My daughter just turned 10. And though we already told her before about the “reality” of Santa, we did leave some windows of doubt somewhat open. Perhaps we should have been more forthcoming, but Rick & I just weren’t ready to fully bring her into the real world. She’s just a sweet, innocent child and always has faith in miracles, and the possibility of quashing any of her beautiful dreams just seemed too much to bear.
Tonight she was sitting at my desk writing a story of her own creation in a notebook, when she suddenly looked up at me and said, “Mom, you never really did tell me if Santa was real or not. Is he?” Um, it’s late May. This was NOT a question I expected at this time of year. So I responded with my standard wave-off reply: “Well, what do you think?” I’ve always figured she’d let me know if she was REALLY read to know the truth. And yet this time, when she said with bravado,”YES! I think he’s real,” I realized that it was time for me to fess up. The vision of her facing ridicule at school and hearing her say, “but my Mom SAYS he’s real,” was enough to push me through the moment I dreaded.
I started gently, and a few sentences into our talk I said that in fact, her father and I were Santa. She accused me of being a liar all of these many years – saying that both Rick and I were basically co-conspirators trying to mislead her thus far in her life. Her eyes welled up and she told me she was very sad about hearing this.
And then I started talking about miracles. I told her that the “real” Santa – St. Nick – gave money to the poor and was known for leaving coins in the shoes of people in need. I explained that young children weren’t capable of fully understanding what it meant to help people and to give of themselves. So we instead taught children early on how fun it was to receive … how thrilling it was to find something that they’ve wanted, under a tree. And the fact was, young children couldn’t understand that the real miracle of Christmas wasn’t in the getting, but in the giving. And so we had to wait until they were older, when we could invite them to be a part of the REAL Christmas – the part where we make a difference to someone else’s life.
About two years ago, our church coordinated a massive effort to throw support to a local impoverished school’s basketball team. This team was made up of eight girls – most of whom had known nothing but losses all year and who played in front of empty risers each week, as their parents either were out of the picture, or working the night shift, or at home taking care of younger children. Some of these young women were parents themselves. Yet they pushed themselves each week to get to practice, to work hard, and to give their all to each game.
The night they played their final game, they were greeted by something quite different than what they were accustomed to. Instead of facing an empty gymnasium, they were overwhelmed by more than 1,000 fans, all wearing black t-shirts that said “Roosevelt High School.” Between the church and an article in the Oregonian, they suddenly had more support than they’d ever known in their lives. And when the game ended, we all were exhausted from screaming in support – not only because of the energy and heart that we shared in this experience, but also because they were so energized by the crowd that they delivered a dead heat game that came down literally to the last shot in the last second. The other team prevailed on the scoreboard, but those young ladies came away with an experience they will never forget. And one, I hope, that made them realize that someone out there (or perhaps Someone out there) loved them.
After the game, our family (including my parents and my brother and his wife) had equipped our kids with ten teddy bears, plus some bags of treats, which they presented to the girls on the basketball squad. I have some wonderful pictures of the girls all sitting and listening to their coach, while embracing their new teddy bears.
When this happened, Alexis was eight years old. So today I brought that up and asked if she remembered it. She did, very clearly. And I asked her how she felt when she saw how happy those girls were. She lit up with the memory and said she felt wonderful, and was so glad to be a part of their joy.
I explained to her that now she knows the truth about Santa, she has a big responsibility. Because now, she IS Santa. And the best part about being Santa is that we don’t have to wait until Christmas to make miracles for other people. We can be Santa any time, to anyone, for any reason.
For the next 20 minutes, she sat on my desk facing me and rattled off idea after idea after idea about how she could be Santa for the kids at Roosevelt High, or for her friends, for her cousins, for the homeless. She was energized as could be. And I explained to her that now she fully understands why we played the role that we did all these years; there’s nothing in the world more exciting than being the miracle.
I don’t often think I did something right as a parent. But tonight … tonight was a good night.