Faith consists of believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.
I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to visit him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.
~ Shirley Temple Black
Once in a while, I believe we all need a touch of defiant faith. When we stand at a crossroads and make a hard left to follow a dream. When we decide the impossible is well – not. When we’re told we can’t, and we say, Oh, yeah? Watch me. When the storm rages on and we gather our loved ones and dance in the rain.
When we stand in the face of all the reason in the world – or, oh, let’s say ‘professional opinion’ - and we say, ‘Thank you, but despite all of your learned white-coat certainty, I choose to believe.”
When a doctor says “She never will …” Or … “He just won’t ever be able to …” and we steel ourselves, choke back our tears, step into our determination suit and say, “I believe. I believe in my child. And damn it all, I believe in myself. And although it may not be today, I will come to believe in my ability to guide her. I may not have the tools yet, but I will find them, because I BELIEVE that I can.”
What if we simply choose to believe?
About six months ago, Katie and I were driving through town, running errands. We were chatting about this and that when a bombshell came out of left field. “Mama,” she said, “I know that Santa’s not real.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “I want you to tell me the truth about it. Are you and Daddy really Santa?”
I was grateful to be driving so that I didn’t have to look her in the eye.
“Honey, are you sure you want to have this conversation?” I asked.
“Yes, Mama,” she answered, “I’m sure.”
I flashed back to the day that I gave her FAR too much information in answer to an innocent question about my C-section scar.
“Mama,” she’d said that day through jagged sobs, “WHY did you tell me all that?’
“Well, because you’d asked about the scar and I figured it was a good time to tell you the rest of it too,” I’d answered helplessly. It was too late to take it all back.
“Mama,” she had said, looking up at me with wide, dewy eyes, “next time, can you please wait til I ask?”
This time she WAS asking. But did she really want to know the answer?
“Katie, are you SURE you want me to answer that?” I asked again.
“Yes, Mama,” she said soberly. ‘I really want to know.”
I hesitated, wrestling with myself. ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, she’s eight years old,’ I thought. What was I – five, maybe six when I had this same conversation with my parents?
We’d been in the car, just like Katie and I were now. There were no car seats or pesky seat belts back then, so I’d scooted up in between their two front seats. I looked back and forth, but much to my dismay neither of them would give me a straight answer. My frustration came back to me like it was yesterday. I could hear my dad saying, “Well, Jessie, it’s up to you; what do YOU think?” while my mom sat infuriatingly mum. Little did I know then she was probably panicking just as I was now.
“But, Daddy,” I remembered asking, “what does it matter what I THINK? I’m just asking you a question. Is Santa real or is he not real? It’s a yes or no question, not a do I think or not think question. “
I took a deep breath and decided to respect her need to know. “Yes, honey,” I said, “Mama and Daddy are really Santa.”
The silence from the back of the car was deafening. I tilted the rear view mirror to look at her. Her face was melting into a distorted cry. After an awful moment of silent anguish, the tears pushed through and spilled out in a heaving sob.
“I .. I .. Katie, honey …” I stuttered.
I let her cry. I had all kinds of ideas about what I’d say when she was ready to listen. Santa doesn’t have to be a man to be real. The magic of Christmas will always be alive in your heart. Santa is just a name for the spirit of Christmas. But they would wait.
“I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THIS,” she yelled through her tears.
“But, honey,” I said somewhat pathetically, “you asked. You said you wanted to know.”
“Well, I don’t,” she said sniffling. “I don’t want to know.”
I watched her in the mirror as she stifled the next sob. She steeled herself, sat up straight and clothed herself in determination. “I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE,” she said through gritted teeth. She said it again as if to convince herself. “Yes, Santa is real. I choose to believe.”
“Oh, um, hmm. OK,” I said. “So we’re just going to go back to ten minutes ago and pretend we never had this conversation, honey?” I asked, a little bewildered. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for denial, but I’d never really discussed it so openly before.
She wiped her eyes. “Uh huh. Santa’s real.”
I drove the rest of the way home in a bit of a haze. We never acknowledged it again. I didn’t really feel the need to. I figured she’d made her stance on the issue pretty darn clear.
As Christmas approached, I wondered how it would play out. We wrote letters to Santa and sent him messages through his trusty elf, Scouter. We put out cookies and milk and carrots for the reindeer. Gifts appeared under the tree from the big guy and stockings once empty were filled to the brim. The mythology was apparently alive and well.
Santa had brought the two gifts that Katie had asked for – the American Girl doll, Kit and a begged-for Juicy Couture track suit that Mama had deemed far too expensive to buy. She couldn’t have been happier.
Wearing her new outfit
(and hugging her present from her sister)
Later in the day, Katie came over to me and whispered a question. “Mama,” she asked, “did you get me Kit?”
“The card on her box said she was from Santa, little one,” I answered, doing my best impression of an evasive politician.
“And the Juicy suit? I know you got that for me, Mama.”
I simply smiled.
She waited it out for a moment, searching my eyes for clues.
“Thank you, Mama,” she said. “I just want to say thank you.”
I hugged her tight and hid my face in her hair. I knew my poker face was cracking.
My girl is finding her way. She’s walking the tight rope that experience brings – learning to balance somewhere between innocence and understanding, faith and cynicism, belief and disillusionment. And somehow, at the age of eight (and three-quarters), she’s doing it with grace, joy and love – all tied together in a ribbon of gratitude.
And above all, after careful deliberation, she is choosing to believe.