At dinner with my parents, Thing 1 suddenly asked, “Is Santa real?”
Like any good parent, I immediately said, “This is really good fried chicken. I need to focus on this chicken right now. We’ll talk about it after dinner.” My parents gave me significant looks, but said nothing. I tried hard to focus on that chicken. It really was excellent, but tasted slightly different spiced with fear.
I have feared this day, as many of us do. For one thing, I’ve promised myself that I’ll always be honest with my kids, that I’ll answer their questions with compassion but without sugar coating or talking down to them. With Thing 1 in particular, this has led to some interesting dinner-table discussion. When he was three, he asked where babies come from. I’d read something about how kids are really looking for very simple answers when they ask this question, so I told him that a mommy and a daddy make a baby together. He wanted to know how. I kept it simple, but it rapidly became obvious that simple was not going to satisfy this kid. Not only did I end up having The Talk with a three-year-old that day, we got all the way to freaking cell division. It was at that point that I realized I was hopelessly out of my depth. My husband called in his biology professor friend, who obligingly came over with a microscope a few days later and made slides of plant cells, at which point all Thing 1’s questions about the birds and the bees were finally answered. For the moment.
But Santa and sex are two very different things. Santa is about magic, and in this sometimes hard and ugly world, I want my children to have all the magic they can get. Still, I’m not willing to sacrifice truth on its altar. So I took Thing 1 aside after that quickly-spiraling-into-awkward dinner a few weeks ago and explained, as my mom once did, that Santa is the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully a colleague had just posted a super-helpful article on the subject, which coached me to instruct Thing 1 that because he was old enough to ask, he was now old enough to know the secret and to become a Santa himself and do good deeds for others secretly, without expecting thanks in return.
I took a breath, sat back, and anxiously scanned his solemn little features for the dawning realization of betrayal.
He said, “So you and Pops are the ones who put stuff in our stockings?”
“But how does stuff get in your stocking and Pops’s stocking?”
“We put stuff in each others’ stockings.”
“Oh!” he exclaimed, and then it happened. The magic. His face lit up like a thousand candles, like every Christmas tree that has ever shone its light out into a dark universe. “That makes so much more sense!”
I was worried I’d ruined the magic for him, but what Sherlock Holmes 2.0 wanted was knowledge. Reason. For things to make sense. He wasn’t upset at all. He was actually relieved. And so was I. More than I can say.
I had forgotten the most important thing about magic–that it doesn’t appear where you look for it, that you can’t force it, that it hovers in the liminal places, inhabiting the unexpected.
Going forward into the long, dark days of the new year, I am frightened, like many of us–more afraid than I’ve been in a long time. The future seems dark and uncertain, specters looming large in its shadows. Since the election, I’ve been struggling to process the results, and to scry out my responsibilities in a changing world. What I know is this–that I want to be on the side of the Light and the Truth, and that magic, true magic, is real. That’s what I’m clinging to in this season of cold and turmoil.
The following is something I wrote as part of a novel that’s as yet unfinished. It’s a hymn/spell of sorts, sung by wizard-monks as a night blessing to call down protection on their House. I haven’t thought about it in years, but suddenly remembered it–I think it expresses the hopes of my heart as well as anything else I can come up with right now.
Shaper of all things, descend upon this House like snow.
Cover us, silence us, chasten us.
Shaper of all things, descend upon this House like rain.
Fill us, flood us, purge us.
Shaper of all things, descend upon this House like starlight.
Find us, illumine us, reveal us.
Shaper of all things, descend upon this House like nightfall.
Restrain us, enfold us, restore us.
Shaper of all things, inevitable as the tides,
Make us fast in wind and rain.
Anchor us, steer us, captain us.
Shaper of all things, set us a true course
Through strait and storm, and the coming darkness.