By the way, did you know I was once a teacher?
I know what you're thinking. I promise. I was. I taught ninth and then tenth grade English, so some of those unlucky children had Miss Nixon for two years in a row. And then I happily took the job of cheerleader sponsor on top of that. Oh, dear. It was quite a crazy two years of my life. Clint lived in Birmingham then, and I don't suggest long distance to anyone but then again I think it was a necessary step for our relationship.
But I digress. Yes, I was once a teacher. And one of my former students is curious about how I explain the concept of Santa to my children.
Why this interests her is beyond me. I am not a great parent. No, no, no, just stop. I know the truth and I know how often I mess up, and I am okay with my role of just being a parent and not a great parent. There is no reason for anyone to follow me and take notes because I have done lots of things wrong. I think Clint and I were given two atypical children because we fit with them well, and I think we're doing a good job with them. But I have no idea how to raise "typical children." Give me a child who is willing to listen and do as he's told and I give. I have no idea what to do with that.
Okay, so since she wants to know, I dug up some photos from last year. Here goes. First of all, we do this
This is something I am trying to NOT do. It seemed fun but now it is awful. Mimi began asking for him, so the little obligation finally showed up. He has been in the same spot for two days, and I just shrugged my shoulders when Meemers asked me what was up.
Mimi has a party at school before the winter break. It's not a Christmas party -- it's just a fun, wintery party, which I like. I'll get to that in a bit.
The children get gifts -- some from us and some from Santa.
They make a big mess . . .
. . . and then when we feel like they have played enough with new gifts, we throw them in the car in their pjs and head to see family.
Where we knowingly let them poke sticks in a fire with cousins. Hey, my husband used to play in the woods with knives as a kid, so I see no difference.
My son gets overwhelmed when everyone approaches him wanting kisses and hugs and asking him about school, which is what is normal. But, you know, he doesn't really love normal.
We make the kids perform for us because we need some entertainment.
We get completely worn out and grab a toddler to snuggle because it's only appropriate to fall asleep sitting up at family events if a toddler or baby is in your arms.
We drink a little.
So those are the normal Darby-Nixon Christmas holidays.
Seriously, her question was about how we approach the whole Santa thing, and I'm getting to it but just give me another minute.
I was raised in the Super Southern Baptist Bible Belt of the world in the northeastern part of Mississippi. It seems EVERYONE in my home state celebrates Christmas to the extreme -- the commercial side and religious side. This was my childhood and this is what I thought was "typical." Over the top decorations and outfits and nativity scenes in yards. I remember hearing the threats from public school teachers about Santa watching me talk to friends when I should be listening. I spent the entire month of December trying to be good so that Santa would bring me more stuff. My parents reminded me, my friends reminded me, and even the girl in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly reminded me to keep it together or Santa wouldn't visit.
So now I live in a small suburb of a very large, diverse city that is no where near the Bible Belt. There are many people in my small town who celebrate Christmas and many who celebrate Hannukah, AND many who celebrate both (or neither). So explaining this to my child has been difficult and wonderful.
Clint and I are Christians, and we celebrate Christmas not because we think it makes us good Christians. Let's please get one thing straight. Putting a zillion lights on your home really has nothing to do with being a good Christian. God commanded no one celebrate the birth of Jesus by wrestling for a flat screen in Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Several Christian denominations do not celebrate the religious side of Christmas, and I get it. There is so much commercialization going on and Santa gift-giving nonsense that it feels like such a waste. There is no commandment to actually write out "Christmas" and not shorten it to "Xmas." There is no commandment that a store clerk has to tell you "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" as you exit their store. Sigh. If this sort of thing offends you, then chances are you should probably spend the entire month of December at home to avoid getting panties in a wad. And please stop with the whole "Look at all my stuff my husband/boyfriend/parents bought for me! I'm SO BLESSED!" posts. Just stop.
We discuss the birth of Jesus with our children because it seems like the appropriate season to do so (even though this is probably not the time of year he was actually born), just as we discuss it other times in the year. But this time of year it does feel special.
We also discuss Santa. We love Santa. We love twinkle lights and reindeer and watching Elf.
We also get to discuss Hannukah and why some friends only celebrate Hannukah and why some friends celebrate both.
And this, my friends, is the Darbys' new world. Other people exist beyond the Bible belt and they do things differently and raising my children here has not caused any of our heads to explode yet. Frankly, it's really, really wonderful. Clint and I have had to question what we believe more than we had in the South, and that has made our faith stronger. When we do make it to church with our children, it's because we want to go and not because we feel obligated. When two other children hop in my car after camp and a discussion begins on which holidays their families celebrate, I don't flinch.
Anyway, back to Santa -- here's the thing. You and I know the truth, right? And we believed in Santa as children. And we remember finding out that he *might* not exist as we originally believed -- he really looks a lot more like our parents and not so much like the guy in the Coke ads. Because the reality is that children all over the world and some even our own neighborhood will not get a visit from Santa this year, and it is NOT because they have been bad.
So this is what I tell Mimi and Mack -- Santa is real for our family as long as they believe he is real. We have discussed the St. Nicholas story (thanks for the help, Veggie Tales), and we have discussed that some kids don't believe and some children's parents tell them he doesn't exist. I do not hold the whole "make sure you are being good for Santa or that stupid Elf so you'll get presents" over their heads. In a moment of weakness, I have said, "Have you forgotten that the elf is watching?!!" but then explain to my children that they need to make smart decisions and be kind all the time. Period. Presents are not linked to that. Clint and I enjoy buying little gifts for them. They each get one big gift -- a small dollhouse or scooter and a few small gifts. We try our best to not go overboard and are happy that neither of our families do either, so we'll keep buying little Christmas gifts for them because it is fun and it's a family tradition.
Maybe a family member has been sick and has expensive medical bills. Or maybe they aren't making enough money from their jobs this year.
But what about Santa? Can't he just bring her the gifts?
Hmm. That was a good question. I told her that Santa is a part of our family's tradition but may not be a part of theirs.
That is really nice of you to help, Mommy, but I'm really tired after school and want to play with my toys. You should go by yourself.
So after many "what if this was you or one of your friends" scenarios, she decided that the right decision was going with me. Once we got in the store, she picked up everything that was sparkly and purple and straw hats and lunch boxes and absolutely everything she wanted but this girl didn't need. We had several arguments and come-to-Jesus talks before we got out of that store.
When we got to the car, Mimi broke down crying and told me that was really hard to buy for someone she doesn't even know and to not get anything for herself. It wasn't just a bratty whiney pout -- this was a deep hear-felt AHA moment. She wanted someone else to be happy but she realized she's selfish. And then this all made me cry because it meant she'd just grown up a little in that moment. So here we are sitting in Old Navy parking lot having a big ole sob fest together.
Now Hannukah has begun (Happy Hannukah, y'all!) and I'm sure another discussion will begin this afternoon -- and I love that we will have this opportunity to learn about another religion and culture. Whatever you and your family celebrate, just embrace the season and keep those panties out of a wad. Please be kind to others when rushing to your Christmas cantata and dinner at Aunt Betsy's not because Santa is watching but because we're all human and are all facing our own battles . . . And hold that freaking door open for the mom with toddlers!!!