Santa had been the topic of much conversation in our house for the past week leading up to the big visit. I had thought several times over the last few years about whether Eli and I would perpetuate the Santa myth with Eliot. I was leaning towards not, because frankly, the idea of lying to my kid just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But earlier this month, something changed my mind.
On the occasion of the first snow of the season, the little man was captivated by the gently blowing flakes. He asked me, as we drove through the snow on the way to daycare that day, "Momma, where does snow come from?" And, in keeping with my policy of honesty and high regard for science and academic inquiry, I began explaining about precipitation and freezing points...and the long-winded answer I gave him wasn't satisfying to either of us. He nodded his head, and said, "Oh. I see." But in the car by myself on the way home, gazing into the snow as it danced in the air and melted against my windshield, I keenly felt that something was missing. I wished I had told him I didn't really know where snow comes from. That it's just magic.
After this day, however, I still hadn't fully decided on the answer to the Santa conundrum. For some reason, I didn't really think it would come up (dumb, right?!). As you can probably imagine, my observant, bright little boy had not watched a smattering of Christmas special cartoons and read book after book featuring the jolly old St. Nick, only NOT to have questions about Santa Claus. One night, as I was rocking him before bedtime, he cautiously inquired, "Momma, can we talk about Santa?"
I laughed and said, "Sure. We can talk about Santa."
And I listened to myself begin telling him about an old man with a twinkle in his eye and a stomach that shakes like a bowl full of jelly. I told him about the filling of stockings and reindeer that fly. I asked him what he thought he would like Santa to bring to our house, and without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "A tractor! And a combine, and corn, and beans!" And when Eliot laid down in his new big boy bed to sleep that night, he was smiling. As I pulled the covers up to his chin and shut out his light, I was smiling too.
So on Saturday, we headed to the little community center where Santa was perported to be making an appearance, and Eliot was all psyched to ask him for a tractor, a combine, and corn and beans. Z had defiantly declared that she was NOT sitting on Santa's lap--she would stand next to him, if she MUST, but that was as much as she was willing to concede. M rode along with no sense of anticipation, just smiling and sticking out her tongue as she is wont to do.
When we arrived, Eliot's former confidence flagged. He announced a last-minute change in plans, as he declared he was going to ask Santa for a Barbie, rather than the farming implements on which he'd been so lately ruminating. When his turn came, Eliot let himself be lifted onto this bearded stranger's lap, but sat there silently wringing his hands. Santa asked him if he had been a good boy this year. No reply. He asked if Eliot was ready for Christmas. No reply. More hand wringing. Santa asked if Eliot had thought about what he wanted for Christmas. I squatted down next to my son expectantly, but there was no reply. I prodded him, "Eliot? Can you tell Santa what you'd like him to bring?" He nodded his head and the smallest whisper escaped his lips. "A tractor."
After a few more quick pleasantries from Santa, I lifted Eliot off his lap and we retired to the side of the room to receive our treat bag and watch Z and M take their turns.
Not about to be outdone by a 2-year-old, Z marched up to Santa Claus and sat right on his lap. Uncle G placed M on Santa's right knee, and both girls grinned as I moved in to photograph them.
M was a bit perplexed about the whole situation, but seemed to conclude that if Eliot and Z were enjoying themselves, then it must be okay, so she grinned and stuck her tongue out like mad.
After all, there were cameras there to be charmed. ;)
So all in all, the visit was a success and all three kiddos were incredibly brave. I don't believe we have any photos of my sisters or I sitting on Santa's lap when we were young, and for good reason. He's a stranger. A fat stranger in a beard. Creepy, people. Creepy. When I was that age, I would not have unwound myself from my mother's purse strap long enough to give Santa Claus a passing glance. And even though I don't exactly want to encourage the kids to be okay with climbing up onto the laps of creepy strangers and accepting candy from them, really, I was proud of their bravery.
In these days leading up to Christmas, in anticipation of waking up that morning with Mog and watching his eyes light up as he explores what treasures await in his stocking, I am glad we talked about Santa. I am glad I didn't tell him that flying reindeer are wishful thinking or that Fisher-Price, not elves, manufacture toys. I am glad I didn't tell him that Santa is really just a metaphor for the holiday spirit of giving and of love. I'm glad I didn't tell him that. Instead, I told him the truth: Santa is magic.