Over the last six months or so two, somewhat contrasting, scenes have been on repeat in my household.
Scene 1: Opens with some variation of the line “Momma, is Santa real?” starting at a place that’s relatively benign and when my response of “what do you think?” wore on his nerves, worked it’s way up to “Momma. For real this time. Tell me the truth. IS. SANTA. REAL?!” To which I responded “oh look, a squirrel/lego movie poster/pizza place/cloud shaped like a hammer/insert something fascinating here.”
Scene 2: Is triggered by a discovery of a lego that wasn’t supposed to go to school hidden in a backpack, vitamins tucked into the shag carpeting, or a handful of Pokemon cards showing up out of nowhere and tends to end with me saying something like “I need you to understand how important it is for us to be honest with each other.”
The lying, sneaking, and hiding occurrences were starting to get uncomfortable. I almost typed “out of control” but really… he’s six, he’s experimenting, it’s normal, he’s still bad enough at it that it’s easy to spot, and it’s no more out of control than any other part of life (which, of course, means that it’s completely out of control, but that’s not usually what people mean when they say that). The conversations always went well. Each time he seemed to be persuaded that being honest was, while sometimes difficult, ultimately less painful than the consequences of deceit. Then, because he’s six… and no matter how good our relationship is I am his primary oppressor (read: person who sets limits on the fun stuff like screen time and junk food!), something else would come up and he’d try out lying again.
I always dreamed that my parenting style would have resulted in a dreamlike relationship of mutual trust and intrinsic respect… but no matter how good (or not–because I have my own connection-breaking moments) a parent I am, it doesn’t change the fact that a whole lot of shit went wrong. It’s about as stable as it’s going to get and his life is still a mess. There are new transitions every other day and even though he’s getting used to that as a lifestyle… inconsistency (even being consistently inconsistent) doesn’t breed confidence and trust.
My whole job as a parent is about connecting and repairing when connection is lost and it was getting a little hypocritical up in here. I was firmly rooted in my chosen values when explaining the importance of honest being a two way street. I wasn’t just saying, it’s important that YOU be honest with me and I get to do whatever I want depending on the moment… yet, when the moments of truth came (pun intended) I tended to answer questions with questions and change the subject. And the lying and sneaking continued.
A few weeks ago he asked again. About Santa. And I told the truth.
Here’s what I think the truth is. Santa abso-fucking-lutely exists (I didn’t use that language). I happen to believe, similarly to what I believe about the other supposedly old, bearded, white dude who lives far north (ahem, g-o-d), that he isn’t the story that has been concocted about him… but instead is an idea or spirit.
When I was 12 and discovered the wrapping paper “Santa” had used that year under my mother’s bed I had enough information to conclude that my mom was the one putting the presents under the tree every year. I was also completely unwilling to let go of the idea of Santa Claus so I decided then that Santa just didn’t visit the homes of middle class kids like me. Santa and his magic were reserved for the people who were truly in need.
I hung onto that belief for a long time… long enough, in fact, to see it come true. A few Christmases ago when I was in need, and couldn’t provide the Christmas that my son had become accustomed to, loved ones (acting as the spirit of Santa) sent gifts to our home and filled the space under our meager tree.
So that’s the truth about Santa that my son learned. Momma is the one who puts the presents under the tree (then we had to clear up that they are purchased in advance and hidden and that he isn’t left home alone, sleeping on Christmas eve while I go shopping). Santa’s magic is there for people who really need it. I also fessed up (after multiple lines of questioning) to being the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy (which was met by a squeal of excitement and “THANK YOU FOR THE TEN DOLLARS!”)
And just like I hope he learns (eventually), the honest conversation I had been dreading turned out to be painless… it was quite lovely, actually. And since then we’ve been able to have all sorts of rich conversations about the intentions of Christmas and managing expectations and it feels damn good.
So that’s it, Santa. In the name of family values I told the truth about you. You will no longer get credit for the work I’ve been doing (5 of 6 years). Hope you’re okay with that. xo