Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Belief In More Than Santa

We were on our way to church when Parker asked us (and the entire van) if Santa was real.
I may be alone on this, but on the day he was born, I voiced this as one of the moments I was dreading most. I am still recovering from when I was nine and cornered my mom demanding the truth. She thought she would deliver the bundle package and include the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy in the discussion for good measure. My world changed. Being the youngest, I felt like a fool and that I had been lied to by everyone who I cared most about.
I didn't want Parker to feel this way and he was becoming more and more articulate in his accusations. Later that night, Don and I agreed it was time we told him the truth. I did online research. I came across a cute letter that a mom had written to her daughter which explained that Santa is real, but only in spirit and that parents help him spread his cheer by delivering his gifts. In the end it congratulated the girl for being part of a special club to extend Christmas cheer.
It seemed perfect, so I copied it and added a few threats to make it applicable to our family. Bold type which said, "You must never tell your brothers this secret or the Christmas spirit will be lost."
That might have been a bit much.
The opportune moment presented itself as two of his younger brothers were upstairs playing and the other was downstairs.
I told him I needed to see him in our bedroom to put the acid on his foot. He has a persistent wart he has eagerly declared war on. Don followed with the letter. As I put the medicine on his heel, Don started reading. I couldn't look at Parker. Once I did glance up, I saw confusion on his face. I instantly regretted opening this topic.
Finally when he did speak, he was argumentative. Years and years of convincing had apparently been successful and he was not only defending his Santa, he was angry that we would slander his name. He hopped around on one foot and told us we were wrong and that he had proof, reciting all the evidence (we had left) that he had accumulated to defend his argument. In the past few years, we have gone a bit over the top in an exaggerated attempt to keep their belief in Santa alive. I'm sure inflicting physical pain along with his emotional pain wasn't my best choice. And I'm also now wondering why we worked so hard to protect him from the truth.
I was sliding down a slippery slope and the next thing out of his mouth was, "Whoever wrote this letter sucks!" I told him I did, and he just stared at me. I got his drift.
Don took this opportunity to leave. Once the door was shut Parker crumpled into a ball and sobbed. I now know more then ever that he is truly my son. I felt his pain. He is our oldest and takes his role seriously, he feels that he needs to be strong and never cries, but right now, you wouldn't know it because he was crying so loudly.
I felt a bit of his innocence drift away. This is on the heels of one of our nations worst shootings. I have been an emotional wreck. The magnitude of what has happened and the reality of it has rocked the foundation of our nation and certainly my faith in humanity.
Between sobs, Parker asked me if God was real. I said yes, but I'm reluctant to say, with a little hesitation. He asked if Jesus was real. I said yes.

"But you just told me Santa wasn't real and I can't see him. I can't see Jesus or God, so they must not be real either."
I explained that in this case, just because you can't see something doesn't mean you stop believing in it. When you stop believing, you begin to lose faith -- and sometimes faith is all we have.
This conversation had gone much deeper than I was expecting. After a brief pause he asked if what happened to the kids in Connecticut was because they stopped believing.
There it was.
This wasn't just about learning the truth about Santa, it was learning the unspeakable truth about the harshness of life, something I couldn't protect him from. He had learned about the shootings when he came downstairs late Friday night and witnessed his parents crying while watching the evening news.
We were honest, but vague and it seemed that he handled the news well. A few days had gone by and it occurred to him that one of his younger brothers is the same age as the kids that were killed. In his young impressionable mind, he worried that if he stopped believing, it could happen to us.
At this point, I started to cry, too. For a few minutes we just laid there. I remembered how only nine years ago in this very same bed I would lie next to him and stare at his little face for hours and pinch myself that I was so blessed to have him in my life. And after the events on Friday to still have him in my life.
I told him that God was too good. He believes in us even when we fail to believe in him. I told him he was safe, in an effort to believe it myself.
He cuddled up next to me and asked if he could still believe in Santa. Whether or not he does, it is a metaphor for believing in goodness he can't see and an attempt to remain innocent in a world that right now feels anything but. I squeezed him a little tighter.
When I was nine, I had felt my reality changed, but as I look at Parker at the same age, a haunting reality exists which includes innocent lives being taken. He is empathetic to his colleagues of his generation. Our world has changed. When I questioned humanity, I didn't realize that I was jeopardizing my own faith. The answer was looking at me with watery eyes. I have infinite belief in my son and the goodness in children who will have grown tired of violence and who will move toward peace as the only option to restore faith in our world. How can I question humanity when we look into the eyes of our kids.
Just like Parker, I will choose to still believe.