Friday, November 7, 2008

Not giving up on Santa

Alex took today off to stay home with SB because I was at a conference. Later, as we debriefed about each other's day while shopping for a gift for yet another kid's birthday party, Alex mentioned that SB told him she didn't believe in Santa Claus.

"What?" I said, shocked. "She's only four." Somehow, I thought this day would come much later, maybe when she was in grade school (a.k.a. that place where all childhood fancies die).

She'd told Alex that because she couldn't see Santa, he didn't exist. Although I admired her reasoning skills, this really bugged me. I mean, I'm agnostic and a firm believer in science and provable things, but I'm also a grown up; I lost my ability to believe in things I couldn't see slowly and unwillingly.

I was nine years old when I last "tested" the theory of God by praying for a bag full of money. I went to sleep feeling more optimistic than skeptical, half planning on how to spend my cash at the county fair later that week. I woke up and searched my room, wondering where God would put a bag of cash, and only then did disappointment set in. I've never been able to fully shake this feeling of sadness, this sense that life is maybe just what you see in front of you, but part of being a grown up is learning to live with the limitations of reality.

Later, when we were having dinner at our fave conveyor-belt sushi place, I nonchalantly brought up the Santa thing with SB: "So, what did you tell Dada about Santa today?"

"Well," she began, speaking fairly clearly, considering she had a mouthful of inari, "I never see him except on movies and stuff, so I don't think he's real."

"But there are lots of things we can't see that are still real." I hemmed and hawed for a moment, trying to think of a good example, then I blurted out, "Like Saturn. We can't see it, but it's real."

"Yeah," she said, "we can't see it because it's really, really, really, really far away. And because it's dark. It's in the Earth, right?"

Okay. Bad example. I thought of the look on her face when I'd tried to explain the line in the Flaming Lips song, "Do you realize that we're floating in space?" She can't yet handle the idea of space, but really, neither can I.

"Well, I think it's good to believe in things you can't see." I retreated to the admittedly weak parental strategy of issuing an edict: "I say it is so, so it is."

"You mean like the Easter bunny?" she said. I suspected she was testing me because last Easter, she asked why the Easter bunny had hidden the eggs we'd colored the night before rather than his/her own eggs, and, in desperation, I'd made up some complicated story about how the Easter bunny brought candy and asked us to hide the eggs because he had lots of houses to visit.

I decided my only move was to stick to that original story: "Remember, the Easter bunny brings candy."

"But I saw the candy we had and it was the same as the Easter bunny brought," she said, looking me straight in the eye. I flinched. My kid, the investigative reporter.

Instead of helping me, Alex smirked and ate another piece of sushi, then looked expectantly at me.

"Okay," I began, flailing but refusing to give in. "But remember how at Halloween, we went trick or treating and some people gave you Snickers bars but we already had Snickers bars at home? Well, the Easter bunny just happened to have the same candy that we had."

That ended the conversation, but only because we'd digressed from Christmas to Easter to Halloween, and couldn't remember what we were originally discussing.

Maybe I'm being a hypocrite, but I really want my kid to believe in magical things, like the unconditional love of a bearded man in a red suit or a large bunny carrying baskets of candy, for a little while longer. Part of this urge, I'm sure, is about suspending time, of keeping her wide-eyed and open-hearted for as long as possible. But really, some part of me is desperate to again feel--if only through my child--that suspension of disbelief, that light and fleeting feeling that anything, anything, is possible.