Category Archives: Victoria Tulacro

Long-Distance Daughter

When things are great between my mother and me, we will have Sunday dinner. Her husband will barbeque chicken for my kids, and she will send me home with leftover potato salad and cornbread. When things are good, she will walk her three little furball dogs down to the baseball field to cheer on my son and sit by me in the bleachers. When things are good, she will drop off a little Easter basket for the kids on my porch or give me a birthday present and a card that says she loves me.

When things are bad, however, she tells me in her rich Southern voice that she didn’t raise me like that. That could mean anything to religion to politics to my diet. Anything really so long as she doesn’t agree with me. When things are bad, she will call me and tell me I am the most selfish person she knows and who cares if it’s my birthday that I ruined her life when I moved out at sixteen. When things are bad, she does not even bother to call me or my kids—her grandkids—she just doesn’t call.

But she has been gone for seven days now. She is 2,485 miles from me now. My whole life she has lived less than 10 miles from me, and now she will be 37 hours and 40 minutes by car or a 5 hour direct flight and then a two and a half hour car ride.

She wants to go home. Back to the rich Carolina soil and thick Carolina air. Although she’s lived the last thirty-five years in the same San Gabriel mountains of Southern California, she wants to retire. Home, is all she keeps saying, her vowels drawing out like a sour song.

I do not blame her for leaving, for wanting to start a new chapter in her life, for wanting to return to her two sisters (her only remaining immediate family), for wanting something familiar and warm. In North Carolina she will be able to clear the weeds from her parents’ gravestones, to take care of an aging aunt or two, and walk in the dried-up rows of tobacco plants and corn stalks where so much of her childhood was spent. There, no one will ask her where she is from because it is obvious she fits right in. There she can watch the dewy mist of the cape roll in at night and watch the fireflies ballet on the banks. There she can spend her days quilting. There she can be buried in the family plot alongside her father since she was the youngest of five and her daddy’s favorite.

But in these seven days, I have missed my mom. It’s not likely that we would have seen each other this last week. Sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other. Sometimes the closest I get to her is driving by her car on my way to drop off my kids at school. But that was something, and something is always better than nothing. I know too many friends with nothing instead of mothers.

It won’t be the same without her, and I will have to find a way to climb on a plane every couple of years or try to remember to buy a Mothers’ Day gift weeks in advance and mail them or try to remember to send her goofy school pictures of the kids. Or try to be a good daughter long-distance.

But as much as I am sad to lose her, I am hopeful that this will mean a new start for us. One in which I can imagine her telling new friends at the quilting guild how proud of her daughters she is and mean it. Maybe she will send a nice text every once in a while and call me her “Big little girl” the way she used to when I was little but towered over her petite frame. Maybe she will start calling my kids on Sundays to hear them blab about their impossibly fast-moving lives. Maybe she will be willing to forget that I am a liberal atheist vegetarian and start loving me because she did raise me that way. Maybe we will never again mention the past except to share colorful, almost cliché memories of summer vacation mishaps or the time she made my sister Sarah eat all her vegetables for the next three meals until they were gone. Or maybe we won’t talk at all. Maybe we will sit on the phone with each other and listen to the other—really listen.

The most recent photo I could find of my mom and I on her wedding day in 2007.

The most recent photo I could find of my mom and I on her wedding day in 2007.

5 Reasons Why I Have Cried 100 Times in 5 Days

1.   Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:27 P.M.

I run over a rabbit. This doesn’t sound that extreme especially given that I live in the desert mountains where jack rabbits and cottontails are constantly darting across sun-bleached asphalt.  My kids are in the car; they don’t see anything.  They hear me screech and slap my hand over my mouth. Tires thrum once—twice over the little gray body.  What’s wrong?  Mom, what’s wrong?  They both echo from the backseat.  Are you sad?  I look in the rearview mirror and see the little white puff of the tail lying beside gray ears. Hot tears roll down my face and I say, Yes. Mommy’s sad.

 

2.   Wednesday, May 28, 2014 8:43 A.M.

Maya Angelou is dead.  Or so my Facebook news feed says.  I am immediately sad.  Maya Angelou was the first female poet I ever learned about.  Before her, I had never heard of a woman poet.  Ever. I knew Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Frost. I credit the following lines with drawing me to a life of language and wordsmithing:

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

Dr. Maya Angelou opened my throat to sing. I can’t help it.  I cry.

(Read it here: Caged Bird)

3.   Friday, May 23, 2014 10:16 P.M.

He looks like a Political Science professor with his salt and pepper beard and wired-rimmed glasses.  But when he speaks of Christopher, when he speaks of his loss, his anger towards politicians and their failure to do anything about the mass shootings, Richard Martinez’s voice deepens and swells, rumbles like a fucking hurricane.  It catches in his throat and he sputters out words through tears that make me ache.  His anger is so raw, so unmasked, I can’t help but to cry when I hear his grief.  When he speaks of his son, his beautiful, lovely, articulate, twenty-year-old son, I cry.

 

4.   Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, 6:26 A.M.

She is dead. She is dead and I am confused. I just saw her last week. I click on her Facebook page because there must be a mistake. But there is no mistake. Her uncle has announced her death. Her cousins and friends add to the thread, endless good-byes and R.I.P.s. I am still confused.

I quickly message another student, a friend of Genevieve’s and another former student of mine. What is this business about Gen? She didn’t really pass, right? Before my student can get back to me, the posts keep coming. I will miss you, Gigi. God has another angel. I know it’s true before I can even log off.

I don’t cry. Not immediately anyways. I just saw her. She came to my office just two weeks ago to announce she was transferring to Asuza Pacific. I chuckled. Not because she wants to go there, but it is the way Gen talks. She is so excitable that she can’t contain it; she almost has to hold down her hands when she is telling me. Her eyes—her beautiful copper eyes shake while she laughs—almost guffaws at herself. I tell her no. Don’t go.

We have these conversations almost weekly. Gen comes in and flops down in the maroon chair by my desk. She usually gives me a quick hug but more often than not, she is talking before I can even look up from my computer. She is not my student anymore, but I love that she still comes by to confide in me.

Sometimes she shows me pictures and videos of her little brother Timmy. Once she complained about a guy who broke up with her via text. She laughed at his stupidity. I laughed too. Gen is beautiful and smart and so vivacious, she can’t walk more than three feet in any direction without someone talking to her. Boys are stupid. I sound like a big sister and not an English professor.

Our last face-to-face conversation, I am in a hurry to get her out of there. I have a class in thirty minutes that I haven’t yet prepped for. Don’t go to APU, I keep saying. Stay here. You don’t want to start your life in debt. Private school is debt. She smiles and says that she’s been here—at Chaffey—too long. She needs to move on. Plus, what would we do without you?  I say it as a parting gift because I know that I have class and I am unprepared and sometimes I wish I didn’t have so many students who seek my counsel. She leans over my desk and hugs me. Don’t go, I say and we both chuckle because we both know Gen will do whatever she wants. She may ask my advice, but that doesn’t mean she’ll take it. She is twenty-one.

I scream as soon as I am back on the highway after dropping off my kids at school. It is the first time I am alone all morning. Genevieve is dead.

I cry louder than I have in a long, long time. There are so many tears, I veer the car into a turnout and sob. After a while, I stop and listen for her laughter. My favorite laugh—the one where she laughs at herself for a cluck or two and touches her chest in a dramatic fashion. The one where her eyes burn gold.

When I get home, I hike back into the mountains and cry and until I am certain I am devoid of tears. Later, I shower and I cry. Much, much later, I cry into my pillow so my kids can’t hear me.

I have cried a hundred times this week. I can’t open my Facebook without seeing Gen’s pictures come up in my feed. I can’t choke out her name without falling apart. I can’t bear to feel the weight of the world without her effervescence. I will be forever looking for her smile in a crowd of students and waiting to hear her laugh springing up from around the corner. But the enormity of her death will not fully hit me until I go back to work in August and she is not in my office crossed-legged and giddy with summer vacation stories that she will never live.

Genevieve Gutierrez

  1. Wednesday, May 28, 2014 2:52 P.M.

The school bell rings, and my son wraps his thin arms around my waist.  He says, I’m sorry you’re sad, Mom.  They know about Genevieve; they know I am devastated.  I still love you, he says.  I know, silly, I say.  I muss his gold hair. I wipe the tears running down my neck as we walk back to the car. I am so full of love and tears. But mostly love.

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My Two Moms

The first time I met my stepmother, three things happened in this order:

1)  My dad gave my sister and me a Nintendo.

2)  A dark-eyed woman with red lipstick walked into my dad’s apartment and said “Hi.”

3)  We then replied, “Bye” and turned back around to play Super Mario Bros. (the original version)

During this time in my life, I watched The Parent Trap (the Hailey Mills version) again and again, trying desperately to figure out how to get my parents back together.  If only I had a twin sister.  If only our parents had sent us to a summer camp together where we could discover our past and unite against divorce.  Instead, I had a dopey little sister, who cried almost every day for our mom when we were with our dad—and for Dad when we were with Mom.  I also had a mom who cried every day for my dad when we were with her.

 

One weekend my father took the four of us, him, my sister, the new girlfriend and me, to see  Arachnophobia.  It was 1990; I was wearing a shirt with tassels all over it and a gaudy peace sign choker.  While watching the deadly Venezuelan spiders claim victim after victim, I couldn’t shake the feeling of crawling across my skin.  I remember twitching a lot in my seat.  I remember thinking, Parent Trap.

In The Parent Trap, the dad has a new girlfriend.  A young, beautiful girlfriend.  My dad too had a young, beautiful girlfriend.  (A girlfriend my mother often referred to as “The Mexican Hussy”.)  The girlfriend in the movie barely tolerates the twins.  Thus, the girls are totally justified in pranking her. During an unfortunate camping trip, the girls attract a bear to lick honey off the girlfriend’s feet. The beauty queen surrenders, leaving the dad behind with his very naughty but victorious daughters.  With the girlfriend gone, the mom is free to reclaim her throne.

 

I excused myself to go to the bathroom and walked a couple of rows back in the dark theatre.  I untied one of my high-tops and removed the shoelace.  I tied a knot at the end of lace and tugged it a couple of times.

Popcorn stuck to my hands, as I crawled down the movie theatre aisle until I got one row behind my dad and his girlfriend.  I positioned myself ever so quietly behind them and waited for the music to swell.  Waited until the spider crawled ominously across a towel, down a shirt sleeve across the big screen.  Waited until the music hit loud so I could throw the shoelace over the shoulder of my dad’s beauty queen.   The music inflated; I threw.

I wanted her to scream.  I wanted her to jump up and run down the carpeted rows of the theatre, shouting to my father that we were horrible little monsters.  I wanted her to cuss us out, to say something so heinous about us that my dad could never forgive her.

I held my breath and tried not to squeal with delight.  At any moment she was going to shriek, rip the spider-like tangle from her hair and run.  And be gone.

But she didn’t.  After a minute, she casually turned around and looked at me in confusion.  Maybe it was pity.  Maybe she had seen The Parent Trap.  Maybe she knew what a sad and confused girl I was.  But by then my dad noticed, and he hissed through his teeth to get back to my seat.

 

She married my dad less than a year later and asked us to be the flower girls.  She was kind to us even when we asked her things like, “Are you a real Mexican?” knowing full and well she was Puerto Rican.  She took us out a lot—bowling, swimming, golfing, horseback riding, even when our dad wasn’t there—which was a lot.  Even though we probably never said thank you and probably always talked about our mom.  Our perfect, beautiful, broken-hearted mom.

But our new stepmom sang at the top of her lungs in her car.  She danced when she heard a good song on the radio.  She made our dad laugh which was rare.  She was even kind to our mother who was, often, not kind to her.

As I got older, and I struggled with issues with my own mother, my stepmother, who had lost her mother at twenty-six, reminded me that I would never get another mother.  She told me to be patient with my mother, to forgive her, to never stop loving her, to be kind to her even if I didn’t feel like being kind, to not judge her.  She often urged me to call my mother, to go and see her.  You only get one, she said.

 

But the truth is, I got two.   My mom is my mom.  But my stepmom is my mom too.

 

Mother’s Day is about so much more than mothers.  Mother’s Day isn’t necessarily about the woman who birthed you.  It’s about women.  How our sisterhood, our love, and our contributions to this world are inimitable and momentous.  If you’ve ever been loved by a woman, you know the love of a mother.

Oh sure, it’s about moms too.  But it’s also about the stand-in mothers.  So many of us were raised, influenced, and encouraged by women that weren’t our mothers.

So here’s to you: To our mothers.  Our stepmothers.  To our aunts and grandmas.  Great grandmas and godmothers.  Sisters and cousins.  To our friend’s mothers.  To our mother-in-laws.  To our teachers and mentors.  To our best friends.  Here’s to the women who have loved, love, and will love us.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Dad & Deb Shaver Lake

My kids, my dad, and my Mom #2.

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For a Friend

I was not there when you said goodbye when his heart finally gave out after thirty-five years.

I was not there when you said No again and again—when you whispered, Come back. I need you.

I was not there when you threaded your fingers between his—the way your mother instructed you to when you were little and she wanted you two to stick together. Take good care of him, she might have said again and again throughout your childhood. How could she have known that you would.

I was not there the last seventeen days while you slept by his side while you teased him about getting up. Get up. When you pleaded with him, GET UP. When you shouted at a god you no longer believed in when he did not.

I was not there when you kissed his forehead. When you ran your fingers through his hair, straightening it because you knew how he would have hated his hair looking crazy at a time like this.

I was not there when you left the room–when you looked back one more time at room 580— when you reminded yourself that it wasn’t him anymore—that he was gone. When you thanked the nurses for all they did. When you rode down the elevator feeling like you had forgotten something like a pit in your stomach. Like a boulder in your throat. Like an enormous piece of yourself. When you walked to the car and the sun heaved its warmth on you. When you said, Fuck you, to the Presbyterian Church bells as they echoed through the parking lot. When you got into your car. When you turned up the radio. When you screamed.

And then you screamed.

And then you screamed.

And then you drove home.
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Forgiving Myself

Image I almost killed my daughter after she was born.  She wasn’t a colicky baby; she slept most of the night.  She ate so well, I swelled with parental pride.  She had big blue eyes with flecks of gold and her face lit up every time I walked in the room.  Never in my life had someone loved me so unconditionally—without words.  Walk out of the room—tears, screams, agony.  Walk into the room—a smile pinched upward, blue eyes rimmed with red.  It was difficult to be so loved.

It was a scary time in my life.  I was only twenty-two.  The pregnancy and delivery had been enough to kill me.  My husband was drinking more than ever.  I wasn’t the kind of person who particularly liked staying home.  Even in high school, I spent many summers in summer school because I had simply wanted to.  Staying at home with a new baby, having just quit a job I had had for five years, having a marriage that seemed to be reeling away from me, was solitude I wasn’t prepared for.

*

It had been a summer day—maybe like a day like this one.  Not too hot but sunny, stifling heat in the car with the windows rolled up.  Bella would have been a few months old.  And because I no longer worked, I now felt resigned to clean all day: feed baby, scrub grout lines, feed baby, wash the coffee pot, feed baby and serve my husband something hot with two sides and buttered bread and a cracked-open beer when he got home.  (This is not to say that he expected this of me.  This was what I felt was my role since I was not working.  To be perfectly honest, we were both under a lot of stress.  He felt the enormous pressure of supporting three people on one income.  I felt depressed having given up my life—my dreams of a PhD, of writing books and traveling Europe, of having white carpet—yes, I know how vapid that sounds—to raise a baby I never wanted.  But we didn’t talk about this. )  I wanted out.

I strapped her into the car seat, tucked her chubby little arms under each shoulder strap, clicked the button at the bottom.  The car seat dropped into the latched base with a snap.  I shut the door.

Had the garage been empty, I might have pulled in, left the car running, watched the windows slide down.  But it wasn’t, so I stood in the glare of the sun, let my head go heavy. Having moved from Bella’s view, she started to scream.  I could have walked away.  I could have gone into the house.  Dan had just bought a gun (having a baby was a very intense experience for us–we were young and unprepared), but it was a shotgun.  I didn’t want to kill Bella, that I knew, but I wanted out.  I didn’t want to be the me I had become with her.  Call it selfish or immaturity—I wanted nothing to do with it.  It was my life I wanted to end–not hers.

So I got in the car and I drove.  I had no agenda; I might have listened to music, in fact, I probably did.  I drove aimless around the desert for a while, meandering down long stretches of highway, going just slightly above the speed limit, pumping the brakes softly when necessary so as not to wake Bella, who had dozed off in the lull of forward motion. As I crested Mt. Top off Highway 138, it occurred to me that I could drive us straight into the other lane of traffic.  Just swerve ever so slightly into any number of tractor-trailers lumbering up the steep hill and just like that it’d be over.  I pressed my foot down.

The riveted bumps that divided the two sides of traffic hummed with our intrusion.  A warning put there years before to help weary drivers stay alert on the dangerous mountain roads.  But Bella didn’t stir.  I watched a big white tractor-trailer plod around the bend at the bottom of the hill.  He tooted the horn giving me fair warning, but again, I pressed my foot down.

I didn’t fantasize about my death—what my family or friends would or wouldn’t say—I didn’t dream up all the compliments that would be given in my absence—how my parents would be devastated—Dan, a crushed shell of a man.  Had I considered all that, I wouldn’t have done it.  I loved my family.  I loved my friends.  I loved Dan.  I loved my daughter.  Who I didn’t love was me.

I was barreling toward the truck, hurtling right towards it.  The truck now honking violently, its lights a panicky Morse code.  I couldn’t look anywhere but the grill—that front silver piece, the slats like tiny windows.  I knew I’d chicken out if I looked away.

But then, without cause, Bella cried, wailed.  A shrill so piercing, I couldn’t help but to feel that hook of mothering—the one that makes your breasts hurt, the one that stirs your battered body hurtling through the dark to shush tears, the one that makes you steer your car back into your lane of traffic.

I remember the driver’s face, his wide eyes, locked on me in horror—his mouth a perfect Oh shit.  I remember the smell of Bella’s hair when I pulled her out of the car seat, her back damp and warm.  I remember telling Dan that I needed help while we tucked clean sheets around the corners of our mattress days later.  I remember the look on his face—his forehead without a wrinkle, without a judgment, his green eyes gone gray—how a broken heart looks behind eyes you have loved for years–how scared he looked, the sheets loose in corners, taut in others.

*

I had severe post-partum depression.  They gave me meds; they made me talk.  I learned to say what I had to so that the doctor could feel like I was progressing.  I buried my guilt in the deepest part of my soul.  I have tried to tell myself that since that moment I have been a perfect mother–or rather a better mother.  I have made it all up to my two beautiful children by tickling them every night to tears, by kissing them so often they ask me to stop (especially now that they’re older). But sometimes, on a day like today, when there’s not a cloud in the sky, not a task on our agenda, I might raise my voice too loudly, might sigh too heavily at their bickering voices—their arguments over books, remotes, who was using the bathroom first—and I feel the smallest little lump of guilt start to form—for all the dark, dark times; for all the things I said too harshly at them or too hastily; for all the times I didn’t or did (INSERT MISTAKE HERE).  And then I swallow.

 

Bella & Mommy Mother Daughter 2009

 

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There Should Be a Greeting Card for That

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am too young for a hearing aid.  I am also too blonde and too tall for a hearing aid.  Maybe I am too pretty for one too but not likely.  Mostly, I am too stubborn.

Being hearing impaired is not something I share with a lot of people.  In fact, many of my friends and co-workers probably do not know this about me.  It’s hard to say.  I am not totally deaf; I just struggle to hear out of one of my perfectly normal-looking ears.  The right one.  And my hearing is not totally gone—it’s like I have a thumb jammed in there or maybe a big toe.  I can hear sound, mumbles, tones.  If you stood on my right side and spoke to me, and we were in a quiet place, I would have no trouble at all.  But if we were in a restaurant and you sat to my right and asked me how my day was, I could hear your voice, but I would struggle to make sense of the words.

Sometimes, I can fake this moment.  Guess at what I should say.  Take context clues and answer appropriately.  This is how I navigate many of my non-hearing moments.  But if I cannot do this, I might smile at you and hope the moment passes—that maybe our waiter will ask if we’re ready to order.  Mostly though I just listen to the noise—and see what sense I can make of it all.  The clatter of plates, the murmur of fuzzy conversations nearby, a song overhead that I can almost hear the pitch of a note here and there.

Believe it or not, it is a hard thing to tell people, especially people who I have known for quite some time.  First, there is the occasion.  I feel like the right time never comes up.  Hey, Vicki.  How are the kids?  Hey you, I might reply, maybe even give a hug depending on the nature of our relationship.  By the way, I can’t hear you.  Oh, I’m. . uh. . . well, I’m hearing impaired.  How long?  Um, jeez, since birth, I guess. . . I didn’t tell you because uh. . . uh. . .

Second, there are the questions.  Why can’t I hear?  I don’t know.  Have I been tested?  Yes, a couple dozen times.  Is there anything the doctors can do?  Yes, if I want a hearing aid.  Why don’t I get one?  Oh, because it’s $5,000, and then there’s the thing about being too young and pretty or prideful or whatever.

Sometimes I wish there were greeting cards for this kind of announcement.

Dear Friend,

Ever wonder why I look at off into space when you are talking?  No, really—it’s me.  Surprise!  I’m hearing impaired!

Love,

Me

Sometimes I wish there was a T-shirt that announced such things to the general, unsuspecting public.  A disclaimer so that I didn’t have to explain what I thought I heard.  Something so that I didn’t have to feel like I needed to justify my actions and/or lack thereof.

Take, for example, the grocery store last week when a hollowed out, dusty man approached me while I was pitching my goods into my car.  I could sense him approaching.  (Sadly, there are far too many older, dried-up desert men floating around the Stater Bros’ parking lot.  Most of them want money.  Some of them want rides or food for their animals or food for their families.)  And then, he started to talk.  At first, I continued with the task of chucking the heavy bags into the trunk.  Because I can’t hear well, I often approach the world in this manner—ignore.  But then he spoke again, this time, closer.  I could hear his voice, but the words were gravelly.  I could hear the tone—a question, so  I turned and said, Sorry.  I don’t have any cash.

Of course, this was not what he had asked, as evidenced by his souring grin.  I had guessed wrong and this angered him.  Then I noticed the squeegee.

“I didn’t ask you for a handout,” he shouted; the squeegee pumped up and down with the spit in his words.  “I asked you if you wanted your windows cleaned!  I ain’t no charity case!”

What was I to say?  Sorry, I didn’t hear you and I just assumed. . . It didn’t matter.  I was a jerk either way.  The man stormed off, shouting to the resting of the parking lot how he wasn’t asking for no charity—he was asking for work, goddamnit.

My mother-in-law recently got a hearing aid.  She hears everything now—right down to the cat drinking water from the toilet two rooms away.  But in exchange, whenever she talks, she hears her own voice blast across the room.  As a corrective measure, she has taken to mumbling.  But sadly, where she now hears, I can’t hear her.  I sat across her at dinner a few weeks ago and never once realized she was talking to me until my husband drove an elbow into my ribs.  I had been staring into space, taking in the architecture, the patrons, the closeness of one red-haired waitress and the bar tender with too much gel in his hair.

And that’s the other thing not hearing has done for me.  Oh sure, it gets me out of conversations I don’t want to hear, but it has allowed for a lifetime of retreat.  Growing up, when friends were hard to come by, I could always sit behind a tree and watch lips move, mouths burst open with laughter.  I filled the vacuum of their words and noises with my own.  I made up their lies and their jokes, their playground alliances and betrayals.

So when I think about hearing—really hearing the world—for all its nuance and crackle, I can’t help but to stick to my understanding of it.  So I can’t sing a song off the radio without mis-hearing most of the lyrics, but who cares if “sunset” isn’t actually “bun lift”?  (You’d be surprised how many songs containing “sunset” that “bun lift” is a surprising contextual equivalent.)  So what if I can’t hear my kids shouting across the house that so-and-so ruined their Lego House of Awesomeness?  So what if I can’t hear my husband calling me from the next room to hurry up they’re felling another tree on Ax Men?  There are some things not worth hearing.  The rest—well, the rest I’ll just have to make-do.  Or make-up.

Frankly, Virginia, It’s Complicated

*Warning: This post discusses the existence of Santa Claus.

I hate the idea of Santa Claus. No really. Despite all the Christmas crap I have—candy cane mugs, snowmen candy dishes, Christmas tree dining set for sixteen, bath towels, door mats, nutcracker butter knives, Santas that sing, Santas that laugh, penguins that ring bells, and garland that sparkles in every single room—I hate it.

Before I had kids I always thought that I wouldn’t perpetuate such a myth. Likewise, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were out. I decided my kids would be somewhat alone among their peers but would be better for it. They wouldn’t run around believing that a kindly old guy breaks into our house once a year and sneaks around so quietly that neither dogs nor mom would hear it. As an added bonus, they wouldn’t fall prey to believing that this same old guy is “watching” them at all times—which as an adult is, honestly, creepy. We could also steer away from sitting on mall Santas’ laps and writing letters that I “mail” (which I don’t) and hide in my underwear drawer where I can pull it out and refer to the list. No, my kids were going to be so above all that.

And then I had kids and it was hard to ignore the enormity of this myth. He was everywhere. On Coke bottles and M&M bags, in TV commercials selling cars and toys and even in our home: soap dishes, music boxes, cookie cutters. Not only that, but wherever my kids went between November and December 26th, people would engage my children in Santa-driven conversation: So, what are you going to ask Santa for this year? Did you get what you asked for? I tried not to roll my eyes.

Early on in our kids’ lives, my husband and I were up late one Christmas Eve wrapping presents when I labeled one, To: Bella From: Santa. My husband was upset. “Why should Santa get all the credit for these presents? I want to give her the one she really wants. Santa can give her the clothes.” I hesitated; he had a point. Why did we work so hard saving up, sneaking around shopping, and hiding boxes in trash bags in our garage only to fork over the good deed to an old man who seemed to have a secret relationship with our kids? Not cool.

And yet, each year, as Halloween rolls around, and the Christmas tinsel starts lining the aisles of Target, my kids start to glow with the buzz of Christmas. They sing holiday carols in the car at full volume. They start drafting their letters to Santa: one edit, two edits, Mom, can you proofread this for me before I send it off? I want to be sure it’s right. They love to make holiday cards and turn on all the music boxes and snow globes at once. They love making peanut blossom cookies and rum balls, sugar cookies with way, way too much frosting and globs of dark green sprinkles. They drink lots of eggnog and enjoy way too many Christmas-centered movies where everything always ends up with the kid getting what they desperately wanted, divorced parents suddenly reuniting, and kids being privy to something that adults can’t seem to understand.

Just recently my nine-year-old asked me if it seemed odd that the Tooth Fairy was real but that monsters were not. I was thankful my back was to her. How was I to respond? Hadn’t I been preparing her to question everything in her life? Never talk to strangers. Don’t trust anyone but your family. Never ever sit on a man’s lap in the food court of the mall even if he’s wearing a suit. Adults aren’t always right.

I know, right, was all I could come up with.

This might be her last year—maybe two if we’re lucky. Her brother is two years younger, and I imagine that if she doesn’t tell him once she finds out, then she will sit arms crossed by the Christmas tree tired and scornful—angry that her brother woke her up at six in the morning for not-magic.

Like many parents last week I hugged my kids until they squirmed from my arms. I tried not to let them see me cry every time I thought of the families of the victims of Newtown, Connecticut. I obsessively worried about my kids at school; I took them late one day this week because I couldn’t bear to let them go. At some point I had to tell them what had happened. My daughter was saddened by this, but my son simply replied that it was sad but couldn’t Santa bring them back to life. He would ask Santa. After all, he’s magic, Mom.

And this is where I have to ask myself if I did the right thing. Was it a good thing that I allowed them to believe in magic? In the kindness of a goodly old man? In non-unionized elves and flying reindeer? Things that will seem all too silly when they know. And the answer I come up with again and again is yes. Yes, Virginia it is okay to believe in something that isn’t real.

I am glad that my son believes those kids in Newtown can run back into the arms of their mommies and daddies. That, in his mind, they will get up while it is still dark and shake their parents awake. Look, Mom. Santa came! That those families will sit around their trees, happy and complete, ripping open gifts, shrieking and crying, kissing and hugging as though there would never be a day more joyous. I am thankful that this is what he believes. Believing in it makes it real, and isn’t that what childhood is about?

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