Wednesday, December 07, 2005

do you believe?

“Momma, Madeleine says Santa isn’t real, only St. Nicholas is.” She sounds triumphant yet strangely conciliatory, as though we are sharing a tragic secret about poor, simple Madeleine. My eyebrows rise of their own volition—conditioned over time to do so whenever my daughter speaks with that tone.

“Oh yeah?” I ask from the driver’s seat, acting much more nonchalant than I feel as I try to keep one eye on her face in the mirror and one eye on the bumper in front of me—scanning for signs of danger from either view.

Her eyes twinkle as she leans forward. “Yeah. You wanna hear the real story?”

“Sure,” I reply, throwing Pandora’s box wide open at 70 MPH on the rush-hour-riddled freeway.

Well,” she begins, her hands punctuating every point, “St. Nicholas was real and he loved Jesus and he gave presents to people who were poor and put money in their stockings. Lots and lots of years later, Santa heard of St. Nicholas, and he began giving presents, too…”

I begin shaking my head from the front seat—our eyes meet in the mirror and my daughter’s voice trails off. “What?”

“Honey, we’ve read the story of St. Nicholas every year—you know that St. Nick is real and Santa is not.” Something not unlike dread begins to form in the pit of my stomach, spreading millimeter by millimeter like Pepto-Bismol.

“What!?” She looks at me with the look that I never wanted to see—the look that was part of the reason we taught her what we did from the beginning. But it is all there in the rear view mirror—her confusion, her fear, her disappointment. She thinks she has been betrayed. Worse yet, she thinks it was by me.

“Yeah, Honey—remember?” Stupid question, as she obviously does not or we would not be having this uncomfortable conversation. “We’ve talked about this every year. St. Nicholas is real. Jesus is real. But Santa’s just a fun thing we pretend, Honey.”

The “buts” begin from the back seat—her mind trying to make sense out of what was to her, just one minute ago, complete nonsense. How did this happen? I tried so hard to avoid this crisis of belief at so early an age—and yet believe, she did. In more than I bargained for.

“I feel like you tricked me,” she accuses from the back seat, her face confirming that this is not mere manipulation. My heart sinks.

I know how she feels. I’ve felt it before when the circumstances of my life did not seem to match up with the tales of a loving, benevolent father who claimed to have plans “not to harm me, but to give me a hope and a future.” I, too, have felt tricked by my Father—convinced that he looked down upon me and chuckled that he got me again. Convinced that my belief in him was for naught. Confused and confounded over what, if anything, to believe when all was said and done.

She pouts in the back seat, and I leave her to her thoughts as I exit the freeway. We reach the intersection and I pray for wisdom and a long red light. Turning my full body to look my daughter in the eye, I tell her that which has taken me 35 years to learn. “Sweet Pea, I’m really sorry you’re upset. But you need to make a choice, Baby. You can choose to believe that Momma meant to trick you and hurt your feelings, or you can choose to believe that you can trust me and that I never meant to hurt your feelings and never tried to trick you. Only you can make that choice, Honey Bunny. You get to choose how you feel about it.”

The light turns green, and I leave her to her quiet thoughts as we wind through our neighborhood, up our driveway, and into our garage. The ignition quiets, and I turn once again toward her. “Have you decided, Sweet Pea?”

She smiles, and I am disarmed yet again by the gaping hole where her front teeth should be. She is beautiful—looking at me with the innocent trust that only a child can muster. “I believe you, Momma. I know you didn’t try to trick me.” I smile in relief, adding Pandora’s to the pile of boxes in the corner.

“I believe you.” Oh, that it had been that easy for me to say.


amy said...

That's why all parents should have degrees in counseling!

John McCollum said...

Great stuff. The Lysol worked.

BTW, I'm so thankful neither of my kids found out M believed in Santa. Neither of them have ever really believed in Santa, and Chien's just the type to disabuse kids of their naivety.

Ah, I remember first grade. I'd tell kids: "There's no such thing as Santa. It's your parents. If Santa were real, why would Shawn Mason (father was a doctor) get such great gifts when you and I get crap?"

And then they'd cry.

I think that on my blog, I'll relate THAT story and draw some ironic comparison to how I used to witness to people. Pretty much the same approach: "You don't believe in Jesus? He's God. When I die, I'm going to heaven. When you die, you're going to hell."


Or maybe I'll make the point that there are entire industries -- I'm thinking t-shirt, music and bumper sticker -- dedicated to 'witnessing' with the same level of sensitivity. And probably the same level of effectiveness.


Or maybe I'll just leave snarky comments on YOUR blog.

Julie Morrison said...

Well, I commend you for handling that so well. When I was Pre-Christian I still despised the whole Santa routine because of the inevitable fall from 'magical' to 'lie'. Because we lived out of state, I tried to convince her that Santa was more like the UPS man. He brought presents from other people to us. Now in retro-spect, I wonder what she remembers about that? She was barely three when she figured out that all the holiday mascots were fakes. ( And that tooth fairy! Where is that from!?)I had to laugh at JMC remarks! Hoo boy, I bet you were a favorite!

Sam said...

As Julie's daughter I must say I don't think I was that disapointed when I figured out that the mascots of the holidays weren't real. Hey I still got money for my teeth; what did I care? I like how she put it though; it made the transition easier.
For you I'm glad that your daughter was so willing to trust you. Ah the un jaded sweet angel are so blessed.

moshpitmarsha said...

My mom's side of the family believed in Santa. When we went over, my mom told me to play along even though my mom and dad revealed the truth at 4 or 5 that there was no Santa or Easter Bunny. My mom more or less encouraged me to keep this truth secret from my cousins who Christmas was all about Santa for Christmas was just about gifts and Santa not about the birth of Christ.

That being said my parents did take us to see Santa and that was fun especially at Santa Land at Lazarus. One time I took a big list with everything I wanted on it, since I thought it would be fun.