On the first day of Christmas, I'm thinking of how my eleven-year-old daughter, Opal tells me she learned Santa wasn't real five years ago when she saw something in my Amazon purchase history that we told her was from St. Nick.
On the second day of Christmas, I'm thinking about all the crappy depictions of Santa in Ruth's favorite holiday movies: the fisticuffs Gimballs Santa that smells like beef and cheese in Elf. The sadist, shiny-faced Santa (and all his evil crony elves) that sends all the kids away screaming in Christmas Story.
On the third day of Christmas, I'm thinking of how a friend mentions a gorgeous photo that was posted on Instagram, of Opal and her Grammy gazing through a Hanukkah menorah. I tell the friend, no, that was last year. We have not been in the same house as Grammy since September.
On the fourth day of Christmas, I'm thinking about how awkward it is to tow-the-line between straight-up honesty with Ruth about Santa while also subscribing to the magic of cultural beliefs. She is steeping in a stew of Santa—decorations, song-lyrics, cartoons, movies—and so denying his existence would be futile, even if that was my approach. I tell her Santa is not a real guy who will break into our home on Christmas Eve (though she seems to care less about that than Opal did), that he is a character to help remind us of the enchantment of this time of year. Like a Disney Princess.
To which she replies, "But you said we could meet the REAL PRINCESSES in Disneyland!"
On the fifth day of Christmas, I take FIVE DEEP BREATHS.
Then I go back and re-read an article I wrote (with the help of many more qualified experts) for Mindful.org a few years back about this very thing, regarding the Santa-lies with Opal. For guidance.
Quote: Psychotherapist, Joe Soma, says holiday stories only seem like lies when we, the teller, are out of touch with the deeper meaning, in this case the magic of stories.
On the sixth day of Christmas, I move on from the Santa-issue and think of how we've always donated toys at Christmas in some capacity. I've always had the kids pick out a thing or two for Toys-4-Tots or Salvation Army. But, because there has never really been a personal connection, the gesture has always felt a little hollow.
Growing up, my dad was part of a men's club that took care of dozens of families in Columbus, Ohio, each Christmas. As the holidays approached, I recall helping my mom shop for countless kids, followed by a raucous wrapping-event that took place in a Ford dealership. They even had a guy dress up as Santa and deliver the gifts and food and money to each family from the wide mouth of a dirty van. As kids, we got to join him for the ride some times. That vision was worth a thousand teachings in gratitude. I want that feeling for my kids.This year—in spite of other obvious setbacks— I feel more of a personal connection when giving back to my community than ever before. A small group of locals have created a powerhouse of a Facebook group that supports local foster youth who have recently graduated out of care. This group—backed by local social workers—is curated for the needs of each youth/young adult. And because of that, it feels so personal.
I will never again be able to listen to that song without an onslaught of grief.
We live to hear the slak-jawed gasping
We live under a halo of held breath
And when the children raise up a giant shield
Of laughter, it's like they're fending off death
I wonder—would we have enjoyed this nearly as much last year?
On the eleventh day of Christmas, I think of the one example of a chaotic, congested event we will miss: The Nutcracker. Grammy has bought us tickets since Opal was younger than four-year-old Ruth, and last year was the first time (we felt) Ruth was big enough to come. She was dressed to the nines (SO much taffeta to shove down into the seat!) and our friends were there with us, along with Grammy. I could see pride flash over Ruth's face as she seemed to understand the significance of being Big-Enough to be with us at this grand cultural event. (And the big sisters took on new roles of shepherding the littles through their jolly paces.)
Ruth did get antsy—of course, she was three—and so I bribed her for the second half with a comically large pinwheel lollipop from the gift shop. She wound up biting her tongue and we spent the better part of the Land of Sweets in the bathroom nursing her wound, missing Mother Ginger, the moment she'd been waiting for.
This year, we'll watch it on the TV screen which will hardly be the same. But at least we can pause Mother Ginger if we need to.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ruth is wearing her Clara dress and we have The Nutcracker piping in through the speakers. She and I act out all the major scenes, and she pours herself into character. I notice how she refuses to take my direction with most things in life, but when I tell her, "I'm the mouse king! Throw an invisible shoe at my head!" she obliges post-haste.
Then, we free dance to the 'Sugar Plum Fairy' and I think of my grandmother and her dear love for this song. And the sun filters in through the front window onto the rug and our moving legs and it is not the sun so much as her warm presence. I am transported like a whirling dervish—the marrow of this present moment feels something akin to hope, to love, to meaning.
(And then Ruth, like a brick to the mirrored surface of my inner-stillness, says, "Hey mom, remember the funny JibJab video where they do the Nutcracker in FARTS and call it the BUTTCRACKER??!!" And then she falls to the floor in a mound of taffeta and giggles.)