We have a “magic” advent calendar in which a tiny festive object appears behind the door marked with the corresponding date. This past Saturday revealed a rubber dragon with gold ribbing.
The first thing my 8 year old did when his dad dropped him off that morning was open door "17" to discover that tiny purple beast. G seemed uncharacteristically unimpressed, then said, “Dad says he’s Santa Claus. Is that true, Mom?”
After about ten pounding seconds I said, I don’t know what to say because I didn’t know what to say.
I was at a major parenting crossroads. The belief in Santa Claus is like virginity - there’s no getting it back. Sure, you can still have some amazing, magical experiences once it’s gone, but you are fundamentally changed on the other side of that rite of passage. You are more grown up.
In that moment I knew I wasn’t ready to give up Santa a second time, but what would be best for the kiddo? I mean I couldn’t make this about me…right?
For two years I have struggled with the whimsical parental betrayal of The Santa Claus myth. I know that my son believes BECAUSE he trusted me when I said Santa was real. My son knows I wouldn’t lie to him, so faith in me is the rock against which he dashes his own doubts about the jolly fat man.
So while I’m disappointed that G’s Dad chose to break the Santa Covenant without first checking in with me, I know why he confessed to moonlighting as Santa: because G asked him point-blank for the truth.
I don’t know what your dad is talking about.
I needed more time. Would today be the day I broke it to him that not only was the most beautiful story ever - one from which my son still finds great joy - a big myth, but also that I had been lying to him about it this whole time?
I decided it wasn't going to happen that morning, nope. Maybe at the end of the day after we reveled and floated together for 8 more hours in the elixir of the Santa Tradition.
“I’ve seen reindeer prints in the snow. What’s he talking about?” my son scoffed.
All day I had to hide my tears from the boy. “This might be more about you than him” a friend told me, and I’m sure she was partly right. I’m sure that armchair and professional psychologists worldwide would agree that this is indicative, in part, of my extreme resistance to letting him go.
But dammit. What was the rush? Why stop the music even one note before the song is over? There was plenty of time for the sharp edges of reality. He’s only eight.
But he’s eight. I’m sure part of his internal struggle is that he is increasingly alone in his fat man faith. I’m sure many of his classmates have reached the shores of reality, and are now pointing and laughing at him still splashing around in waves of fantasy.
But eight more days….just eight more days until he gets to live through another unparalleled joy in life: the belief that Santa snuck in and delivered a bunch of free toys. Ho ho ho….
I told my ex to give me until after Christmas: that I have some things up my sleeve that would be ruined with that confirmation. Big things. Big Ruin. He said he’d go along but thought the right thing to do to tell him the truth.
I felt cornered. I felt pressured since now he was safe on the other side of the lie we’ve both perpetuated for eight years. The burden of proof - the final battle - was mine to lose.
I hid my tears behind a cheeseburger at Portillo’s.
I wiped them away, again, at the laundromat, hoping the attendant wouldn’t ask me, “What’s wrong” with my son right there to hear. Thankfully the kiddo never picked up that I cried all damn day.
Then as I folded the last of three giants bags of laundry, it came to me. I knew what to say. I waited until the drive home.
G, I just want to say one more thing about what your dad said about Santa then I’ll drop it. And I’m going to tell you something that not a lot of people know.
My whisper felt genuine.
Santa only comes to those who believe. He doesn’t care if you believe in him or not, and he’s not trying to make anyone believe who doesn’t believe. If you don’t believe, he just skips your house.
So your dad is absolutely right. Santa is NOT real to him..because he doesn’t believe. I do believe, so he still comes to visit me.
“Yep" G nodded. I believe, too.”
And your friends might not believe either, and that’s okay. There’s no need to try to change their minds. In fact it’s better if you just keep it to yourself. They’re right and you’re right. You’re both right.
“Yep" he said.
And then I began to build the bridge out of the myth for him to walk across someday on his own when he needs it.
But ultimately, Santa is here to teach us about giving unconditionally. That’s why he visits so many children. But when kids get older they don’t need him as much because they have already learned the lesson and have started giving to others just as Santa gave to them.
“Santa gives you stuff.”
Yes, but not nearly as much as he gives you and it only happens when I need something magical. But for a long time after college I didn’t need him, so he didn’t show up. So don’t be surprised if as you get older you get less gifts under the tree. That just means Santa thinks you are growing up….
I took it further.
And look. I’ve never actually seen him. I don’t KNOW if the whole red suit/white bear/reindeer things is even true. I just know that when I believe, magic things happen on Christmas.
“Right. That’s just how people like to talk about Santa. I like that way, too.”
Me too, G. Okay. That’s all I want to say about that.
Then I turned up the Christmas Carols on the radio and finally stopped crying. I had just bought myself one more “real” Christmas.
I don’t know if I’m going to break the news to him after this Christmas, or after the New Year, or even next summer, but I honestly doubt I will. For as I searched my soul for how to handle this situation with my son and still protect him from the ferocity of others’ truths, I visited G twenty years down the line, and listened to him tell the story of his Mother, Christmas, and Santa Claus.
And I heard him say that his Mother never did admit Santa wasn’t real, but eventually he just outgrew him just as we do with so many of our ideas about life. One day he just realized his Mom was Santa, he understood why she would do such a thing (because wisdom comes with age), and by then it didn’t feel like a betrayal at all. It just felt like a tradition that we had carried on together without the world’s permission.
And perhaps in his recounting of the tale, he will admit that he never outwardly acknowledged the truth to me, either. Because perhaps we will just keep pretending. Perhaps we will just keep believing.
I was talking to a ChicagoNow friend last night at our holiday gathering about this whole kids/Santa thing, and he said something that I thought was just a me thing. He said, “Because don’t we all still believe somewhere in us that it’s true? That Santa is real? Isn’t it just too beautiful a story to ever completely let go of?”
Yes, Jimmy. The Hallmark channel was built for that part of us.
And quite frankly, millions of people believe in stories I don’t believe are true at all. They put their entire faith in stories I believe are just as fantastical and as beautiful as that of old St. Nick, and that’s okay. It works for them. Everyone needs to believe in something. The magic is in the belief.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy Believing, everyone.
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...