When my daughter, Mia, was three, we lived in a house without a chimney. “How’s Santa going to get in?” she asked.
“Through the door,” I said.
“Are we going to leave the door unlocked?”
“Ummm, I don’t know.”
“I don’t want it unlocked. Then robbers could come in.”
“Well, let’s lock it. Santa’s magic. He can get in.”
A couple of days later, Mia was back with more questions.
“He comes in when we’re sleeping, and walks around our house? That’s scary.”
“But Santa’s nice.”
“But I don’t want him in our house.”
“But he brings you presents.” (Here I was going against every safety rule I’d ever tried to instill– insisting we let a strange man into our house because he had presents.)
“I don’t want him to come in here.”
I was starting to precede every answer with a huge pause. “Ummm, I guess I could write him a note and tell him to leave the presents on the doorstep? Would that be better?”
And then I prayed that it wouldn’t rain on Christmas Eve.
But by Christmas, she had decided to “let” Santa into our home, and he was able to deliver presents and leave them under the tree.
Since then, my inability to lie without getting flustered and my poor recall of details have made me a consistently confused Santa. Plus, now Mia is older and has a 5-year-old brother, JJ, who joins in her questioning. For one month of the year, I am under constant cross-examination. Both of them wholeheartedly believe in The Santa but do not believe in any of the Santas that they have seen around town.
This year, we stood on the waterfront and watched our seaside town’s tradition of Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving by Coast Guard boat. It was so breathtaking to see our community gathered together, cheering, as the Coast Guard cutter rounded the corner that I came close to being a believer again myself. When it was over and we were back home again, Mia looked at me and said, “Well, that was nice, but that Santa was fake.”
“What? That Santa was real! Did you see how amazing he was? And Mrs. Claus?”
“Mommy, his beard blew off when the wind blew, and he had an awful singing voice.”
“He was definitely just an elf.”
“Yep,” chimed in JJ. “Definitely an elf.”
“Besides,” JJ exclaimed, “he was wearing a life vest!”
“Of course he was,” I responded. “He has to be safe.”
“The real Santa wouldn’t need a life vest because he can’t die. So why was he wearing a life vest?”
“I’m sure he wanted to show the kids how to be safe on the water.” (Question marks swirling inside my head.)
“No,” JJ sighed. “It’s because he was an elf.”
Did I tell them at some point that all of these faux Santas were elves? I don’t remember. I really don’t. It sounds like something I could’ve made up on the fly under cross-examination, but I am caught in my own web of lies.
I also confuse my identity with Santa’s. How am I supposed to remember who gave what to whom? Especially when I am buying the presents from me and from Santa. JJ just asked me about a Lego set he got last year. “Did you give me these, or did Santa?”
I. Have. No. Idea.
“I think it was you.”
“It might have been me.”
I sent them a video from Santa at the Portable North Pole. It was a gorgeous video, individualized for each of them and very realistic. Both of them loved the videos of Santa but then Mia said, “Can I email Santa back?”
“I don’t have his email.”
“But he emailed you. Just hit reply.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
“Why? That doesn’t make sense. You can always reply to someone—- unless that Santa is not real.”
“Ummmm, I think Santa must just have an anonymous email account because he doesn’t have time to get back to all of that email. I mean, can you imagine all of the email?”
Just when I think I’ve messed up so much that there’s no way they can believe any longer, something happens to show me that they do.
This week, Mia told me, “Some kids on the bus said that Santa isn’t real.”
“I said, ‘Just wait and see who brings your kids’ presents when you’re a grown-up!’”
She still believes!
Why do I care so much? I have the gifts from Santa, the gifts from me, the wrapping paper from Santa, the wrapping paper from me. And then, I must remember to change my handwriting and use separate Santa labels. I am there with my half-assed, shaky answers, crumbling under cross-examination. It’s quite an elaborate ruse, isn’t it?
I gladly continue the charade, though, because it keeps my kids young. It’s not about the presents. It’s about the magic. In this day, kids grow up way too fast. They hear about violence and sickness, death and tragedy. This week’s horrific events in Connecticut have struck us all, them included. Both of them worry a lot. They have the tendency to be anxious about many things. I love that no matter how much my kids have been exposed to at school, on the bus, or in the news–no matter how many scary stories they have heard or bad times they have experienced, they still have a few moments of peace where they believe that a smiling man in a red suit can fly around the world in one night, bringing happiness to so many.