I gotta admit, folks, I’m a little choked up. And in truth, I’m not sure at all just what I am here to say, but I’m hoping that whatever it is will find it’s way to you as I make the effort. So here goes… You ‘member I mentioned in my last post that we’d “had the talk” with Echo about Santa. Or as Natalie put it in her post on the subject:
Yesterday on our way back from the dentist Echo said: “Mom, I think Santa doesn’t visit some houses. I think the parents put gifts under the tree and say they are from Santa. They lie to their kids… I don’t like that. I don’t like it that there is lying in this world.”
I skirted things — things like: We are those very same parents! — by offering her empathy. Later, when she was involved in a game I surreptitiously spoke to Nathan about it. But like all kids across the globe, our girl has super human hearing when the parents start talking in low conspiratorial voices, and she joined the conversation to say: “Yes. And I want to know if you guys do that as well.”
I paraphrased her question a thousand times and said I’d answer it after I grabbed the mail.
STALLING! RUNNING FOR MY LIFE!
But she followed me. In tears. Wanting an answer and feeling seriously spooked by my delay tactics. When we got back inside Nathan scooped her up and asked her what her beliefs are. She said she believes Santa is half spirit and half human, and that his spirit can live in other things as well, in other humans, and in special objects like the ornaments we use on our tree year after year. Nathan said that’s what we believe too, and that we are filled with that Santa spirit…
when WE put the gifts under the tree.
The silence was long. The longest silence ever. My heart was pounding.
Echo said: “And when you fill the stockings as well?”
“Yes. When we fill the stockings too.”
Then she crumpled into his chest for a good long time. She was happy we were honest with her. Happy we weren’t the kind of parents who lie to their kids. And also sad that an actual man in a red suit didn’t actually enter our house. I was sad too. Nathan explained that we the parents, do actually believe in Santa. We put the gifts out but we don’t put the magic and sparkle and special feeling that happens. We feel that too and we don’t make it up.
Just reading over that again, I am almost overwhelmed with love for my girls and for the tenderness of negotiating the distance between what they believe and what they see — and for all of us negotiating that same distance.
I certainly mean no offense to my dear mother, who is a saint, but in all honesty, I don’t often pull a leaf from her parenting book (simply because I have so many of my own ideas and intuitions about raising my kids) — but in this case, I want to give her full credit. It is one of my clearest childhood memories. I was about Echo’s current age, sitting on my mom’s lap at my grandparents house on Christmas morning and looking up into her soft, glowing face, and I asked her point-blank, “Do you think there’s really a Santa?”. And she rubbed my back and smiled at me — that full, compassionate smile that only mothers’ faces can make — and she said, bravely, “Well, what do you think?”. And I looked down at my hands and then out the window into my grandparents precisely manicured courtyard, and I said, “I think he lives in our hearts, if we believe.”. And she hugged me close and said in a tearful, near-whisper, “That’s what I believe, too, honey.”. And we sat there without saying anything else about it for a long time before getting up and having another round of banana bread… and cranberry bread.
For me, sitting there with Echo was like the answer to a lifelong riddle. I don’t pretend to know exactly how to articulate that answer, but I feel it’s veracity, nonetheless. I was, however, still surprised when Echo announced the next morning that she was crafting a letter to Santa that very day — in fact, that very moment. I won’t lie — a little part of me was thinking something to the effect of, “Really? But you just lost that ‘innocence’ didn’t you?” But she got out the paper and set to work, asking us how to spell things as she went along — “Dear Santa, Thanks for bringing toys to children…”. I melted under the weight of that answered riddle once again.
And I thought that was it. She put the letter in the mailbox, I made a mental note to get it back out later, or to ask Natalie what she thought we should do, and then promptly forgot about it completely. I remembered the next day when Natalie brought in the mail, but didn’t ask her about it. Part of me simply assumed that, of course, she’d grabbed it and maybe put it in Echo’s “baby book”. The other part of me wondered what the post office does with the thousands of letters they must receive every year addressed to the North Pole. Then I forgot about it again.
On movie night, Xi and Echo were seated on the couch beginning that evening’s cinematic experience. Dinner was ready, and Natalie and I were sitting down with the girls to watch and eat together. Natalie decided at the last moment to run out and get the mail. When she returned, clumping quickly through the front door, she almost shouted, “Pause the movie! Pause the movie!”.
We all looked up, mouths full, gawking. Natalie repeated herself with even greater earnestness, “Pause the movie!”. So we hurriedly fumbled through that operation and tuned into what Natalie was bringing in with her. I was thinking — well, really, I was thinking, “Money!” it being “that time of year” — but more generally, “Some great news we’ve been waiting for!”.
Natalie held up this envelope, which contained this letter:
It has a real postage stamp on it. It has anecdotes about what is going on at the North Pole — apparently the “reindeer are so excited” they are slightly “annoying the elves”. And it has real references to what Echo wrote in her letter — “I think it would be especially great to get a big stuffed giraffe…”.
When Natalie began reading it aloud to us, I simply couldn’t believe it. When it was finished, and we started the movie back up, I had to excuse myself, and I went upstairs and just cried and cried and cried for a few long minutes. I couldn’t stop. As I stood there in the dark and looked out the window on our little home-farm covered in snow and bathed in yellow streetlight glow, holiday lights twinkling on the neighbors’ houses, I just couldn’t hold back the immensity of the feelings welling up inside of me. I checked in every manner that I was able to right then to see — was I sad, like really really sad, deep down, and this was just an excuse to let it all out; or was I grieving some unknown loss; or was I simply, truly, this moved by wonder and appreciation and magic? And the more I looked, the more I was sure that I was outrageously happy and grateful and relieved. The tears kept streaming passed my widening grin. It was like I was being reminded — it’s ok to believe. Not just in Santa or kindness or the spirit of the season — but in anything, in magic and love and hope for humanity; it’s o k. That belief is safe (even) here.
And maybe that’s really all I came to tell you. I am so glad, you all. So filled with gratitude. So moved by this. Thank you, World. You are many things, and much of it wild and unwieldy; and many times before I’ve asked you to be something different for my children and for their generation. But there is still room in you yet, sweet, kind World, for this. There is still a place for my bright-and-tender-hearted magic-minded children to believe what they want to believe and to see life the way they want to see it. And for this — and if only for this — I (still/again/anew) have faith in you.
Thanks again, World. And thank you, Santa, whereverywhere you are!
Be well. And merry.