Monday, November 29, 2010
On Santa Claus
We have never told the kids that Santa Claus actually exists. Nor have we told them that he doesn’t exist. I have never felt comfortable with the idea of lying to the kids in any way and certainly not by telling them imaginary characters are real. We usually field questions by asking, “Well, what do you think/believe?”
At the same time, I have always wanted them to have as rich a fantasy life as they desired. We talk about how the spirit of St. Nicholas can live forever in our hearts and actions. We discuss how stories live within us. We leave out cookies for Santa and they receive a Santa gift each year, all at their own prompting. In fact, over the years, through their own gradual plot development, they have decided that Santa has parents furnish the gifts in families that have enough money to buy toys. Santa then provides a book for each child in every family and then focusses the rest of his attention on children whose families cannot provide them with a Christmas. In recent years, the kids have left gifts for Santa to bring to such homes.
Over the past few days, though, Blueberry has been flat out asking me if Santa exists. I have been able to re-direct the questions until this morning. Weeping, she begged me for an answer. I asked her why. She said she needed to know if we were “tricking” her all these (6) years. She was vehement. I asked her how she would feel either way. She told me she would be sad if there were no Santa because that means we’ve been “tricking” her (not, incidentally, because that would mean there is no Santa). So, I asked her why she would want to know if an answer could make her potentially sad. She persisted.
I tried to stall and re-direct further by asking her what she believes. No good. She continued begging me for a direct answer: “Just TELL me! Does Santa exist for real or not?”
“Well honey, I said, Santa represents kindness and generosity and love and those always exist within us.”
“JUST TELL ME! DOES SANTA EXIST OR NOT?”
“Sweetie, when you believe in something, it always exists in your heart.”
“MAMMA! JUST TELL ME. DOES! SANTA! EXIST! AS! A! PERSON! WITH! A! LIVING! BODY! OR! NOT!?”
Long pause. Rhubarb, 10, was watching me with a look of compassion in her eyes far beyond her years. Though she had cracked the Santa code 2 years ago, she KNEW how hard this was for me (probably because I’d cried when she announced her own discovery).
I looked at Blueberry and said gently, “No, Blueberry. Santa doesn’t exist as a person with a living body.” There, I’d told her the truth...
...at which point she dissolved into a horrifically sad lump of disappointed tears into my arms.
Then she looked up at me with her bright red boo-boo lips and such sadness in her moist, hazel eyes, and she asked again, pleading for a different answer: “Mamma, please tell me the TRUTH...is Santa real?”
What could I do? I lied.
“Yes, sweetie. He is. Santa is real.”
She brightened immediately.
“Oh Mamma. I just knew it. So, how does he get into our apartment when we don’t have a chimney? Does he flatten himself and then squeeze through the door?”
Apparently, we decided together, Peter and I leave the back door open for him and then get up shortly after midnight to lock it back up again.
After Blueberry descended my lap to go write a letter to Santa, Rhubarb looked at me and smiled, a “You did the right thing, Mamma” kind of smile.
So, there you have it. I lied to my child. And I’m okay with that.