I wrote this piece last year after taking my girls to see Santa. Although I did post it, and received some very lovely comments, I wanted to post it again. Perhaps this will be my personal 'Twas the night before Christmas kind of story. I've been rereading some of my work lately, and a few of them jump out at me as being (in my own humble opinion!) quite good. This piece about Santa is one of those. I already know the words, I already know the ending. But it still makes me cry, and still makes me smile.
I have done something this season that I thought I would never do.
I started believing in Santa.
Well, not really. I know that it is my own tired self that fights crowds, compares prices, purchases gifts, wraps them and visits the FedEx store to pay exorbitant prices for late shipping.
Let me back up a little bit.
As a child, I never believed in Santa. My parents weren't some weird stripe of Christians that believed Santa=Satan. But they didn't push the jolly elf story, and so I didn't buy into it. I got into trouble at Montessori Kindergarten for telling other kids that Santa was just a 'symbol of the season'.
When Moira's first Christmas rolled around, she was too little to care about anything except eating the shiny paper. Nonetheless, Austin and I had the Santa Talk.
We decided that we didn't care if Moira visited our local mall Santa, wrote him letters, made him cookies or wore his likeness on a sweatshirt. We are not threatened by any talk of elves, reindeer, or the North Pole. Like most people, we like to watch the Rudolph movie (I KNOW why Herbie is a misfit...anybody else?) and make Santa cookies.
We also decided that we didn't want to lie to Moira. We didn't want to tell her that Santa Claus exists other than in the form of a saint who lived long ago. If we told her that a unseen yet loved figure was real....and then she found out otherwise, what would that do to her later view of God? Plus, I just didn't want to lie to my child.
I am not one of those "My child is my best friend" types. I don't think that my kids need to know everything. But all the same, an outright lie just feels wrong.
Then that child of mine started asking hard questions, as children are aught to do. Until recently, I was able to deflect difficult questions by giving small pieces of information and massaging the truth into an age-appropriate answer. (examples: 'Mommy, where do babies come out of?' and 'Why do boy babies look different than girl babies?' etc.)
Then February came along. Moira's friend Emmy, a girl I grew up with and whose family mine had known for years, was killed in a car accident. With her in the car was another close friend of Austin's. Suddenly we had to explain death and grief and funerals. We didn't want to lie, but we didn't want to scare. She was confused, and a little frightened. She missed Emmy hugging her every Sunday. She made pictures for Emmy's parents.
July came and saw my mother being taken into the hospital for yet another brain surgery. We had to explain hospitals and fatigue and fear. We didn't want to lie, but we wanted her to be prepared. She didn't like Gram staying in the hospital and being too tired to play. She colored and pasted a picture for Gram.
September brought the worst news of all. Austin and I sat Moira down and explained that Papa was very sick. She wanted to know what was wrong, why doctors couldn't help him, and why God wouldn't just make Papa better. She prayed at night for Papa to get better, just as she prays for me when I have a headache or for Kendall when she has a cold. Moira thought that these prayers would make it all ok. In her mind, Papa just needed a construction paper masterpiece and he would instantly feel better.
On September 30th, I took her into my arms while Austin told her that Papa had died the night before. We assured her that he was with Jesus, and that he was alright. We tried to explain that we would miss him but that we would see him one day, a long time from now.
Moira did not handle the news well. Usually a very open child, she closed up and didn't want to talk to either of us. She just wanted to play and watch movies and be with Kendall.When we returned home and life attempted to go on as normal, her fears came out. She wanted to know why we die. She wanted to know what happens when we die She wanted to know if Papa missed her, if he could see her and hear her. Mostly she just wanted to see him again. She misses her 'Silly Papa'.
By the absolute grace of God (and I do not use this phrase often) we were able to talk out her fears and concerns. She asks about Dennis almost every day, and we try to be honest and open. Honesty is painful. But it is still the best way to handle things, right? I wouldn't want my kids to think that I ever kept things from them, at least not the really important things.
This Saturday Moira and I delivered a gift to a child we chose from the Angel Tree. We had fun picking out his present, although Moira didn't quite understand why he wasn't going to be buying her a gift in return. We also delivered a big bag of food from our church, and Moira was excited to meet the little boy we had been talking about for weeks.
She did a great job, and didn't say anything embarassing. She really seemed to understand why we were helping him for Christmas, and that everybody needs help at some point. We had a great talk about being generous and thankful.
Then she threw this bomb on me:
'Mom, where was the little boy's dad?' she asked.
And for some reason, this question felt like all those hard questions rolled into one. I don't know why it felt so heavy. I guess I am just tired of my little girl finding out about life's difficulties so fast. I have never wanted her to live in a bubble, but I also don't know how much more I can take of her little sad face.
I was literally breathless, and it took me several minutes to utter something about daddies not always living with their kids. Moira didn't probe any further, and I was glad. I wouldn't have had the heart to be honest. I wouldn't have had the heart to lie.
Moira and Sabra went to see Santa last week. We took their picture and they were very good. Moira asked for a cow Webkinz and Sabra yelled to Santa (repeatedly, mind you) 'Elmo shoes! Elmo shoes!' They both said thank you and we left.
Moira told anybody that would listen that she met The Real Santa! He has been at Green Hills Mall all this time, we just didn't know! And he is going to bring the cow and shoes because he is REAL!
I wanted to gently correct her and remind her that we love Santa because he is fun, but he isn't really real. I wanted to fan the flame of fantastical fanaticism she was experiencing and ask her what kind of cookies we should leave out for Santa and did she know if Prancer would like carrots?
I didn't know what to do, so I said nothing. I smiled, unwrapped her candy cane and exchanged a glance with Austin. He too was smiling, and thinking ahead to the time when Moira finds out that Santa is a symbol, not a man.
We didn't want to lie. But she was laughing, her eyes were full of sparkle, and she was actually dancing.
Moira grew up a lot this year. She said goodbye to friends, she still cries for her Papa. She is learning that people are not always nice, and that families do not always stay together.
This year I let Santa be real. I may regret it later, but for now it feels right. Kindness and generosity and magic and anticipation can only help this hurt little heart.
I took Moira's hand and kissed her sticky cheek.
'Merry Christmas, Mom!'
Merry Christmas indeed.