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The Night We Lost Santa

“Is Santa real? Like…does he really exist?” She’s looking off into the corner of her room. We’re lying in bed together discussing our day like we always do before bed. This is when our truth-telling always happens. This is when she asks me the hard questions about death and evil and pain. For a moment I consider point-blank lying to her, but there are already tears in her eyes. There’s a part of her that knows and is already heartbroken over it. She’s coming to me now…like she does many nights in this bed, wanting the hard answers to the questions that haunt her days. I can’t lie to her. Not here. Not in our truth-telling place.

I didn’t really grow up with that magical belief in Santa Claus that my husband had. I figured out early on that I never really got what I asked for at Christmas and all of my friends did. My Dad just didn’t really get into that part of the Christmas…the making it seem magic part. I don’t know if I every really believed in Santa. I always pretended, but I never truly believed.

I got pregnant with E at 18, so obviously I had no ability to make Christmas magical for him. He kinda grew up the same way I did. We pretended, but I didn’t go out of my way trying to make it seem real. When you’re buying Christmas at the Dollar Tree, you don’t really want your kid hoping for presents from ToysRUs. I didn’t want him being disappointed on Christmas so I never really made Santa out to be anything but an imaginary being we use to make Christmas seem fantastical.

I also don’t believe in God and I wasn’t raising E in religion so it always felt weird to be all, “God is not real. But the guy at the North Pole who brings gifts on Christmas? HE TOTALLY IS.”

But then I married Donnie. And he grew up with the magic in epic proportions. He would challenge Santa to make sure he was real and his parents would jump through all of the hoops every year to keep the magic alive, and he wanted to do the same for the kids we had together. It bothered him that I didn’t do that with E and he really wanted me to honor his request for Nikki.

It was a tough thing to reconcile on many levels. I didn’t like lying. It felt weird. But I did it more as “playing make believe” than lying and with every year that ticked by, I got more and more into it. And then it was suddenly like I was discovering the magic of Christmas as a 30+ year-old woman…through my kids.

But I still was careful about my lies, especially in the last few years when the questions would get more pointed. I always told them, “I believe in Santa in my heart. Sometimes my brain doesn’t, but there are years there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy and I like to believe those are from Santa.”

HPW0505-155Nikki has asked more directly a few times recently, but always in front of her brother so I feel the need to kinda do that same dance around the questions. Recently this is how I answered it:

“Do you remember how at Harry Potter World I was getting so into doing all of the spells in the mornings when we got there early? I know there were sensors there. I know in my brain that it was all about electronics and mechanics and science. But in my heart? I believe in the magic. That’s kinda how Santa is. He’s something we have to believe in with our hearts.”

And again, like the times before, it sufficed. I was starting to wonder if she truly believed.

And then last night, she asked me alone. In the spot she asks me all of the hard questions she has at the end of the day living the life of an anxious, empathetic, emotional 9-year old girl. This is the same place she tells me when she’s been bullied, or she asks me what happens when we die. This is the same time she quizzes me about my first marriage and about divorce. This is where she comes to me with questions and fears about mortality and heartbreak. This is the place she knows she gets the truth from me. I couldn’t lie to her there.

I started down the same path I usually take, but as I start talking she turns to actually look at me. Look me in the eyes to see my answer. Her eyes were already moist with tears. Tears of hope that I give her the answer she wants, but also tears of anguish because she already knows I won’t.

“In my heart, I believe Santa is real.”
“But does he give us all of the presents?”
“Sometimes there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy you.”
“But do you know who did?”

And here is when my tears are forming because I know where this is going. I know that in this moment, the magic is over for her. She’s begging me for the truth and I can dance around it, but I can’t just lie to her about it.

“I’m pretty sure Daddy does it to make me feel some of the magic of Christmas that you guys feel.”

And then we both started crying together. In each other’s arms.

We spent a long time talking and crying last night. She kept thinking about things like the Tooth Fairy, and Elf on the Shelf, and every time she did she’d cry more. I told her about growing up without the magic and how amazing it has been being part of that magic for her. I pointed out that she gets to be part of that magic now. I told her about how her big brother loves doing that, helping hide Fifi the Elf, or helping wrap presents.

One of the amazing moments was when it occurred to her that she and Wesley are grateful to Santa every year for something that I do.

“But you never got the credit for those awesome gifts?!”

She cried a lot. Big, fat tears of heartbreak. I apologized to her a million times and told her I was so sorry if it felt like I had lied. She wasn’t mad at me, she understood. She felt really dumb because I guess there are a lot of kids her age that don’t believe and she’s always been one to fight for Santa.

We also laughed some together as I filled her in on some of the challenges, like the times I’ve forgotten to leave her money for teeth and have had to leave notes from the Tooth Fairy explaining fears of dogs. She asked me who ate Santa’s cookies and we laughed about that being one of the best parts of being a parent at Christmas. I told her all of the things she’ll get to do this year to help me. “Think about it for Wesley though, when he finds out there’s no one left to be part of the magic with. You at least get to be part of it for him, he won’t have that.” I’m not sure if there was any consolation in that for her, to be honest.

“Nikki?”

We had cried a lot and we were both very drained. I could tell she was about to fall asleep, it was so far past both of our bedtimes. She was curled up in my arms, her wet cheeks were resting on my chest while my own tear-dampened chin was resting on her head.

“Yeah?”

“I want you to know, the world is still full of magic. I truly, honestly believe that. I ran with the sunrise in Breckenridge a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful my heart hurt…I didn’t know a sunrise could be that amazing. You’ll get to see that next year! There are people in this world who do amazing things to help others around them, without payment or attention. They make people’s lives better without even being asked. They are basically Santa to people in need. There’s art and music that will make your heart soar or ache in ways you can’t explain. There’s adorable puppies who will make you feel warm inside. There’s food that is so delicious you’ll want to marry it.”

She giggled a little bit.

“I just want you to know that there are still things that are going to surprise you in this world. You’re going to read books that change your life or see movies that make you laugh so hard you want to puke. You’re going to fall in love for the first time and be overwhelmed with the feeling of never wanting to leave this person’s side. You might have kids some day and you’ll learn a whole lot about your capacity for love.”

“I’m never having kids.”

“And that’s fine too! You’ll find the magic in a million other places. Not Santa Claus magic or Harry Potter magic, but you’ll discover that unexpected things make you feel unexpected ways that you can’t explain. Immense joy and love and happiness. There are still amazing things to look forward to, I promise. I believe that more now as a 40-year old woman than ever. I’m surprised constantly by people and places and nature and science and I find all of that still magical. Please believe me there.”

“I do Mom, I really do. Thank you for telling me the truth. I love you.”

“I love you too, my sweet Angel.”

I remember calling my Dad to tell him about my first miscarriage and I was obviously fighting back tears over the phone and he said, “It’s hard as a parent knowing you can’t save your kids from the pain of life.”

I thought of that a lot last night. I was torn about the fact that – inherently – this pain is my fault. If I had never created the magic, she would have never had to lose it. I’m hoping that, in the end, she’ll think it was worth it. I’m hoping to show her the other side of the magic this year, the part that I’ve enjoyed since she was born. I’m hoping she’ll find joy in that.

But holy crap, y’all. I cried more than I ever considered I would cry during that moment. I think I kinda assumed she would just figure it out but continue to play along. I didn’t think it would come down to her essentially begging me to tell her the truth and me having to be the one that shattered the world for her. I never really saw it play out that way and oh my lord – it was awful. She asks me tough questions all the time in that quiet time we share together before bed most nights. She asks me about homosexuality and sex and drugs and death and God and murder and war and divorce and pain and never have I struggled as much as I did last night.

I’d rather answer 100 questions about sex or about how gay people have babies…I’d rather try to explain why people we love get cancer…I’d rather talk about how life just ends when you die, than have to EVER tell ANYONE the truth about Santa again.

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The Worry Of A Child.

Last night I had to do a little bit of freelance stuff before I went to bed. Something I hoped would take 10 minutes but I couldn’t find the problem which meant I wasn’t going to get to go to bed when I wanted. I was tired as it was the end of a long day and I was very overwhelmed with my To Do list and Nikki was whining and pouting about the fact that I wasn’t going to come to bed and lay down with her.

Listen, Nikki. I’m stressed. I can’t figure this one problem out and I’m tired and you making me feel guilty is not really helping.

Then she started sobbing and I got even more frustrated.

That’s not helping either! Now I feel shitty for making you cry! Why can’t you just say, “Good luck, Mom. Hope you can come lay down with me soon.” Why do you have to freak out and be so dramatic?

So she stifled her cries, wished me luck, and I went back to work. I never solved the problem but was so tired I had to go to bed anyway. I went to go give her a goodnight hug and kiss these notes were on the pillow next to her.

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Sorry I made you feel bad word. I don’t want to go to sleep knowing I made you feel bad – so when you come in here please wake me up and give me a hug.

Nikki is showing worse anxiety at age 9 than I have at 39 and I currently suffer from worse anxiety than I’ve ever had in my life. Her problems do seem to help me address mine though because – especially lately – I’ve been trying to work with her and that means I have to work with mine.

We talk a lot about how I’d like her to tell me what she needs instead of just melting down. If she’s having a bad day and needs some extra love, let me know. Don’t just freak out over something that is really not the problem. We’ve been talking a lot about what it means to be sensitive. She cries a lot “for no reason”. We talk a lot about how that also has a good side and I believe it’s what makes her kind and loving and the kind of kid who hides notes for me on Mother’s Day.

Where I used to worry about Wesley becoming a sociopathic serial killer, I now worry about my daughter being so unable to cope with anxiety or emotions that she’ll be medicated her whole life. I’m certain medication is in her future because if her stress/anxiety gets worse with puberty, she’ll need something to help her cope. But I want her to learn skills before then to help manage the somewhat normal levels of anxiety and extreme emotions.

Sometimes she can get lost in drawing or writing, she’s a very creative spirit. I’ve been trying to encourage that activity if she gets overwhelmed. I think I need to be better about pushing that because I think last night would have been a perfect time for her to use those habits to work out her worry.

And I need to quit being a dick to her.

I need to remind myself, even when I’m frustrated and stressed, that she is just now learning how to navigate this world as someone with sometimes toxic levels of empathy and emotional sensitivity that she can’t seem to manage. I need to take a pause before I respond to her like I did last night, and while I might have valid points, those points are – well…pointless…if she can’t process them because she’s sobbing uncontrollably.

She makes me want to be a better person so I can teach her how to deal with all of those overwhelming emotions. Whenever I’m having a particularly rough time lately, I find myself thinking, What would you tell Nikki?

I did wake her up and give her a million hugs last night. I hope it helped. I’ll try to be ready with boundless love for her again this morning.

My poor, sensitive, anxious soul. That’s what it is – once soul in two bodies. I’m hoping as we each make efforts to heal ourselves, we’ll help the other person as well.

Parenting is tough, yo.

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Becoming a Dog Person.

Nikki has never been a dog person, or an animal person really. She tolerates our animals, but they tend to annoy her more than anything. She’s not drawn to dogs elsewhere like her little brother is, and she never really encouraged any of our animals to snuggle with her ever.

Until recently.

IMG_6307I’m not sure what it is, but lately she’s been trying to get a lot of snuggle time with Sweetie. I actually noticed a shift about a year ago, because I also noticed it in relation to her interactions with her new (girl) cousin. Nikki had never been much of a baby-person either, but having a girl cousin seemed to change that. Or maybe being a good age where she could be more of a part of the baby-care situation. But as the year has gone by she has become quite the little care giver to her cousin, carrying her around like she was born to care for the child. And during the year, I’ve noticed her bonding with Sweetie as well.

I don’t know if one begat the other, or if the affection for both are just part of growing older.

Either way? She’s becoming a dog person. And I love it! Yesterday she was bored and just wanted to walk Sweetie up and down the street. I told her she had to take the poop bags and pick up the poop and she was completely fine with that. FINE WITH PICKING UP POOP! It was crazy. And then when they got back home she wanted Sweetie to follow her around the house, she would call her wherever she went. I was just loving every second of it.

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She’s gone through what I call Pro-Sweetie phases before, and it doesn’t last forever, but this one just feels different. This one feels like she’s actually bonding with Sweetie instead of just bored and wanting a playmate.

Sweetie has NO COMPLAINTS.

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Childhood Fear

Please tolerate an OBNOXIOUS amount of backstory of myself before I get to my point which is a parental challenge with my daughter. HANG IN THERE! I NEED YOUR HELP AT THE END OF ALL OF THIS BLATHERING!

I spent a lot of my childhood TERRIFIED of nighttime. I’m not sure the exact schedule of events of triggers and behavior, but I’ll tell you how I think it all unfolded. (Reason #3,977,344 why losing a parent sucks, who do you ask when you’re not sure if you’re remembering things correctly?)

The daycares my Dad sent us to were never open on our random inservice or holidays because our Catholic school was not using the same calendar the rest of the city used. (Too bad he didn’t have a Single Dad blog, that would have been a topic to rile up the masses.) So those random days created problems in the childcare department. When my brother was still in preschool/Kindergarten at the school inside the hospital my Dad worked, I think he just worked it out with them that I could come hang out there on those days too. I remember I got to help in the baby room sometimes which was AWESOME. But then when my brother started school, I guess maybe he tried still doing something similar, but we weren’t “bound” to the “daycare” area. I’m guessing because I was 9 (Fourth Grade) and they thought they’d give us a little bit more free range. We got to hang out in the “lobby” outside the daycare which was the old lobby of the hospital before it expanded. There were no patient rooms or anything in that Wing, so there was never anyone there. We’d watch TV, they even had pool tables and vending machines and there was a gym we could sometimes play in.

So – one day this psycho thought it would be HILARIOUS to just traumatize me forever and walk by us naked. Yep. FULL NAKED. He walked by first clothed, I’m guessing making sure we were unsupervised. And then – Full Monty. We ran and told the daycare teachers after he left and we had to talk to the police and it scared the SHIT out of me because – WHAT KIND OF FREAK DOES THAT?

Well. I convinced myself that he was going to come murder me for talking to the police and I spent the next X amount of time (I’d say a year? Or more?) sleeping on the floor of my Dad’s bedroom. I knew I was too old to sleep with him, but I wanted to be close in case the scary flasher came looking for me. I remember waking up some of those nights and wanting to sit up and make sure my Dad was still alive and I just knew he’d be dead. I knew he’d be murdered in his bed as punishment for me talking to the police. I would sit up and peek over the bed to see and be almost brought to tears I’d be so relieved he was alive.

And I remember that fear VIVIDLY. Like, right now I’m kinda scaring myself just writing about it. Those fears were STRONG.

Then – in Fifth Grade – so, a year or more later, our house got broken into. And then I started being more aware of just the crime in general around us. We did not live in any sort of quaint residential area. We had a house in a residential district thrown on a street with commercial zoning and low-income housing projects as well. I started paying attention to the newspaper and the TV and hearing about bad things happening near our house and that on tope of the burglary and I basically was terrified every second of every day. The commercial zoning didn’t help because I could hear weird sounds from 18-wheelers driving by and the interstate was nearby and the entire situation surrounding my home just basically scared the shit out of me.

Now, as I got older I hid it better, but I was still deep down terrified. There was a prank in middle school at a sleepover camp that I feel like might have been a lot more innocent if I hadn’t been there to FREAK MY SHIT OUT. I think maybe it would have been laughed at by most girls but I was terrified and thought it was all real and I think I made everyone else a million times more terrified with my own terror. And I was in 8th grade then. I was old enough NOT to be irrational, but that night I flipped out over a basic prank and probably ruined the night for everyone.

There was also a time I called the police to my house because I heard the phone book delivery guy and I thought it was a murderer.

I’m telling you – my fears were TOXIC.

I’m convinced this is why I never really got into scary movies growing up. Or haunted houses or anything. I experienced real fear over stupid and mundane crap, why in the HELL would I want to magnify that to any degree?

Now – as an adult I have my anxieties, but as soon as I became a Mom those “fears” of murderers and boogeyman went away. It really was like overnight. I remember being pregnant with E (I was 18, remember) and still being scared when I heard scary noises at night – but I don’t remember having that kind of imaginative fear at all since then. Being a Mom came with it’s own set of fears, for sure, but those imaginary “PLEASE LETS SLEEP WITH THE LIGHT ON!” fears were gone almost instantaneously.

Why did I just give you a history of my own childhood fears?

Because Nikki is there now. She’s always been a little nervous about nighttime. I sleep with her most nights as I’ve mentioned that Donnie and I are NOT sleep-compatible. (We are compatible in 99% of the other ways, so this seems inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.) But since I went out of town last week and she had to sleep without me? It seems to have gotten a million times worse. It’s like she realized that night how much she needs me there to help her sleep and she was basically awake texting E at 3am because she was terrified.

So. For the last week we’ve spent every night talking about our fears and our imagination and how to trust us etc.

She’s fine once she falls asleep, I can get up and sleep elsewhere and most of the time she does okay. She seems to be waking up earlier than she used to, but it’s not ridiculously early.

But she’s TERRIFIED. Like, if I even talk about leaving before she falls asleep she FREAKS OUT. She’ll cry and beg me to stay. Last night she didn’t want to be able to hear the superhero cartoon Donnie and Wes were watching because it sounded scary. It’s strange, it’s like her fears have doubled in the last week.

Now, I remember my own fears too vividly to blow it off and force her to suck it up. My Dad was very tolerant of my irrational fears and did everything he could to make me feel safe. But, I also want to make sure I’m not making it worse or making the phase stretch out longer.

SO! Did you have any childhood fears? Did your children? How long did it last and how did you handle it? I feel like my adult anxieties could be a million times worse if Dad hadn’t helped make me feel safe as a kid as much as he did. So those faded on their own, but I’m not sure. I’d love to hear from other adults who remember their own childhood fears and maybe have opinions on how their parents handled their fears.

Passing it on…

The day Nikki and I dyed her hair, I wanted to hit up our local art collective. If you ever thought Alabama would be a miserable place to live because of the seemingly lack of culture thanks to stereotypes perpetuated by – WHO THE HELL KNOWS – then you need to come to Huntsville and let me take you to Lowe Mill. It’s this genius facility built inside the walls of an old mill and there are art galleries and studios as far as the eye can see.

As long as your eye can just see down the hall.

BUT! They opened a new wing several months ago and I had not been over yet to see it. I’m ASHAMED of that fact, for the record. How did I miss the grand opening and how has it been that long since I’ve been over there? I DO NOT KNOW.

Whatever the case, Nikki and I headed over that Saturday.

It turns out, this was the first time I had taken Nikki when there wasn’t a big event going on. This makes sense, if there’s not an event going on, it’s not the most exciting place for Wesley – but Nikki I knew would love it as-it-is on a normal day.

BUT. It turns out? On a normal day? It’s a lot more quiet. And quiet sometimes feels like you’re out of bounds. Especially where there’s art involved.

At least to a kid who inherited her Mother’s heart-stopping anxiety.

One of the "hidden" nooks she was terrified were off limits.

One of the “hidden” nooks she was terrified were off limits.

She knew we were going there to see the “North Wing” which I hadn’t seen yet. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure the way to get over there and that revelation combined with the quiet of a normal day around art studios? Set her anxiety spiraling out of control.

Every turn we made she grabbed my arm and whispered in a voice filled to the brim with stress, “Are you SURE we’re allowed to be here?”

If she saw other “normal” people walking around, she’d calm down. But she had this very strong sense that the hallways we were treading outside the galleries and studios were off limits to anyone not belonging to one of the art spaces. She was used to seeing those halls filled with people on the days we would come for official events, she had never seen it during the quiet of a regular Saturday, especially as they had just opened the building to the public for the day.

She was getting so worried that I had to resist laughing simply because: IS SHE MY CHILD, OR WHAT?

I took her hand and said to her:

Nikki, if you ever go someplace like this with your Dad, it is completely fine to worry about these things. He’s not like us, he doesn’t always pay attention to his surroundings and check to make sure proper procedure. But if you’re with me? You can relax. WE ARE THE SAME. Whatever you’re worrying about? You can trust that I would be worried about it too…IF THERE WAS ANYTHING TO WORRY ABOUT. The fact that I’m not worried tells you that you shouldn’t be either. I promise you, I come here all the time without you guys. I know how this place works. We’re not doing anything we’re not supposed to do.
We go to Piper & Leaf all the time, she relaxed a lot when we entered her favorite tea shop.

We go to Piper & Leaf all the time, she relaxed a lot when we entered her favorite tea shop.

She finally relaxed a bit and just enjoyed it, I think it helped¬†that more people were arriving as we got further past the “open” time. She also started noticing people just perusing the galleries and the studios, not roaming the halls. She even braved a ride on the old elevator which I had never done before. She really ended up enjoying the experience as a whole, especially as someone who often considers being “an artist” when she grows up.

I’ll admit, it was a little entertaining; but also¬†terribly depressing to see her anxiety manifest like it did. That’s the part of my anxiety that keeps me from trying new things or new places if I don’t feel like I have adequate information to get me through it without embarrassing myself. Truth is? I still haven’t eaten inside the restaurant in the art collective because I’m unsure as to how the “order” process works. It looks a little chaotic at meal time and I don’t want to flounder around. So, I get her stress. Completely. But it makes me sad to that the anxiety she feels came directly from my genetic code. She didn’t get my great hair, but she did get my socially numbing anxiety.