I told y’all about the day when my nephew broke the sad news to my son. You know, about when baby Jesus kills Santa Claus?
I sat and thought about what I was going to say to Zach when he asked. I didn’t feel betrayed when I busted my parents in the Santa myth. I remember feeling smug about my spying skills. But I’ve not ever outright lied to him, either.
I remembered his awe of Santa the year he was 2. After the disappointing reality of a new baby brother, meeting Santa was the starter version of meeting a rock-n-roll superstar… Like when Joel met Slash from Guns-n-Roses in the airport, though hopefully Santa was sober.
I thought about how he only asked for one thing the year he turned 3– a Bull and Bruno Geotrax train. Me, being the parenting/train novice I was, waiting until the second week of December to start looking– which was when I learned that team had been retired and had morphed from toy to collector’s item. To the tune of $100 bucks instead of $24.99. Score me, I found it on ebay. Boo it broke a few months later. But that first response on his face? Priceless.
I considered how anxious he was just this past year, worrying about Santa judging his normal 4 year old behavior. I think he agonized so much about being “good enough” that he made himself depressed. Then when Santa’s present arrived– a remote control monster truck– the joy he felt in his heart. Until it also broke. Stupid plastic Made In China toys. Have you tried explaining the difference between cheaply made versus expensively priced? To a 4 year old? Yeah, I have.
Now–all of these things flashed through my head at about 4.6 seconds. Because that’s how my brain rolls– speedy Gonzalez, that’s me. But I also had to admit that Zach’s brain is more detail-driven than my own. Which he gets from his data warehousing father. Will I ever remember that he got the orange and black matchbox car for his second birthday, while the yellow and black car was a potty reward? Um. No flipping way. My brain? Less steel trap, more steel sieve. Which means we (me) were on the verge of getting busted anyway.
I’m all for childhood traditions, magic and fables, but I couldn’t–wouldn’t— point blank lie to him about Santa’s existence. Especially not when I’ve been repeatedly assuring him that there isn’t a magic, white-robed man in a mythical gold-lined street place, rewarding humans for good decisions or, conversely, punishing us for bad ones. Despite having specifically not linked Santa’s visit to good behavior, the message in “you better not shout, you better not cry” is pretty clear to the 4 year old data brain.
I told him the truth. And he was sad. Then I reminded him about how we could still BE Santa-esque to other kids that don’t have enough, whose parents don’t have the means to purchase presents. That for those children the myth of Santa was really, really important, because it gave them hope. I told him that he was now responsible for helping me keep the magic alive for Elliot next year, because now Zach got to share in a grown up secret. I also stressed how important it was to me that he not ruin the secret for his friends. I told him that this was something everyone should figure out for themselves, when they are ready.
Then I might have started playing up the possibility of aliens from Outer Space as a means of giving him something magical to think about. Because, dammit, he’s a kid and there needs to be something fantastical in his life.
After he went to bed, I cried and raged. In some ways, I took it harder than he did. I wasn’t ready for the world to be so real for him yet. As it stands, he’s pretty obsessed about being strong enough to fight off the bad guys– though why he’s decided it’s his job to rid the world of injustice, I have no idea. (This is tongue in cheek, from the woman who once [still] fantasized about taking down all of Monsanto, Erin Brockovich-style.)
I wanted him to maintain his dream of the magical. More importantly, I wanted him to blame Santa when the damn toys break– not us. Oh Santa, I’ll miss your scapegoat. It’s only come up a few times, and I’ve worked hard to force us both to focus on the positives. Rather than saying the meanie, reactionary things about the 8 year old– because I’m supposed to be a grown up and stuff. Though mostly it’s because now I am completely certain that he’s going to ruin it for at least one person– his brother– if not one, or seven, of his friends.
And don’t y’all doubt it– this will be the shiny example anytime I need to pull out the “I always tell you the truth when you ask the right question” card. I’ve already used it for the “words hurt more than punches” lesson.
Look at me learning that the milestones just get harder and harder, the older they get.