“Do some people not believe in Santa,” she asked in the car yesterday.
“Yes. Some people don’t believe in Santa,” I said, feeling a rise in my heart rate as I wondered if this was it. If it was here and now in the car on the way home from the grocery store that we’d have this conversation. I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, looked at Miles and decided he was clueless enough to what was going on, glanced in my rear-view mirror at her as she started out her window.
“Well, I do.” She declared.
And I breathed an ironic sigh of relief.
On Friday morning I sat in a classroom down the hall from my own talking with another teacher about the whole Santa thing. The whole weird and complicated way I feel, and pretty much have always felt, about lying to Nora about Santa. I know many people wouldn’t call it a lie, but many days that’s what it feels like to me. Maybe I’m weird, but I have a love/hate relationship with the Santa myth. Since the first year where Santa threats just felt wrong, we don’t really use Santa as a threat. We don’t talk about the “he’s always watching” aspect of Santa often – though Nora herself does bring that up. Ever since both kids cried at the mere sight of a mall Santa, we haven’t sought out the guy to tell him our wish lists or snap cute photos.
Yet, he is a distinct part of our Christmas tradition. I enjoy so much planning out what Santa will surprise the kids with. I look back on last year, when Nora realized Santa had set up a slide on her play fort and how utterly amazed she was, how she was sure only Santa could have pulled off such an endeavor in the middle of the night, and I want her to hold on to that for as long as she can.
I want her to believe in magic. In possibility. In kindness and goodness and generosity.
The last thing her teacher handed her on Friday was a letter from Rudolph, handwritten by a fourth or fifth grader onto Christmas stationary. “You are on the good list,” it declared, “But still make sure to be nice to everyone, especially your parents.” How could a reindeer write that, she asked as soon as we got in the car. I had no answer to that, even Rudolph doesn’t seem that talented. So I made up a story about each reindeer having an elf with the same name with him. So it must have been the elf who wrote it.
She stared at that letter, simultaneously amazed and deep in thought.
She’s asked more questions since that car ride home. Made more declarations of belief that now seem like lines to convince herself that he is indeed real. I can see her brain working over the questions, holding on to belief because she wants to, not because it makes any rational sense to her.
And in a weird way, that makes me feel better. I feel better that she believes in magic, in the way that the impossible could maybe be possible for just those certain hours of that certain day. I feel better that she may on some level know that Santa himself isn’t real, but that all that he stands for, all the reasons parents perpetuate this myth, are indeed worth staking a belief in.
She asked again tonight before bed.
“Mom, why do some people not believe in Santa?”
I told her I wasn’t sure exactly, but that I was pretty sure most people believed in all that he stands for. I’m pretty sure most people believe in the spreading of kindness, the joy of generosity. They might not believe in Santa, I told her, but they still believe in all the magic that comes from having a good heart.
It took me until I said it to realize that I believe it too.