Parenting is an amazing assignment. Our aspirations are lined up to create a perfect world for the perfect beings that have been miraculously placed in our charge. Our intentions are to be wise and good and strong for them in ways we might have never been for ourselves. But, in our everyday reality, we aren’t always secure about that wise, good, and strong stuff. If we are going to do anything other than follow old patterns, it seems we have no choice but to forge ahead into new situations and new demands, making it up as we go along.
I marvel at the brilliance of the experience. It’s improvisation at its best! I have found that even when I think I have a plan, the moment can never be exactly what I anticipated, and I often flounder. And there’s nothing wrong in that. Often there is inspiration and, dare I say, even genius in the floundering. Looking back, I am glad to say that I have become a person who is more often comfortable in her floundering. While the situation might appear frighteningly raw, I frequently discover my wisest response by allowing loving intention and ignorance to be fully present at the same time.
When the day arrived that my three-year-old daughter Janine asked me to tell her about Santa, I felt myself begin to flounder, without a plan. I found myself listening to the response that spontaneously came out of my lips. It was amazingly simple: “Well, honey, Santa is a story—a really good story that everyone likes to tell. And more than that—Santa is a game that almost everyone likes to play. And it’s all about giving gifts!”
There it was—a simple answer that I liked. The more the idea rolled around in my head, the more I could appreciate how gracefully encompassing it was. The concept of Santa had always seemed enormous. Now it seemed manageable and completely safe, too. It was as innocent as a game. Each person within it is free to play Santa however they were already playing, without judgment and without alteration. And others were free to join the game in their own way without complication or compromise. Inside this overarching concept there was room for every type of playing—without risk of undoing someone else’s fun, and without the need to conform to another’s beliefs.
Santa, whose whole story revolves around finding out what people want and then sneaking into their lives to surprise them with it, stepped forth simply as the hero who heralds the idea of giving anonymously. And Santa is so ho-ho-ho happy in his giving, that he never asks or expects anything in return. What a guy! And it’s a game for children and grownups too. Visiting Santa and writing to Santa and talking about Santa are all a part of the game.
The next time a grown-up asked my little girl what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas, Janine looked over at me with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. She leaned close to his ear and brightly whispered her answer with a great deal of drama, boldly demonstrating to me her remarkable ability to play this Santa game very well.
Her grasp of the game became apparent in other ways too. Much to my surprise, I soon began to find oddly wrapped packages around the house. On the first of these occasions I remember musing aloud, “What’s this?” Janine giggled and whispered, “It’s from Santa!” As I opened the gift and said, “Who could possibly love me so much to surprise me with a present like that?” she pressed her little hands to her heart. Janine then slipped her arms quietly around my neck, her lips held tightly together, and her Santa secret safe.
In those moments, my daughter revealed another aspect of the Santa game that I hadn’t considered. Since she often played the grownup with her dolls and stuffed animals, and enjoyed make-believe with a multitude of roles to play, she apparently saw no reason that anyone couldn’t play Santa—as Santa. And so she did. My little child-Santa grew my heart that day and continues to do so every day that I recall her anonymous giving. Is there any better moment for a parent than to introduce a simple idea to her child and then be taught its fuller wisdom by that very child? Perhaps we can continue to benefit from the translations of our stories in the play of our children.
In our home, anonymous giving became synonymous with Santa on that day when this new construct of Santa revealed itself to my family. My daughter’s new Santa story became my own new Santa story. By playing Santa with my children, instead of just for them, my children learned early to enjoy the giving as much as the getting.
This is excerpted from the book, The Santa Story Revisited: How to Give Your Children a Santa They Will Never Outgrow, by Arita Trahan (with Norma Eckroate).