Last week I posted a story about telling my 9 year-old stepdaughter that Santa Claus didn’t really exist. Now I’m going to tell everyone why he actually does. This weekend, my wife shared with me a story about a single mother named Sharon that she knows in East Texas.
Sharon has two children, a son and a daughter, that she has been rearing on her own while trying to make ends meet. Among Sharon’s day-to-day challenges is finding the extra capacity needed for tending to her son, John’s severe struggles with ADHD, depression, and recently Asperger’s.
John has been on medication for several years now, in addition to weekly therapy sessions to help him cope. Even so, John has already been admitted to the children’s psych ward on several occasions for attempting to hurt himself by doing things like slamming his head into walls and tables.
This past fall, Sharon ran out of money to pay for John’s treatment and medication. Not long after, her son had a meltdown at school, one violent enough that the school safety officer had to handcuff John until he could calm down. And then something interesting happened.
While the Principal called Sharon, Officer Wilson spent some time talking with John. John told Officer Wilson about what he wanted to do when he grew up—a forensics agent who solved crimes. The two talked about other things too. Finally Officer Wilson, made a deal with John: If John could make it to December without any more outbursts at school, then he would give John a surprise at Christmas.
When Sharon arrived, the Principal told her about the deal Officer Wilson made with John. Unfortunately, though, Sharon had to take John to the hospital where he had to stay for several days. Over time, Sharon forgot all about the deal. The pressures of regular life overshadowed it, and as Christmas came closer and closer, Sharon wasn’t even sure how she was going to put presents under the tree for her kids.
On the night of John’s Christmas program, the Principal let Sharon know that her son was doing really well in school. She also reminded Sharon of Officer Wilson’s deal, and that he would have a few things for John for her to pick up later that week. Sharon, of course, was thrilled, expecting that Officer Wilson would be handing her son a toy or two. But she was wrong.
A few days after, the Principal called Sharon and told her to stop by for the gifts, and then added that Sharon might want to come in a truck. This last bit confused Sharon, but she sent her parents over with their pickup. That’s when she found out what was waiting for John.
After making his deal with John, Officer Wilson went to his co-workers and asked them to pitch in a little something for the kid he had just met. His co-workers were glad to help, and so were several of the students. Altogether, they managed to get toys, a new bike, clothes, and money for both John and his sister, Angela. When Sharon found out, all she could do was sit down and cry.
You see, Officer Wilson had a brother —a brother that suffered from mental illness, which ultimately caused him to take his life many years ago. What Officer Wilson saw on that fall day several months earlier was his own brother, and the thought of him John someone very special in the officer’s heart.
Last week, as part of debunking the myth of Santa for my stepdaughter, I told her that Santa Claus was more like a symbol that represented the good things in Christmas—showing love, kindness, and generosity to others. Sappy? Yes, but it’s true. The only reason we consider anything as being “sappy” is because it’s an easy way to keep from giving in to emotions we have an innate need for, but that we’re too afraid to accept. It also means recognizing that others have needs too.
And so, if my stepdaughter or any of my kids ask me whether Santa’s real, I will tell them the sappy story of Sharon, and John, and Officer Wilson. I will tell them about kindness and generosity, while wondering if they see these in my actions. And finally, I will answer, “Yes, Santa is real.”
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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.
Photo Credit: EveryStockPhoto