Um, yes, Virginia, about that whole Santa thing…

I was really hoping to put off the conversation. Like, for another five or ten years. But here it was.

Last night, a while after all the kids had been tucked in bed, Cooper came downstairs and sat next to me. He didn’t say anything for a minute, just rubbed his eyes. I could tell something was on his mind — his face was serious, his body slouchy, his fingers twining. I zipped through a mental list of what it could be — an issue with a friend? An issue with a bully? Something about school or the report card that just came home? A dozen worst-case scenarios whizzed through my head, a flip-book of fear.

There was only one way to find out. “What’s up, buddy?” I asked him. “You look worried about something.”

He nodded, sighed, looked around. I knew he was gathering the right words to express the intense idea that was weighing him down. Finally, this: “I don’t know…it’s just that…Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

OMG. Worse than I thought.

Cooper fixed his blue eyes on my face, searching. I hoped my panic wasn’t obvious.

First: stall tactics. Get him talking. “Why do you ask? Did something happen?”

Kids at school, of course, spreading rumors that it was actually the parents who put presents under the tree. Others vehemently disagreed, standing up for Santa. He didn’t know what to think. “I’m worried that I’ll get teased,” he confessed. For believing? I wondered. Then he went on, “By the kids who believe in Santa. Also, if I say I don’t believe, and I’m wrong, I won’t get any presents.”

I had to restrain my fingers from doing a quick Google search: TELLING YOUR KID THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS. THE BIG SANTA LIE. 

The whole thing caught me totally off guard. I had always thought Mitzi — ever beyond her years — would be the one to first question Santa. But while she desperately longs to zoom ahead into the world of teenagers, she wholly believes in magic and fairies and mermaids and a world that exists just beyond our human eyes. No Santa? For her, that would be like saying Harry Potter couldn’t exist. Still, I always figured she’d raise questions, as she always does, that challenge everything her parents say.

I never thought Cooper would be the skeptic.

And now, what could I say? I never wanted to lie to my kids, not when asked point-blank. Then, I realized, he hadn’t asked me if Santa was real, just whether I believed. So, borrowing heavily from movies like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, I talked about the magic of the Christmas season, how miracles seem to happen more at this time of year than at any other. About how Christmas reminds us to be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more focused on other people who share the world with us. About light and love and hope and how I believed in these things. How you could consider Santa as a symbol, a reminder, of these things.

I’m not sure he bought it. And I don’t think I actually answered his question.

Cooper is a sensitive soul. He’s often the peacemaker among his three sisters, and the first one to silently give some extra hugs and love to someone who seems to be having a bad day. Even playing football — this was his first year at the sport — where he was pretty skilled at tackling, he always helped up the kid he just knocked over, patting the opponent’s back. It’s just his way, to recognize injustice and want to right the wrongs, because he seems to really believe in goodness.

How could I lie to him?

I couldn’t. So I sidestepped. And was a little relieved he didn’t ask the point-blank questions: Is Santa real? Do parents put the presents under the tree? Why did you make all that up all these years only to have me believe the lie and now my heart is shattered?

In the end, he was satisfied. We had a few quiet minutes together to share our thoughts about the real meaning of Christmas, and maybe that’s all he wanted. It’s excruciating to witness childhood innocence begin its slow and inevitable slipping away. Last night I saw the first signs that Cooper, just a couple of months away from turning 9, is closer to growing up than I wanted to believe.

So I lied, just a little. I hope he’ll forgive me, when the time comes, and I’ll be able to explain the Santa thing in a way that he understands.

And, maybe for just one more Christmas, that childhood magic will continue.

An October anniversary in mid-July

For reasons beyond me, Mitzi, upon waking this morning, chose to not to watch her usual shows (Trading Spaces: Boys Vs. Girls or Avatar), but instead put in mine and Ray’s wedding video.

The thing about our video is that it’s long and unedited.  We decided not to hire “wedding videographers” and instead hired a couple of my brother’s cinematography colleagues.  We wanted two cameras shooting everything, to be edited later into a cool streamlined narrative of the day, hopefully by my brother who is immensely skilled at that sort of thing (it being part of his job, and all).  Ten years later we still have only the raw footage (though to be fair to big brother, he has yet to edit his own wedding video from 1997).  So, there’s not one, but two tapes, each over four hours long.

And the first tape rolled all morning.  The kids watched all of it, to varying degrees of interest.  So did I, because watching one’s wedding video is something one usually only does once a year, on the Anniversary, when reliving the Big Day is something one is more likely to think about.

It was bittersweet.  Ten years has brought an awful lot of changes to our lives, mostly for the better, but there is a tinge of sadness as well, seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those no longer with us.  I smiled and let tears fall when it came time for me to dance with Grandpa, while watching an animated conversation with Grandma as she offered me the wisdom of her lifetime marriage, while seeing Uncle Nick dance with my cousins and laugh with Uncle Frank.  There were the faces of couples broken by divorce.  Faces of friends who have drifted away.

But the sweet — oh, the sweet was delicious.  The readings by my aunts at mass; the beauty of my bridesmaids, heart-close all of them.  The song my cousins Checka and Maria sang, accompanied so beautifully by Maria’s husband John on his guitar. Ray’s teary face throughout the ceremony (which I assume was from joy, rather than horror at marrying me).  The speech by Mark, Ray’s best friend, who is the reason we found each other.  Ray serenading me at the reception.  Dancing with my father.  Laughing with friends.  The October beauty of the day, leaves glowing in splendid fall hues in the sparkling sunshine, and, later the cloudless night glittering with stars as our guests danced and ate and drank and spilled onto the porch to soak up the weather and revel in the glory of the happiness Ray and I had found.  It was even sweet to remember the way that, despite my admonitions (“I don’t care if it is the World Series!”), Ray’s cousin smuggled in a wireless TV so everyone could watch Ray’s beloved Yankees win.

Remember feeling more beautiful and perfect and right in a way I’d never felt before.

The kids were curious, exclaiming when they recognized family members, asking about people they didn’t know.  Strangely, they didn’t recognize their dad.  He wore his hair different then and I guess today it’s a little more gray and he looks ten years older.  Or at least, that was my theory until I said, “Well, how come you know who I am?” and without a beat, Cooper said, “‘Cause you’re the one in the white dress!”  (I guess even they noticed my hair is two shades darker, my body 30 pounds heavier.)

Watching the video, remembering that perfect October day ten years ago. was a fun respite from the oppressive July heat.  It makes me wonder why we don’t watch that tape more often.

A wedding is just a ceremony — albeit a profound one — but it’s one day, a party, a joyous occasion.  A marriage is harder, filled with not only potholes and tragedy and struggle but also with boundless joy and infinite moments of simplicity and desire and hope.   It’s often too easy to forget where you came from, you and that guy holding your hand on the shabby couch, easier to be smothered by the bad stuff that every life has, no matter who you are.

The wedding video.  Put it at the top of your queue, instead of the latest Netflix release.  Remember why you started this journey in the first place.

No matter what day the calendar says, any day can be your anniversary.

There are times….

when your world shifts and realigns to some perspective  you never considered before….

when you have no answers to the questions posed by young minds in search of certainty…

when you can’t remember that you are the adult and not the child spinning in the fuzzy yellow chair, not the child coasting the waves  spawned from the speeding motorboats, not the child recording an interview on real audio tape, not the child who gives over the joystick for the Atari game to an adult way too old to understand but who is way too adoring of the young folk to care, you are not the child who wraps herself in nine million memories of holidays and celebrations and minutae (Sea Breeze, cotton balls, morning shakes, and bumper pool are a few)…

when you embrace that you are that child and force yourself to reconcile an end, a goodbye, a see you again someday….

when you struggle to explain it all to your kids who are too young themselves to fully understand….

when some self-medication is not out of the question….

when you are paralyzed and grateful for the others who see to what needs to be seen to….

when you realize that it’s time to shit or get off the pot.  Seriously.  When were you going to start?  That Florida vacation, the Carnegie Hall concert, the wedding, it was just yesterday!  Go, go!

There are times you can be so grateful, in every molecule, that you were given to La Famiglia, and not elsewhere, where anything is possible, anything is embraced, and no matter what you do you can get a full-body hug from Grandma and Grandpa who knew before anyone else how beautiful and talented and important you are.

We need to remember.  It’s who we are, who she was.  He was.  They all were.  We continue to be.

There are times we need to be reminded to remember.