Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me

Tony Woodlief in the Wall Street Journal on the annual effort to save Santa from assholes:

I know Caleb [his son] and his brothers will figure out the Santa secret eventually, but I'm with Chesterton in resisting the elevation of science and reason to the exclusion of magic, of mystery, of faith. That's why I'm not giving up on Santa without a fight. Not everything we believe, I explain to Caleb, can be proved (or disproved) by science. We believe in impossible things, and in unseen things, beginning with our own souls and working outward. It's a delicate thing, preparing him to let go of Santa without simultaneously embracing the notion that only what can be detected by the five senses is real.
This is the last Christmas that your host expects his 10 year old son to fervently believe in Santa Claus. Last year, Sydney Brillo Duodenum ordered a large drum set for Junior and it was almost his undoing. SBD had the drums shipped to his mother’s house. The drum set arrived nested inside a single box. SBD likes drama around his Christmas tree on Christmas morning, so the set had to be built and ready to play on Christmas morning. Five drums and two cymbals and associated stands and a drummer’s throne. All very impossible to hide once built. Thus, SBD waited until Christmas Eve’s Eve, after the children had gone to bed, to retrieve it, and a large pink lounge chair for his sister in a gigantic box, from his parent’s house and stow them in his garden shed. He covered them with a sheet, but there would be no way the kids would go into the garden shed on Christmas Eve. Well, of course they did when SBD made a quick trip to the local CVS to pick up some crap for stocking stuffers. Mrs. Duodenum thought it would be a good idea to send the kids outside to work off some energy, despite Mr. Duodenum’s stern warnings that no one was to be allowed anywhere in the backyard. SBD Junior opened the shed door and caught a glimpse of a crash cymbal as well as the corner of an enormous box. He was just a peep as he told it but it was enough. SBD loves to confess, so he wasted no time telling his story of discovery and how he knew he was getting a drum set because he saw a part of it in the shed. He then asked, “Are you Santa Claus, Dad?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But are those drums from you?”

“You didn’t see any drums. You saw a cymbal.”

“But what’s in the big box?”

“What big box?”

“The one in the shed?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t put any big box in the shed.”

We went to the shed and I opened the door a slight crack and then shut it real quick.

“I have no idea where that stuff came from.”

Keeping them confused is a parent’s main line of defense against knowledge of the real world. A little more Abbott and Costello was enough to make Junior drop the subject long enough for SBD to steal to his computer and craft a letter on official North Pole stationary from Santa addressed to SBD informing him that because he, Santa, was so busy, he would preposition certain items, in particular a drum set and a large pink lounge chair, in SBD’s shed ahead of Christmas morning. This letter was presented to SBD Junior in the strictest secrecy. This gave SBD the opportunity to admit that he had lied to his son [which every boy finds very cool because it reveals weakness in their parent which can be exploited later], but only because Santa had cautioned in his letter about revealing this bit of Santa’s magic and logistics management. It was enough for SBD Junior to crawl back under his comfy blanket of myth and sugarplums. The drums have since been his constant joy and main source of aerobic exercise. And he thanks Santa daily for them.

But as the year has passed and shortly after Thanksgiving, Junior began probing Sydney Brillo Duodenum's weaker moments to catch him in a con, but a Level Red Advisory was raised just after Thanksgiving, and no little insurgent will compromise one of Western childhood's most sacred secrets. SBD has gone to great lengths over the years to create a sense of magic and mystery and puzzlement at the impossible physics of the whole thing. He’s made sure to read only certain books around Christmastime that reinforce the concept of Santa as a superhero of sorts with a secret lair in the frozen north populated by unseen magic creatures of lore, such as elves and reindeer. Just the other day, he sternly reminded the kids to get their letters in order and put them in the mail. After seeing them off to school, he even carefully removed the return address label they put on them so that the government in its infinite efficiency didn’t aid and abet the assholes sowing doubt in the hearts of little kids all over the country by sending the letter simply addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” back to your house with a big stamp on it saying, RETURN TO SENDER, ADDRESS UNKNOWN.

Still, the boy is human and thus has doubt. He has also been hanging out with two types of children that are the equivalent of nuclear armed Russia and China – omnipresent, unavoidable, and always causing trouble. The first group: his Jewish friends – colossal resentment and cultural isolation the chief motivating influences there. The second group is generally isolated to very liberal suburban neighborhoods. These kids have parents who allow them to do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to do it. These kids consume the worst popular culture, and have complete unsupervised use of television and the Internet. They know a great deal. In some cultures, these children would be accused of being witches and burned at the stake. The parents of these kids cannot wait for their children to grow up, so they move them through their childhoods as quickly as they can, and there is no room for silly myths about fat white hegemonic Eurocentric elves, with loose ties to oppressive organized religion. These parents think they are giving their kids a leg up on their peers by giving them full, complete explanations of everything. Most of them are fully versed on sex and can pick out a nice Merlot when they are at dinner with the family. These children take great pride in making their peers appear to be babies, and there is no easier way to do that than to accuse another kid of believing in Santa Claus. Brillo Junior has so been accused.

Armed with taboo knowledge and the sting of peer pressure, Brillo Junior’s mode of discovery is clever. You may be sitting at your laptop, secretly buying a LEGO set on Amazon, when you sense a slight breeze on your ear, look to your right and find your eyes locked with his, but eight inches away.

“Are you Santa Claus?”

A full frontal assault, it is. He looks for any tell: a quick look away, a wrong smile, a small bead of sweat on the upper lip, a big picture of LEGO building set on the laptop. You’ve been prepared for this moment and it has arrived. You have one shot at keeping the question from coming up again this year.

The proper response will result in silence. After delivering it, you must not say anything. Maintain full eye contact and a blank face. He expects you to say what you said last year, that there most certainly is a Santa and believing in his magic is the key to an overflowing cornucopia of Nintendo DS games, Star Wars action figures, and a drum set. He expects you to quickly pull up the Yes, Virginia, There is A Santa Claus letter online and read it to him again. He expects you to show him the actual letter you received last year explaining the early presence of a drum set and a large pink lounge chair in your shed. But, you need to bring in the heavy fire power to preserve the holiday one last time. Here is what you must say.

“Yes, I am, which is why you aren’t getting anything for Christmas.”

Look for the bead of sweat on HIS upper lip. With your statement, you confirm his absolute worst fear. You, not Santa, are the authority. You, who do nothing but prevent, block and interfere with his demands and lording over the household. Admitting to being Santa is the last thing your boy wants to hear. He wants affirmation of his hopes, not his worst fear. He wants his friends to be wrong. He wants to know he was right for the past nine years.

Why his worst fear? There is of course the loss of childish innocence and wonder and mystery of the knowable universe. But he won’t know he’s lost it until he actually loses it and then decides he wants it back again and so decides to get married and have children. But ten year olds function in the immediate and with your statement, he immediately knows he is screwed. Why? Because you have close knowledge of his daily crimes of childhood – the bawling, the bickering, the tattling, the crying, the lazing, the forgetting, the messing, the burping, the back talking, the farting, the ignoring. At least with Santa, there is always the hope in his mind that Santa is just too damn busy to really keep track of the naughty and the nice. Santa’s got magic, but he ain’t God for Pete’s sake. God hears all prayers. Santa may not see a crying jag because some kid in Sweden just mouthed off to his Mom. Also, the Catholic child who is participating in weekly or monthly acts of reconciliation will believe that those forays before a priest will count in Santa’s book. If it’s good enough for the Good Lord, then it should be good enough for the Good Elf.

The ten year old who every year has received from Santa just about every cool present he has asked for will not believe that he got those things from “the meanest father in the world.” It defies his logic.

“No, you’re not. You’re just saying that.”

“Know so or hope so?”

“I know so.”

“I hope you’re right.”

At this point, he should be thoroughly confused. You want to keep him confused so he eventually retreats into the warm, comforting belief that there is a FAIR Santa, not a mean Dad, who will make his wishes come true, as they have every Christmas. And it’s much easier for him to do this with less than seven days to go before Christmas, as doubt is a lonely place to be.

“I know I’m right.”

All ten year old boys must be right. They must.