Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Jolly Cherub


My kids really, really want to believe in Santa.

Remember back in the spring, when M. Peevie confronted me about the whole Santa myth? She wanted it straight up, and I gave it to her. She was disappointed, but she dealt with it.

Recently her second-grade teacher asked me if she still believed in Santa. "I think so," I said. "She asked me straight up in April if Mr. Peevie and I pretended to be Santa, and I told her the truth." She asked me to ask her not to talk about it in front of the other kids, since many of them still pinned their Christmas hopes on the jolly cherub.

As it turns out, Mrs. MiPi needn't have worried. Apparently children have a belief mechanism that is able to withstand a full frontal rational assault; and in fact, their belief can be restored once lost, with sufficient peer pressure.

One day A. Peevie and M. Peevie were talking about Santa, and MP (age eight) had told AP (age 11) that she did not believe in Santa. "Why would M. Peevie say that, Mommy?" A. Peevie said with wonder and not a little derision in his voice. "Why would she say that Santa's not real?"

"I don't know, A.," I said. "Maybe that's what she believes."

"Do you believe in Santa?" he asked me. Here we go, I thought.

"What do you think, A?" I evaded. "Do you believe?"

"Yes, I do," he said emphatically. "I DO believe!" End of discussion. Unlike M. Peevie eight months earlier, A. Peevie chose not to notice that I did not answer his question directly.

And M. Peevie changed her mind: "I believe, too!" she said earnestly.

This afternoon, A. Peevie asked me, "Mom, are you and Daddy getting C. Peevie a DS for Christmas? Because I want to get him a game for it." I told him we weren't, and then he asked, "Well, do you think Santa will bring him one?"

We let the kids open one present tonight. M. Peevie's present was the only one marked "From Santa"--and A. Peevie wondered out loud how it could already be here. Again with the dissimulation: "I don't know, A.P. What do you think?" He managed to satisfy himself again: "Well, maybe he dropped a couple of presents off earlier tonight, but he's coming back with the rest."

Later, we were lying across my bed, tracking Santa's progress on the NORAD* Santa Tracker. I had recently been wrapping presents, including the ones the kids had just opened. The gold foil wrapping paper roll was lying on the bed, and A. Peevie grabbed it triumphantly and waved it around.

"Look!" he said. "This is the same paper that M. Peevie's gift was wrapped in! You are totally busted!"

"Yes," I said. "And?"

"And that means you must be Santa!" He chuckled to himself, and repeated, "Busted! Busted!" while we watched Santa's progress on the satellite tracker.

"Not necessarily, A. Peevie," said Mr. Peevie craftily. "They make thousands of rolls of wrapping paper exactly like that!"

"But this one's here, in our house!" A.P. said. "I'll bet you wrapped that present yourself."

And yet, and yet: he still wanted to believe.

The NORAD team posts videos of Santa sightings on the tracking map; we clicked on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
"After heading south to the south Atlantic Ocean, Santa has entered South America and is delivering presents throughout Brazil, the continent's largest country. Santa is just about halfway through his journey, and NORAD is keeping its satellites fixed on Rudolph's bright red nose. NORAD fighters will be taking off soon to escort Santa as he nears North America. For NORAD tracks Santa, I'm Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Garza."

"Mom, why does Santa need fighter jets to escort him to North America," A. Peevie asked sincerely. And as we watched more Santa sighting videos, the Santa close-ups were not particularly convincing: "Hey, that's not really Santa, is it?" he asked. A part of him still wanted to believe, but he was collecting a lot of conflicting information.

Does my bright, imaginative 11-year-old still believe in Santa? It appears that he's not quite ready to give it up--and that's just fine with me. This blog would be remiss if it did not cite the famous New York Sun editorial from 1897 entitled Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
(Click the link to read the whole editorial, plus some interesting background.)
*North American Aerospace Defense Command, the bi-national U.S./Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of North America. NORAD provides warning of impending missile and air attack, safeguards the air sovereignty of North America, and maintains airborne forces for defense against attack.
UPDATE, Dec. 27: Today A. Peevie reminded me of our conversation on Christmas Eve about the wrapping paper, and how he totally busted me. "What does that mean, A. Peevie?" I asked him. "What does that leave you thinking about Santa?"

"It means," he said slowly, "that I ALMOST gave up on him. But I didn't give up. I still believe."

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