Growing up I never believed in Santa because my mother felt it was wrong to lie to children (irony!) and while I don’t think allowing children to believe in such things necessarily amounts to lies (although, in some cases, I have seen that happen when parents push the issue too far), I also didn’t feel my childhood’s holidays were any less magical knowing that Santa was pretend. Not really knowing how to handle it, I sort of took a back seat and let my children decide for themselves. For one year my daughter decided that Santa was real, but after that she’s been adamant that he’s pretend and she’s not falling for that. This is very true of her personality – she does not tolerate silliness well, desperately needing to hear solid facts. For her Santa has been fun only so long as we are clear that he is pretend. My son, who was not born awake like his sister, does not yet understand reality from fantasy and this year, that’s creating some issues.
Many months ago, my son announced that instead of Santa, Indiana Jones would be bringing the presents this year. I jumped right on that bandwagon and stayed there even though Elliott grew bored with the idea. I really wanted Indy, dammit.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve had many conversations on the subject.
Me: Is Indiana Jones bringing us presents this year?
E: No. He’s not real.
Me: Oh, but Santa’s real?
E: Yes. Well, Indiana Jones is real, just not on this earth.
Me: And Santa is real on this earth?
Me: So you want Santa to bring you presents?
E: Yes. But he’s scary. So tell him to be very quiet and not wake me up. Or else I’ll be scared and I’ll run around and scream.
Me: OK. I promise. I’ll make Santa be quiet.
Me: Hey, Elliott, you know you don’t have to believe in Santa. You can choose to have someone less scary bring you presents, or Daddy and I can bring them all.
E: No. I want Santa to bring them. Just tell him not to wake me up.
Me: But did you know that some people believe in Santa, and some people don’t – they just like to pretend about Santa.
E: Oh. But I know he’s real. So I can’t pretend.
E: Mommy, I don’t want Santa to bring our presents. I want you and daddy to fill our stockings.
Me: Do you want to not believe in Santa?
E: No. I just don’t want him to come.
While I find these conversations amusing on many levels (especially the bit about how he knows Santa is real, leaving me to assume that everyone else is stupid for not knowing this basic truth), I also find them disturbing and somewhat confusing. He’s clearly torn between wanting to find Santa fun, and being just damn scared of the guy, and I wish I could help ease his mind somehow. I think my next step is to just tell him that Santa is definitely not real, but in all honesty, I am not sure he’ll believe me since he clearly accepts this the same way he accepts that food will end his hunger and that he sleeps with his eyes open (he doesn’t – he just has an interesting dogma). But I hope that, however this ends, it ends the anxiety in his little heart.
On a somewhat related note, I recently asked him, “Do you know what God is?” “No,” he told me in his little voice, “Can you tell me about it?”