1985 was an uneventful year for me…until December. I was too young to appreciate the Bears shuffling their way to into the Superbowl. All I needed was a bunch of kickass birthday presents like Star Wars action figures and a little spending money to buy candy at White Hen Pantry (when I didn’t have my massive bounty from Halloween).
Halloween wasn’t coming for a few more months, so I was counting on that $1. I was dreaming of Lemonheads when I slept. You can imagine my surprise when I woke up and there was no $1 under my pillow. How could this be?! I walked into the kitchen in a confused daze and explained the situation to mom.
Mom came clean, there was no Tooth Fairy. She forgot to leave the $1 under my pillow. This was an interesting turn of events, but I paid it no mind because mom gave me the $1 I earned. Mission accomplished! Time to start planning my voyage to White Hen for my Lemonhead plunder.
Fast forward to December. My younger sister and I were dutifully making our Christmas lists. Who knows what Ann wanted? Probably some dumb Barbie doll. Meanwhile, I was assessing which Star Wars action figures might complete my collection…Boba Fett, definitely Boba Fett. I figured I deserved it. I’d been a good boy all year. Just like Santa demands.
HOLY SHIT!!!! IT CAN’T BE TRUE!!! NOOO!!!!
That was my Sixth Sense moment, where I saw dead people and all the dots were connected. Only I wasn’t seeing dead people. I was looking at mom and realizing the lie.
If Tooth Fairy = mom and hence does not exist,
Then Santa Claus≠ real either.
I had to confront mom. Right now!
The confrontation did not go well. Mom wouldn’t come clean. I couldn’t fathom this. My logic was airtight. I was overcome with emotion. Tears started to flow. I yelled “There’s no Santa Claus and you know it!!!” in a fitful rage and ran into my room. Life as I knew it previously had ended. Time to go to bed and bury my head in a pillow.
Keeping a secret from my bratty little sister was no big deal. Who cares about her?! Keeping secrets from my classmates…that’s harder. I was 8. I hacked The Matrix before most of my peers, including my cousin Nate. This was a serious moral dilemma.
There was also a practical dilemma. Nate’s mom knew that I knew and also that Nate didn’t. Katie threatened me that if I told Nate she would make sure I got no presents at all. I may not believe in Santa anymore, but I certainly believed in the Wrath of Katie. She could and would ruin Christmas for me if I ruined Santa for Nate. So I kept the secret. Ignoring some painfully obvious faulty logic.
I continued to live the lie of omission for an uncomfortably long time. As far as I could tell, Nate remained true to Santa for another 3 years. It was awkward every Christmas. My obligation to Nate and the truth was squashed by my fear of Katie’s power. The experience left me jaded about keeping secrets.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a bad liar. Never ask me if your butt looks big in those jeans or if I like your new haircut. I’ll tell you exactly what I see to be true, whether you like it or not. Even if I don’t say it out loud you can read my body language like a newspaper headline. I have no poker face and wear my emotions on my sleeve. It all comes back to 1985 and Santa.
I also have visceral need for resolution. I just HAD to know for sure that I broke the Santa code right then and there. In doing so I showed mom that I knew, which was a problem she needed to contain. I would’ve have been much better off keeping my dumb mouth shut, or at least picking a better moment (e.g. after Christmas). This desire for resolution dogs me to this day. A perfect case in point is that I broke my writing flow to look up the dictionary definition of the word visceral to ensure I’m using it correctly.
Ugh…sometimes I hate myself. Damn you Santa for exposing my flaws!
Many people dismiss Santa Claus as a harmless game that you play with children. There’s social pressure to play the game and it conveniently helps keep bratty kids in line come December. I suppose both are true, but I disagree that it’s harmless. No one is playing this game with children; they are playing the game on children.
If you’re a parent reading this and feeling guilty about this Christmas trick you’re playing on your child then good! Kids are people too. Don’t underestimate them. They are smart enough to figure this out, but not emotionally mature enough to handle the truth. Think long and hard about how to break the news to your child with care and compassion.
Or you could just “forget” to leave $1 under your kid’s pillow. As it turns out, that’s how my older sister Mary figured it out too.
Hmm…I see a trend. Maybe mom isn’t as absentminded as she’d like us to think she is.
In any case, “forget” to leave $1 under the pillow in February or March, not September or October. Learning that the Easter Bunny is fake is an easier pill to swallow.
Thanks for reading.