Yes, Maria, There is a Santa Claus
Just before winter break, Santa Claus came to visit my kindergarten class. I vaguely remember the excitement of seeing him live and in person in my very own classroom, blissfully unaware that I was possibly taking part in alienating my non-Christian, non-Christmas peers. I’m fairly certain a party ensued during or after Mr. Claus’s visit, with potluck treats that ignite the kind of sugar-saturated 5-year-old anarchies that put gratuitous gray in kindergarten teachers’ hair.
The reason this party sticks in my brain at all, in all likelihood, is because of a picture my parents and I got developed a few weeks later that was taken with my classmates and I gathered around round-bellied Santa, his brown eyes sparkling behind thick, dark rimmed 80s spectacles…hey…wait a minute…Santa’s eyes aren’t brown…and doesn’t he have those wire glasses frames that sit on the end of his nose? I mean, he got the suit right, and the beard looks fine, but if you took that away he’d look strikingly like…MY DAD. I looked over at my dad, back at the picture, and calculatingly used my well honed 12 & under jigsaw puzzle assembling skills to snap the wires of the suspension of disbelief. “Daddy, this isn’t Santa, this is YOU!” I exclaimed. My father widened his eyes in mock innocence and shook his head at me. I readily shared the fruits of my powers of deduction with him, and while he applauded my sharp attention to detail he still denied it. The debate went on at random intervals for a couple of years after that, but to this very day my father maintains that the real Santa was in my kindergarten classroom that day.
This was probably the first time I’d challenged something my parents purported to be true. There’s a certain smug satisfaction in subverting your authority figures with your own reasoning capabilities. Increasingly for every year after that, I got stronger in doing so with my parents, but it never seems to lose its “Ha! Gotcha!” quality. Twenty years later I delight, if now with a certain amount of melancholy, in humanizing my parents. From teaming with my friends to derail the myths of holiday heroes to single-handedly dismantling and reassembling faith structures to fit more precisely into my own life to judging their relationship itself against my own, I seem to get exponentially more courageous in my declarations of independence. Occasionally I’m so crass and arrogant as to give them advice on any given life issue, which forces us all to suffer the indignation of being treated like a child and occasionally widens the gap between us on one issue or another. Occasionally I’ve felt that the entire parent/child relationship is, in fact, a suspension of disbelief, designed to hide the fact that parents are just regular people with faults and mistakes and strengths and weaknesses. The more I come into my own, the more that suspension begins to fail. And they start to seem like me. Vaguely cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses, capable of miscalculations and mistakes but stubbornly unwilling to recognize them now and again, emotive, fallible, disillusioned, hopeful. Despite my gravest efforts to separate myself from my parents, to not “become” them, I find it impossible for them to become fully and unquestionably human. I’m still a child who calls my mother at the first sign of any illness over a cold to find out what I should do, even if I mean to only partially follow her advice. I still look to my father to make me laugh when I’m upset.
The debate with my dad goes on about whether or not he was dressed as Santa Claus at my kindergarten holiday party, and there’s something terribly comforting in the fact that neither of us will ever win.