The year was 1981.
I was 8 years old.
I was into everything. I wanted to know how everything worked, where it came from, how it started, and/or how it was made. I was also starting to test authority, and I had an opinion about everything…even if it was wrong.
During Sunday school one morning, I got into pretty big trouble with my teacher for saying “If God is so great, why can’t we see him?”
One afternoon at my grandma’s house, while marching around in a circle through the house with my cousins, my Uncle Steve told us to settle down, and I told him to shove it. (Got paddled with the wooden spoon for that one.)
That summer I was practically dragged away by my ear by one of the counselors at Happening Day Camp, for screaming to the entire kid populace that the counselors had chopped up the government cheese and put it into the campfire veggie soup.
Was I a brat?
I prefer the term rebel.
So toward the end of that same year, I was sitting in the kitchen with my mom. She was baking chocolate crinkles, and it was snowing outside. We had this beautiful kitchen window that opened out to the creek running through the back of our property. I remember it like it was yesterday. The snow was heavy and wet, and was falling off the trees in clumps.
I was interrogating my mom about Santa Clause.
And her story wasn’t adding up.
How many people are there in our town? In the world?
Why do some kids get electronics and others get Yahtzee?
How many minutes does he spend at each house?
How big is this “sleigh” to store all of these toys?
Then it hit me.
Santa only went to rich kid’s houses. The elves take on everyone else.
I stared at my mom for a few minutes before I told her my epiphany. Then it really, really hit me.
Our parents are the elves?
WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?!
It was the only thing that made any sense.
Many minutes and probably a thousand questions later, I unearthed the hardcore truth.
And I was crushed.
I didn’t care so much about Santa. What hurt me the most is that my parents had lied to me.
In my defense, my grandpa had died that previous summer. I felt like everything I knew was unraveling.
I was very mad about the Santa thing.
So I vowed at a very young age that I would never “do” Santa with my kids.
And up until now, I have kept that promise.
Enter Christmas season 2014.
Zion is 10 now. The autism claimed our first 5 Christmases together. With each passing year, he has become more engaged, more excited, and more fun to watch. Last Christmas he opened every one of his gifts for the first time. This Christmas, he actually dragged the decorations out of the garage with me, and helped us decorate the tree. Before I even opened the ornament box, he said “Mama, Zion put the jingle bell?”
We have a really large set of jingle bells on a ring that fits over the top of the tree. Every year when we are done adorning the tree with lights and decor, I climb up on a step ladder and put the jingle bells on the tree, and then we cheer.
All of these years I have offered for my kids to do it.
Zion typically never even looks at me. Zoe always declines and says “Mama, you do it.”
But not this year.
When that little boy climbed up that step ladder, I thought my heart was going to burst.
When he was done, he jumped up and down and squealed “Zion did it!”
You know, for years my mantra has been “Progress, not perfection.”
This however, was not only progress. It was absolute perfection.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
So the next morning, Zion woke up and Tiggered me, (as he often does in the morning when he’s excited), and said, “Mama, Santa is coming today?”
Ugh…not this. Not now.
I thought for a few minutes about how to explain this to a child with autism.
Over the next few days, he wouldn’t stop talking about Santa.
Constant, incessant talking about Santa.
So I thought about my part in this over the years. Zion loves Christmas movies, and I let him watch them. And what are those movies about? Santa! So what do I expect him to believe? He loves the Burl Ives version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Who stars in that?
Zoe and I talked about it. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t figure out a way to explain the Santa conundrum to my son.
But then Zoe said something that never even occurred to me…. “Mama….why does it matter?”
So I thought about that too.
And you know what?
What Zion loves about Christmas is what we should all love….magic, and mystery, and anticipation.
Being with loved ones, and cherishing that time.
He doesn’t comprehend lies or divisiveness.
He is the most honest person I know.
The only thing he comprehends is the joy he feels during the season, and especially on Christmas morning.
So this year, Santa gets credit for mama’s work. And I’m okay with that.
Clearly Zion is not the only one making progress.