Today, Lisa Belkin was kind enough to indulge me again on her New York Times Motherlode blog. This time, I wrote an essay about Santa Claus, and about how every year a certificate comes in the mail that puts Jamie "on the top of Santa's list". I expected to receive the "Way to set your kid up for the real world!" comments; I have to say, I wasn't expecting quite so many. Read it below, and feel free to add your own two cents....
It’s Silly, but I Believe
In the first of two guest posts today from parents who want their children to believe, Rachel Aydt wonders how long the magic should continue, and whether there’s such a thing as believing too deeply.
YES, JAMIE, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS
Four years ago I stumbled into a way to have Santa Claus send my now 7-year-old son Jamie a personalized letter, hand-stamped from the North Pole. Every year it’s delivered in a parchment-colored envelope addressed to him in an ornate font, and has a vintage picture of Santa swirling about on the background as if it were magic itself. Details dropped into the letter always an added layer of mystery: Santa always seems to know whether we will be waking up on Christmas morning in Kinderhook, N.Y., Philadelphia or even Florida, certainly a more challenging spot for a reindeer and sleigh to visit than the northern East Coast. He also knows which friends, pets or cousins will be around. “Be sure to tell Max…Spunky… Davis and Isabel… that if I don’t get a chance to write to them, I’ll drop by their house as well.” The letter arrives after Thanksgiving, and around that time he perks up about me checking the mail in the lobby of our apartment building when his school bus rolls home at 3 p.m.
That first year I discovered that you could also send an official “Good List Certificate” which arrives in a separate, larger envelope. The 8 1/2 by 11 heavy stock document is pretty swank with its shiny gold and crawling holly-berry borders and Jamie’s name swirled around in calligraphy. The thing is even hand signed by “Alfonso Elfonso, Chief Elf.” Suffice it to say that four years have gone by, and Jamie has managed to remain “at the top of Santa’s List” each successive year.
I’ve tried to teach Jamie not to brag about this incredible knack he has for making it to the top of Santa’s list. Last year, my lesson didn’t take, and subsequently a teacher told him that the list goes sideways, which means many kids are on the top. He came home quite flummoxed about this clear mistake, and with some new reassurances the matter was closed.
Another year has come and gone. Last week, as he was jumping up and down for joy after checking the mail, he was climbing the four flights of stairs to our apartment when I heard him say breathlessly: “Out of six billion people on Earth, I made it to the top of the list again! Mommy, how did I do it?” After being hit with the concern that I’d taken it too far and there was no going back, I considered his question as if it were etched truth. There was the bad chemistry he had with another boy in his classroom earlier in the school year that led to some parent and teacher contact, and he worked hard to overcome his entanglements with a boy whose bravado could be attributed to coming to a new school after his own parochial school had been shut down.
“Well, you give people second chances,” I said, and explained how proud I am of how he and the boy are friendly again.
“And you work really hard on your homework even when you don’t want to.” I was on a roll.
“And I gave a poor person my allowance in Paris,” he continued.
Yes, I thought, you did drop a Euro in a hat while we were in that outdoor market. This back-and-forth commentary went on for a bit, and by the time we reached our fifth floor landing, he was well convinced that there had been no mistake; he had done it again. There were other things I didn’t think I needed to go into at the moment that for me put him at the top of the list, mainly that he’s thriving in his first year in a full-inclusion classroom setting after being in a self-contained special-ed classroom since he was 3.
Yesterday, Jamie came home from school and said, “I’m worried about my best friend [they're all his 'best friend' these days] M. because he doesn’t believe in a lot of things.”
“Really, like what?”
“He doesn’t believe in Santa.” My heart sank. This is the year, I hear, that many kids have their bubble burst.
“That’s so sad, Jamie. Maybe Santa doesn’t come to his house.” The moment that left my lips, I regretted saying it.
“But M is a good boy! What happens when Santa doesn’t come to your house?”
I thought about this again, as if it were truth etched in stone, and thought of the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter. I didn’t have an answer for him that could sound as certain as I would have liked, because he’s right, M. is an amazing child, and Santa should come to his house. So I said something along the lines of, “I think you have to believe in Santa for him to come.” Maybe we’ll take Jamie to the giant, red, quite official looking “Believe” mailbox at Macy’s, which I believe is located somewhere near the overzealous perfume sprayers. Suspicion looms now, but the spell hasn’t been broken, and I have a few tools left in the woodshed to scrap together another year or two.
“Mom, can people get on top of the good list when they’re 30? Or 35?”
“I think that might be a record, Jamie.”
“Do I have the record now?”
“Sure, why not?”