Reflections on the Month Gone By
It’s finally over – Christmas, New Year’s, celebration, stress, lights, the tree. Even those last random needles are off the floor. It’s good. I am enjoying this unusually cold January that, surprisingly, doesn’t feel desolate at all, only beautifully, delightfully, comfortably calm.
Now, this is how everything started way back, maybe even before Thanksgiving: Look at that – decorated Christmas trees – and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Isn’t that a bit too early, I thought.
Then, a few weeks later: Did you do your Christmas shopping? Do you have a tree up? Andrei, what’s Santa bringing you for Christmas? Are you being a good boy, ah?
Wow, do I really have to deal with this, I thought. All I wanted was to take things slowly. Calmly. Thoughtfully. After all, my husband and I had to figure out this Christmas thing. Neither one of us is religious so we were sure we were not going to celebrate and introduce to our son the birth of Jesus and similar material. We were clear on that. But, like in the previous years, we wanted to partake in the cultural aspects of Christmas, and we knew that even this limited introduction of Christmas to our son would most likely be greeted with a number of questions that we will have to answer. And we knew that this year the questions would be more challenging than they were last year (as posed by a four-year-old instead of a three-year-old) and that we needed to clarify our vision quickly.
Just like last year, we got a tree and decorated it. We decided we were going to buy our son a few presents and put them under the tree. We were going to enjoy an abundance of family time, everything calm, simple, stress-free…
Well, that was our vision. What we failed to take into account was the magnitude of the impact of our surroundings on our still pretty young and excitable son. Maybe I forgot how crazy people are about Christmas. That, in general, in the month of December, people can’t seem to stop thinking, planning, shopping, talking, asking questions about – Christmas. And that we simply couldn’t avoid dealing with the question of Mr. Santa.
Does Santa exist, my son asked me early on.
Some people believe he does, and some people believe he doesn’t, I said, trying to be diplomatic while introducing my son to the lack of absolutes in this world. But you can easily let him into your head and he will exist there, just like Madeline, The Cat in the Hat, and Gruffalo.
My son didn’t say anything. But, a few hours later I found out that he took my answer as a No.
Everybody believes that Santa exists, only Mommy doesn’t, he sadly said to my husband.
And a little later, Mommy, I’ll take you to the North Pole to show you Santa.
Of course, I started questioning my response to my son’s question about Mr. Santa. I definitely didn’t predict the quick and fiery development of my son’s attachment to the cute-looking guy in a red suit.
It was a few years ago that I decided I was not going to support the Santa fantasy. I was not going to impose any God-like figure on him. I was not going to train him in the art of faith. If faith and/or religion turned out to be the right thing for him, he would have no difficulty pursuing them, I thought, without any training. And I knew I was definitely not going to fill stockings with gifts to manipulate my son into believing in Santa.
So when the question came, it was natural for me to answer the way I did. I wanted to use this opportunity to teach my son about the possible route of faith, but also about the choices that we can make for ourselves. At the time when my son and I had that first conversation about Santa, he had obviously already heard quite a bit about this great guy who stops by your house to drop off toys for you. Of course, he chose to believe, and in our further conversations, I tried to soften my approach: Maybe Mommy is going to let Santa into her head and take the journey with Santa and you, OK?
My dear neighbor later suggested another approach: present Santa as a superhero (Superman, Spider-man, Batman). Although my son is at times not quite clear on where the exact line between real and imaginary is (or at least he still sometimes needs confirmation that something does NOT exist, especially the scary beings), he knows that Superman and the rest of superheroes are not real, which doesn’t prevent him from impersonating them and enjoying them.
So how did the whole Christmas/Santa thing play out for Andrei and us? Well, a lot of different emotions were certainly present. The rocky road of high expectations. Excitement. Impatience. Mood swings. A delirium of the high and the painful lowness of the low. Restless sleep or no sleep on some nights. Exhaustion afterwards. Everything I didn’t want Christmas to be.
Is it time to open the presents? Now? Now? Please? Can I?
We wanted to teach delay of gratification, but decided this was not the right time.
OK, you can open one.
Wow, great! Can I open another one? Please. Oh, it takes too long to wait! Please! I want to. I want it now!
It was becoming painful. For Andrei. And for me to watch. The presents sitting under the tree – a tempting promise. And my four-year-old son’s natural lack of skills in handling emotions in a challenging and tempting situation. The throes of the highs and lows caused by exposure to the cruel Christmas pill. Emotional mishmash. A delirium with every present he liked. And anger with every present he didn’t like.
It was early on that we had to discuss the essence of presents, when he opened his very first Christmas present, a few days before Christmas, and screamed: I don’t want a penguin, I want a car!
We talked, and talked, and talked. Why we give presents, what presents mean, and the expectations about presents that we shouldn’t have. About life in general. About people. Expectations about anything. Because pretty, sleek, smooth expectations never match the reality that’s at times beautiful, but still hairy and unwieldy and never as clear-cut and sharp as our expectations. Life 101. The Prince on the White Horse and Snow-white don’t exist.
Finally, all the presents were opened. The mess of wrapping paper left on the floor and Christmas (thankfully) on its way out. Andrei slowly got to the bliss of evenness and simple playing with whatever toys he had.
I don’t know how we are going to handle Christmas next year. I don’t have a solution, just a clutter of observations. Next year, our son will be five and a half, which might make things more or less difficult. We will see. Shifting the focus from Santa, the tree, and presents to helping people in need might be a good way to go…
Our New Year’s went much easier. On New Year’s Eve, I tried to tell Andrei that the year 2013 was ending, that we were in the midst of the last day of it, and that the following day was the first day of a new year. Andrei was quite unimpressed.
Slowly, the holiday season has slipped behind us. I am enjoying the stillness of January…The predictability of our days, the evenness of our emotions. It’s good. That’s what I wanted Christmas to be, quiet, and loving, and simple, and real, just another particle of our life, not an attempt into swallowing a fantasy, but it didn’t happen this year. Maybe next year….