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Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

Make Believe

Jenifer DeMattia

As wild and daring as my son is, I’ve always been fascinated by how frightened he is of most things. Holidays have always been tricky. The Easter Bunny is “very scary” according to him. Also joining the list of very scary things are, most foods, shag carpeting, groundhogs, toilets, and of course Santa. Trying to explain who Santa is, and his role on Christmas Eve was interesting. “I do not want him in my house when I’m sleeping”, says my tiny little man. He said Santa could leave the presents outside. I guess he thinks the UPS guy is pretty equivalent to Santa. Where’s the magic in that? It made me kind of sad. But one thing that has helped me parent my son more effectively is to do as he does. To put myself in his shoes. For example, if he’s rolling around on the floor and I’m feeling frustrated, I sometimes will just say, “screw it” and just roll around with him. I am finding more and more that it makes me feel good. I get why he does it. 

Now if I apply that reasoning to the Santa dilemma it all becomes very clear. What I have always assumed is true. Children are smarter than us. I had to admit to myself that indeed yes, it is a little weird to have a man in your house while you are sleeping. And yes, the concept of an Easter Bunny is a little creepy. Is it a real bunny that just happens to be able to fill a basket with goodies? Or is it a half human half bunny mutation that’s able to use it’s hands to fill up those baskets? Both me and my oldest sister found out the realities of make believe over a tooth fairy debacle. My sister stumbled upon the gross box of teeth that our parents decided to keep for some disgusting reason. At that moment, the magic was gone. She was no longer a “little kid”. She was elevated to the next level because now she was responsible for still making me believe. Mine was a little more anti-climatic. There was no opening a mystery box. I lost a tooth and was so excited when I woke up with the anticipation of finding money under my pillow. But the tooth was still there. My mom was still in bed. I was crying, “Mom, the tooth fairy never came. She skipped me.” Her response ended the magic for me, “Oh Shit”. 

Regardless of my son having a terrific point, I want him to believe. I want that for him. And to my surprise, today he told me that he was ready to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. So we took him to a drive through Christmas light display, then to meet Santa. Now, every year you can scroll through Facebook and see all the funny Santa pictures. Some more awkward than others, but lets be honest, they are usually pretty funny. Because kids are smarter than us. I think the presents make him tolerable, but Santa is a lot for a kid. He is usually a bigger guy and he is clearly judging them, and they know it. They must be sitting there freaked out because they know there have been some naughty moments. Have they been nice enough? I mean that’s a lot of pressure for such a tiny person. 

But our experience gave the Christmas Story movie a run for its money. My son was nervously grabbing my hand as we approached Santa. But I could hear the faint sounds of him rehearsing his lines. “I want Hiro and Connor, I want Hiro and Connor.” All he wants are two trains from Thomas the Tank Engine. To my disbelief he sat on Santa’s knee. The undeniable definition of Brave. We handed his 4-month-old brother over for Santa’s other knee. Tell Santa what you want I said. But the woman in charge of “making the children smile” had a different idea. “Let us get the picture first and then he can ask Santa for his present”, she said. Wait a minute, I thought to myself. This child believes he is in the presence of Santa Claus, the giver of Christmas gifts, the star of all his Christmas books, and you are more concerned about the picture being taken. Seems backwards to me but ok. We were trying to get him to smile, and the woman asked us to step away. She was apparently the “smile police” and we were interfering with her investigation. She gave her best effort but it was no use. He kept staring at Santa and when he would look our direction it was a silent cry for help. The woman even bopped him on the head with a snowman stuffed animal in an attempt to get him to look at the camera. That added to his confusion. The baby was smiling like crazy.

My husband couldn’t take it any more. “Look at his face, he’s going to lose it”, he said. I wasn’t so sure. Considering I had never before seen our son use those particular facial muscles, I wasn’t convinced that’s what it meant. But just before my husband swooped him up our son looked at Santa and said, “I want Hiro and Connor”. My heart melted like a snowball. I know that my son has a moment of bravery everyday. Each day he overcomes some kind of fear, even if it’s small I take notice. Whether it’s going down in the basement alone to grab something real quick or trying a new food, he is brave everyday. Today’s moment, sitting on Santa’s lap, that was a biggie. It brought me back in time. The anticipation of going down the stairs on Christmas morning. Watching my son begin to believe has reminded me that in fact, there is still magic in the air. And that believing in something enough can bring out your bravery, help find your strength, and completely transport you to a place where fear is the real make believe. 

  I think Santa is just as terrified as Chase

I think Santa is just as terrified as Chase