Friday, November 23, 2012
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?