Recently my friend Gretchen wrote about the apprehension she experiences when she thinks about having the “there is no Santa” conversation with her young son when the time comes.
She’s completely justified in this.
I originally posted the following in August 2008, and it is extremely fitting for this time of year. It basically recounts what is probably my biggest parenting fail (although I’m sure if you asked any of the kids, they could reel off an entire list of them). But even if it wasn’t the worst, it’s one of those memories every parent has that makes them cringe whenever they think about it.
So, just do yourself a favor and think about how you’re going to tell your kids there is no Santa…or take the easy way out and never tell them at all.
(For the record, the child in question has turned out to be a reasonably well-adjusted human being. Although he will NOT hesitate to tease me mercilessly about this.)
(Oh, and I’ve adjusted their ages for the purposes of keeping this current.)
Beloved and I have 5 kids between the two of us – their ages are 28, 25, 23, 20 and 17; the oldest and youngest are boys and the middle three are girls. We’ve been through this, and while I can’t vouch for Beloved, the most traumatic of the “There is no Santa Claus” conversations for me have been the first and last…probably because they were the first and the last.
When Oldest Son was about 8 years old – maybe as young as seven – his father and I told him the truth about Santa Claus. I don’t really remember why; perhaps he’d heard something from the kids at school, or maybe we’d just decided he was old enough to know the truth. Telling Oldest Son anything has always produced one of two reactions – grave contemplation, characterized by a slight frown and furrowing of his brow, or complete skepticism, denoted by the downturn of one corner of his mouth and the raising of the opposite eyebrow. (As a teenager he expanded on that repertoire with a completely blank stare that was surprising in its eloquence: “Yeah, Mom – just keep yelling at me…it’s all going in one ear and right back out the other…”) The Santa Claus Revelation produced the Grave Contemplation response, whereupon he immediately retreated to his video games to mull it all over.
Maybe two or three hours passed when he approached his father, and with a completely hopeless and dejected countenance, said, “Dad…the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too?” We felt absolutely awful until we found out that he turned right around and – you guessed it – spilled the beans to his 4-year-old sister.
It wasn’t anything, though, compared to that same discussion with his little brother. Fast forward 12 or so years, and The Young One and I are in my car, driving from Euless, a suburb of Ft. Worth, to downtown Dallas to pick up Oldest Son and bring him back to our place for a couple of days (probably so he could do his laundry). If I remember correctly, it was early October and the initial “Holiday Season” onslaught of toy commercials was just beginning. The Young One was 9 years old, and happily chattering away, something he does exceedingly well to this day (both the “happy” and the “chattering”). Before I knew it, the subject of what he wanted for Christmas came up and somewhere in there the words “I hope Santa Claus brings me” were uttered.
I was a little taken aback – somewhere, somehow, my middle-aged and over-tired brain dredged up an obviously false memory of having laid this subject to rest the year before. I shot a quick glance at him as we bulleted down I-35 towards the Mix Master, and uneasily said, “Uh…dear? You know there isn’t really any Santa Claus, don’t you?”
He turned a startled and stricken face to me. “Huh? What???”
“Honey, you know Santa Claus is really Mommies and Daddies, right?”
He gave me an incredulous stare for maybe five seconds and then burst into anguished, wracking tears. I was at a complete loss – never in my wildest dreams had I thought I’d get such a reaction, no matter how wrong I was in my assumption or how disappointed he might be. It took him a couple of minutes, but he finally calmed down enough for me to say, “Honey – I’m sorry! I thought you knew! Haven’t the other kids in school been telling you there isn’t any Santa Claus?” (He was, after all, in the fourth grade.)
“Yes – but I believed YOU!” he cried, and began sobbing uncontrollably again. “I’ll NEVER be able to trust you ever AGAIN!”
I have to tell you – I’ve had people say some truly horrible and crushing things to me before (*cough*ex-husband*cough*), but nothing has ever made me feel as awful as that did. I had visions of being dragged, against my will, on Oprah and having Dr. Phil declare me the most insensitive and unfit parent in recorded history while the audience beat me with copies of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.
Fortunately, Oldest Son and Darling Daughter have a marvelous relationship with The Young One, despite their age differences, and he adores and worships them both. Once I had Oldest Son in the car, he was able to begin damage control and had The Young One calm enough for Darling Daughter (master of the “Let’s See How We Can Use This To Our Advantage” school of thought) to take over by the time we got home and really work on him (I’m sure it was she who pointed out to him that Parents are far more
easily manipulated accessible than Santa Claus could ever be).
I think he even learned to trust me again. Or at least wrangle an XBox out of me.