Friday, November 23, 2012

Believing

Yesterday our girl made me cry.  In a good way, but cry I did.

We were watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on television, and an Army military band came on, she looked up and said, "Wow, Grandpa would love to see that."

"Yes," I said, "he would. And if there is a heaven maybe he's looking on and can see it."

She was thinking about her grandfather, and what he'd like, even though he's been gone in body for nearly four years and in mind for more than a decade. Score one for expanded theory of mind.

We've been very careful about the God thing, and the afterlife thing, and the what happens when you die question. We say we don't know. That people believe in a lot of different things, but that we really just can't know for sure. But regarding Santa, we have been careless.

Our girl believes. In Santa, that is. And it's my fault.

She's 15-years-old, and she still believes in Santa. Over the past four years I have probed gently for an opening to break the news to her, and have never found an occasion to reveal that Santa is a worldwide performance art piece conducted by folks who still wish there were magic in the world in the form of a beneficent old man and his elves. But I have felt that I have been doing her a disservice to continue acting as though there is a Santa as she moves into full-on adolescence.

This morning I proposed to her that this year, since she's a teenager, that we might want to do Christmas differently. That maybe it is time for us to retire Santa and do something else as a family.  I explained that Santa is something that parents do for their kids, and that she's getting to be a grown-up and will want to know how to do if she has kids or works with kids. That it's magic, but it's the magic that parents make for their children because they love them.

She looked at me with utter disbelief.

"What do you mean there is no Santa?  How did that bicycle get in here?  How to you explain the videos?  (We made these Portable North Pole videos for the past two years.) What about the cards he leaves us for the cookies? What about the presents?"

She is furious with me right now.  Her words: "You just ruined the most important holiday of my life. And what do you have to say about the Easter bunny?"

As I started to explain, she said, "Enough of your lies."

But which lies?  The lies that are the truth or the lies that are the story of Santa?

I came from a big family and was very inquisitive -- think little detective syndrome here -- so I learned about Santa early on. I still remember creeping up the ladder to the attic in the house on McCain Street and seeing all the wrapped boxes.  My eyes grew wide and I thought, wow, look what I found!  Christmas!

When I asked my mom about it, she told me that yes, there was no Santa, but to please keep it our secret because my brothers and sister still believed.  I was five.  And I was so excited to be in on the grown-ups' secret. It was thrilling to get to help my little sister and brothers have fun.

For some reason I was too young, or too Catholic, to make the next logic association: if no Santa, then no God?

Our girl is fifteen, and now she feels hoodwinked. Angry. Bereft. And her mom, whom she trusted implicitly, has confessed to being a serial liar, an impersonator, and a forger.

I'm going to break out my bad mom t-shirt and wear it all weekend unless you all have some ideas to save me from the horrible corner I've painted myself into.

How will she ever be able to trust me again?

9 comments:

audball said...

We had this almost exact same scenario happen two years ago. DD, who was 8 at the time, was having a conversation with her brother about the "Meeba Fairy" (Meebas, in case you may not know, are small plush creatures that are in these small hand-held canisters. If you complete the games on the outside of the canister, the canister "unlocks", and you find the plush toy within). Meeba Fairy would visit us when something pretty big happened - birthdays, dental surgery, "graduation" from a therapist.

For a long time, I had been worried that she was going to be teased at school for still believing in Santa. I wanted to be the one to reveal the truth to her, not a mean-spirited kid, who may tease her.

I chose the "Meeba Fairy" discussion to broach the subject. I gently told both kids (her brother being 6 at the time, but pretty savvy about the "truth") that while Meeba Fairy was true in spirit, she wasn't an actual fairy…she was a "good thought brought to life". But no, no fairies had come to visit us the week before.

"What about Santa? What about the Halloween Fairy?" my DD asked. She wasn't just crushed. She, like your girl, was so angry. And I completely blamed myself…I felt so stupid, until I realized that I was doing what I thought was right for her at the time when she was smaller. If she had, at 2 or 3, found out the truth about Santa (or any of the rest of them), she would have probably revealed that truth to *every* child she met. She would have felt angry at the hypocrisy of the holiday season all around her (her need to point out the "right " things would have probably meant a pretty hard Christmas season!). She would have lost out on the magic of the idea of a good fellow in a red suit, who is kind and forgiving and who bestows just the right gift(s) for each child. And also, when she was very small, I was desperate for her to fit in with her peers. Not believing in Santa would have been hugely disastrous for her already fragile friendships.

It was kind of a no-win no matter how I looked at it.

When she had calmed down a bit (and I wasn't driving!), I told her that Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Halloween Fairy, and the rest weren't created to "trick" her, but rather as an explanation to younger children about the joys of giving, sharing, and loving one another. Sometimes those are concepts that are hard for a little kid to understand, so all those characters are created to personify certain sentiments. Santa is charitable and forgiving (for those kids who have been naughty, they have a chance to do well until December). The Easter Bunny is about the wonder of renewal and rebirth that happens in the spring. Meeba Fairy was created to help a kid stay brave when things seemed a little scary. And so on…

Slowly she understood that "everyone" had been duped into believing these characters at one point. It wasn't something that happened to tease her or belittle her. I think her big concern was that everyone else was in on the joke and she wasn't. I told her no, every small child is told the same stories and as bigger folks, we are in charge of perpetuating the stories for their enjoyment and wonder. Like you were told, I told my kids that they would have to keep these stories alive for their younger friends. I made it seem like their job to help keep these "fairy tales" alive, until the young kids were ready to be told the truth.

Maybe your M could take comfort that there are still little ones who believe (*very* much believe) and she can help keep the idea of Santa alive for them?

Hugs to you…it's hard being the "mean one" sometimes. Hope things turn out okay...

audball said...

And goodness, in writing my novel, I forgot to say how sweet it was that M remembered her grandfather in that way. It's so fascinating when things come together like that…to her, it was probably just an observation, but to us (moms, that is), the linking of person/emotion/empathy/sympathy is huge. Definitely score one for expanding theory of mind :)!

MothersVox said...

Audball! That's so helpful! Thanks so much for sharing all of that! I think I'll use some of what you said here the next time this comes up. Right now we have a moratorium on discussing it as she is digesting the bad news. So it seems you DD forgave you and wasn't crushed for life? Maybe there's hope for us over here!

audball said...

No, my DD wasn't crushed for life (although, I imagine there will be other things that I do that will seem like I am crushing her!.

As I was recounting the story to my husband, he reminded me too: "This, too, shall pass." My father-in-law used to say this about my mother-in-law's relatives when they came to visit :)

Like your M, my DD didn't want to discuss it, but we heard bits here and there in conversation about it. She'll come around - don't worry :).

kyra said...

she WILL trust you again! when we told the boy, we talked a lot about where the santa myths came from, the embodiment of generosity and anonymous giving, the secret or mystery of it being like a prayer answered or an act of magic. we even talked about how we worried he would feel upset that we lied but that we decided to do the whole santa thing because it had meant so much to me as a kid and we wanted him to have the experience, the wonder.

i love audball's idea of enlisting her daughter in creating the magic and delight for the younger kids until they were ready.

sending xx! and happiest blessings for the new year!

Kristin Barlet said...

I know this post was written a while ago, but it definitely made me think.
My son is 10, and he still believes. I remember one day, a couple of years ago, a neighbor boy was over my house in my front yard, and Christmas was just around the corner. He was telling my son and another (much younger) neighbor boy that Santa was not real. My son and the younger boy were fighting with him saying "yes there is".
Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but the younger neighbor boy turned to me and told me what was going on and asked me to verify that there is in fact a Santa. Well I couldnt say there was not and ruin Santa for another kid, and I didnt want to ruin it for my son, especially since he has younger siblings... so I did the only thing I could think of. I told him "Yes, there is a Santa, but not everyone believes." I told him that "When kids do not believe, their parents pretend to be Santa and bring gifts so they do not feel left out."
I am still not sure what the right approach would have been, but my 10 year old still believes. He has a 5 year old little sister, 3 year old little brother and 4 month old baby sister. Part of me is selfish and wants him to keep believing, but the other part of me doesnt want to keep leading him on. I do not know if he gets picked on for it, etc. He does go to Catholic School, so I am sure that helps...
It is really tough being a parent sometimes. That is all I have to say!

Kristin Barlet said...

I know this post was written a while ago, but it definitely made me think.
My son is 10, and he still believes. I remember one day, a couple of years ago, a neighbor boy was over my house in my front yard, and Christmas was just around the corner. He was telling my son and another (much younger) neighbor boy that Santa was not real. My son and the younger boy were fighting with him saying "yes there is".
Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but the younger neighbor boy turned to me and told me what was going on and asked me to verify that there is in fact a Santa. Well I couldnt say there was not and ruin Santa for another kid, and I didnt want to ruin it for my son, especially since he has younger siblings... so I did the only thing I could think of. I told him "Yes, there is a Santa, but not everyone believes." I told him that "When kids do not believe, their parents pretend to be Santa and bring gifts so they do not feel left out."
I am still not sure what the right approach would have been, but my 10 year old still believes. He has a 5 year old little sister, 3 year old little brother and 4 month old baby sister. Part of me is selfish and wants him to keep believing, but the other part of me doesnt want to keep leading him on. I do not know if he gets picked on for it, etc. He does go to Catholic School, so I am sure that helps...
It is really tough being a parent sometimes. That is all I have to say!

MothersVox said...

Hello Kyra! Love hearing from you! And welcome Kristin! Thanks for commenting here. And thank you both for your words of encouragement! It was a very, very different Christmas around here without the lovely fiction of Santa. In the end, I think it may be me who was most bereft. I will write about it all sometime, but these days I have been so busy trying to figure out if we should move or stay and fight the developer who is destroying our neighborhood. More on all soon, but in the meantime, happiest of new years to everyone!

MothersVox said...

Hi Kristin, So sorry to miss your comment in the rush that was my January. Your response to this situation was absolute genius. I wish I were that quick on my feet! What a terrific way to handle a sticky situation about believing and not believing! Thanks for sharing that here! mv.