I’m pretty sure my next-oldest-sister Zee was seven and I was eight when all the Santa stuff collapsed. I could be wrong about the ages, but it doesn’t really matter.
To be perfectly frank, I have NO IDEA when I first suspected the whole Santa thing might be more fabrication than reality. It was long before Zee did. The thing for me was that, despite my suspicions, I continued in willful ignorance…
My parents had a simple honesty policy. Lots of issues were “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but the opposite was also true. If we asked, point blank, we were told. We’d already been exposed to this honestly policy in various ways, to the extent that we’d learned to be cautious about it. I realized pretty early on that I didn’t actually WANT to know where, exactly, babies came from. I could wait.
This was my mindset with the Santa Situation. I had my suspicions, but I also had a healthy appreciation for the possibility of more than one kind of answer if I started querying my parents. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me. In other words: I could wait.
Zee, however, went on something of a tear when she first started suspecting Santa’s credibility. I remember we were visiting my father’s parents, around Christmastime. I was, initially, too enamored with the authentic tinsel, with exploring the well-stocked attic, with inspecting the various intricate glass paperweights and antique teacups on display to notice Zee’s growing unease. She was listening to the adults more closely than usual. She was inspecting the base of the tree with care. They had a real fireplace, and Zee hovered around it with feverish anxiety.
She finally asked me what I knew about all this. I pleaded the fifth, in a manner of speaking. I had my suspicions, but nothing solid. And I knew, with the caution that comes from the title of “oldest child,” that the existence of Santa was too big a deal to throw out a bunch of half-cocked notions about alternate possibilities. But Zee would not drop it.
“Why don’t you ask Dad?” I finally asked, flippantly. Zee marched off to do so.
An overwhelming sense of dread immediately engulfed me. WHAT HAD I DONE?
Waiting was over. Whatever answer Zee got, I’d get, too. Neither Zee nor my parents would bother keeping any secrets from me that were not kept from her. I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready for my suspicions to be confirmed. So I followed her, my eight-year-old brain working feverishly to contain the self-righteous rage billowing from my sister’s infuriated form before the tragedy of truth struck her (and me) with an iron fist.
In retrospect, I realize that Zee was much more concerned with the idea that my parents had been lying to her for years than in Santa’s existence. I realized this because, as soon as she put the question to our father, with the seriousness and indignation only a seven-year-old can muster, her face changed. She realized what his answer might mean, and she stared at him with the kind of innocent longing I could never master.
I’m pretty sure Dad even queried, “are you sure you want to know the answer to this?”
Zee, in what was to become her trademark cut-the-bullshit style replied, “Dad, I’m seven years old. I think I can handle it.”
As soon as Dad answered, Zee stormed away in a rage of tears and tortured sobs.
They had lied to us. On top of that, Santa Claus didn’t exist. It was a bad day.
My most solid memory from that entire experience is standing in the door frame of the living room, post-revelation. The adults spent several minutes discussing who would comfort Zee and when. They had asked me if I was okay, and I tried to convince them that I was, as Zee’s howls of sorrow wafted over me.
But I wasn’t okay.
I was shell-shocked.
I had had my suspicions, but I had never had them confirmed. And confirmation wasn’t the relief I had hoped it would be. It was a total bummer. I couldn’t even revel in self-righteous rage, because Zee had cornered that market. I would have to go find some place private to mourn the loss of Santa Claus, so I could maintain the facade of maturity and okay-ness.
I turned and walked away slowly, to the concerned murmur of a loving group of adults. Someone came and found me a few minutes later, and gave me a big hug.
Interestingly enough, I recovered. The Loss of Santa Claus was, perhaps, the very first time in my entire life when I had to deal with this kind of situation.
In fact, I found that the next Christmas was just as enjoyable, which surprised (and slightly disturbed) me.
Could it be that the Santa Situation was, in fact, a valuable lesson in how to deal with larger, life issues? I can’t say for sure, but I did learn a few things:
- Waiting for others to ask the hard questions means they get mourning rights, as well.
- Willful ignorance usually just makes reality harder to deal with.
- Although it is often devastating, the importance of truth is paramount to growing up.
[This post was inspired by a prompt over at the One Minute Writer blog.]