“Santa is dead.” Miss C drops this bomb at gymnastics class. 10 other eye balls and 5 mouths go all perfect spheres.
“Well. Then, who brings the presents on Christmas?” This, from the flummoxed gymnastics teacher, sweetly trying to gather and re-knit something out of the shredded hopes of her preschool class.
“The guy wearing a Santa Claus suit!” Miss C quickly reasons.
So that’s my kid. And I’m that mom. The one casting doleful apology eyes at all the other gymnastics moms, trailing in the teacher’s wake as she quietly whispers warnings in each mother’s ear about the dreadful pronouncement. Preparing them for the wails that are bound to ensue from toddler carseats before the minivans exit the parking lot.
“It’s a secret that Santa is dead,” I reason in my own minivan. “Not everyone knows that secret. So don’t tell, okay?” I am cautioning my three-year-old in the art of keeping secrets. The detached part of my humanity that hovers always above my shoulder and makes unhelpful comments like, “I bet you never thought you’d have to warn someone not to lick the stuff from in between their toes” has yet another quip to offer on this occasion: “Bet you’d never thought you’d counsel someone to lie in order to avoid a lie.” I tell my hovering humanity to can it and concentrate on making a left turn out of the parking lot before some other irate mother with a child whose innocence I’ve inadvertently destroyed decides to side swipe me.
I had a similar conversation with Miss I just days earlier. Upon the sudden realization that things like Santa Claus probably come up for discussion around the first grade lunch table, I attempted to be proactive: “You know, you might be in on the Santa secret, but some of your friends probably believe he is real.”
“Mom!!! I know that. Everybody in my class knows Santa is not real.” In first grade they become adept at italicized conversations and the utilization of multiple exasperated exclamation points.
I’m just going to go ahead and place the Santa Claus/Christmas issue gingerly on the third rail of parenting. I’ll tuck it beside the sleep training and working parents topics. Because there is no easy or right answer. There’s no comfortable, confident answer. There’s a wing and a prayer and a best guess that this might, dear Jesus help me, be what’s best for my family.
After much polling of other parents and many discussions of our own, James and I have decided from the start to explain to our girls that Santa Claus (aka Saint Nick) was a real guy, who really lived, who really gave presents to other people out of the deep kindness of his heart. And, yes, he’s dead. But we still celebrate him and his gift giving because it points to the greatest gift of this holiday season: God wrapping his son in human form and placing him in a manger for us to unwrap and hold in our own hearts. Boiled down to a three-year-old’s understanding, the summary of all of that is: Santa is dead.
The whole point of wrestling with the Santa issue is the simple, selfish fact that I sobbed myself to sleep the night I got confirmation from my own parents that Santa wasn’t real. That I may have been old enough to wear a retainer and training bra at the time should also tell you what a vivid imagination I maintain. Also, that I am a first born, and we are sometimes slow to catch on and agree to grow up. In any case, I want to spare my girls the wet pillowcase. I want to tell them the truth. Even if doing so means they have to turn around and lie to their friends. Even if doing so means I am killing Santa.
See? Just like with sleeping through the night, keeping clothes clean on picture day, and avoiding getting sneezed on at the peak of the kid’s cold, you just can’t win.
In related news, Miss C is rather concerned about who is going to drive the train (I think she’s envisioning the sleigh, again, not totally grasping this whole Christmas story thing) to deliver all the presents. She so badly wants to believe in life after death. So, calling all resurrected Santas, you’ve got a big job to do in a few weeks.