Moments exist in our memories that are indelible, memories that have great significance in our lives. They could be personal memories, like the first time you kissed a boy or being caught with a cheat sheet in French class. They could be historical events that changed the way in which life existed– like watching OJ run from the police in his white Bronco or the day the towers of the World Trade Center ceased to exist. These occasions set life on a new path, unexpectedly the reality that was is not the reality that is. Sometimes, it is a horrific occurrence from which it can take years to fully recover.
Thursday morning, Tom was in his usual routine. Because I leave for work at 6:45 AM every morning, he has taken on the role of early morning dad. He gets the kids up, gets them breakfast, makes sure they are properly dressed, makes them lunches, and then drives them each to their respective schools. At 7:45 every morning, he and Maggie climb into his car and he drives her the two miles to school.
On most mornings, Tom has said that he loves the seven minutes in the car with Maggie. They usually talk freely about what is in store for the day. She is rambunctious and excited and Tom has said how on these mornings, he feels blessed that she is our daughter.
However, this day was not such a day. Maggie woke up in a foul mood and was cantankerous all morning. She did not like any of her clothes, and she was angry at the lack of breakfast choices. She intentionally picked a fight with Lizzie. Tom said he could tell that something else was driving her morning outbreak, but she would not let on what was making her so irritable.
They got into the car together, and Tom tried to pry again. He and I both worry that Maggie is a little too excitable, and we worry that she turns kids off. He thought that maybe something had happened the day before and anticipating going to school was making her anxious.
“Honey, tell me what is bothering you,” he said as he pulled out of the driveway.
She adjusted her seat belt, sighed heavy, and spoke. “I don’t understand why mom said Santa can only bring us each four presents. Last year, I had a ton of things under the tree.”
“That’s true, Honey, but last year you were not asking for a 5th Generation iPod. Santa is on a budget, and when you ask for one big expensive item, you do not get much else,” he reasoned.
She did not like his response. “I don’t understand why Santa has a budget. He’s Santa. Doesn’t he just get whatever he wants? Christmas is going to be totally boring and over in like five minutes if we all get only four things. It doesn’t even seem worth it.”
I was not there, but I know the tone of her voice when she is being materialistic and bratty. I know her body language, too. I assume she folded her arms across her chest and looked smug, as if she had just shown Tom why four presents is a ludicrous amount of gifts and that he and I are idiots for telling her this information. I also know the rage that rises in my chest when she speaks to me in this tone. I know the frustration, and if I do not take a deep breath and calm down, sometimes I say things I do not mean to say.
On this particular dank morning in November, a morning when maybe Tom did not get the proper amount of rest or the most well-rounded breakfast, he could not quell the rising tide of anger. He could not think, and thus, he did not offer the “father of the year” rational, loving response. Tom said he stopped at the stop sign, looked at her, put his right hand on her left knee and said, “Maggie, you know Santa is just Mom and Dad, and we are always on a budget.”
The words fell out of his mouth, and immediately, he wished he could take them back. Her mouth dropped open and the two seconds that passed before she turned to stare out the window felt like two minutes, he said.
He let silence reign for a little over a minute, and then he said, “Come on Mags, it’s okay, right?”
She turned. Behind steaming glasses were eyes welled with tears. Her face was already streaked with streams of wetness. “If Santa’s not real,” she said, “that means the Easter Bunny isn’t real, either.” Her ten-year old body shook as she looked out the window once again.
Within three minutes, she was out of the car, wiping her face with her coat sleeves as she walked up the entrance to school. Tom was left feeling like a shell of a human being. Everyone finds out sooner or later the truth about Santa Claus, but usually it is the parents who try to hold on to the magic and help you believe for just one more season.
Of course, we texted back and forth about it that morning. I was on the fence between feeling angry and seeing the humor in it. I have often said I do not understand this deception we carry out with our children. Why does Santa get all the credit for the back-breaking labor we perform all year to be able to provide the gifts under the tree? I have often felt a little under appreciated, if you want to know the truth. On Christmas morning and the two months previous to this day, the fat man in the red suite is revered, and I am nothing more than chopped liver!
Maggie has been moping around the house for three days. Carson says she is in the first stage of grieving: denial. She does not want to believe it. Personally, I think she is playing it up because she is trying to shake us down for more gifts. She is acting as if we have ruined her childhood, and she knows that no parents would ever want that on their shoulders. The more she mopes, the more I think she thinks we will capitulate and buy more presents.
I am strong like bull (it ain’t happenin’, Little Girl. No way, no how!)