Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Santa Problems

The end of a long, long day (snow day from school, sans snow) was drawing to a close. We'd just watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and maybe Ethan was thinking of the scene with Father Christmas.

I don't know, but as we were saying bedtime prayers he blurted out, "I don't really like my Mario." His voice was trembling.

Mario is a little stuffed Mario he got in his stocking. I found it at Target for a few bucks.

"Ethe, that's okay. It's not a big deal," I replied.

"I don't like Mario that much," he continued. His eyes were almost filling with tears. "What I wanted was a stuffed Yoshi."

Ah, man. This didn't sound like ungratefulness. He seemed genuinely upset.

"I ASKED Santa. Why didn't he listen to me??!" he demanded indignantly.

I think I've written before about our conundrum, as far as Ethan and Santa is concerned. I never liked the idea of making up elaborate stories about a jolly fat man only for my kids to find out their beloved Santa did not, in fact, exist. At the same time, telling Ethan straight out that Santa isn't real seems like a bad idea. There's nothing I can picture as clearly in my head as Ethan announcing to his class during "short share" that Santa is fake...as other kids start crying and arguing.

And so we have played a weird kind of waffling, ambiguous, subtle dance here about the Santa thing. We did this with Anna as well and it worked just fine. By about age 6 or 7 she was convinced Santa wasn't real and was just waiting for most other kids to figure it out, too.

This time around, we have trouble.

"He never listens to me!" Ethan was saying, about to cry, and my heart started aching. For a quick second I wanted to hit myself for not thinking to ask the kid what he wanted for Christmas. I mean, I did ask, but didn't push it. At the time he didn't feel like talking about it so I hadn't gotten much out of him. Now I wondered...when did he ask? We hadn't brought him to Santa. What had he been doing, praying in his room at night to Santa, making requests we hadn't known about? Oy vey.

I made a quick calculation. Christmas was 11 months away. We had time to deal with the consequences later. Forget the kids. I couldn't let him think he hadn't been listened to, and I couldn't add more lies to a lie to try to fix it. It was time to take action.

I took a deep breath. "Ethan, Santa is just a story," I said. "It's not that he didn't listen to you."

His response was not what I expected. Unfortunately.

"YES! He IS real! He has to be real!" More tears now. "He's the one who brings us presents!"

"What if mom and dad are the one who give you presents?"

"No," he said stubbornly. "Santa is real, and he comes on Christmas Eve and puts all the presents under the tree. And he didn't listen to me."

I sat there for a moment, silently fuming at every Christmas movie, book, TV special and song in our culture that absolutely had convinced my literal-minded son that Santa had to be real. Never mind NORAD-track Santa. He had to be real, Ethan had told us another time. We had watched him on the computer! Professional sounding grown-ups had reported on his progress across the globe!

For a moment, I hated them all, and then I felt my eyes filling with tears. I'm not even sure why. Maybe because it had been a long, long snow day without any snow with three kids in the house who all wanted to do different things. Maybe because I wondered if we should have either played up Santa or spilled the beans from the beginning, even though neither option seemed very attractive. Maybe because there seemed to be so many days like this, full of second-guessing, full of trying to make people happy and not succeeding, and knowing that making my kids happy shouldn't be the end goal but still feeling crappy when they're not.

"It's okay, mamma," Ethan said. "Why are you crying?"

"I don't know, Ethan." I felt foolish. "I guess because sometimes even parents feel like they don't make the right choices."

"Don't cry, mamma, it's okay," he said. I was touched by his concern while simultaneously feeling bad for crying in front of him. After that, he was off to bed.

...without us resolving the Santa issue.


Will I ever learn?

No comments: