Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

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By Heather

This morning as Dave was getting the girls out the door to school, I heard a loud groan and then Georgia’s unmistakable “mmmoo” sound that she makes when she is trying to stifle her sobs. I raced down to see what was going on, and Dave motioned for me to go with Millie to get her coat on while he talked to Georgie.

7 year-old Millie was in tears at this point. “Georgia’s crying and she won’t tell me why!” she almost shouted her betrayal. These two are 22 months apart and function as a pair, Laverne and Shirley, Ernie and Bert, Frodo and Sam, Thelma and Louise. I snuck back into the dining room and asked Dave what was up. Apparently Georgia went into the garage hunting for a scooter and came upon the giant cardboard box that contained the dollhouse they got for Christmas. From Santa.

My 9 year old looked me in the eyes and whispered in horror, “I know the truth. There is no Santa.” This is the little girl that spent the better part of Christmas Eve writing a letter to Santa, asking thoughtful questions about his middle name, when his birthday was, and what were the reindeers’ favorite treats? I hugged her fiercely and told her that Santa is part of the spirit of Christmas and that it’s okay to choose to believe. Dave said there’s magic on both sides of it: that now she could be part of the fun of helping with stockings. It felt so rushed, trying to assuage this loss of childhood.

It happened for Jonah, now 12, much earlier. He was 6 or 7 and it was spring time and I had bought some plastic eggs. He stopped on the stairs and said, “There’s no way a giant rabbit goes around taking baskets of candy to kids… And if the Easter Bunny isn’t real, there’s no way there’s a tooth fairy… then…oh… Santa…” I just stood there watching these wonderful mythic icons of childhood fall like dominoes as he processed the logic of it all. For the next year whenever he said the name Santa, he’d make air quotes with his fingers. Jonah needed no comfort, just threatening. “If you tell your sisters, or even talk about this with ANY kid under the age of 12, you’ll never get a single thing from ‘Santa’ again!” And Jonah has enjoyed the shift in role. He loves to help pick out trinkets for Easter Baskets and hide eggs. He seemed relieved in a way. He’s logical, like Dave. Needs things to make sense. Be tangible.  He said goodbye to Santa and never looked back.

But Georgia…ouch. She clearly needs some yuletide talk therapy that could not happen at 8:17 this morning. I watched her dry her eyes as they raced to the bus, Millie still puzzled and hurt at her other half’s refusal to share her pain. During the day I imagined the dominoes falling in Georgia’s mind. Santa gone. Mmmoo.  Reindeer?  Mmmooo. Tooth Fairy? Mmmoo. The Giggling Leprechauns? Mmmoo (she even embraces the mythical holiday creatures invented by our Irish neighbors).

She had a friend over after school and then violin, homework, etc. We never had a second alone to talk. But at 9pm she snuck out of her room to find me. “Mom, Millie wants to know why I was crying this morning. I can’t tell her. I can’t. What do I say?” Our friend Rachel is visiting and we just looked at each other. I had no idea what to tell her. She doesn’t want to erase the sugarplums that dance in Millie’s head. But this is her SISTER. Her BFF. She has to tell her something. So I handed Georgia a lie to give to her sister. “Tell her you were thinking about Emma, [the gerbil that died last month] and that made you cry.” “But…” she stammered, knowing this was false.  “It does make you cry when you talk about Emma. Just tell her.” How do you explain that honesty is not always the best policy?

I kissed her off to bed and wanted to cry a little myself. I should have made time to have a private talk with her. I should have had a better response this morning. Dave and I have a pretty good standardized spiel for the sex talk, but not for Santa. I hate seeing them lose their faith in the magical, mystical aspects of childhood. On some level I fear that someday my kids will, like my husband, tell me they no longer believe in God. He hopes, but he does not believe.  I want my kids to believe in stuff, stuff that can’t be seen or touched or proven but stuff that gives them hope and faith in things bigger and better than us. So while I know I shouldn’t make a connection between faith in the holiday icons and faith in Christ, I do think that believing in and of itself works out our faith muscles.  Even when I feel that heaven has turned its back on me I still respond like Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” when it comes to the metaphysical: “I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” Faith is fragile.

When I go upstairs to check on the kids before I go to bed, I know what I’ll find. Jonah will be sprawled across his bed and if too much light leaks in as I open the door, he’ll grumble until I restore the dark. Bea will be in her room, closet light on, waiting another hour or so to sneak into my bed, hoping Dave is too zonked to notice. And I’ll bet that tonight Georgia will have left her bed to sleep with Millie, legs and arms entwined so that I can never distinguish one girl’s limbs from the others, just like the gerbil sisters sleeping in a furry pile in their cage. I’m sure of it. But I’m not sure what’s going to be harder for Georgia, knowing St. Nick’s secret, or having to keep it from her other half.

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9 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    What a great illustration of something we have to face as we grow up and our understanding and beliefs become more ours, more personalized. Recognizing that even our other half is “other,” with an infinity of different thoughts and experiences.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Heather. I have such mixed feelings on this topic. On the one hand, I love the idea of letting my kids be kids and believe in all the mystical magic things that make the holidays so special. Just like you talked about. And on the other, I don’t want my kids to think someday that Jesus is just a fairy tale that I had spun stories about too.

    So far I haven’t had to deal with this yet. My 2 and a half year old seems to believe that Santa is a real person, but he also thinks Handy Manny and Clifford are real. I figure in the next year I’ll start emphasizing the Santa is just a story people like to talk about during Christmas time. I hate to destroy this fun myth and remove some of the magic, but I’m hoping in the end this method will at least prevent little E from feeling disillusioned. But I totally understand parents going in a different direction on this. There’s no right answer – both have their costs and benefits.

  3. Emily U says:

    I remember asking my dad if Santa and Jesus were related, and being disappointed when he said no. I thought they had to be, since they both wanted you to be good.

    It seems a logical step that if the kids say Mmmoo to Santa and the Easter Bunny, they may do the same with Jesus. But somehow the vast majority of us make it through childhood without that happening. Probably because the Godhead is taught on a weekly if not daily basis, whereas holiday characters are once a year. That, and the Holy Ghost’s influence.

    My crisis of faith came in my late 20s. It happened when I had prayed for years for a good thing that I really needed, and it never happened. I felt so abandoned by God that I actually quit praying for a while. I’ve realized my faith needed to grow up a bit, but I’m still licking that wound.

  4. My nephew figured out the “truth” about Santa Claus last year, and confronted his mom about it, addressing it in terms of telling the truth and telling lies. Early responses to her post (I think mostly from friends in her ward in South Salt Lake County) were largely of the anti-Santa/all-truth-all-the-time camp. Here’s what I said:

    “”Telling the “truth” isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. I think it may have been more useful to talk about the difference between fiction and nonfiction than between truth and lies. Was Jesus lying when he used made-up stories to teach gospel principles?

    “Anyway, I’ve always thought that believing in Santa was about more than just one particular fellow in a red suit who sneaks into your house. It’s more about a childlike (in a good way) ability to believe in the improbable, even the preposterous. Really, how amazing, improbable, and even preposterous is it that God sent his Son to earth as a tiny, vulnerable baby? Who would grow up to save the world? Why waste time parsing the “truth” when to believe is so miraculous, such a gift?

    “Read The Polar Express again, and I dare you not to choke up at the end.”

    So, yeah, I’m pro-Santa. Most kids figure it out a bit earlier than poor disillusioned Georgia (that “mmmooo” makes me just want to hug her tight, and I’ve never even met her!), aren’t terribly traumatized, and *don’t* have trouble distinguishing between Santa and Jesus. Don’t overthink the issue! If you enjoyed believing in Santa as a kid, allow your child the same pleasure.

  5. G says:

    Very poignant, heather, the sibling dynamic of this ‘crisis of faith’ made it all the more intense.

    Those were two pretty heavy life lessons for Georgia; Santa isn’t what she thought he was… AND honesty is not always the best policy.

    wishing you (and your girls) the best.

  6. mb says:

    I remember when I was 4 years old asking my father if Santa was real. “Santa is people who love you,” he said with a smile.

    “Noooooo! He’s the guy who brings you presents on Christmas!” my little brother and I exclaimed, and ran to mom for reinforcements.

    Mom asked what dad had said and when we explained, she said she thought he was right. Appalled, we raced back to our dad and tried for the next 10 minutes to bully him into admitting we were right. He simply smiled and pleasantly stuck to his story as he would for the next 20 years as he raised children. And a few days later, under the tree, sure enough, there were presents from Santa.

    Every Christmas to this day we still get presents from Santa. What I realized later is that my dad had given us the gift of choosing when we would transition from delightful engagement of the Santa story to the even sweeter story of being given gifts by those who love us. My siblings and I could indulge in Santa imaginings for as long as we liked (which we continued to do for years) and could choose to transition out of that at our own pace in our own time.

    My father was always big on allowing his children to choose and also big on letting them know they were loved. I didn’t realize until years later how deftly he had incorporated both of these things into his Santa story. And it took me awhile to see how he had helped our eventual transition not be one of belief to unbelief, but rather be one of belief in something good to belief in something familiar and even better.

    So thank you Heather, for sharing your story. It has brought some sweet memories back to me.

  7. Barbara says:

    Your writing is a blessing in itself on so many levels! I think your children are blessed to have a mommy who has the strength of mind and spirit to believe in “stuff that gives them hope and faith in things bigger and better than us,” and live that before them. They also get to see Dave’s hopes and struggles, which I think shows them a rare, intimate look at reality, while still surrounded in love.

    Being a recent convert, I can share that going through life needing things to make sense and be tangible was my life’s work until recently. I vividly remember figuring out the Santa thing at age 10 (yes) and having a Georgia experience. If someone had been with me the way you were and continue to be with your children – open, explaining the beauty of it, and going back to explain some more when you think of something else that may help – my everything-must-make-perfect-sense makeup would have been more focused on math, punctuation and the nuances of gullibility or something, rather than lumping Santa et al in with God and all things unseen. I pray for your little cherubs that’ll be the case for them, and their “faith muscles” will be well toned to see “stuff that can’t be seen or touched or proven.” You rock Heather.

  8. Kiri Close says:

    Along with Santa, do you think adding Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Deepawali, & Full-Moon celebrations will further confuse the kids?

    As I think of raising our kids (btw, Rob & I have agreed on attempting to conceive this May–kinda scary, kinda exciting), I wonder how several seasonal celebrations will affect them.

    oi vay! seems like so much to consider when baby planning!!!

    Rob & I have been conte

  9. Kiri Close says:

    oopS! forgot to delete the last line above that starts out “Rob & I have been conte”–simply ignore.

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