03 January 2013

Watching the Detectives

It seems I have survived (barely) yet another holiday slalom of festivities, traditions, celebrations, obligations, mirth, merriment, and excess. Again, barely. Like many other areas of parenting, sharing the holidays with your kids is simultaneously exhilarating and completely exhausting. As the new year marches on and life resumes some semblance of normalcy, I hope to curtail all the stress-eating and stress-imbibing. Just pardon me a moment while I depressingly shovel half-stale Christmas cookies into my mouth, in private, and in shame.

Okay. Now that’s done.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this Christmas was the inevitable, continued proliferation of the Santa Claus myth. Because here’s the thing. The Doozer is so incredibly sharp and inquisitive, so curious and so skeptical, and the whole Santa Claus thing is so obviously a made-up farce that I cannot fully comprehend why he doesn’t seem more suspicious of the whole thing.

(We tried that Elf on the Shelf thing this year. He had a lot of questions about that little guy. But the big guy in the red suit? Swallows that one hook, line, and sinker.)

I posed this question to the wife. And she said it’s because he believes us. And all the other grown-ups in his life. “Who are all lying to him,” I responded. She shrugged, I think. Or in any event, didn’t have much more to say on the subject. Yet I couldn’t help but dwell on that notion. He trusts us. And we are lying to him. We are betraying him. We are breaking his trust and as soon as he finds out, he’s never going to trust us again. This is just the first betrayal, the first example of us letting him down. We’re just going to continue doing it after he finds out.

But seriously, why doesn’t he question it more? Of course, the subterfuge is extensive and detailed. Well thought-out and highly structured. Which is where the exhaustion comes in. Pretending there’s a Santa Claus just wears you out. The mental gamesmanship required to stay on your toes and not succumb to the random curiosity of the pint-sized Holmes in your house, who picks up scraps and crumbs and examines them closely, hears mumbled asides clear as day from other rooms, who manages to just flat-out out-think you at times—it’s substantial.

And of course when you’re a dim bulb like me (or perhaps just overtired and sleep-deprived, we do still have a baby-ish creature in our home who wakes at all hours of the day and night, ready to play and laugh and clap and babble, because he’s a demon of unstoppable force and energy), it is even harder to maintain that appropriate headspace where you are sincere and genuine, yet spewing falsehood after falsehood about elves and reindeers and magical sleighs. Sometimes you just simply can’t stay on top of the whole enterprise. On more than one occasion, I talked openly in front of the Doozer about presents ostensibly received from “Santa,” and implied that I had purchased them or that his mother had given them to me.

She kept correcting me. “No, they were in my stocking. Those are from Santa,” she’d say, while shooting death-ray eyes at me over the Doozer’s mop-topped little head.

“Right, right. I forgot. I’m not sure I really read the tags,” I’d say.

And he still wouldn’t question it. If his Halloween candy appears to go missing, he turns into freakin’ Columbo. If a book is removed from a shelf, or somebody wears a different jacket than normal, the notepad and the pencil and the steady stream of a thousand questions all come out. Weird, confusing, misinformation about Santa Claus and what really transpires on Christmas Eve? Nothing. He’s all in. How long does this last? When does he start really paying attention?

And subsequently start hating us, for being the awful, evil, lying bastards we truly are? That’ll be a very merry Christmas, indeed.

So, to our fellow liars and charlatans and myth-spinners out there, happy holidays and happy new year and best of luck preventing your children from hating you, forever, when they learn the truth of what we’ve been doing all this time. Yes, I count myself in that group. As a terrible, awful, no-good liar. And that makes me feel like a bad parent.

But, at the same time, I did get the kid to appreciate Elvis Costello this week. That’s something. (Yes, it all comes full circle.)

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