All I Want for Christmas, Part Two: To Believe

santa
I was not raised to believe in Santa Clause. My parents didn’t want to perpetuate a tale I would only one day discover to be false. As Christians, there was the concern that if I believed in Santa because they told me he was real and I found out they lied, what would I think about God. The logic is pretty sound, even if ultimately believing in God comes down to more than what your parents say.

My husband wasn’t raised to believe in Santa either. I don’t think his parent’s reasoning was a defined, I just think my husband and his siblings weren’t that interested.

Even though I didn’t believe in Santa as a real person, jolly in the North Pole with a gaggle of elves and flying reindeer, I loved Christmas. It didn’t hinder the mystery or inhibit my imagination in any way. I was, as you can probably deduct, a head-in-the-clouds type already. I didn’t need any help in that department. I loved Santa Movies. I loved my parents. Getting a present from them was more valuable than getting one from an imaginary fat man. (My dad has been silver-headed and heavy set as long as I remember.) I loved the manger story. I loved Christmas trees and Rudolph movies.

Sure, there was always the compulsion to tell an unwitting friend who did believe that it was a crock. In fact, when I was eight years old, I remember conspiring with a Jehovah’s Witness friend at school (who was slightly bitter about not getting to celebrate or believe herself) to break the news to our doe-eyed comrade that her parents were scamming her. I also waged a campaign that year for my Jehovah’s Witness friend to have a birthday party. I had a finite sense of justice. Not right and wrong — as is made clear by the fact that I did end up souring Santa for my naive friend — but justice. I also spent a lot of my time in trouble that year, and most years to follow.

This is a roundabout way for me to tell you my husband and I had decided not to do Santa with Sam. It wasn’t even a consideration in my mind. Up until this Christmas, it wasn’t a consideration in Sam’s mind either. But things change.

As you know, Sam is obsessed with Superheroes. My family is kind of hardwired for fantasy, so Sam’s existence in the Marvel Universe (or DC) is not shocking. He is drawn to the imaginary, the fantastical, the beyond-our-own-reality. Which is why, when his cousin told him Santa was real, Sam believed.

Much to my chagrin.

When he told me that Santa was coming on Christmas Eve and bringing him a Flash costume (The DC Comics Superhero) I was irked, but trapped. I couldn’t tell him no. I couldn’t sit a three year old down and say, “Sorry, honey, Santa isn’t going to bring you a Flash costume, because Santa isn’t real.” I’d rather not think about the psychological damage, or the fit, they would ensue.

Nor do I see the point in it. He has chosen to believe. Isn’t that what we want our children to do? We want them to make choices about their faith, or how they exhibit their faith, and it’s not up to us how that plays out. One day, he’ll learn Santa is a myth. (At which point I will direct him to his cousin to place blame.) Right now, his belief is a joy to him. It’s an expression of his willingness to accept the magic in the world, whether that magic is real or imagined.

I have chosen to believe many things in life, some with tangible proof, and some merely because I want to. Choosing to believe is a lifelong dance. I value these simple choices for Sam, these choices made by easy faith, and I revel that he is learning the tools to make greater choices one day.

Santa may not be real. Santa may not be my first choice. But it was his. And the Flash costume we ordered from Amazon that came in the mail yesterday will have a special note from Santa, written in handwriting oddly similar to Mom.

Hold on…

Yesterday, upon waking from his nap, my son went about his normal routine. Cuddle in his bed with mom, wander into the living room, beloved blanket nigh nigh trailing behind him like a train, couch flop and request to watch “a little bit of a movie”. The exact order. My husband and I don’t have cable. Now, we’re not pretentious or anything, nor are we destitute, but my husband can’t watch commercials without launching into a rant, and I don’t like TV enough to pay for variations of the same mediocrity spanning hundreds of channels. Our solution is a little box which we stream Netflix and Amazon On Demand through, where we avoid commercials, and where my son dominates the “suggested watch list” with Nick Jr. and PBS shows alike.

Yesterday, he saw in the suggestions a film titled A Cat in Paris. This film — which I knew nothing of until yesterday — looked harmless, read like a silly romp about a cat burglar who was an actual feline, and featured clever animation reminiscent of the classic children’s tale “Zin Zin the Violin”. Fine. I put it on for him, sitting on the couch for a couple of minutes until he sent me off to our kitchen for a snack and milk, with the requested “pweease” and grin.

When I returned, there was nothing at all alarming on the screen, but Sam was no longer reclined or docile. He turned to me and very simply said, “That man killed the little girls father.” I was understandably thrown by this statement and those words leaping from my three year olds tongue. I asked him if we could turn the movie off, to which he gave a bored nod and crunched a graham cracker. I tried to broach the topic over the course of the afternoon, but was met with tempered indifference and requests to put on his Spiderman mask “so he could be Spiderman.”

This morning, as if sharpened somehow by sleep, Samuel (sitting pin straight on his alphabet mat with his Superheroes strewn around him) said, very cooly, “That man killed the little girls father?” And I was at a loss for how to answer him. I considered a few approaches, ranging from feigning ignorance to telling him death wasn’t scary, to trying to ascertain what he knew of death at three years old. I settled on promising that man and that little girl weren’t real, just a cartoon, and therefor he didn’t need to worry about them. He shrugged and handed me Iron Man, but confusion still flickered in his eyes.

My response was in no way a brush off, but merely my acceptance that this subject is too big to sound byte. Ultimately, as a three year old, his grasp of life and death is still very fuzzy. He has never been exposed to great loss, and even if he were, I do not know how concrete a concept ceasing to exist is or how capable he is to hold it in his mind. Those are questions for someone else to answer professionally, with fact and science that tells us when we are able to measure the missing of someone with the memory of them existing and the knowing that they no longer do.

In the span of that moment, watching him fiddle with Iron Man’s moveable limbs, I saw that he had glimpsed something real and confusing and he was not sure why it didn’t make sense. So young, he touched a truth he will someday (because this is a fate none can escape, even if we wish our babies could) face head on, or sideways, or in great heaving breaths. That is a fact, it will not cease because we wish it to. Even after I held his superhero — cast in invincible metal and warding his own mortality away like a plague— I wanted for him to hold onto the time of not knowing. And isn’t that what our heartache, as parents, is built on? Not will they run the car into a ditch when their sixteen, or will they get drunk and end up on YouTube mooning a cop? Because aren’t those very tangible — though no less controllable — concerns born from this very place? This place of knowing the road. And isn’t that why we do it to begin with? Why we keep on doing it?

For me, the time of not knowing ended at four years old, when my mother gave birth to twins who never left the hospital. I do not remember the time of not knowing. I cannot. For Sam, for now, the understanding of true death is still a distant dark cloud on his vast horizon. He is still without the knowledge. For now, that is something for us both to safeguard. Him by his ignorance and me by my understanding. I will keep holding on until the glass shatters, then I will hold him, and tell him what I know, and know someday that will become an answer worth remembering.

(*An aside about the movie: it was an Academy Award nominee, and I actually want to watch it on my own at some point because I think I would rather enjoy it.)