Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pregnancy Week 21: What's the deal with Santa and Baby Boy Bouteneff?

Yes, it's that magical time of the year again--and I don't say that with sarcasm-infused cheese dripping from my mouth. I actually mean it. I watch Elf and Love Actually every year. I love the smell of pine needles, the glow of the Christmas tree. I am happy White Plains put up their Christmas decorations back in October, and mall renditions of old carols make me feel warm and cozy. And of course, being a Christian, this is one of the most important times of the year to me for its true meaning. I love Christmas.

But Mike and I have been talking about the whole idea of Santa and how we may or may not impart that magic on our child. We both were raised with different ideas of Santa. So here are our backgrounds--

He never remembers believing in Santa Claus. In fact, he doesn't remember giving much thought to Santa one way or another. He doesn't recall talking to other kids about Santa, and when I ask if he ever wrote a letter to The Claus, he laughs at my absurd question, "No. I gave my list to my parents." He does remember he and his parents occasionally mentioning Santa, as in, "Oh, Santa is coming!" wink wink. nod nod. But the playful winks were from all three of them--Mike was just as much in on the "joke" as they were.

He remembers the excitement of his parents wrapping his gifts in the living room, telling him, "Don't come in here!" Then on Christmas Eve, they would load up the car with all the presents and head over to his grandparents' house. They'd put the gifts under the tree and open them at the appointed time. There was no mystery about how the gifts appeared under the tree. His parents bought them, wrapped them, put them in the car, and there they were.

On Christmas morning, Mike would open his stockings (he had a few), but when I ask him if he thought the stocking, at least, was from Santa, he says, "I know the presents are from my parents. So I'm really going to believe Santa comes and fills up the stocking? Um, no."

Despite his Santaless upbringing, he loved the holiday. "What kid doesn't?" he says to me. He enjoyed getting and decorating the tree, handing out gifts, playing with his toys, getting school off, being with his family. In all that, he never felt he needed the idea of Santa to make the holiday more fun for him.

I, however, grew up believing in the white bearded man. Christmas Eve was one of the most exciting times of the year. We would go to a church service, then eat cheese, crackers and egg nog, while listening to the Nativity Story and acting out "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Christmas morning, my brothers and I would race downstairs (6:30am was the earliest we were allowed to come down), tear into our stockings and bring our parents' stockings to their bedside. We'd then pass out the gifts and wait for our parents to get up. Santa had arrived.

Of course, as any kid, I probably had my doubts, but a few incidents helped solidify my belief. I wrote a letter to Santa once, asking him all the logical questions I could conjure--how reindeer could fly, how toys could be delivered in one night, etc. And I was filled with glee when Santa (a kindly old man who lived in town) wrote back answering all my questions to my satisfaction, and in a hand-writing that was not my mother's or father's.

Another year, when I was in kindergarten, we celebrated Christmas at my grandparents' house in North Carolina. Christmas came and went and all was fine, but I had not received the Barbie Bubble Bath that I had really wanted. A few days later, my mom came to me saying there was a gift left from last night by the tree. There was a letter from Santa (again, not my parents' handwriting) explaining how he found this one particular gift left at the bottom of his bag, which was meant for me (later, I learned it was a very popular item that year and my parents had to get a "raincheck" for the item). I opened the present and saw my very own barbie bath jacuzzi set. My eyes widened with excitement. I loved that bubble bath.

I eventually learned the truth about Santa, oddly enough, on one Easter afternoon. I had been having suspicions for a while about the whole Easter Bunny/Santa Claus/Tooth Fairy deal, and my parents would answer my questions "Is Santa real?" with evasive responses, such as, "Well, what do you think?" or "He's whatever you believe him to be" etc.

But this Easter, I wanted the straight out truth. I sat on my dad's lap and posed my question. "Is the Easter Bunny real?" After one or two times of his trying to avoid a direct answer, I said, "No, Dad. I want the truth. Just, is he real or not?"

Finally, my dad, with a bit of sadness in his voice, said, "No. He's not."

"So I guess that means Santa isn't real either then?"

"No," he paused. "He's not either."

I remember feeling sad, but not surprised. I knew logically, at this point, he was not real. But I liked believing he was, and until I knew for sure he was not real, there was hope in my heart. And that hope was a lot of fun.

I nodded to my dad. I didn't have any negative feelings toward my parents for encouraging this belief in Santa and I still don't today. It was a fun ride--all of it. And one that I knew, even that Easter Sunday, I could never, in my whole life, re-create.


Now we come to our question of how to raise our own child...With the belief in the magical existence of someone who gives a great deal of excitement and imagination, but who, ultimately, is not real? Or with the knowledge of what Christmas means, who St. Nicholas was, and to get credit for the good gifts ourselves?

For a while, I thought perhaps we would go with the second option. Maybe it is not the best thing to encourage a magical falsity, or at least, not whole-heartedly. But after speaking with new parents about how they are raising their children, how they remember Santa themselves, and from my own positive experience, I am leaning more toward allowing the fantasy. The fantasy comes with some inherent risks ("You lied to me!" "What else is not real then?" "I feel stupid for believing now!"), but it also lushes out creativity and sparks wonder.

Is it Kant who says it's ok to lie, as long as the person being lied to, if in the right state of mind, would want to be lied to? (i.e. It's ok to lie to Nazis who are looking for the Jewish person you are hiding in your attic, because if the Nazis were of the right mind, they would want to be lied to, in order to save a person's life, as that is more important than telling the truth.)

There is an interesting story in This American Life where a girl's father begins leaving her little notes around the house from The Borrowers which she believes are 4-inch tall people. Daughter and father share a wonderful experience of back and forth letter-writing and he even drops little clues around the house to insinuate a Borrower has been present. This is carried on for quite some time until the truth comes out, and the girl is left with very mixed emotions. But in the end, she would never trade that experience for the truth.

So...what would little Baby Bouteneff want? He's making a lot of movements now...kick once for Santa, twice for no Santa...he just kicked 4 times in a

In any case, for one more Christmas, our immediate (out-of-womb) family is just two. Mike and me. And Santa, or no, I still love that magical feeling of Christmas. And so does Mike. I mean, if this (below) doesn't say Christmas spirit, what does?

(Regarding the pictures, I just have to point out, since I'm all into the belly: The first picture, by the tree, was taken 2 days before the second picture. But in the first, you can see a clear belly bump! The second is not as obvious. Again, I guess having a bare belly and taking pictures in the morning make it a little more difficult to see the distinction, compared to a full belly with a top on.)


Mike said...

Just day, our little son might read this post, and learn that Santa isn't real. If that happens, here's a message for him: "'s all your mom's fault." ;)

Kat said...

Wow! You are definitely looking pregnant now, Tara! That belly just keeps growing and growing, which, I guess, is a good thing because it means your baby boy is growing and getting ready to be born! As for the whole Santa thing, I cherish the memories I have of magic and knowing how hard my parents worked to make that magic for me is a special feeling. It makes me love them all the more! (but, I also know it's going to be tough to give the credit of the good gifts to an old man in a red suit) :)

Anonymous said...

I'm going to vote for Santa being real. For one, it's fun. For two, it's what most other kids believe and you know I'm all about what everyone else believes. For three, once kids find out it's not real, they don't usually mind. So long as the gifts don't stop coming, of course...

Tara M said...

Haha--yes, Bork--that would be funny once a kid realizes Santa isn't real--no more gifts for you!

Yeah--I think Kate and Bork are right. Let's let the magic happen! And if Mike tries to instill reality in them, I can just say, "Daddy is just being a Grinch." Then our kids and I will break out into song and dance, "You're a mean one...Mister Grinch..." And then Mike will be ALL about Santa! :)

I actually think you will really like playing with the kid(s) about Santa, Mike...

Tara M said...

This is an article from the Catholic Sun that my brother sent me, which I thought I'd paste here (long as it is), for anyone interested.

Q.My question isn’t very deep, but with Christmas coming I am concerned about the attitude of some friends who don’t want their children to “believe in Santa Claus.” From almost infancy, they tell their children there isn’t really a Santa and
that it was all made up to sell more things at Christmastime. I think they’re missing something, but I’m not sure how to tell them. What do you think?

A. I too think they are missing something— very big. It’s always risky to analyze fantasies, but maybe it’s worth trying for a moment. Fantasies, perhaps especially for children, are critical ways of entering a world, a real world that is closed to us in ordinary human language and happenings. They are doors to wonder and awe, a way of touching something otherwise incomprehensible. Santa Claus, I believe, is like that. No one has ever expressed this truth more movingly and accurately, in my opinion, than the great British Catholic author G.K. Chesterton in an essay years ago in the London Tablet. On Christmas morning, he remembered, his stockings were filled with things he had not worked for, or made, or even been good for. The only explanation people had was that a being called Santa Claus was somehow kindly disposed toward him. “We believed,” he wrote, that a certain benevolent person “did give us those toys for nothing. And ... I believe it still I have merely extended the idea. “Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. “Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. “Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will.” Are not parents of faith blessed, countless
times over, to have for their children (and for themselves) such a fantastic and playful bridge to infinite, unconditionally loving Goodness, the Goodness which dreamed up the Christmas event in the first place? Call Santa Claus a myth or what you will, but in his name parents, and for that matter all of us who give gifts at this special time of the year, are putting each other in deeper touch with the “peculiarly fantastic good will” who is the ultimate Source of it all. Plus, it’s fun! I hope your friends reconsider.