I was minding my business one night when I heard someone talking to himself upstairs. It was Drew. I shut the music off on my computer and closed my eyes to listen.
“Santa is a good guy. He not have to hug you. He goes away.”
My son, without any professional instruction, had discovered the power of talk therapy.
Needless to say, I’m concerned, though thrilled I didn’t have to pay a psychologist.
Drew is just sort of prejudiced against Santa. He’s Clausist. Whenever we go somewhere in public — the grocery store, the mall, gas stations — Drew inquires if, maybe, by happenstance, on the off chance, that, I don’t know, SANTA might be there? And if he is, or might could theoretically potentially possibly conceivably be, we have a problem. “I don’t want to see Santa!” he protests, like any kid within 100 yards of Santa is required by law to interact with him, or even lick his beard.
All this changes when Drew is watching TV. He loves Santa when there is an acceptable barrier of audiovisual device that can be muted or paused. He especially loves Caillou’s Holiday Movie in which the kids explore all the different Santa traditions from around the world. Those darling PBS liberals.
The only other category of experience in which a Santa encounter is perfectly acceptable is in any product packaging or other static printed items like posters and point-of-sale displays. For Drew, Santa might as well be a dinosaur: spectacular in theory but run like heck if you meet a live one.
Which brings me to my dilemma: do I tell Drew Santa’s not real and spare him all this angst?
Look, Drew, all this business about a strange man coming into our house at night is needlessly frightening. I get that, I’m tracking with you. Let me just give it to you straight: the only strange man in our house on Christmas Eve will be your father after 8 hours of assembling your train table. He will be unrecognizable, and his hair will probably have gone white; he will not be jolly, and he will probably have LOST weight. He will resemble Santa’s emaciated, crazy, younger brother. But he won’t be Santa. Because Santa is an invention.
When I asked Drew the other night why he was so afraid of the Abominable Snowman from the Casa Manana show last year — was he too loud? Was he too scary looking? — Drew simply answered that, “That guy’s not safe.” The Snowman’s loudness and terrifying appearance were not the thing itself; it’s that they represented real danger, and maybe that’s also his beef with Santa. Sure, Santa Claus may seem benevolent and boisterous, but that doesn’t mean he is actually safe for a kid to be around.
He might be just as dangerous as a guy with furry knuckles. You can never be too sure in this gloomy world of ours.
(When and how did my son become such a cynic? I need to stop reading him Kafka.)
So my question is, why propagate it all?
Here’s why. Because if I tell him it’s just a guy dressed up in a suit, not really Santa, because Santa doesn’t exist, Drew will still be scared of that strange man dressed up in a strange suit. If I tell Drew that it’s just an actor dressed to look like Santa, not really Santa, because Santa doesn’t exist, Drew will still be scared of that odd actor playing that odd role. If I tell him it’s just a man they paid to put on a beard and wave to kids in the parade, not really Santa, because Santa doesn’t exist, Drew will still be scared of that peculiar mercenary who impersonates an imaginary person to a bunch of naïve kids.
What’s scarier? Santa himself — kind, jolly and generous; or a strange man pretending to be kind, jolly and generous? I know which gives me the creeps.
At any rate, my gut says Drew already knows. He’s afraid of strange men in strange suits, but I think if he met Santa Claus, the real one, he would be in heaven.
Oh that I was like Thing One — that I would never settle for less, that I could tell true character from a charade.