Friday, September 28, 2012
("Tales From the Crib" is my semi-regular Friday ritual. What's "Tales From the Crib"? For that, look here. Then look here. "Things My Two Year Old Taught Me" morphed into "Tales From the Crib" early last year in order to include more children and more ages. Considering the growth of my two bugs, I thought the change was appropriate.)
Seeing is NOT Believing.
**Spoiler Alert: in this post I discuss a few topics of sensitive nature, i.e. Santa, the Easter Bunny, Thomas and Ninjas. If you have any firm beliefs you don't wish to be shaken, I advice you to skip this post.**
I was three when I first questioned the existence of a "real" Santa. It was a tradition in my family for Santa to visit every Christmas Eve while we were at my grandparents house. The mystery surrounding Santa Clause was a tangible magic; the fire for which was fanned by my mother - an avid lover of all things Christmas - and of course, my older siblings - who had many years on me, and therefore more experience with such things. This coupled with the general glee of the holiday season fed my three yr old excitement. As the moment approached and we waited with bated breath for the knock we were sure would come at any second, my little heart could hardly take the anticipation. I was lost to a flurry of activity and a chorus of vociferous excitement - electricity so palpable in the air that I nearly missed his entrance. Suddenly, there he stood before me in all of the miraculous splendor of wide-eyed Christmas dreams.
Santa Claus. THE Santa Claus - not the store bought version clad in wiry wigs and stuffed with fluff. He was the real deal. Or was he?
While the others gathered around him and expressed their hopes and dreams in a gush and a rush that was a cacophony too elaborate to distinguish, I was staring at his shoes.
"His shoes?" You wonder, and rightfully so. What would a three year old find so fascinating about his shoes?
You see, I'd noticed the peculiar fact that Santa's shoes were just exactly the same as my Grandpa's. You may think I'm making this up - a three year old is generally not so observant as this - but the Christmas air I was breathing must have cleared my mind to the point that I realized in almost the same moment that my Grandpa was nowhere to be seen.
I was still processing the revelation as Santa knelt down to greet me. There was the obligatory "ho, ho, ho," which indeed SOUNDED convincing, and when he asked what it was I wanted for Christmas there was even the fabled gleam in his eye so that, for the briefest of seconds, I almost believed. When I looked closer, however, the gleam was gone, replaced with an expression much too familiar. Without answering his question, I stated "You're not Santa. You're just my grandpa." More as a matter of fact than a declaration of disappointment.
The disappointment in the room, though, was just as palpable as the excitement had been only minutes before. My older siblings, it seemed, hadn't put the connections together yet, and I surely had stomped on their magic-believing, miracle-hoping, Santa-adoring hearts.
It's not even October yet. Why am I dwelling on this sad Santa tale?
A few months ago, bug had a similar experience. Bug, as is the case for many four year old boys, has an avid love affair with Thomas the Tank Engine. I admit that I thought we might escape the toy train's clutches, and actually hoped for such a case, but alas, around three years old he became aware of the existence of a living, breathing, thinking, talking train engine and his believing heart just couldn't resist. It just so happened that Thomas the Tank Engine was making a stop near grandma and grandpa's house in Utah at the EXACT time we were visiting in May. A grand coincidence, if I do say so myself.
We didn't tell Ezra ahead of time who we were going to see. Although I had never latched onto Thomas with a hard and fast love as he had, I was still eagerly awaiting the reaction I was sure to witness upon arriving at the station. So we kept it a secret, telling him only that we had a surprise for him. When we got out of the van and began walking toward the festivities, Ezra noticed Thomas signs advertising the event. As we approached the entrance, before we could even see the train, he stopped and stared at a sign. "It's Thomas isn't it?? Thomas is my surprise!"
The atmosphere on the event grounds can be likened to that Christmas at my grandparents' house so long ago. Children waiting in line for Sir Toppemhat could hardly control their antsy feet. Despite the chill rains and the winds that whipped around the tents, kids pulled their parents' hands and ran from booth to booth. It was an almost feverish frenzy of balloon animals and temporary tattoos, lines and photos and games and people, people, people. But of course, the highlight was riding Thomas. Or so I thought.
Once safely ensconced within one of Thomas' train cars, we settled enough to talk about the once in a lifetime opportunity of riding in THE Thomas the train.
With a lurch and a tug, the train steamed into life - just as in the cartoon - and bug's face lit up when he heard Thomas' voice welcome us aboard.
We listened for a while as Thomas talked and when the music began I noticed bug looking a little peculiar.
"Aren't you excited to be riding on Thomas, Ezra?" I asked him, leaning across the seat.
"That isn't Thomas talking." He said resolutely with a shake of his head, "When we were standing by Thomas before, his mouth wasn't moving. That can't be him. I think it's just a recording on speakers."
I couldn't respond. To say I was astonished would be an understatement. Bug is bright, sure, but I didn't expect a conversation like this quite so early on.
He shrugged and continued matter-of-factly, "I don't think Thomas is actually real, anyway. He's just a cartoon on TV."
In that moment, I believe I finally understood the still and hushed room in my grandparents' home as I boldly, unapologetically and not at all sadly, stated, "You're just my grandpa."
With bug's proclamation of (entirely true and valid) disbelief, I felt myself awash with sadness - more disappointed than I ever would have guessed I would be that he wasn't feeling the wonder and MIRACLE of what we were experiencing. I WANTED him to be excited. I WANTED him to feel the electricity of a dream come true. I WANTED him to believe.
What can I say? I'm a girl who still believes in fairy tales. Not necessarily damsels in distress and princes saving the day (my favorite Disney "Princess" was always Mulan) but at least the happily ever after.
My Santa story does have a happy ending. I don't clearly understand why, perhaps it was the feeling in that room after my uttered disbelief, but for years I pretended to believe in Santa. I wrote him letters, I sat on his lap, I set out cookies and milk. I was excited to search through my stocking on Christmas morning and the threatened "Santa is making his list!" still had some kind of affect on me. My parents, I think, always knew I was only pretending, because I never had the sit down discussion. You know, the BIG one. The one EVERY PARENT DREADS. The "I was talking to some friends at school today and... they said Santa wasn't real" talk. It never happened for me. One day, and I don't even remember how old I was when this happened, but it was close to Christmas, my mom came into my room. "Kimberly," she started, and she looked so grave I got a little nervous, "You know already that Santa Claus isn't really a person, don't you?" I forgot the years-long facade and nodded my head. "Because I want you to know that even though Santa isn't a person, he's still real."
And then I was confused. Santa not a person, yet real nonetheless? It sounded like mumbo jumbo to me - something parents said when they didn't want to have a heavy talk. But I listened anyway. And I'm glad I did.
"Santa is real because his spirit is real. What makes Santa so special?" She asked me. And after thinking for a minute I came up with something to the affect of him giving presents to every single person in the world on ONE night. He's magic, of course. And this is what I will eventually tell my children, that on one cold winter night my mom told me:
"What makes Santa special is that he GIVES. He gives of himself for no other reason than because he wants to make people happy. Santa is a feeling. And as long as we continue to spread that feeling, as long as we believe in that feeling, Santa will be real."
Sometimes, we believe in things we can't see. Sometimes we grasp tightly to things that can't be touched. Or heard. And sometimes others don't believe with us. They are not disappointed, or saddened, rather simply matter-of-fact. But the true magic is that we continue to believe. Some things are more important than our senses, more important than listening to other people around us. Some things just are.
Tonight my son surprised me by finding an ingenious hiding spot right in front of my nose. I couldn't find him until he popped out at me. "That was amazing!" I laughed as I complimented his sneakiness.
"I know! I was like the Easter Bunny. Or Santa. Or..." he dropped his voice conspiratorially, "a NINJA."
Yep. Just like that.
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