I sat around a craft table filled with my other 7 year old classmates. I vividly remember sitting around that crayon crusted table with Krista and Kenneth- mostly because Kenneth and I were vying for Krista’s affection. “I don’t believe in Santa Clause, do you?” Krista announced with an arrogant authority. If my mom and I wouldn’t have already had that talk, I would have never admitted it. It’s funny what you remember after more than 30 years. I was seven.
A couple of nights ago we sat around the dinner table. Brayden, without provocation asked, “Dad, tell me if you’re Santa Clause.” I’ve gotten pretty good over almost 20 years of youth ministry in not reacting to what people declare- you hear a lot. You can shut a teenager down in seconds with a furrowed brow.
“Where did this come from?” I deflected.
“Dad, are you Santa Clause? And I need to know about the Easter Bunny too.” My face had to alter. This is my last believer. My last dreamer.
“Buddy, don’t you want there to be a Santa Clause? I sure do?”
“I want the truth,” he demanded, his eager eyes boring a hole into my soul. My little Tom Cruise.
I fired back, “You can’t handle the truth! You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.” Ok, I didn’t say that, but have I written about how much I love Aaron Sorkin?
“Buddy, I want there to be a Santa Clause. You don’t want it to be me, do you?” I said as I grasped for another ever-fraying strand to a former life. And with that, we moved on.
Later that night, upstairs in his room/guest room/play room/music room/where I hide to nap (third kid, tough luck) room, we sat on the couch playing guitar together. He’s learned seven chords in seven days and somewhere between D and A minor he stopped. “Is mom gonna die?” He stared at me with the same truth needy eyes. And he grew up. Just like that. You always hear how kids grow up in a flash, right before your eyes. But this lightning struck too precisely, too directly.
The girls have asked the same question and I’ve never had a good answer. Years to prepare, seconds to avoid. “I mean, we’re all going to die.” “No, of course not.” “Well, it’s complicated.” “You know, we’re going to keep praying and keep loving her no matter what.” “Look at me, I’m going to take care of your mom- don’t worry about her or me.” “They’re doing amazing Huntington’s research right now. I bet we’ll have a cure before long.”
So, I rifled through my bag of responses, situated somewhere between frets and strings, naiveté and candor, and shot something back to divert. Not because he doesn’t deserve an answer. And not even because he’s not ready for something. But because I’m not. And I taught him another chord. Anything to keep Santa alive.