So we think this was probably the last Christmas with Santa in our household. In the weeks leading up to Christmas this year, we were trying to get a sense from Monk if he really, truly believed in Santa anymore. We would bring it up every now and then, and try to read his responses--which were often rather cryptic themselves.
About a week or so ago, we brought it up again, a little more determined to root out the truth. And the conversation was really very dear--and left me feeling very confused about how we ought to proceed as parents.
Monk admitted that most of the kids in his fourth-grade class do not believe in Santa anymore. He said that most of the kids think their parents just get up in the middle of the night and sneak the presents under the tree from Santa. "What do you think?" we asked him.
He said that he thought that would be like the parents were lying. And if they are, then it's up to them to tell the kids that that's what they're doing. In other words, he felt that it's not up to the kids to doubt their parents or accuse them of lying. But its up to the parents to come clean.
At the same time, he said, he still wants to believe. He told us that he just doesn't feel ready to give up on that amazing feeling of waking up on Christmas morning to a tree that has magically been surrounded by presents from a stranger, someone who doesn't even know Monk personally. "It just won't be the same," he said, "if the presents appear from you."
The conversation we had seemed to be on several levels at once. About Santa, yes. But also about growing up. About believing in magic and letting magic go. About being in that really precarious place, where you're on the edge of growing up, on the edge of leaving boyhood behind, but you can still choose--for only a little bit longer--not to.
I feel like I remember that moment in my own life. And it was about this time of year, although it wasn't related to Santa for me. I think it was the year I was in sixth grade. It was over winter break. And I was still playing with my dolls and Barbies. I remember being achingly aware that winter break that it was the last time I would play with my dolls. That I'd held on to them for just a little bit longer than I should have, because I could still, just barely, choose it. But my childhood was slipping, and I could feel it going. I still played with dolls with all my heart for those two weeks. But I don't think I ever did again after that. As soon as the break was over, I put them away. And that summer, at our yard sale, I sold nearly every one of them.
But in our conversation with Monk, I was also moved, and worried, about his label of "lying" about Santa. D has always told me about his parents' approach to Santa. He has always maintained that they had managed to do Santa without every lying about it to him. In a very similar way, that night, D had Monk come up and sit on the couch between us. He said to him, "You know, I know exactly who Santa is. And all you have to do is ask me, and I will tell you everything I know about Santa."
Monk kind of squirmed and laughed, sitting there between us as Doug went on: "You've never asked me directly who Santa is, so I've never told you. But I'll tell you right now if you really want to know." We paused for a while. "Do you want to know?"
Monk shook his head. "No. Not yet. Maybe in a couple years."
A couple nights later, after I'd spent the day making Christmas cookies from my grandmother's recipe box, the three of sat down and watched A Miracle on 34th Street for the first time. It couldn't have been better timed for us as a family. The complicated layers of believing, or choosing to believe, are all there. But also, a sense of mystery. It's never entirely clear what we are to believe.
I've started to wonder, in recent days, if a more developed understanding of possession could help our post-enlightenment minds grasp the concept of Santa better than "true or false" ever does. There is a sense in which I do believe in Santa because I have been Santa. The spirit of one who gives generously has been alive and well in our household for these past ten years. As Susan says in A Miracle on 34th Street: "I believe, I believe...It's silly, but I believe."