Let me start by saying that Lola, my nine-year-old, has a heart of gold. A heart the size of Texas that is solid gold. She is very emotionally sensitive and idealistic and sometimes this means her heart gets broken. It's hard to watch. It is even harder to watch when I know it's my fault (or Bubba's - in this case, it was Bubba's fault).
Lola has always believed in Santa Claus. Even after discovering that her older cousins and her older sister thought it was all a hoax, Lola maintained that they were crazy. From time to time she would come to me and ask how to counter their arguments (or taunting), and I could see that she so desperately wanted to believe in Santa that I would help her out. And maybe I was setting her up. But there is something magical about the notion that there exists someone out there in the world who loves you just because you are a kid. Someone that doesn't have to love you (they aren't your family, after all), but who, once a year, acknowledges the mystery and wonder that is you and surprises you with some of your heart's desires. Just because. And when you put it in that context, who wouldn't want to believe in that?
Bubba and I played our part - wrapping gifts from Santa in special wrapping paper that didn't match our family gifts and using our left hands to write out the names in case the kids scrutinized the handwriting. We even colluded with our extended family to share wrapping paper and buy the same kinds of treats for the stockings when we were planning on sharing Christmas morning with them. I will admit that we indulged a bit in the coercion of "Santa is watching" for the last few weeks before the holidays, but it was mostly joking. Or so I thought. But it's tricky to know how kids interpret things unless they talk about it. Or write to Santa.
Lola's letter to St. Nick last year went something like this:
I do not think I deserve any presents this year. I've tried to be nice this year. But I
can't do it. But if you think I deserve it, I want a Zune.
P.S. Never quit your job."
I started out chuckling when I read this letter, but quickly got a lump in my throat. Poor dear. Bubba was also charmed by the note and decided that we ought to keep this letter indefinitely. Even if we never showed it to her, it was a priceless keepsake. So it remained tucked in his desk, safely inside the envelope addressed by Lola herself, until Lola discovered it this July.
I never would have imagined how betrayed she would feel. She was mortified, both because she felt duped by her own parents (and stupid in the face of her cousins' teasing the last two years), and because of the implication. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.
Bubba and I felt horrible. She cried for a long time and my only consolation was that it was the middle of summer and Santa's demise wasn't associated with Christmas.
Fast forward to December and I began wondering how she would handle the notion as the holiday approached. When I picked her up from school last Wednesday and inquired about her day, she told me her teachers had asked her to write a Christmas story to share with the younger kids in class. (Lola attends a mixed-age Montessori school and her classroom has kids in grades 1-4. She is the oldest.)
"So I wrote this story about this kid who asked for a toy boat and a scooter from Santa Claus and, since her parents didn't believe in Santa, they bought the things for her. But when Christmas morning came, the little girl got two boats and two scooters. The parents got into a fight later because they each accused the other one of buying the gifts but it turns out Santa did it. They still didn't believe it, but their daughter decided to give one boat and one scooter to the homeless shelter and she felt great. The next year, the same thing happened and the girl got two of what she asked for and gave half away. The next year, the parents both stayed up to spy on each other and catch the other one in the act, but they caught Santa instead. They were surprised and talked about not getting the little girl something from then on, but finally decided she had so much fun giving away half of her presents that they would just keep doing it. And Santa was happy, too."
Huh. I think she's recovered the spirit of the holiday. Something tells me she'll be just fine. Santa lives on in Lola's spirit, believe it or not.