As part of my ongoing effort to create a warm fuzz around the Christmas holiday for my little kids, we sat together on my bed last night and watched “Miracle on 34th Street” on my Mac.
I knew this was a bit risky since Sam is now eight and beginning to question the whole Santa thing, but ended up figuring Natalie Wood’s conversion might be just what it takes to put off the doubts for one more year.
I was unprepared for how vehement his questions would be, how demanding he was to know how it would all turn out long before the film was anywhere near over, but given the fact that he’s been dealing with the inconsistencies of other 8-year-olds at school for the past weeks, it makes sense the boy wants answers. I, however, am not giving any.
Although I am not unlike the mother in the movie in much of my thinking that one major function of childhood is to learn life lessons that will be useful in the decades that follow, I don’t see the belief in Santa as a dangerous delusion. Like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, the jolly fellow is a little bit of magic, and we need magic. Magic is imagination, and although kids certainly benefit from the accumulation of practical skills, without imagination they are handicapped for life.
The day comes, though, when mental conjurings of reindeer on the roof … and that bowl-full-of-jelly thing that took my mind in strange directions as a kid … give over, often in some sort of epiphany prompted by discoveries made in the back of closets. The accompanying Hm … may be followed by feelings of distrust over being mislead, but most kids are smart enough to realize that being a nasty little git about that with Mom is an even worse idea this time of the year than it had been when Santa was assumed to be the provider of loot.
It’s a sadder day for Mom, though. For us it’s one of those watershed moments when our child takes a step away from childhood that forces us to wrestle with the fact that kids grow up way too fast.
What’s important to remember is that the step away is also a step toward, and even if we’d like to keep our kids little for as long as possible, they actually want to grow up. Since that’s the natural order of things, there’s no sense in trying to stop any flooding from any watershed.
So, from one Christmas to the next, all can change, and the child whose eyes shone with the wonder of Santa’s visit begin to glow with the avarice of gifts … and with an understanding of the joy of giving.