Our little family is slowly developing a list of holiday traditions. I wrote about Trinity Farm last year, the place where we have now gone three years in a row to cut our Christmas tree. People go there to get their trees, but they also go there to ride the kiddie train, sit on Santa’s lap, play on the old firetruck, sit around drinking free cocoa and apple cider around an open firepit, and just generally be outside in the subalpine air.
Saturday was a gorgeous day, sunny and cold. We found our tree rather quickly (and encircled it with a prayer of thanks delivered eloquently this year by Mara, then cut it down and affixed it to the top of the car), which allowed us more time to clamber around the fire engine and linger by the fire.
Because the bonfire is so central to the Trinity Tree Farm experience, Angela thought to bring a bag of marshmallows with us, and I had snipped two long suckers from the cherry tree in our yard and thrown them in the back of the car before we headed up. I sharpened these into marshmallow roasting implements and we made ourselves sick on fire-roasted clouds of sugar. Other, less fortunate kids were eyeing the marshmallows and whispering to their parents about it, until we started telling people to help themselves. We passed the sticks on to eager young roasters, creating a miniature Sucrose Event there by the fire that will inform the pastiche of images and scenes in the memories of at least a dozen little kids.
Since there were cookies and hot-dogs and kettle corn for sale, I’m not sure that our little marshmallow commune quite fit into the farm’s economic model, but we were glad to have been part of so much spontaneous joy.
Mara still isn’t keen to sit on the old elf’s lap. We have never told her there is no such thing as Santa Claus, in fact we maintain the elaborate charade (some gifts are from Santa, for example, and we leave him a plate of cookies), but some part of her knows he is a fiction, and so it disturbs her to see him sitting there. Mara has not indicated to us that she is ready to give up this wonderful childhood myth — in fact just the opposite — but she definitely won’t sit on some stranger’s lap when she knows good and well that it’s not Saint Nick.
Angela and I are learning about a strange kind of “belief” that Mara is displaying these days and that was even present to some degree last year. We dug the Advent calendar out of the garage on December 1st, lighting the fuse on a countdown to Christmas that will significantly reduce the quality and quantity of sleep for all members of our household who are five and a half years old. We’d splurged on a really nice Advent calendar last year. It’s not so much a calendar as a little wooden dollhouse with 24 cubbies — each hidden by a hinged door — large enough to hold a piece of candy or a small toy. Mara goes insane when this thing is sitting on the mantel, as though she were a wolf and it were a full moon. Little trinkets or M&Ms or other treats show up magically each on their appointed day, put there “by Santa’s elves”.
We were late getting this started this year, so the first morning had already gone by before we brought it upstairs and set it above the fireplace. This meant that the first day’s cubby should already be opened, a calculus not lost on the girl, who wondered whether there might nevertheless be something delightful behind that first door when we took it out of its box.
[Aside: Funny she should ask, because Angela had had the presence of mind to slip a chocolate coin into it before bringing it up.] We told Mara that it wasn’t likely there would be anything there since we were late about it this year, and we delivered thespian astonishment when she looked anyway and found the coin.
A while later she asked Angela, “Mommy, did you put that coin in there?” Angela usually says something like, “What do YOU think, Sweetie?” in answer to such questions, but she was caught off-guard and she answered “no”. This seemed to satisfy Mara, but I felt bad that we had lied outright in direct response to a yes or no question. Creating the myth in the first place, telling her that elves were hiding goodies in the calendar, was not the same as lying. But looking her in the eye when she was asking for the truth in unequivocal terms and telling her Untruth…well, I didn’t like it. Angela agreed immediately when I brought it up, and we agreed we would burst the bubble of her childhood innocence the next day, since she seemed ready.
But the next day I had to rush off to work and “the talk” didn’t happen. Because I find Angela’s telling of what happened later so beautiful, I will use the words she sent me in an email that day:
I had a chat with Mara after you left, and I asked her who she “wished” was putting things in the advent calendar. She said Santa, his elves, or his Hon.* I said, “what about me or daddy?”. She got a kind of funny look on her face, and said “NO. Then we wouldn’t all be surprised.” That was the end of the conversation. Mara is a smart kid, and at some level, she knows that we are the ones that are creating the magic, but we can still give her permission to believe in Santa, elves, fairies, etc. She clearly wants to still believe. Because she’s such a smart kid, she’ll really need that permission from us to still live in the land of make believe. She’ll really need us to play along with her. I really botched it last night…I was so unprepared for her questions. But I don’t think it’s the end of the world. I think it would be sadder, at this point, to take away that ever so thin veil between fantasy and reality…I certainly gave Mara the opportunity to come up with the “true” answer this morning, and her choice was clear.”
I can see the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny wiping their brows and saying “Phew! That was a close call.”
*”Hon” is Mara’s word for a spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, or civil partner.