Two years ago, I broke my middle son’s heart on Christmas day. It was an accident, a rookie mistake. He was 9 years old at the time and a savvy fellow, using words larger than his life span should allow. At the same time his most prized gift this Christmas was a joke hand buzzer. He shouted with joy, I mean, shouted and I mean JOY when he opened it. It cost me all of $4.50.
But for the last year or so he’d been pressuring me about Santa Claus. Is he real? Where does he live? How does he make the toys? Why does he see the same toys on Amazon.com? Does Santa own Amazon.com? To each of these questions I’d offer distraction mixed with indirect answers and resort to questions to his questions when those don’t fly. It usually worked but he’d been tenacious that year. He’d been steadfast in his questioning, in his…dare I say…doubt. And I thought, I really did, that he wanted to know the real truth.
Now, understand this- I did not knowingly introduce, sustain or encourage the Santa myth with any of my children, nevertheless they all picked it up. How could they help it really? Santa Claus is everywhere and he’s a lot of fun. After a few years of being bombarded by Santa my husband and I just decided that we’d play along but I told him, if any of the kids asked me outright I was going to tell them the truth, more or less.
When my daughter was around 9 or 10 she asked me outright about Santa and I put her off effectively for a length of time. Finally I asked her the final question, “Are you sure you want to know this? Do you want to really know this?” and she said, “Yes.” That is when I revealed that although Santa is “real” as in, based upon St. Nicholas, he did not place presents under our tree. I did that. I purchased them, I wrapped them and I put them under the tree. She took it pretty well. She’d suspected as much.
When Chet arrived at 9 or 10 he asked the same thing and the scene played out in much the same way. He was even pleased when I told him that he was now responsible for helping with the nighttime preparations and was an ally in keeping the details under wraps until his younger brothers were ready to know the inner workings of the whole “Santa” thing.
But now, it was Henry’s turn. Henry, the builder, the inventor, the science buff and yet, the drama kid, the “sing as loud as you can” man. When he’d asked me months before Christmas I put him off, like I do. He didn’t drop it and he was convinced there was something he didn’t know. He has an instinct about these things. He badgered me and I do mean badgered, for weeks leading up to Christmas.
Even on Christmas eve as he lay in bed he said things like, “I want you to tell me, I really do.” Christmas morning, sporting his joke hand buzzer, he pulled me aside, with a steely look he said, “I heard something last night in the middle of the night. I heard you and dad going downstairs and then coming back up. It was just long enough to put presents under the tree, I think.” I had an out on that one. I did not get up in the middle of the night, technically. I did it before I went to sleep and after he had been in bed about an hour. So I said with great sincerity and real truth, “I can assure you that I did not go downstairs in the middle of the night to put presents under the tree.” He didn’t buy it.
On the way to Grandma’s house that day he pressured me, he questioned my answer. He basically said he thought I was lying about putting the presents there in the middle of the night. It was the accusation that got me. I’d worked so hard in their short lives to always be honest with them. Not lying to my kids was something I took seriously. So I looked at him and said, “If you want to talk about this later I am glad to tell you whatever you want to know when we get home. Later.” He nodded and he smiled.
So I let it go and so did he, until we got home late that night. Then he started in again. He has a long memory for a kid. So after Miles and Chet went up to bed I sat him down in the kitchen and I asked, “What do you want to know?” He responded, “Is Santa real?” and so I said, “Yes, Santa is real.” Full stop. He persisted, “Is he really real?” to which I said, “What is it exactly that you want to know?” He told me that each time he asks about Santa all he gets are “indirect answers.” Indirect answers. He said that. He wasn’t wrong there. I asked him, “Do you really want me to answer this directly then?” and he said that he did, in fact, want to know. “Are you asking if Santa made, wrapped and delivered these gifts?” I offered and he said, “Yes.” And so I answered that question, “No. I did.” I quickly added, “Santa is real. He was a real person. His spirit is real. The idea and the mystery of Santa is real. But I bought these presents. I wrapped them. I put them under the tree.”
He nodded and I thought we were okay so I started telling him about the new responsibility of being part of the Christmas inner circle of our family and about letting Miles discover this in his own time and then I noticed him crying. Big, soft, wet, tears filled his eyes and rolled down his sweet plump cheeks. I pulled him onto my lap and hugged him close, filled with regret. I apologized for telling. “I thought you wanted to know” I said. “I wish you had lied” he answered.
I looked at him and told him that I promised myself I’d never lie to my children. I told him that I thought it was important that he felt that I would tell him the truth and that he’d trust me when I tell him things. He nodded. He understood that and then he said again, “I wish you’d have made up a story” and I said softly, “Yeah, me too.” I asked his forgiveness for breaking his heart which of course, he granted because he is like that, sweet and forgiving, innocent and loving. The following morning he awoke first. He came to my room and kissed my cheek. When I opened my eyes he was smiling. “Hi.” I said, hugging him. “Hey mom?” he asked. “Hm?” I answered as I laid back down. He leaned close to whisper in my ear. “When Miles asks about Santa, when he’s my age…make up a story, okay?” I smiled and nodded. “Yes, okay.”