Yes, yes," Leif replied, then ran back to his mother for help.
"OK, I'll stop at your house on Chapel Hill Road Christmas Eve," Santa said.
Baton didn't know what made her 6-foot-3-inch-tall son decide to climb a ladder to the roof of her white ranch house. Perhaps it was a little too much "Christmas cheer"; she half-expected him to slide off the roof and "land in a heap in the front yard."
"Come to the window, Leif," Baton said, "I think I see Santa and his reindeer riding away."
"I see him, I see him!" Leif cried out before seeking refuge once more in his mother's arms. Leif called out to Santa that he'd wait for him at Christmas but remained terrified at the prospect.
"Help, Mommy, help, I saw him, I saw him," Leif said.
"There were so many blinking lights at Millstone that crisp night, I almost thought I saw Santa, too," Baton wrote in her retelling of the night. "Although it only went on a few minutes, seeing the wonder of Christmas, the magic of Santa anew (through) my grandson's eyes truly made the season …
"What I wouldn't give to go back to that night of glee, mixed in with a little fear. Don't blink, mothers and fathers and grandparents. It goes by too quickly."