The foggy cold weather made my tongue sizzle. The smell of the eggnog and cookies filled the air. As I walked in the living room I saw a mountain of presents. It was finally Christmas. Therefore, I felt as if I were Santa’s biggest lover! The End.
Adorable right? My stepdaughter wrote that after making her Christmas list last weekend. She firmly believes that Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer — all of it actually exists. To her they are every bit as real as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. She’s also 9.
Two nights ago I killed the affair between Santa and his biggest lover. Shattered it like a fragile tree ornament hitting the cold hard floor of reality. I had just handed the girls their dinner, when she said that the kids in her class were making fun of her for believing in Santa.
We’ve had a lot of problems with the little punk-asses in Stepdaughter 1’s class. Last year it took exactly 1.5 seconds for us to call a meeting with the administration after I caught her trying to smuggle a knife to school. She planned on using to defend herself against several boys who were touching her where no one should be touching any girl. There have been other issues too.
“Santa’s not real, honey,” I said recalling how morally bereft her fellow fourth-graders are. A long silence ensued.
“I don’t believe you,” she finally said.
I started to load up the dishwasher. “No, honey, I’m serious. Santa’s more of an idea than a person,” I said with a growing annoyance over not being able to find the dishwashing liquid. “Santa represents ideas like being selfless and kind and giving to others.”
Why I went on with this conversation, I don’t exactly know. It had been a hard day. I felt behind at work. I didn’t like being reminded that I hadn’t mailed my boys their gifts yet. Whatever the reason — even thinking about her felonious classmates — it wouldn’t be good enough, not like that anyway. Half-heartedly in between slinging plates of chicken at the kids and scrubbing hardened food off of snow-white Corning Ware.
I knew better. Stepdaughter 1 is deeply sensitive, despite what she might tell you. With me in particular it’s not just what she shares, but how I react. She’s testing me. How will I react? Can she trust me? When it came to substantiating the existence of a fat man delivering mountains of presents via a chimney, I failed.
Nothing more was said after my piss-poor philosophical explanation. At bedtime however, my stepdaughter was in tears, something my wife shared, standing in front of me with her hands on her hips.
“Did you tell her there was no Santa Claus?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
No doubt about it, I screwed up in a big way here, but I also never expected to be in a situation where I’d ever have to tell any of my kids that Jolly St. Nick was a myth — not after they could do long division anyway. It just never occurred to me, not after growing up in a church where the Sunday school teacher would rearrange the Flannelgraph letters spelling Santa to expose that gluttonous, unshaven heathen for who he really was: Satan! “See children, he’s even wearing red like the devil.”
Sure thing lady, whatever you say. Now when the hell are you gonna pass out those frosted, baby Jesus cookies?
I felt like a such an ass, knowing that I hurt my stepdaughter like this. The dysfunctions of organized religion have done enough to crush the innocence of children, yet here I was doing the same thing. And to my own stepdaughter no less. But it was more than that.
Stepdaughter #1 abhors change. She clings to the past — every memory, every possession, every belief including the belief she will walk into the living room and be greeted by a mountain of presents left by Santa. At the same time, though, I think that deep down she already knows he doesn’t exist, but she’s afraid — afraid that giving in to that reality will further erode what remaining innocence she has after so much has been taken away already. It’s understandable. I have my own Kris Kringles and North Poles that as an adult, I wish were real, but at some point you have to accept they are not.
Later that evening, my wife and I talked more about the situation. My wife was concerned about how this would affect Stepdaughter 1 during the rest of holidays. Apologizing again, I agreed, but then added, “I was stupid handling it that way, but I was worried about the kids making fun of her. What’s worse — hearing it from me or from those thugs?”
All at once I was suddenly conscious of how children learn that their Santa Clauses aren’t real. It’s either going to be from the big, bad world they live in or from us, their parents. The cruel irony in this however, is that there are times when, as a parent you’re caught in a place where you have to decide which things you do and do not tell them, but what sucks is how this damn world forces us tell our kids such things before they are ready.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Author
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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.