Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

Yes, Benjamin, There is Possibly Not a Santa Claus

The gig is up. Or could be. It’s hard to say. After dinner, Doug calls out to me from where he is putting Benjamin to bed. I trudge upstairs begrudgingly (Why can’t he put the boy to bed by himself? Doesn’t he know I’m doing the dishes/checking Facebook/playing a round of Angry Birds: Seasons?) until I see Doug’s sad little pout at the top of the stairs. “Benjamin would like to ask us a question,” he says to me, in a loud mock-conversational tone that parents use on each other when they’re trying to impart hidden information.

I enter the bedroom. Benjamin is under the covers, but rolling around. He’s not nearly sleepy.

“You’re Santa. Right?” he asks me, point-blank.

Ahh, this conversation. “Why do you say that?” I ask, in that loud mock-conversational tone parents use on their children when they’re trying to buy time.

“Because how can Santa Claus go to everyone? It doesn’t make sense. So you guys are Santa Claus, right?”

I look at Doug. It’s about time. Ten years old. About a third of the kids in his class, I figure, already know the awful truth, and most of the rest are on the verge. To be honest, I’d be happy if the gig were up; it would save a lot of time on subterfuge. I  hedge, asking him the question we’ve used several times before: “Do you really want to know?”

“Just tell me!” He’s already over the cliff, there’s no turning back.

We look at each other and then at Ben. We nod. “I knew it!” he yells triumphantly. But, almost immediately, I see a slight widening of his eyes, an inward stare as he processes his new-found knowledge. “So you guys give me the presents and stuff?”

“Yup.”

“You eat the cookie!”

I shrug and nod sadly.

Repercussions begin seeping into his brain, supplanting the thrill of discovery. “But… it can’t be true.”

“Why?” Doug asks.

“Because… you guys don’t lie to me.”

Ooooo. Ouch. I want to point out that we didn’t actually LIE, that if he read the transcripts of our conversations re: Santa he would see that we have sidestepped every direct Santa identity question with an adroitness that is positively Clinton-esque. Comebacks like, “Why do you think that?” and “How could I be Santa?” and “Is that a Pokemon under the table?” have always kept us technically lie-free, but such parsing of intent is not going to wash, here.

Doug fields the question as I die a little inside. “We don’t lie. But we play games. Parents play this game with their kids on Christmas.”

I recover. “To make it more magical, more special.”

But something has short-circuited in poor Ben’s brain. He’s sitting with Leonardo DiCaprio in “Inception” and the café is blowing up around him. And then, another dread revelation prompts him to blurt out another question: “Are you the TOOTH FAIRY?”

Oh dear. Benj has a long and intimate relationship with the Tooth Fairy. Really, she’s more alive to him that Santa. They’ve exchanged pithy correspondence (written by Doug on fancy artisan paper). He knows her name, for God’s sake: Edith. When Ben lost a canine at his grandma’s in Illinois, he prepped doll furniture for Edith so she could rest after the flight from California.

I begin to see the downside of our creative and extensive lying.

I give him a frown smile and say, “What do you think?”

But it’s too much. He’s gone too far. A panoply of iconic holiday characters fall, like dominos, in front of his eyes. And he can’t lose Edith.”No, I know you’re not Santa Claus.”

“Why?”

“Because… you’re not!  How could you get presents here when we’re in Hawaii? And… you’re not Santa. I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in Santa Claus.”

“Okay… if you want to believe in him, that’s great,” Doug says.

He’s backtracking furiously. “Yes, I believe in him because the reindeer, they’re real, Donner and Blitzen and Dasher… and his handwriting, I know your handwriting and Daddy’s and he has different handwriting.”

We’ve had our friend Sherrie wrap the presents (with different, new paper), arrange them under the tree and write the notes all these years. Damn my attention to detail.

We nod, as if he’s made a reasonable request. “Okay,” we say, and edge out the door, leaving him teetering on the brink of discovery, and maturity. He’s pulled back because, more than losing this iconic character (and said character’s gifties), I think he realizes that giving up Santa (and Edith) will bring him that much closer to growing up, a place where, at this point, he firmly does not wish to venture into. He already knows, instinctively, that entering into adult reality means losing—I don’t think he’d call in innocence— the possibilities of childhood.

Edith has saved Santa for another year. Maybe.

Ben has since dropped the subject. He talks about Santa and it’s not ironic, or sly. It’s as if we never had the conversation. He’s willing to suspend his disbelief for at least another Christmas. Which is fine with us. 

After all, he’s got about 15 teeth to go.

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December 17th, 2011 - Still Life Las Vegas

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4 responses to “Yes, Benjamin, There is Possibly Not a Santa Claus”

  1. Anonymous says:

    OMG, great blog. Quick bring him to Arthur's Christmas, it will explain everything. Wonder what he will say to his cousins. See it pays that we have not been so creative about Santa or the Tooth Fairy. Shae Shae has lost 2 teeth and have not had the Tooth Fairy visit. She wants to keep them.
    Love you.
    D

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh James – I'm laughing and crying at the same time! That moment when you see that your child is on the verge making that leap into a new level of maturity is wonderful and sort of heartbreaking. They're children for SUCH a sort time.

    Ours will be 30 next May. Of course, we've never REALLY admitted the truth about Santa Claus, which allows us to continue the traditions. Every year she comes back home on Christmas Eve and spends the night, so that we can get up together Christmas morning and opening stockings and gifts from Santa along with the other presents. Last year she brought her fiancé to join the fun.

    We'll keep the magic going with our child, even though she's an adult! 🙂
    (Alison Vesely)

  3. This is really sweet. I flat out lied to my youngest daughter last year and this year (she was six, now seven), when she asked me the same question – I think she's too young to have Santa spoiled for her. My 9 y.o., however, doesn't even question Santa's existence. As I told Doug the other day, I believe in Santa – the concept and spirit of Santa lives in every parent, and through the Santa spirit, my husband and I continue a beautiful tradition. So I really don't think it's a lie. The spirit, message, and traditions of Santa, not unlike the spirit, message, and traditions of Christianity (to those believers out there), are essentially alike. The only lie is that Santa is in a physical form. Sort of like God & Jesus. For anyone who wants to send me hate mail, I hold no opinion on the God / Son of God question (spoken like a true agnostic).

    Sweet Benjamin, when he is ready, will understand all this (or maybe, in some way, he already does).

  4. Suz says:

    Ohhhh, the sweet sweet gentle, but sad passage out of childhood…why is it so sad to us? I'm crying! I guess it's another solid knock on our consciousness that they're not young forever, and the–magic, the word you used–slips away. And it's so darned fun!

    Loretta is fully on board. She wrote a letter to Santa that she personally put in the mailbox. I wrote her back, but Santa uses legal paper; practicality is paramount with all that wrapping left to do! I was working in her classroom yesterday, and some kids at one table said to me in a tattling voice, "Loretta's Mom! They said they don't believe in Santa Claus!" Accusing glares and pointing, waiting, waiting for me to assure them that the magic is true. It's fascinating to me that they can be surrounded by unbelievers and still hang on to it all.

    Mom, lifelong elementary teacher and mother of 6, has always said that kids want to believe so badly that they just talk themselves out of not believing. Then there's often a year when they believe for OUR sakes, so as to disappoint us!

    Thanks for that. What a lovely thing for Ben to read years from now. Maybe to HIS kids when their magic has taken flight.

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