December 10, 2010
How Do You Tell Your Kids A Certain Hard Truth About Christmas?
Perhaps this is a subject best left until after Dec. 25. Then again, as parents we have to mentally gear ourselves up for one of the toughest jobs we may ever face. It might be good to hear some advice from other parents ahead of time.
It could also be helpful to reflect on how you as a child received the news. Oh, and there is a reason I posted this photo of a 1970s Barbie Country Camper, as it relates to my own traumatic experience of getting this news.
Was it also traumatic for you? Is there some way you'd like to improve upon that experience for your own child?
You know the hard truth I'm talking about: There is no Santa Claus.
What?! No Santa Claus?! Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!
I confess, the wound from getting this news is still pretty raw after all these years.
It was the Monday after Christmas when I was 7 years old. It had been such a good Christmas. Santa had been so very good to me.
He brought me the aforementioned Barbie Country Camper. It was so groovy cool with its bright orange and yellow vinyl siding, and with the tent that popped out ... and the psychedelic flower and bird design on the side and back.
Santa also brought me a Ken doll so that Barbie and Ken could go on romantic camping trips together. They would be chaste camping trips, of course, because, at 7, I had no concept of sexual intercourse. We also all know that Barbie and Ken lack the necessary equipment. The most they could muster would be some good-night smooches before falling asleep under the stars in those orange plastic sleeping bags that came with the camper.
OK, that Monday after Christmas when I was 7 years old. See? I'm avoiding it.
I was sitting on the steps of our front porch with my mother, looking out in the gray December mist. My mother, as gently as possible, said: "Martha, there is no Santa Claus."
I know I went through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in about five minutes.
Actually, I think in some repressed way I got stuck at the anger stage. It has come out in many ways through the course of my life, including when I played with Barbie and Ken going on their camping trips. Those trips never turned out to be romantic. Instead, in the scenarios I created, Ken would get swept off in a flash flood or hauled off by bears.
As a parent, I never had to break the news about Santa to my son, who is now 12.
That's because, he never believed in Santa.
I tried. I really tried to instill the Santa belief in my son. I wanted to re-create the Santa magic that was ripped from me as a child. I started with his first Christmas, when he was nine months old and continuing through his second, third and fourth Christmases.
I tried to convince him that Santa brought him the Donald engine to add to his Thomas the Tank Engine train set, the Buzz Lightyear action figure and the Millenium Falcon Lego set. He nodded indifferently as I mentioned Santa's name and got to playing with his new toys.
He finally gave me the hard truth, and he was only 4 or 5 years old.
"I don't believe in Santa."
He said he never believed in Santa.
What?! You don't believe in Santa? You never believed? Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!
How did he figure this out in spite of my efforts to the contrary?
Actually, his declaration came as a relief. It meant I wouldn't have to gear up for the Big Santa Talk. In this one instance, I wouldn't have to break my son's heart with information about one of the many hard truths of life.
His declaration, at 4 or 5 years old, also taught me a good lesson about my son and about being a parent. He was showing me that he has a mind of his own--as all kids do. He was also showing me that he would be figuring certain things out on his own, including if and in whom he would put his faith as he moved forward in life.
A version of this column is also posted on Walnut Creek Patch.