About a month ago, my son was reading Superfudge by Judy Blume. It’s told from the older brother, Peter’s, perspective and involves the crazy antics of his little brother, Fudge. It was so much fun sharing one of my childhood favorites with my son, giggling past bedtime because he couldn’t put it down. Then we got to “Chapter 10: Santa Who?” I thought since it was a book for kids, it wouldn’t blatantly say that Santa wasn’t real. Then I braced myself as he kept reading aloud. I remembered this book is intended for children older than my son. Children who already know the truth about Santa. Then it happened. He stopped mid-sentence, made that WHAT THE FUCK face, and said “WAIT. Santa isn’t real?”
I don’t lie to him about big things. We are a secular family and I do my best to encourage analytical thinking. This means I don’t shy away from tough questions. In fact, I never told him Santa was real. It’s something he picked up from other kids, so I let him believe. I knew eventually his critical thinking skills would kick in, and it would be a lesson in intellectual discovery, and all would be well. BUT JUDY BLUME FUCKED IT ALL UP. She planted the seed that his little mind wasn’t ready for. For the next two weeks he bombarded me with questions. I kept answering with more questions. “Well, what do you think?” “What makes sense to you?” And on and on. It got to the point that I was going to have to tell him, because clearly he was ready.
Here’s where Cousin Dick comes in. I have a second cousin who plays Santa every year. He’s the real deal. Seriously. LOOK AT THAT FACE.
|That beard is real, people!|
He’s amazing, yes? He had shared a story about a little girl who was doubting Santa and he was going to have a talk with her about how Santa is more of a feeling, an idea about love and giving, and not so much an old guy in a red suit. Grown-ups just use Santa to help explain those ideas to small children because sometimes it’s easier for them to understand that way. I told him about how my son is at that same point, and he offered to come over and have the talk with him.
I thought, “WOW! This is going to be so incredible! He gets to find out the real meaning of Christmas spirit from Santa himself! I better make some room on the shelf for that Mother of the Year award, because OBVIOUSLY.”
Cousin Dick came over in full Santa regalia along with his son, Robert, the elf. They walked up to the apartment ringing bells, ho-ho-ho-ing, the whole bit. My son answered the door and his face lit up. He didn’t care it was two weeks before Christmas, Santa was at his door. So they come in and have some friendly chit chat about being naughty or nice, then cousin Dick looks at me and says, “Should I go ahead and tell him the other special thing about Santa?” I should have stopped him. I should have aborted the mission. The kid could have figured it out later. But nope. I said “sure!” My cousin gives him a lovely talk, explaining that he’s not actually Santa, but Santa represents the holiday spirit. He tells him that giving isn’t necessarily about presents. Even when we feel have nothing to give, we can still give a smile, a hug, kind words. It was a beautiful talk, really. My son enjoyed it and understood.
After they left, something didn’t seem right. I asked my son if he was ok, and he said he was fine. But I’m his mom. I know better. “Do you need a hug?” Yep. Tears. I fucked up. He wasn’t ready. I explained to him that I thought it was time because he was asking so many questions. I am not going to lie to him. “I’m your mother, how can you trust me if I tell you lies?” I also said “I’m sorry.” He seemed alright after that. When his father got home, we sat at the dinner table together. He blurted out, “Cousin Dick came over and told me Santa isn’t real! How was work?”
The next morning I thought we were ok. It turned out he was just in between stages of grief. He reached the anger phase over his bowl of Cheerios. “If you hadn’t broke Santa, I would still believe!” Then in the next breath, “I can’t believe you let me live my WHOLE LIFE believing in Santa!”
Me: WHOA. STOP RIGHT THERE. I never told you Santa was real. It was just something you chose to believe. Not everyone believes the same things. Just like with God. (I have a gift for making things worse with terrible analogies.)
Kid: Wait. Is God real?!
Me: Hell, I don’t know! No one does!
Kid: Fine! Then I’m going to believe in God!...like 55%!
Me: OK. That’s OK. You can believe in God. My point is that I’m not going to lie. I don’t believe in God. Some people do. You believe what makes sense to you. Santa made sense to you so I didn’t stop you.
He sulked all the way to school. I came home and cried. I have never pissed my kid off this bad. His anger was spawned from genuine heartbreak. Damn, that is a crappy and powerful feeling. He got it out of his system though. He let me have it, and I deserved it.
A few days later, another mother at the school ran up to me at pick up and said, “I have the number to Santa! Let me give it to you and you can have him call!” She handed me the ad, and ran off to get her kid. I looked over at my son and said, “That might be fun. Would you like to call Santa?” He threw me the most “Are you fucking kidding me right now” face. Before he could answer with actual words (not that he needed to) I whispered, “We don’t need to call Santa. Santa’s our cousin and we already had him over, huh.”
And he smiled, with pride.