t: jessica, Republished 10 Comments
I wrote this entry on my personal blog last year after I made the rather difficult decision to let my little boy just be a little boy. It seems silly now, as we try to catch Santa turning our Christmas tree lights on by magic, as we write our letters addressing them to the North Pole. It’s as if it was always like this. And I suppose that should tell me I made the right choice.
My parents never pushed Santa on my siblings and I as something we should believe in. It was a fun story we heard every December, but we knew our presents really came from mom and dad. We went to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and set out cookies on Christmas Eve, but we knew it was just an exciting game we played each season.
It wasn’t until I was much older, I realized how odd this was. One friend of mine told me how at age 9, she was laying traps in her living room to catch her parents in what she called “The Santa Lie”. She tied string around the fireplace grate (if Santa was real, he would break the string) and applied tape to the locked closet where she suspected the presents where hidden (if Santa was real, the tape would still be intact Christmas morning).
I asked my mother if she ever had any problems with me debunking my friends’ belief in Santa. She says she did not, but pointed out around the early elementary school years where St. Nick is largely the focus during the month of December, I really wanted to believe. She says she didn’t do anything to discourage it, but if I outright asked if a jolly man in a red suit lived at the North Pole with a team of Elves, she would say “No, but it’s a fun story to pretend is real, isn’t it?”
Eric and I talked a little about this during our first Christmas as parents. Cradling my chubby baby in my arms, I couldn’t ever imagine telling him anything that wasn’t true. We agreed to follow in the steps of my parents. Santa and his Eight Tiny Reindeer could be a part of the story, but we wouldn’t ever tell him they really and truly existed.
Last year, it wasn’t too much of an issue. We read the stories and when he asked, “Is Santa really in our world?” we said, “No, but it’s a fun story to pretend is real, isn’t it?” My boys were delighted on Christmas morning, tearing into their gifts and enjoying the company of family and friends.
This year, however, has been very different. I feel I’m over thinking it. Mixing what I considered to be a normal childhood with what everybody else sees as a normal childhood.
My five year old son, Jake is a rather intense little boy. Of late, he has been extraordinarily concerned with what truth is. When he watches the Martha Stewart show with me most mornings, he’ll ask, “Is Martha really in our world?” I’ll say, yes she is, and show him where New York is on the globe. He’ll ask, “Are you really telling the truth?” I’ll reassure him that I am. Last week, the baby and the toddler were napping so I told my him we could unwrap all the broken crayons and make big, fat, new crayons.
As he sat, unwrapping crayons and I greased a muffin tin, he asked, “Do you really know how to make big crayons?” I said, “Yes, I do! I made them when I was a little girl.” He was skeptical, “Are you really telling the truth?” I reassured him over and over, but he didn’t really believe me until the fresh from the oven muffin tin came out of the refrigerator where I’d put it to cool the chubby crayons faster.
He’s been excited for Christmas since I showed him sometime mid November how many more weeks away December 25th was on the calendar. Now that Thanksgiving is over, his preschool has shifted away from Pilgrim and turkey crafting to Santa and reindeer projects. Jake has been punctuating conversations about Christmas with, “But I know he isn’t really real. You and daddy bring the presents.” We’ve had talks about how fun it is for people to believe in Santa, and how he should never, ever tell his friends Santa isn’t real. But I’ve seen him. He is bursting with the knowledge. Like a tiny, militant evangelist, he can’t keep it inside. His little friend from across the street asks innocently, “What is Santa bringing you this year?” And he explodes, “He’s not really real.”
“Jacob!” We have a talk in the other room, and again I watch him try to hold it inside as his friend talks about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
Yesterday Jake and I were fixing the bottom of the Christmas tree the cat had destroyed during the night. He hung a Santa ornament on the tree and repeated again, “But he’s not real.” I looked at him, he seemed so adult, so… stoic. I phoned my mother and asked if I had ever fixated on the whole Santa thing like Jake was doing. She didn’t think so and said, “Maybe you’ve removed all the fun for him. He can’t enjoy the season with his friends because he’s carrying around this knowledge like a burden on his shoulders.”
I said, “But mom, he’s so serious. He’s all wrapped up with what is real and what is truth. What if I push the Santa story, let him believe and then he’s angry and hurt when he finds out I lied. Mommy tells the truth could be his tag line right now. He could carry it around, embroidered on a banner. It’s how he defines his life.”
She said, “I don’t know, honey. Maybe you just need to let him be five.”
This probably seems so stupid to so many of you. What harm is there in letting a kid believe in Santa? Probably none at all. So I took a leap. I had purchased a timer for the Christmas tree lights, and I sat Jake down on the living room sofa with me.
Me: Do you want to believe in Santa Claus?
Jake: Yes. But he’s not real. You and daddy bring the presents.
Me: It would be fun though, wouldn’t it? If he was real? Flying through the sky in a sleigh full of toys?
Jake: (Brightens) Yes!
Me: Do you know, I used to set a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out when I was a little girl? It was the night before Christmas.
Jake: Christmas Eve!
Me: Yes, and in the morning, the cookies were gone!
Me: Who do you think ate them?
Jake: (thinking) Maybe a robber.
Me: But a robber would have taken the television set, maybe. And nothing was missing, but guess what was under our Christmas tree?
Me: That’s right. So who ate the cookies?
Jake: But he isn’t real.
Me: Do you know what I heard?
Me: I heard that Santa can turn on Christmas lights by magic!
Me: By magic. Should we watch our tree and see if the lights turn on?
So we wait. And he keeps saying in a disappointed voice, “I knew he wasn’t real.” But finally, the timer behind the couch clicks to 5pm and just like magic, the lights click on and sparkle magnificently.
Jake dances around the room. He’s so delighted, so filled with joy. All the seriousness is gone – at least for a moment. I think, “I did the right thing!”
Eric walks in from taking one of his employees home and Jake runs to him, “Daddy! Santa turned on our Christmas lights by magic, he’s really real, and he’s going to come down our chimney and eat our cookies and leave us presents! It’s true, it’s really true, mommy tells the truth.”
And there it is. Mommy tells the truth. A pang of guilt stabs me through the center. Eric doesn’t skip a beat, dances with his boy but glances at me with a raised eyebrow.
After the kids are in bed, Eric and I sit in front of the glittery tree and wonder over it all. Is it okay for a few sugarplums to dance in their heads? Can’t they just be little? Is there a difference between a lie and a magical story? I don’t over think it when I tell my toddler his shoes are magic so he’ll wear them. I don’t over think it when I jokingly tell my sons they have elephants in their noses in order to get them to let me attack them with a tissue. Why so much over thought about this? I know a big part of it was how I was raised, but my siblings and I were and are different than this serious little man of mine. I didn’t carry the truth about Santa Claus like a bag of bricks on my tiny little back. And he did. The bag of bricks is gone – for the time being – and he seems so happy. I wish this tiny whisper of guilt would disappear too.