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Santa Claus in the ASD household

The store is moved, and two thirds of it is on the shelves; the computer that died (which was ancient) has been replaced with a computer that's less ancient, and it's now sitting on the new countertop in said store; I've finished contract negotiations for something upcoming in future (about which I'll speak more when things are completely firm), and I've been working at catching up on the writing I lost to the move and the convention.

I still have outstanding reading (not books, not reviews, but pre-pubbed things I really want to read), which I hope to catch up on in the week to follow.

Because it's heading into that time of year, I want to talk about Santa Claus in our ASD household.

Santa Claus is one of those magical memories of early childhood; it's an act, a play, an annual daydream. I understand that for many children and many families, Santa Claus is part of what makes the holiday special.

We had a few discussions about Santa Claus in my oldest son's early life--and we decided that in our house, there would be no Santa. Our reasons for it were pretty simple: Santa Claus is a lie. There are reasons for invoking that particular lie--but they're not reasons my oldest would have understood; what he would have clearly seen and known was that we'd lied to him. We'd told him that Santa Claus existed, when we knew, in fact, that he didn't. We would pretend to be Santa.

I think he would have enjoyed it, for what it's worth. I think he would have enjoyed the mystery and the desire to catch Santa in the act; I think he would have enjoyed the idea of someone sneaking into the house to leave presents.

But I think he would have also been very, very unhappy when the truth--as it always does, because it's some small part of coming-of-age--got out. Telling him that we were lying to him because it was a game wouldn't have worked because, in the way of small children everywhere, he would have argued that Santa did exist because his parents had told him so.

In his universe, it would have eroded his trust in us. It would have added an element of doubt and confusion that we felt would make things more difficult for him; he needed to believe that we were explaining the world as it actually was when he asked for explanations.

However, the question of Santa Claus did arise in grade one. The kids in his class were, of course, talking about Christmas, presents, and what they wanted from Santa. They probably did this in junior and senior kindergarten as well, but in the classroom environment of that time, he didn't pick up on it; with the grade one Teacher, he became slowly comfortable enough that he could. The other children absolutely insisted Santa Claus existed, and he came home to ask me about it.

So. I didn't want him to run back to school and insist that Santa did not, in fact, exist, but I didn't want to put myself in the position of agreeing, for the reasons mentioned above.

What I eventually said (because I'd been thinking about it for years) was this:

Santa Claus is a story we tell our children. It's not a lie, but like stories--The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was one of the few books he liked as a small child--it's not factual. It's meant to evoke excitement and anticipation; it's meant to be a happy thing.

But, he said, one of the girls in his class insisted that Santa Claus really existed--her parents had told her so, and she absolutely believed them. This, of course, made sense to my son; he believed his own parents, after all. Why did her parents say this if it wasn't the truth?

I didn't want him to feel any scorn or derision; I didn't want him to be outraged by the idea that the parents were involved in an elaborate hoax.

"Because they love the story. It's a story they were told as children. It's a story they believed as children, and when your classmates have children of their own, they're likely to tell their own children the same story, for the same reason. Santa Claus doesn't exist, except as part of that story, but it's a happy story, and people want to share some of that happiness."

"But the children believe in him." (He called his classmates the "children" for a very long time.)

"Yes. Yes, they do."

There was a pause while he digested this. He finally said, "But it's okay to believe in Santa Claus?"

I said, "Yes. We can't tell you he exists in the real world, but yes--it's okay to believe it if you want."

And he said, "I think I'd like to believe it, then."

It was a very odd conversation, but in hindsight, I'm happy with it.

Comments

lauowolf
Dec. 3rd, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
When my daughter was a toddler - three maybe? - a Santa guy in a hotel lobby got seriously in her face, and kept trying to make her take a candy cane she Did Not Want.
This despite me telling him to please go away, and her hiding her face.
And me telling him, Really, Leave NOW.
We were in the middle of traveling, and I believe there was an overdue meal or nap involved as well.
It all ended up with her in screaming fits before the idiot guy finally backed off.

After that, she required lots of reassurance that The Red Guy wasn't real, was just some guy with a job being stupid.
Then we hit day care, and other kids' family stories.
Oh my.
("Yes, we buy presents, but Santa takes those and leaves new ones." wtf?)
There were many promises that The Red Guy wasn't going to come down our chimney, or steal the things we'd picked out.
She still (at 21) doesn't like him.
msagara
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
Okay, that Santa? Should have been fired on the spot. I'm actually astonished that anyone could be that in-your-face with a small child who was clearly uncomfortable when the parents weren't, say, desperately trying to get a picture. I personally hated the Santa pictures because I didn't want to sit in the lap of a stranger. We have one, I think, from when my sister and I were little.
lauowolf
Dec. 3rd, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
I still like that she had this apotropaic title for him - The Red Guy.
She *never* called him Santa.
Like the Eumenides, or the Good People, his actual name was too powerful, and scary, to use.

I'd have gone for the guy's neck-job-life, but I was in extreme child-calming mode for a good long while.
It was all rather astonishing.

But even lacking the drama, I don't think we'd have done the Santa thing either.
Everyone has to invent their own how-to-parent, but it seemed important to me not to lie.