It has been a difficult fall for my 8 year old daughter, Penny. She developed a crush on her new third grade teacher, the first male teacher she has ever had, and then the school district saw fit to fire him. She was moved into a classroom with none of her friends from first and second grade. And she already has a tendency to cling to us and not want to do outside things. She is excellent in dance, acrobatics, dramatics, sports, but will take no extra-curricular classes in these, perhaps because she fears looking bad, even with her best friends. We encourage her play dates, but many times she would rather play with us.
She has very strong belief systems. She believes in fairies, magic, Buddhism and people. She is a very bright girl, and sometimes we feel we need a bit of outside intervention to help give us tools to deal with her. We had thought that maybe a shrink could help us or her, but that seemed rather radical. Which is why, it being December, I turned to Santa Claus. At the very least, Santa seemed like a good, cheap substitute. She already knows, likes and believes in Santa. What could be the harm?
When we encouraged her to write out her usual Christmas wish list, she was afraid to ask for what she really wanted–afraid she had been bad this year, acting out and unhappy. “Maybe if you told him how tough this fall has been, he would understand,” I encouraged. Perhaps I should have considered the dangers of this approach, but when we walked into the mall with our long letter to Santa and there sat the same kindly Santa we had seen for the last few years, I thought it might be worth a try.
“Don’t hold back,” I said as we waited in line. “Santa wants to know everything about how difficult it has been to be good this year.” She clutched her letter and waited patiently.
When we got to the front of the line, Santa’s helper was trained to get the child’s name and then announce that child’s arrival to Santa. “This is Penny, Santa. You remember her. She’s come to see you again.”
“Hello Penny,” said Santa. “How have you been?”
Before she could respond, the elf said, “Look over here Penny and give us a big smile.” And the photo exchange occurred.
Then things got serious.
I stood back and gave the two their space, hoping for the best. The expressions I saw cross Penny’s face were priceless. I have never seen her look that way. An expression of deep humility I have never seen; a slight sense of shyness in showing her heart to Santa; but also an honesty and forthrightness, something shining in her eyes that told me that this could be an important moment.
After she had received her candy cane and goodbyes were exchanged, she walked over to me and I asked her how it had gone.
“Fine,” she said, closed-mouthed.
“Did you tell him what a tough time you’re having and how you hope it won’t affect what he brings you?”
“No, I forgot,” said Penny. “You should have reminded me.”
“Did you give him your list, at least,” I asked.
“Of course, Dad,” she said disgusted. “Didn’t you see him put it in his big bag?”
“Oh yeah. I guess I did see that. That’s it then. He’s going to bring you what you want?”
The session was over. Whatever secrets were shared at the North Pole would stay at the North Pole.
Penny got exactly what she wanted for Christmas. Anything less would have been a crime of conscience. She also got better in the New Year. It may have been her visit to Santa, but I know I also tried to replicate the honest exchange she’d had with him, and the obvious care and attention to detail that Santa took with her. He seemed so patient and caring. The next time Penny had a meltdown I thought of Santa. What would Santa do?
I know Penny is already happier this year. More confident in herself. More willing to step up to the plate. Even more willing to talk things out and make promises she can keep. I owe it to Santa. The photo I have as remembrance says it all. She sits on her fat guru’s knee, waiting to dialogue about the world. “To Penny, Best wishes for a good year, Santa.”