Living outside of Cleveland for a year when my kids were little was no treat. It snowed on November 1st and the sun went on sabbatical. The city's bereft charm was overwhelming to me after living in Chicago and Philadelphia. But the holiday season coupled with the wonder of childhood has a way of brightening even the grayest of cityscapes.
It was easy to forget that grayness as I cozied up with my four-year-old son on the sofa that was against our huge living room window. The hill on which we lived gave us a view of two streets lined with houses. On this night most were flickering with adornments of the season. It glimmered and was lovely. The snow reflected not only the moonlight but the strings of icicle lights and flashing North Pole signs. While I admired the fleeting beauty in my neighborhood, my son was contemplating the flip side of an age-old childhood quandary.
"How will Santa know not to come here?" my four-year asked; eyes wide.
We didn't have a chimney but that didn't matter. The even more relevant fact that we are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas in any way, shape or form – even as a secular holiday – was not sufficient enough to quell the fears of my pensive preschooler.
As a mom I was at a fork in the road of parenting. I could have very well told him that parents leave all the presents, and that Santa isn't real. I could have explained that parents do that for their children because it's fun and part of the Christmas tradition in our country. But all that got stuck in my throat. That wasn't what he was asking. He believed. He was four. And even though it wasn't my myth to perpetuate, I did not want him to lose his sense of awe and wonder. Even of Santa.
He was not hoping for a few misbegotten toys to show up on Christmas morning although I'm sure he found himself somewhat distracted at the idea of yet another Power Ranger. He wasn't secretly wishing for a tree, nor did he want to leave cookies and milk "just in case." He got showered with gifts for eight nights of Hanukkah and attended a Jewish preschool. He wasn't feeling deprived or particularly left out of anything. To him, the thought of a big man in a red suit coming into his house was troubling. He wanted reassurance there was no way that guy and his sleigh were going to land on our roof. And while it was my job to quell his fears, I did not want to burst a childhood bubble of belief.
"See those lights?" I asked him. "Santa only goes to the houses with the lights".
A good save.
When my son lost his first tooth later that year, the same thing happened with the Tooth Fairy. He was mortified. He wanted no part of some stranger coming into his room in the middle of the night, flying no less, and sticking her hand under his pillow. Money or not, this was just not an idea he was comfortable with.
So, we put his pillow on the kitchen table with the tooth under it, and I'll be darned if that Tooth Fairy isn't one smart magical creature. She knew just where to go. Tooth fairies, we learned, are very accommodating.
I think about these events every time the Santas reemerge in the malls and on the street corners, and I smile. I wonder what I'd have done if we did indeed celebrate Christmas. Would I have dressed my son in his plaid finery and plunked him on St. Nick's lap at the local mall screaming in terror? You know, the way he did when he got his hair cut? Ah, the memories.
I'll never know.
What I do know is that I smile when I see the adorably dressed, color coordinated tikes lined up, sucking on their candy canes ready to meet the big guy in the red suit. And I love yanking my son's chains about sitting on Santa's lap now, at 14, when I promise Santa would be the one shaking in his boots as my baritone asked for a $600 video game system.
My son, who stands 5'9" to my 5'3", still smiles like a little boy when I tell him these tales of his long-ago worries and questions. His stature has changed, but not so much his sweetness. I've never been sorry that I rewrote the script for some childhood characters to meet the needs of our family, because one thing is certain: things change. And while my son is still somewhat tentative and cautious, at this point anyone who wants to leave money under his pillow, is more than welcome to do so.
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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