Year without a Santa Claus…

I broke my middle son’s heart on Christmas day.

It was an accident, a rookie mistake. At 9 years old he’s a savvy fellow, using words larger than his life span should allow. At the same time his most prized gift this Christmas was a joke hand buzzer. He shouted with joy, I mean, shouted and I mean JOY when he opened it. It cost me all of $4.50.

For the last year or so he’s been pressuring me about Santa Claus. Is he real? Where does he live? How does he make the toys? Why does he see the same toys on Amazon.com? Does Santa own Amazon.com?

To each of these questions I offer distraction mixed with indirect answers and questions to his questions. It usually works but he’s been tenacious this year. He’s been steadfast in his questioning, in his…dare I say…doubt. And I thought, I really did, that he wanted to know the real truth.

Now, know this- I did not introduce,  knowingly sustain or encourage the Santa myth. Nevertheless they all picked it up. How could they help it really? Santa Claus is everywhere and he’s a lot of fun. After a few years of being bombarded by Santa my husband and I just decided that we’d play along but I told him, if any of the kids ask me outright I was going to tell them the truth, more or less.

When my daughter was around 9 or 10 she asked me outright about Santa and I put her off effectively for a length of time. Finally I asked her the final question, “Are you sure you want to know this? Do you want to really know this?” and she said, “Yes.” That is when I revealed that although Santa is “real” he did not place presents under our tree. I did that. I purchased them, I wrapped them and I put them under the tree. She took it pretty well. She’d suspected as much.

When Chet arrived at 9 or 10 he asked the same thing. The scene played out in much the same way. He was even pleased when I told him that he was now responsible for helping with the nighttime preparations and was an ally in keeping the details under wraps until his younger brothers were ready to know the inner workings of the whole thing.

This time it was Henry’s turn. Henry, the builder, the inventor, the science buff and yet, the drama kid, the “sing as loud as you can” man. When he asked me months ago I put him off, like I do. He didn’t drop it and he was convinced there was something he didn’t know. He has an instinct about these things. He badgered me and I do mean badgered, for weeks leading up to Christmas. Even on Christmas eve as he lay in bed he said things like, “I want you to tell me, I really do.”

Christmas morning he pulled me aside, “I heard something last night in the middle of the night. I heard you and dad going downstairs and then coming back up. It was just long enough to put presents under the tree, I think.” I had an out on that one. I did not get up in the middle of the night, technically. I did it before I went to bed after he had been in bed about an hour. So I said with great sincerity and real truth, “I can assure you that I did not go downstairs in the middle of the night to put presents under the tree.” He didn’t buy it.

On the way to Grandma’s house that day he pressured me, he questioned my answer. He basically said he thought I was lying about putting the presents there in the middle of the night. So I looked at him and said, “If you want to talk about this later I am glad to tell you whatever you want to know when we get home. Later.” He nodded and he smiled.

So I let it go and so did he, until we got home late that night. Then he started in again. He has a long memory for a kid. So after Miles and Chet went up to bed I sat him down in the kitchen and I asked, “what do you want to know?” He said, “Is Santa real?” and I said, “Yes, Santa is real.” He followed, “Is he really real?” to which I said, “What is it exactly that you want to know?” He responded that each time he asks about Santa all he gets are “indirect answers.” Indirect answers.  He said that. He’s right.

I asked him, “Do you really want me to answer this directly then?” and he answered that he did, in fact, want to know.

I asked, “Are you asking if Santa made, wrapped and delivered these gifts?” and he said, “Yes.” And so I answered him, “No. I did.” I continued, “Santa is real. He was a real person. His spirit is real. The idea and the mystery of Santa is real. But I bought these presents. I wrapped them. I put them under the tree.”  He nodded and I thought we were okay. I started telling him about the new responsibility of being part of the Christmas inner circle of our family and about letting Miles discover this in his own time and then I noticed him crying. Big, soft, wet, tears filled his eyes and rolled down his sweet plump cheeks. I held him on my lap and hugged him close, filled with regret. I apologized for telling.

“I thought you wanted to know” I said.

“I wish you had lied” he answered.

I looked at him and told him that I promised myself I’d never lie to my children. I told him that I felt it was important that he felt that I could tell him the truth and that he’d trust me when I tell him things. He nodded. He understood that and then he said again, “I wish you’d have made up a story” and I said, “Yeah, me too.”

I asked his forgiveness for breaking his heart which of course, he granted because he is like that, sweet and forgiving, innocent and loving.

The following morning he awoke first. He came to my room and kissed my cheek. When I opened my eyes he was smiling. “Hi.” I said, hugging him. “Hey mom?” he asked. “Hm?” I answered laying back down. He leaned to whisper in my ear. “When Miles asks about Santa, when he’s my age…make up a story, okay?” I smiled and nodded. “Yes, okay.”

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16 thoughts on “Year without a Santa Claus…

  1. outstanding

    My girls are 15, 8, and 7.

    The youngest ones are waaaaaaaaay too smart and savvy for their ages. Christmas morning my 7 yr old saw the boxes their desks came in and asked, “daddy, did you buy our desks or did Santy Claus do it?”

    WE have three rules in our house – no cheating, no lying and no running out of toilet paper. I got on one knee and said, “carly, do you really want to know?” She responded, “no, because Santy Claus always needs help. Thanks for helping him, daddy.”

    I know next year or the year after will be the loss of innocence

  2. I had to stop a number of times, blow my nose, wipe my tears. Such precious children – all four. Riley, Chet, Henry and Miles. I dearly love them.

  3. Inverted story. We have raised 7, now 12-23. Never did we affirm a real Santa. Always told the St Nicholas tradition. Always affirmed the idea of Santa as empowered by Jesus and that it was a popular myth, pretty much a good thing. But never a real magical guy. They always got it, kids pretend so well. They never had trouble extrapolating the myth. They seem to be aware there are lots of these pretend things but only one real living Jesus, though the older ones have their doubts like most of us.

    I am certain we are no better off. Like so many issues we had so much passion about when our kids were young… pacifiers, hand made baby food, low sugar, no soda, no TV (more than compensated by videos). We still do not have cable.

    But what you have in Santa now with Chet is a shared grief, a precious weight that is light enough for a small heart to carry so when the heavy stuff comes…. well everyone dies. For this same reason we have pets. They almost never live long enough and with their lives provide a stroke of grief for a child or teenager that if shared and born together can help prepare us for the big show.

    …or maybe not. Maybe grief just sucks and there’s nothing in it for us.

  4. good Lord. this is my third time reading this and I STILL can’t stop crying. as I journey into adoption, I need stories like this to help me down the road.

    God bless you, ma’am.

  5. This really made me cry. I was just remembering one of my stories like this with my youngest. He truly lives in another world. He NEVER questioned whether or not Santa was real, and he probably would still treasure this reality today (he is 22) if I had not ruined it for him. He was about 11 or 12 and we were going home late from the Cafe/Bookstore. He says in the car…..”I wonder what St. Nicholas is going to bring me this year.” I listened, but was almost sure that he did not believe in him any more…..he was too old to still believe. I made some offhand remark about you don’t still believe in him do you…….he was SHOCKED….immediately went silent and arms were folded over his chest with head bowed down. We got home and he ran inside and perched on the bottom step of the stairs. My husband came up to him…..Nick promptly said among his tears…..then WHO MADE ALL THOSE THINGS? You see, St. Nick had always brought him these incredible hand made toys, costumes and wonderful gifts…..just like what you would imagine being made at the North Pole by the elves. It took time, but we carefully explained to him about the love, time, creativity and care that had gone into each gift he had received over the years. He is 22, and we just talked about this again…..and just like your son, he wishes that I had lied. God bless you.

  6. When we were at a table at a church function, a woman at the table turned to my daughter and asked,” You don’t believe in Santa still, do you?” And my reply to her,”Not anymore!”

  7. We have 3 boys (18, 15 and 12). The oldest was very verbal at a young age and he never really believed in Santa (he still turned out ok ;-). We told him the same “there was a real Santa who gave gifts to kids”. When the second came along, we never told him anything about there being a Santa and never said “this present is from Santa”, but discovered when he was almost 4 that he believed. We think “The Santa Clause” movie was the culprit, and you know, who can blame him – watching that movie made me want to believe in Santa at times!

    For me, I was only 6 when my mom spilled the beans. She knew I would figure it out based on the present I was getting (a refurb of my bike) and since I was home sick while dad and sisters went to the big family party, she got me to help with “the inside job”, like you mentioned.

    Lots of fun memories…. Your son will be fine and his broken heart will mend!

  8. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, heart-wrenching experience. My heart aches for the day my children ask the same question. I am admire you for the way you handled it. I believe in being honest with my children, too.

  9. Ah…sigh…these moments, nobody prepares you for when you announce your first pregnancy or adoption, so excited to become a parent. We did have someone tell us to save up for orthodontia and college, but these moments, these Santa Claus moments…these are the ones that stay with us, haunting us.

  10. We told our kids that Santa was indeed real- He just needed the help of moms and dads 1 night a year because he didn’t have enough elves. Now, as they are older (25,21 & 15) we remind them that Santa Claus is a state of mind in which we give from the heart.

  11. I read the story out loud to the whole family while waiting for our little plane to take us to our vacation destination. It charmed everyone and spawned multiple personal Santa discovery stories… Delightful. It all comes back to making stories, doesn’t it.

  12. Dang, I can relate to this so much. I have had such a hard time with the whole Santa thing. We grew up with it and eventually just figured out that “Santa” was just what Mom did with the presents she didn’t want to wrap, lol. It never made me doubt my faith when I made the decision to believe in Christ as my Savior. Somewhere along the way though, I made the same decision that you did, honestly answer the questions my kids asked. However I was never prepared for the feelings *I* would have looking into my child’s innocent eyes when they asked if Santa was real, etc. Or how cruelly some people can handle a child’s innocent belief in what is not a salvation issue. We’ve never told our children that Santa is real, all the presents under our tree were credited to the thoughtful giver, but my children still chose to believe in the story. I say chose because my analytical son and I had many conversations about why people believe, re-tell or think the way they do about Santa. I’ve pretty much gathered that he believes in the history of a man who inspired the story, that people play along these days because it’s fun, etc. So when he was questioned as to whether he believed or not by a 12 yo and then this kid’s brother at our homeschool coop, he answered yes. I had to shut down the 12 yo’s response as he started into my 7 yo, his brother was kind enough to just drop the subject.

    I’m still unsettled about the issue. I just hope that my children understand why we chose to handle it the way we did, which I also intend to be honest about with them.

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