My son turned four this year, and it has been a big year of firsts for us. One of the big ones for me was that this was the first year he was really able to anticipate and plan for his birthday. He counted down the days, asked for rainbow decorations, and decided on cupcakes instead of a big cake. He asked to have a party with his cousins and to have macaroni and cheese for dinner.
He also asked a LOT of specific, in-depth questions about every detail of the party plans. His brain just works that way. As a baby, he thrived on routine and predictability, and as a toddler, he needed to know each plan ahead of time and have plenty of time to adjust to the next activity. As a young child, he’s starting to show very distinct signs of being a bit of an over-thinker.
Which leads me to my current parenting dilemma: Santa.
I’ve never really thought about what the plan is for our kids at Christmas. I’m more of a “leave it till it’s relevant” kind of parent, and so far we’ve been able to get away with Santa just being part of the Christmas decorations and not say anything committal either way. But the other day I was caught off guard when my son directed one of his many specific and well-thought-out questions towards the idea of Santa.
I suddenly realized that this might be it. The make-or-break year. The “either decide to go all in or decide to tell the truth” year. The “either way, I’ll probably feel like I’m doing the wrong thing” year.
Because here’s the thing: when you have an analytical child, you can’t just casually do Santa. You have to think like Santa. You have to predict Santa’s moves and be willing to make up a deeper and deeper story with each new question. You have to be Santa. And for a child who asks ten thousand questions a day and genuinely cares about knowing the correct answers, it might be more than a little upsetting to find out that something you believe is not only incorrect, but that your parents knew it was incorrect and told it to you anyway.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be the parent whose kid is running around ruining Santa for all the other kids. (Fun fact: that was me. I was that kid.) I also don’t want him to miss out on such a magical piece of childhood, or wish later on that I had just let him believe it for a year or two.
So, here I sit. Stuck. Contemplating how exhausting it would be to give a very logical four-year-old the answers for questions like how Santa flies, and how he can be in so many places at once, and why we never meet elves. But also contemplating how it would affect him to be the one kid from preschool who isn’t writing Santa a letter, or being confused about how Santa is right there at the mall if he’s not real.
Most of all though, I am thinking about how whoever decided it was a good idea to tell kids that Santa is the one who leaves the presents under the tree clearly never had an inquisitive child asking them all of the details of how it works. If they had, I imagine that somewhere around question two hundred and seventy-nine, they would have given up and moved on to something more easy to explain.
Whatever we decide to tell him this year, I’m just glad we get a little break…at least before we have to start thinking about the Easter Bunny.