Monday, December 20, 2010

Circle Slash Santa Claus

"There's a precise moment when we reject contradiction. This moment of choice is the lie we will live by. What is dearest to us is often dearer to us than the truth."

--Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

I have a confession to make: I hate Santa Claus.

Not the man himself, but the subterfuge, deception and confusion that go along with the myth.

This is the year that my kids have finally realized that there is no Santa Claus. And I am kind of relieved. I never wanted to do Santa in the first place.

From the time my older son was a toddler and first starting to hear about Santa Claus I told my husband that I didn't want to do the whole "Santa thing" because I didn't want to have to tell lies to my child.

I know this is going to push buttons for some people, calling  the perpetuation of the Santa myth "telling lies." I want you to know that I do not judge anyone for doing this, I just didn't want to do it myself.

For one thing, I am a terrible liar. I have about a million "tells." I pause, I look away, I punctuate my speech with "uhs" and "ums." I am sure my face lights up with a big neon sign that says, "LIAR!" I am just not good at telling untruths.

And I have made a right mess of this Santa business.

The first few years I did okay. A big Teddy Bear around year two was well-loved. The Polar Express train set in year four was a big hit. Then things kind of hit the skids.

Three years ago the boys wanted a Wii.

This was 2008. We were living on half of our previous income. We didn't know if my husband was going to have a job come the new year. Business had ground to a halt much earlier than usual and predictions for 2009 were grim.  We just could not afford to buy a Wii.

So I got online and found what I thought was the next best thing: Swing Zone Sports. It had the same games as the Wii (albeit with inferior graphics) and was on sale for $25.

I was so excited. The kids were going to get what they wanted and we didn't have to go into debt to pay for it.

The excitement lasted one day.

The kids were happy when they opened it and played it all day long. It was fun. It worked like the Wii. It was a win-win!

The next day my older son came to me with a confused look on his face, "Mommy, why didn't Santa bring us a real Wii?"


My heart sank as I scrambled to come up with a plausible story. "Uh, well, um, huh? I guess-s-s....Santa must have run out. Lots of kids wanted a Wii this year and he must have just not had enough so he brought the next best thing. Swing Zone is fun isn't it?"

"Yes, but....I really wanted a Wii."

Double shit.

I apologized and said something about Santa doing the best he could and we moved on.

The next year things were a bit better for us financially, but we still needed to be careful around the holidays and we had started to fight the video game fight in a big, bad way.

Besides a Wii, of course, both boys really wanted a Nintendo DS. We gave each of them a bad habit challenge: if they broke their bad habit, they got a DS. Our older son met his challenge in 4 weeks, so we had to pony up and we became a DS household.

After about two weeks I was ready to throw that thing in the garbage.

Although it belonged to our older son, both boys got to play it and there were rules about how much time they had and who got to go first and when it could be played, etc. All of which caused more fighting and anger in our household than we had seen in a very long time.

So when Christmas rolled around again, I was not inclined to add another video game system to the mix.

As "luck" would have it, someone had given us an Xbox earlier that year that we had yet to be able to use (it had come with the wrong cables) so we decided that for Christmas this year we would get the Xbox working and get the kids a whole bunch of new games.

It went down pretty much the same way as it had the previous year. The Xbox was really cool for a few days and then the question came, "Mommy, why didn't Santa get us a Wii? I hate Santa. He never gets us what we want."

Triple shit!

I thought about it for a moment and then I decided I had to take one for the team and let Santa off the hook, so I said, "Honey, it's not Santa's fault. I told him not to bring a Wii this year because we already had an Xbox."

The look on his face was priceless. It is the exact look a child gets when told that their parent has gone behind their back to kill their dream. My son ran out of the room, crying and screaming, slammed his bedroom door and threw himself down on this bed to weep.

It cut me to the quick, but there was no backing out now. I had to stick to my story or kill Santa forever.

So I wiped his tears and soothed his hurt and apologized profusely for interfering in his relationship with Santa and we moved on.

Which is why it came as something of a relief when this year, a few weeks before Christmas he came to me and said, "Mom, does Santa really exist?"

I looked at him and I realized that I just did not have one more believable lie in me and I asked him, "Do you really want to know the truth?" And he said, "Yes." So I gave it to him straight.

He said, "I thought so, because we never got what we wanted. And anyway, last year I got out of bed and saw you and dad putting the presents under the tree so you didn't fool me."

This is the story he is telling anyone who will listen, and his younger brother has adopted it as well, since once the news was out there was no stopping it from spreading.

(I did ask them not to ruin it for kids they know who still believe, but I have the feeling that sometimes they just can't help themselves from spreading the word since in elementary school knowledge = power.)

I feel a little bit sad about the end of Santa at our house, although I am not quite sure what I am sad about. Am I sad that they no longer believe? Am I sad because I totally botched it? Or am I sad because I spread the untruth in the first place, against my gut feeling that it was not a good idea?

I am not against magic and wonder. I want my kids to have that and to have it in spades, but I am just not sure the whole Santa myth is the best way to give that to our children. The whole thing seems set up to wound and disappoint.

Most kids are never going to get everything they want so there is disappointment built-in. On top of that we tie the disappointment to their behavior - Santa would have brought you everything you wanted IF YOU WERE GOOD. Even though this is completely irrelevant in most cases. (I don't know of any parents who give presents based on behavior.)

Why not just tell the story of Saint Nicholas and his good deeds, or the birth of Christ and his life of service, and share the spirit of giving with our children in a way that does not commercialize or stigmatize or disappoint?

I am not sure what I am going to do this year. 

Part of me is tempted to hide all of their gifts, pretend not to get them any and then have Santa come through in the clutch with a bevy of gifts. 

Another part of me is tempted to throw in the towel on the whole Santa thing (no Santa photos, no Santa talk, no Santa books) and try and create our own version of Christmas that includes lots of love and a little bit of magic, but no untruths.

In any case, this year the kids are finally getting a Wii. I hope that feels at least a little bit magical (until the fighting starts).

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