Non-fiction in Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review – Winter 2014, Vol. 8, Issue 4
This is the story of how I ruined Christmas.
My thirteen-year-old daughter Beth is smart as whip, but socially? Let’s just say she’s a little quirky. At thirteen, she says she still believes in Santa Claus. Or, she did until the day I said, “You know that there is no Santa Claus, right?”
She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “What!?” The pompom on the tip of the red and white Santa hat she wore throughout the month of December shook violently.
We were in the car, driving to her church youth group meeting. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.
Why is it that when you know something isn’t going right, your brain kicks in to make it even worse? I mean, you know the conversation is going downhill but you say something that turns a snowball into an avalanche.
“You know that Santa doesn’t exist, right?” I pushed the snowball right over the cliff.
Tears under her thick glasses made her beautiful dark eyes frighteningly large and menacing. “You have ruined Christmas forever!” She started to hyperventilate.
“Are you kidding me?” I yelled back at her. “You’re almost fourteen years old! You can’t tell me that you really still believe in Santa Claus!”
“Awwwwwww!” She was wailing, tears streaming down her face. “You have lied to me my whole life!”
I pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned in my seat to look at her head on. “Beth. You know there is no Santa Claus.”
“You … gasp … have taken … gasp … away my … gasp … childhood!” She was choking on her sobs.
“Honey….” I decided to take a softer tack. I took my hand off the steering wheel and reached for her hand.
She shoved my hand away. “No! I won’t listen to you!”
My thoughts were reeling. I wondered as I often did how I had become so inept at parenting. I simply did not understand.
“Santa lives in our hearts.” The sanguine tone of my voice even made me want to throw up.
“Ahhhhhhhh! I don’t want you to talk!”
We sat in the car, listening to the other cars whiz by us. I was certain that those cars were driven by good mothers, happy mothers, mothers who bought Christmas gifts in August and had everything all neatly wrapped by Halloween. Mothers who had not stabbed the Christmas spirit clear through the heart with the simple phrase, “You know Santa doesn’t exist, right?” Right.
Beth’s breathing began to even out.
“Beth,” I started once again.
“No!” she said. “Stop.”
I kept quiet. I waited. It started to rain and the automatic windshield wipers pushed the rain to the side in a hypnotic rhythm that suddenly sounded like the back beat to Jingle Bells.
Her voice was quiet. “What about NORAD?”
NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command. This is a major military operation, a seven-day-a-week program that warns of any “atmospheric threat,” like missiles, asteroids, and Santa’s sleigh. For the month of December, NORAD maintains a website that does a countdown to Christmas, and for twenty-four hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they track Santa’s travels. For years, Beth has followed Santa around the globe.
“NORAD,” I said. “Well….”
“It’s fake,” said Beth. “It’s a lie.”
“No, Honey. It’s not a lie,” I lied.
“Stop it.” Beth’s huge eyes had become narrow slits. “Stop talking. Stop telling me lies. Take me to church.”
I put the car in gear and we drove in silence the five minutes to church. Beth got out and slammed the car door shut. She pulled the Santa hat off her head and stuffed it in her pocket in disgust. I watched as she then marched down the cobbled sidewalk and through the big oak doors of the sanctuary.
“Jesus Christ.” I banged my head on my hands resting on the steering wheel. Thank God I hadn´t yet burst her bubble about Him.
“I have ruined Christmas forever.”
You see, it all started just before Thanksgiving with a classic child-of-divorce maneuver. One day Beth says to me, “You know, since you and Daddy divorced…”
Here it was. I could tell I was about to take a guilt trip.
“…I’ve been feeling kind of lonely.”
My ticket was being punched.
“I think if I had a puppy, a Dachshund puppy, I’d feel better.”
I was on the express train to Guilt City.
It didn’t matter that we already have a dog, a neurotic dog that pees on your foot when you walk in the door.
“We already have a dog,” I said to her.
“But Stella,” the dog, “is your dog. She loves you.” Beth fluttered the lashes on her big brown eyes, eyes made wider behind the magnified lenses of her thick glasses. “She’s not mine,” she implored.
What I should have said was ‘There’s no way we are getting another blankety-blank dog!’ Instead I said, “We’ll see.”
If you are a parent, you know that “we’ll see” is the first step to a done deal.
For the next few weeks Beth created slide show presentations of why a Dachshund is the perfect dog. I like big dogs so she was trying to sell me on this. She also made a handbook of training methods she was going to use. This included commands for the dog to burrow into gopher holes to rid our acre of gophers. It didn’t matter that we don’t have an obvious gopher problem. She was going to train the Dachshund to go after gophers.
I had to find her a Dachshund.
I don’t “buy” dogs. I rescue dogs. I went online to the various rescue organizations and the closest thing to a Dachshund I could find was a Chiweenie. This rat-like cross between a Chihuahua and a Dachshund is small and ugly. And expensive. The last time I rescued a dog the cost was fifty bucks. Now a rescue is over two hundred. I was not going to spend two hundred dollars on an ugly little dog that was no bigger than a hamster. I asked her; she said no to a hamster.
I decided that I had to prepare Beth for the possibility that there would be no Dachshund for Christmas. I decided that the best thing to do was to just come right out and tell her. No Dachshund. To do this, however, I needed to start slowly, hint at the whole Santa Claus-doesn’t-exist thing.
Now, I truly believed that at the age of almost fourteen that her belief in Santa was really a show, a way to keep the gifts coming. I know I did that when I was a kid. I was the youngest; I had been certain that if I admitted that Santa Claus didn’t exist, Christmas would be over. So I was pretty sure that this is what Beth was doing.
Sometimes I’m just clueless.
“So, Beth,” I started with just a hint of feigned nonchalance in my voice, trying to keep my eyes on the road. “You know there’s no Santa, right?”
By the look on her face you would’ve thought I killed a Dachshund right in front of her with my two bare hands.
I really had ruined Christmas forever.
After youth group that night, Beth came home and managed to say not one word to me. She avoided me, and I avoided her. I thought avoidance was probably what was called for at this point. She gave me a hug before she went to bed, but no ‘Good night, Mom.’ Just a hug. I told her I loved her; she smiled and went to her room.
“I’ve taken away her childhood.” Her words rang in my head.
The next morning Beth was still not talking to me. She got ready for school. I left for work. We both were miserable.
I spent my day telling anyone who would listen how horrible I was. I hoped that public humiliation might save me. But no one took me seriously. “You told your daughter there isn’t a Santa Claus? She’s thirteen! Shoulda’ happened ten years ago!” They didn’t understand that I broke my daughter’s heart and I had no idea how I was going to put it back together.
But that evening at dinner, Beth began to talk.
“So, Mom, about this Santa thing,” she started.
“Unh uh,” I said. “No way. I’m not talking about that again.”
“No, Mom. Really. I want to know something.”
I reached across the table and tapped her hand with my finger.
“Okay. What do you want to know?”
“What about NORAD?”
Oh, how was I going to do this?
“Yes. Is it all just a lie?”
My heart was breaking. I was destroying everything she lived for; everything she believed in.
“Oh, Beth. It’s so hard to explain this. But I’ll try.”
Her eyes bore into mine.
“You know what NORAD is, right?”
She nodded that she did.
“Okay. So, here you have this huge government organization. Lots of people working round the clock to keep the country safe. And yet, in December, they have a whole department dedicated to tracking Santa. Why do you think they do that?”
“They’re trying to find Santa?”
I wanted to cry.
“No, sweetie. But, why else do you think they might do that?”
After a long pause, she said “They think believing in Santa is important?”
“Yes,” I said. “They want to help create the magic.”
“Magic.” I took a deep breath. “Beth, hasn’t Christmas always been magical for you?”
“Yes. I love Christmas.”
“Okay. Who do you think makes it magical?”
She looked at me for a moment and then said, “You?”
“Yes. Me. And every other parent in the world.”
“But what about the toys?” She was talking through her heartbreak. “You know, those toys that are in my stocking every year? The toys that no one else has, that none of my friends have ever seen before?”
Every year I search for special small toys to give Beth for Christmas. These toys are usually little wind-up Santas or snowmen, magical in their uniqueness.
I smiled at her. “It’s part of the magic.”
“You see, Beth,” I went on, “when you’re young, everything at Christmas is magical. There is nothing more wonderful than believing in the magic of Christmas.”
“But, Beth,” I said. “It gets even better when you’re an adult.”
“It does?” She was skeptical.
“One of the joys of being a parent is making the magic for your children.”
Her eyes began to soften.
“When you’re an adult, Beth, you get to be the Magic Maker.”
Her smile was breathtaking.
She got up from the table and pulled the Santa hat out of her coat pocket where she had stuffed it the evening before. She walked over to me and put it on my head.
“No, Beth.” I took the hat off my head. “It’s official,” I said, placing the Santa hat on her head. “You are now a Magic Maker.”