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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

You don’t often hear that one word in combination with that one name.  But I couldn’t help but feel like I was repeating myself earlier this week when I had to have the “ZIP IT” conversation with my son in regards to his recent epiphanies about Santa.

My son loves knowledge. No matter how heartbreaking or sad or pitiful the subject might be to his personal world-views or the world in general, he absorbs it, finds it enlightening, longs to spread the word with anyone who will listen.

Most of the time, we encourage his desire to teach the world. It can’t hurt to know the facts and figures associated with the Battle of Normandy, or the back story to the Stargate TV series, or the reasons why some physics theorems will never work. But some knowledge CAN hurt. Or at least, maim a little bit.

Both Santa and sex fall into this category for me.

I was twelve when I found out about Santa. It was by accident–my father assumed I knew, and who can blame him? I was twelve–but it still dropped me off a precipice and changed forever the way I saw the world, my parents, and life in general.

I felt the same way when I found out about sex.

My son, having the voracious appetite for knowledge that he does, has suffered no such issues.

He did writhe and moan and gag and fake-vomit for several minutes when he learned about sex for the first time, but when he was done, he was cool about it all. We went on to discuss the responsibility of such information, and how it wasn’t necessarily something he needed to share with his friends or his sister in any situation unless they asked. And if his sister did ask, he should choose his words carefully and forward her to me.

Last week, I found myself saying similar words when he finally stopped using the air quotes he’s been using around Santa Claus’s name and outright announced in a room of others exactly what he knew to be true regarding this tradition.

“Hey,” I said. “Come here for a minute.”

“Huh? Why? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the room where it happened.”

“You’re not in trouble. I just want to talk to you about something.”

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “Can’t I just say I’m sorry and move on?”

(Really, he’s a very well-behaved child and doesn’t get into trouble nearly enough to warrant his fears)

He wouldn’t budge off the couch, so I sat next to him and whispered, “Remember how we talked about some information being for everyone, and some information being private, or at least only for certain situations?”

“Uh-huh,” he nodded.

“Santa is that kind of information. Everyone deserves to decide for themselves when they’re ready to know some things,” I said.

His eyes went wide with understanding and he nodded. “Like, you know,” he said. “Sex and stuff.”

“Exactly,” I said, a little sad that he’d reached this threshold, but relieved, too, that it’s apparently painless for him, in regards to both topics.

It should go without saying that I did come to accept the facts about the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say the same about Santa.

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I miss my grandparents the most during the holidays.

 

My maternal grandparents were never physically present during the holidays: they lived in England and, so far as I know, never visited over the holidays. I do remember seeing the Illuminations at least once: I was bundled up in a hat and coat, my grandpa was driving, and the lights swirled over me like a fantasy. Given that the Illuminations switch on late August or early September and run for 60 days, it’s doubtful we were there any later than early September, and it’s even more doubtful I was wearing a winter coat and hat.  But that memory is bundled up with my ideas of Christmas: to me, the lights were magic, and until I was 12 (yes, 12), Christmas was magical.

(To my siblings and parents–if you read this–I am fully aware I am probably jumbling several different visits. I don’t care. Don’t call/email/FB/text/twitter me to correct me.  Let me have this….)

 

Grandma in the 50's

My paternal grandfather died before I was born, but my paternal grandmother was a fixture at holiday dinners. Every year, she would announce that year was to be her last year on this Earth, and then, as if to make that prediction certain, she would smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes before the day was out.  I loved her, though, and as I got older, I even came to like her for reasons all my own. The last time I saw her was at the office supply store where she was doing administrative work some six months before she died. Grandma had always been petite, but somehow as I got older she got smaller, even though in truth we were the same size. She was wearing a beret-type hat she had knitted herself. She made all my mittens for me growing up. I don’t know why I didn’t keep them.

My maternal grandfather had died in between the time Grandma and I had last seen each other, and she offered her sympathies.Then she said, “I envy him. I wish I could let go. I really do.” I understood this not to be a moment of suicidal longing or depression so much as an honest admission of weariness.  She was in her seventies, not in good health, and she’d survived so many more Christmases and Thanksgivings then she’d ever expected to. She had at least two grandchildren, and I think she’d given up hoping I would gift her with another one soon (“What are you waiting for?” she asked me once. “To grow up,” I said. “You already are,” she said with a cigarette-smokers laugh. “You’re just afraid to accept it.”).

I hugged her that day, wrapping my arms around her thin body, told her that she would know when the time was right.

That following December, she died while I was in L.A. I knew before I was told. I don’t know how. I just did. I almost called my parents while I was still there, but there was no point: I wasn’t going to cut my trip short. It was Grandma’s time, and she knew that better than anyone.

I don’t remember when my Nana died. She was one of the most influential people in my life, but I cannot remember when she died. When my grandfather died, I had just come out of the shower, and I almost didn’t answer  the phone but I felt I should. I had a pink towel wrapped around my hair and my blue robe on. The sun was out.  I hung up and cried on the floor.

But my Nana–I have no clue. I remember needing to go to the ocean. We drove up to Whidbey Island the next weekend and I walked along the

 

Grandpa and Nana in the 40's

beach for a long time. I always figured she would linger with me for awhile, like other family members have. But maybe she didn’t need to stick around: she had introduced me to Agatha Christie and Barbara Vine, P.D. James and and Minette Walters. I still have all the books she bought me. My son has just started reading my worn-to-tatters Agatha Christies. Not for nothing were all the books she sent me female authors: she completely believed in my writing goals. Almost every Christmas brought a package of books along with a hand-knitted sweater. I wore the sweaters even past the point when I was well aware I looked like a dork.

I was OK with being a dork.

Today, my grandparents’ influences on me run through my blood, shape my thoughts, echo in my heart. But I still miss them. Especially today.

 

Grandpa and Nana in the 90's

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I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy until I was twelve. I swear. Sure, there were rumblings about them not being real from as early as first or second grade, but I resolutely refused to buy into the rumor. When my friends entered into blatant, bold discussions about their parents being involved in the ruse, I simply did not join in. It was obvious to me that they had their truths, and I had mine. Of course, doubt occasionally surfaced in my mind–the older we got it seemed like everyone I knew no longer believed, so maybe there was something to the gossip. But I never saw any evidence to support their claims. I probably wasn’t looking very hard, but I never saw any evidence to support my own beliefs, either. True believers don’t need evidence. They simply believe, through every corner of their being, without question.

The year I was twelve, my dad asked me if I wanted to help with the wrapping of the Santa presents. While neither he nor my mom and I had ever had a discussion about the reality of Santa, in his defense–I was twelve (almost thirteen would be closer to the mark). My sister was nine, and she was one of those kids on the other side of the fence already. So he probably figured my belief was just a facade for my little brother.

It wasn’t, and I will never forget that moment when my belief system came crumbling down upon me like the very earth itself. Dramatic, yes, but that’s how I felt. I can still see myself, standing in the living room, right before the stairs, with my dad saying those words and then flashing me a conspiratorial grin as he jogged upstairs, off to commit fraud with wrapping paper and “Love, Santa” labels.

From that day forward, I looked forward to having my own children, so that I might relive the true spirit of Christmas and Easter and losing teeth through them.

Instead, the god of Desire was up to its usual mischief, because my first child has been wisely wary of the whole Mysterious Midnight Visitors since Day One.

My son was one and a half when Santa started freaking him out. He didn’t like the idea that Santa would come down our chimney, while he was sleeping. I know; you say, “He was only 20 months. Did he really understand?” Trust me. He understood. The only way we were able to stop his rising hysterics that Christmas Eve was to promise we’d get Santa to leave the presents on the doorstep, outside, and not to come in the house. Thankfully, my son was young enough not to question exactly when we brought the presents inside the next morning, so it was a good Christmas despite his fears.

We decided it was just some free-floating anxiety, and it wouldn’t happen the next year.

We were wrong. The following Christmas Eve, when he was two and a half, we had to perform several almost-OCD-like checks on the windows, doors and fireplace grate before he went to bed–to make sure Santa wouldn’t be getting in no way, no how.

I began to wonder if he’d been murdered by red-velvet wearing burglars in a past life.

My son’s anxieties have lessened as he got older, and when he was five we were even able to “let” Santa come down the chimney. Having a little sister has definitely helped: while his serious doubt about magic and Santa’s ability to exceed the speed of light proves he doesn’t completely buy into the whole Santa deal, he definitely puts on a good front for Little Sis. I’m also convinced he’s accepted Santa’s existence, for now, because of the end result: all those pretty presents underneath the tree.

But absolute belief? Down deep life sustaining belief? Not for my boy.

Strangely, the Easter Bunny and, later, the Tooth Fairy, have not disturbed him nearly as much. While he’s not real sure what the heck a Fairy would want with a bunch of teeth, he apparently puts it down to her business, and is OK with her sneaking into his bedroom and leaving money underneath his pillow. He was, in fact, very excited for his first Tooth Fairy visit, and while he has questioned her ability to fly, as a tiny creature, with a big bag of teeth or heavy coins, nothing much has come of it. He likes money, maybe even more than gift-wrapped presents, so he’s apparently made his peace.

As for the Easter Bunny? I like to think–imagine, my husband says–that I have enjoyed at least a little of that absolute, down deep life sustaining belief in the Easter Bunny. Easter has always excited him, and we never saw any anxiety about the giant bunny hopping into our house in the middle of the night. I suppose a giant bunny sneaking into your house is more benign then an actual man–red-velvet wearing or otherwise–sneaking into your house. After all, CNN never reports about giant bunnies murdering people in their sleep.

Last year my son did spend a few hours ruminating on the Easter Bunny’s ability to hop so fast he could hide eggs all over the place in one night, and he did question the Bunny’s storage capacity for carrying all the candy needed. But these were merely theoretical musings, and we as a family came up with several creative ways this could be possible, if we did away with a few rules of physics (if we’re ruminating with my son and my husband, the rules of physics are always taken seriously, and they view my motto, “Anything is possible” as sheer heresy).

For the few weeks before Easter this year, my son has been talking about staying up late to catch the Easter Bunny, or setting a trap to catch him in the act. I laughed and played along with trap variations until Good Friday, when my curiosity got the better of me. “What,” I said, “exactly will you do with the Easter Bunny if you catch him?” “Prove he’s real,” my son said. “Or prove he’s just a man in a bunny suit.” “Why?” I asked him. “Who’s been saying he’s not real?” “Well,” my son said. “Some of my classmates don’t believe in other life forms outside of this universe.”

Not sure we’d heard him correctly, my husband and I both said, almost simultaneously, “What do other life forms have to do with the Easter Bunny?”

Then my son gave us the preview of his teenage “You are such idiots” look, opening his wide eyes even wider and sort of rolling them at us, dropping his jaw and throwing back his shoulders. “He’s a Giant Bunny,” my son said, “who lays eggs and hops around the world delivering candy. There’s no life form like that on this planet. He can’t be from Earth! He’s got to be of alien origin!”

For the first time, I have hope that little twelve year old diehard believer did live on in him, a little bit–that he didn’t get all of his dad’s black-and-white views on life. He’s thinking harder and better then I ever did, but…there’s nothing wrong with a little skepticism to balance out the dogma .

The world might be a better place, if we all thought long and hard about our own down deep life sustaining beliefs and didn’t just naively follow our convictions.

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