The Polar Express

Sissy was flipping through Christmas Specials the other day when she suddenly stopped on one and called over her shoulder to me, “Look, Mom! It’s the movie you ruined my childhood with!”

To which I replied, “Oh, yeah. That’s a good one.  Let’s watch it.”

Betchyer curious to know how that movie…or really me in conjunction with that movie…ruined her childhood. So if you insist on hearing about it, then please sign the attached waiver because I don’t want you coming back to me and saying I ruined YOUR childhood too.  And then read the disclaimer below.  Then we can proceed.

And it’s not like I ruined her whole LIFE, just her childhood, so let’s get some perspective on this, please.

Disclaimer: Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. So if you’re name IS Virginia and/or you believe in Santa, please read no further.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

I still haven’t gotten your waiver, so please send that asap. But we’ll proceed without further ado…

It was April of my daughter’s 5th grade year.  It was just the two of us.  Going to a soccer game.  And coming back from a soccer game.  An hour-and-a-half car trip each way.  She watched The Polar Express the whole way down.  I listened to the Polar Express the whole way down.  And thought the whole way down, “Hmmmm, my mother told me about Santa in 5th grade*.  Is it time for me to do the same?  I’ll be all kind and loving about it.  Not all blunt and blurt-y like she was.  And my timing is WAY better.”  [ho, ho, ho.  How the mighty will shortly fall.]

So – when the movie wrapped up soon after the ride home started, I seized the moment…and asked my daughter if she believed in Santa. She said yes and turned the tables on me and asked me the same question.  I said I believed that there is a “Spirit of Christmas” (thanks for that one, Mom!) and again asked her if she believed in Santa.  She was adamant this time.  As if this were a test of her powers of intellect and persuasion, “Yes.  I BELIEVE IN SANTA, DO YOU??”

“Sweetheart. There is no Santa.”

“YES THERE IS!!!”

“No, Honey. It’s your father and I.”

Oh. My.  GooodnessGodnessAgnes.  Am I channeling my mother?!  Her voice is actually coming out of my mouth.

At that point my daughter gasped like I had shot her through the heart. Which I suppose I did.  Then she turned her face to the window.  And cried the whole way home.

As did I.

There were a few other words exchanged on that car ride home. Things like, “So…does that mean the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real either??”

Good Lord! I NEVER agreed to talking about THEM!  It never occurred to me that she would put all of them together.  HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS WAS COMING?!? 

“That’s right, Sweet Girl. It’s your father and I.”

Which was followed by a fresh round of sobbing from the back seat.

Oh boy. This is going badly.

“Sweetheart. I thought you kinda knew or suspected.  If you think about it, the whole thing doesn’t hold up.  It’s impossible for one man to do all of the stuff he’s supposed to do.”

“BUT I DID BELIEVE. I BELIEVED!!!!”

“I’m sorry Little Baby. I thought you kindof knew.  But either way, you’re going into middle school, and I thought it was important for you to find out from me rather than end up embarrassed by insisting that there IS a Santa in front of others when there ISN’T a Santa.”

When we got home she threw herself on the couch and sobbed some more. At which point I was frantic because her brother-who-still-believes was due home at any moment.

“Listen, this isn’t the end of the world. I know it’s a surprise and a shock and you get to take your time coming to terms with it.  But you CANNOT tell your brother, ok?  He gets to believe until he’s in fifth grade too.”

“NO! IT’S NOT FAIR!  I’M GONNA TELL HIM!!!!!  CHRISTMAS IS RUINED!!!!!” No, no, Sweetie, Christmas isn’t ruined, it’s just your childhood that is.

“No, you’re not going to tell him. And Christmas isn’t ruined.  I truly believe that there is something called the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ Thanks again, Mom. That came from you LOOONG before there was a Polar Express movie that makes the holiday more enjoyable as you get older.  Even though I don’t believe in Santa anymore, I still have a great time at Christmas.  And you will too!”

“NO! I WON’T.  IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!!!”

“True. But now you can fully participate in it.  You’ll still get gifts.  And a stocking.  And it will all still be a surprise.  And you will still get gifts from everyone else – Sonny and your grandparents and aunts and uncles.  And you still get to come down and open up all the gifts on Christmas morning as early as you want.  And NOW?  Now you can play Santa for others.  For Sonny.  Or for a less-fortunate family we ‘adopt’ for the season.  Trust me, it will all be ok.  It’s not like I told you to stop believing in God.  And let’s remember what we’re celebrating anyway.  Jesus’ birth.  So there’s that.  That doesn’t go away.  He was born for us.  So let’s remember that.  But what you CAN’T do is ruin it for other kids.  It’s not your place to tell them about Santa Claus.  I’m happy to answer any questions you have, but you musn’t talk to Sonny about this.  Understood?”

[sniff, sniff. Shuddering sigh] “Ok.”

For the rest of that day, whenever we were alone, she would pepper me with questions:

  • What about the Shelf Elf? Was that just you too?
  • CRAP! The WHOLE dream is dying right NOW. This very DAY!!! Yes, sweetie. That was me.

OR

  • What do you do with all the teeth?
  • I saved them all. Would you like them back?
  • NO!!!!

AND

  • What do you do with the cookies? Eat them and drink the milk??
  • I usually put the cookies back and pour the milk back too. And just bite off the bottom of the carrots and sprinkle those around.
  • Oh.

And as I was lying in bed that night, crying my own self while relaying the conversation in all its horribleness to my husband – bemoaning the fact that she really didn’t seem to KNOW already, he says, “She suspended disbelief. She was able to suspend disbelief and believe.”

Hmmmm…a pat on the back or a tissue would have been more helpful at the time. But he might be on to something.

And thus ends this winter’s tale of the death of a childhood. A bit of a bummer, I agree.  It still makes my heart shrivel.

But enough about me. Back to you.  I’m wishing you a joyful and peaceful Christmas.  I hope you can suspend disbelief for a little while and believe…in the spirit of the season.  For the Christ child is born again into the world to save us.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”  -Conductor, Polar Express

* Yes, my mother told me about Santa Claus when I was in 5th grade too, thanks for asking.  In December, as we were walking into RJ Mars to buy Christmas gifts, she suddenly turned to me in the doorway and told me there was no Santa Claus; That it was she and my father all-along.  And then I had to spend the rest of the time in the store choking back tears, viewing everything through a haze.  Utterly devastated about all of it, including the sucky timing, consumed with worry that I wouldn’t get ANYTHING on Christmas morning since I now knew what was what on the Santa front.  Why?  How did YOU find out?

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