The other night, as I peeled the potatoes I was planning to mash to my usual perfection to serve with the Zinfandel-Braised Beef Short Ribs stewing in the oven, Jack came into the kitchen, a somber cloud hanging over his head.
Jack: Can I help you peel potatoes?
I handed him the peeler and he went to work. After about two potatoes, he stopped.
Jack: Mom, we need to talk.
After the initial elation that my child was about to have a grown up conversation with me subsided, panic quickly set in. What could possible be wrong that Jack would take such a serious tone?
Jack: I want you to tell me the truth, Mommy. I just need to know. (Pause.) Is Santa Claus real?
While I assumed this day would come (I don’t remember having this conversation with my mom, but I do recall noticing that Santa had the same handwriting as she did) I wasn’t expecting it to come so close to Christmas. I figured Jack wanted to believe and thus would continue to do so, not only for his own sake, but for Colin’s. So, the short of the story is, I didn’t really have a good answer prepared. I bought myself some time though by asking him what he believes. Then I pulled an answer out of thin air, but in retrospect, it wasn’t what I wish I had said.
I turned it into a discussion of faith. I told Jack that whether it’s God, Santa or climate change, there will always be people who try to shake your faith in what you believe. And in those times, you have to dig deep and figure out your own beliefs. Then stand by them. Kind of hokey, I know, but he accepted it.
Jack: Oh I’m so relieved! Mostly I wanted to make sure that when I am a dad, I don’t have to do all the work on Christmas Eve! Thank you, Mommy.
Upon greater reflection, here is what I wish I had said. Santa Claus as a living and breathing person who lives in the North Pole making presents all year round, Santa Claus as a man on a sleigh who delivers toys to privileged Christian children the world over does not exist. But what is real is the spirit of Christmas that Santa represents, a spirit of giving to others and creating joy. You can believe in Santa by creating and perpetuating the spirit of Christmas. Even on your Grinchy days.
The next time I have to have this conversation, hopefully it will be spring, well after the tree is down, needles are swept up, and stockings are put away. Regardless of when it comes, I will be better prepared.
Or maybe I will fall back on the age-old cop-out: go ask your dad.