Okay, so who remembers the movie, Mr. Mom? Classic 1980’s John Hughes’ comedy starring Michael Keaton and Teri Garr, where a father who loses his job, must switch roles with his wife and become a stay-at-home dad. I know this movie is not a Christmas movie so you must be confused right now.
There are many great scenes in Mr. Mom but the one that has always made an impression on me is the scene where Keaton is learning the daily drop-off routine when taking the kids to school. As he approaches the drop-off circle, his kids plea with him that he is “doing it wrong” which is confirmed soon after by several parents echoing the same sentiment…”Hi, Jack. I’m Annette. You’re doing it wrong.”
*Click the picture below for the video link for this scene!
This phrase is one that haunts parents often as they deal with the challenging task of raising a child who will hopefully become an adult who is happy, kind, independent, responsible, empathetic, brave, loving, loyal, generous, and a whole slew of other important character traits. There’s no manual to follow and when it comes to your first (and for me, my only) child, you really are in uncharted territory.
As I just mentioned, my daughter is an only child. The past five years have been especially rough on her as life has forced her to mature faster than most kids her age. In 2012, at the age of 8, she and I became co-caregivers for my sister who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the blood cancer, multiple myeloma. The next two years were spent in and out of hospitals in Long Island, New York City, and eventually a last-resort hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I tried to keep life as normal as possible for my daughter during this time but anyone who has had any experience with cancer knows there is nothing “normal” about life with cancer.
During my sister’s illness and leading up to her death, I constantly second-guessed my decisions about what to expose my daughter to or hide from her. Death is a part of life and I knew this early exposure would not only frighten her but also make her stronger. It had done the same for me when I lost my mother at age 15.
It was also during this time that my ex-husband and I were in the process of a divorce and soon she had to deal with him leaving the state and moving across the country.
Luckily, with the help of friends, family, support groups, and our love for each other, we survived these difficult years and are still standing today stronger than ever. I’m proud of my decisions and though I do allow regret to creep in every once in awhile, I am at peace with the past and hopeful for the future.
So how does this all tie into Santa Claus, you might ask??? Well, as I said, my daughter has had to mature quite rapidly. Yet in many ways, she is tightly clutching onto the remaining aspects of childhood she has left.
Quickly approaching 13 and dealing with the changes that go along with that age, she still believes in Santa, the magical elves, and all the other mythical figures we share with our children. Or at least she did, until this past summer.
As we prepared for another start of our school years, me as a 6th grade teacher and my daughter as a 7th grade student, we chatted about what she may need for school.
“I really need a laptop computer but don’t worry, I’m going to ask Santa to bring that for me for Christmas,” she told me with the sweetest, most innocent look on her face.
Now, to be clear and before I go any further, my daughter had posed many questions in the previous year about the logistics of Santa but never point-blank asked me if he was real or not. She had even spoken in great length about how she could not understand why many of her classmates thought their parents were Santa. This is mainly because the Santa gifts I had given her in the past were ones that I had told her I wasn’t really thrilled about (video systems, video games, and the over-priced fad of the year). Each time she would bring Santa up, I debated whether that was the moment to finally tell her.
Many have opinions about the right age and best way to break “the news.” I listened to the advice given by friends and “experts” on the internet that shared special letters and excursions to go on that would gently deliver the truth. But because I knew the news would crush her, especially because Santa would lead to the truth about her elves, Smiley and Holly, I put off choosing a time and method…right up until that moment when she mentioned the laptop from Santa. In that moment, it was as if my body became possessed with the Grinch or the Heat Miser, and I blurted out, “We have to talk.” She took one look at my face and she knew.
As the words spilled from my mouth, there was no eloquence, no sweet story about how Santa is in all of us and no one can ever take away the magic of Christmas…all of the things I had read I should do. The more I talked, the more upset she became and soon we were both crying. She then asked to be left alone and each of us retired to our bedrooms and had a good cry. All I could think about was the scene from Mr. Mom and I kept telling myself, “You are doing it wrong. You have done it ALL wrong!!”
When she emerged from her room, we hugged and I did the only thing I could think of to make the situation better…I took her down to Best Buy and bought her a shiny new laptop for school! Since then there have been a few negative incidents…one involving her scrawling the word “lies” in the Target Christmas catalog. But there have also been some positive effects too…the best one being that SHE now moves the elves around the house daily and has quite the creative flair for it!
So what have I learned from this experience??? Well, I guess it’s that we all make mistakes and sometimes we “do it wrong.” But sometimes, we have to just go with the moment and let our maternal (or paternal) instincts kick in. Some moments require the special touch, the letter or eloquence of a poem to soften the blow. While other moments call for that parental “ripping off of the band aid” when it’s just time to tell them that this is life. In those moments, we prepare them for future losses and heartbreaks because life doesn’t always deliver news gently. And the most important thing we can do after we dry their tears, is remind them of the many blessings they still have in their lives.
Peace 😊 and love ❤️