Monday, December 2, 2013

Santa Issues

The other day I asked Katie if she wants to see Santa this year, now that she knows the truth about him.  She said no.

I must have had a crestfallen look on my face because she mirrored mine and seeing her face made me feel worse.  I plastered on a fake smile and said in my most supportive voice, "Oh, it's OK.  You're allowed to grow up."

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

Yesterday Katie asked me what's Santa's address.  

"It's just The North Pole.  There's no street name or number or anything since it's just Santa and Mrs. Claus who live there," I explained.  "Well, and the elves..."

I'm way more into the whole Santa fantasy now that our seven-year-old actually knows it's just pretend.  Just like how I'll gladly engage in conversation with her about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Greg Heffley.  I'll "play pretend" with my daughter as much as she wants.

"OK, Mommy, you're the teacher.  Your name is Mrs. Carleton.  I'm a new student.  My name is Kaylee.  This is my first day of school.  I'm an orphan.  My mommy and daddy died so I was sent to this boarding school to live and to go to school.  So you're like my teacher and my mom.  OK?"  Katie will say.

"Sure.  Why did your parents die?" I'll dig deeper so I can really get into character.

"Oh, ya know.  I dunno.  They died when our house burnt down," Katie will say.

I'll get a horrified look on my face and say, "Ugh.  But you got out of the house fire alive?"  I'll continue.

Katie will nod her head somberly.

"Wow," I'll say.  "You must really miss your parents."

"Yeah," Katie will say, looking away wistfully.  She'd make an excellent silent movie star.

Before she knew the truth about Santa, whenever Katie'd ask me a question about him I was incredibly vague, having vowed not to lie to my child.

"But what if someone lives in a house that doesn't have a chimney?" Katie would ask.

"Hmm.  I don't know.  What do you think happens?" I'd stall by answering her question with a question.

"Maybe Santa comes through their front door?" Katie would suggest.

"Smart thinking, Punk.  I bet that's what happens..." I'd say and then quickly change the subject.

I got away with evading her Santa questions until one day, when Katie was about five, we were sitting together on the couch and, apropos of nothing, she asked, "Mommy, is Santa real?"

I immediately felt like throwing up.  My heart started racing.  I could feel the sweat collect on my forehead.  What should I tell her?  What should I say?  I told Will I'd play along with the charade until she asked me flat out and then I'd tell her the truth.  But she's so young.  It's fun to see her face light up over the magic of it all...

In my panic, I stood up from the couch and heard a crunch under my feet.  I looked down and saw that I had--thank God--accidentally stepped on one of Katie's favorite video tapes my mom had picked up at the Catholic Charities thrift store where she volunteered.

"Oh no!" I exclaimed.  "I think I broke your video, Honey!"

Katie burst into tears.  I begged her forgiveness.  She forgave me and promptly forgot what we had been talking about before all the commotion.

Whew!  I got out of that one!

Will does not think telling kids that Santa Claus is real is lying per se.  He's way more traditional than I am about holidays in general, especially Christmas.  He's also much more mentally well adjusted than I am.  He did not move to a strange new city when he was six years old and have the girl down the street start laughing at him and saying, "You still believe in Santa Claus?  You're such a baby!" He didn't run home and tell his mom what happened and have his heart drop into his belly when she looked back at him with gentle eyes and said, "Oh, Honey.  She's right.  Santa is not real, but he lives in our hearts..." like I did.  I will never forgive that neighbor girl for shattering my dreams and making me feel foolish--like all the big kids and grownups were playing a mean trick on me.

But I'm glad my mom told me the truth.  To this day, I cannot stand liars.  I'd much rather hear the cold hard truth than feel like I'm missing out on some key information everyone else knows.  As the youngest of six kids, I think I have Little Sister Syndrome.

Will understands that he married a woman with more than just Little Sister Syndrome.  I have Santa issues.  I understand that I married a man who's a big Santa fan.  He knew I'd tell her the truth when the time came.  I played along til the bitter end until, when she was six, Katie asked me again, flat out, "Mom, is Santa real?"  I had no video tape around to step on, so I told her the truth.

I took a deep breath and said, "Oh, Honey.  Santa is not real, but he lives in our hearts..."

"OK," Katie said, like no-big-deal.  "I thought so."  Then she looked off into the distance and said, "I think Santa was real on one day.  Do you know what day that was, Mom?"

"No, what day was Santa real?" I played along.

"The day Jesus was born," she explained.

I didn't even want to get into how I felt about the likelihood of that having happened.  "Oh yeah?" I asked.  "You mean like Santa was one of the Three Wise Men?"

"Yeah," Katie nodded her head like yeah, that sounds about right.

We talk a lot now about what is real and what is from our imagination.  These philosophical discussions with a seven-year-old are often the brightest part of my day.  I love being able to talk openly with my child about all the things that come into our minds.

I still get a twinge of sadness that she's growing up, though.  I mean, I want her to grow up.  That's kind of the point of it all.  It's hard to watch my baby need me less and less each day, just as it's wonderful to watch her grow and come into her own.

"Can I put this letter in the mailbox, Mom?" Katie called from the kitchen table.

"What letter?" I called from my computer keyboard.

"My letter to Santa Claus," she said, plainly.

I smiled.  What the heck?  "Sure," I said, playing along.

A few minutes passed before Katie called out again, "Mom.  I know you're really Santa Claus, so here you go."

I heard something light land on the stairs.  I walked over and found the letter, addressed to Noth Pole.

My girl is old enough to know I'm Santa but she's not old enough to know how to spell North Pole.  Thank God she hasn't grown up that much yet.